Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Candidacy and Adoption

Some of you may already know that the system of candidacy for ordination in The United Methodist Church is insanely arduous. Let me tell you about it. I've been in the candidacy process for over three years now. I just became a Certified Candidate this summer (after Annual Conference, unfortunately), which means that I have another three years minimum before I could be commissioned as a Probationary Elder and another three years minimum after that before I could be ordained. Yes, that's right, at minimum it will take me nine years in the candidacy process before I could be ordained. And that's assuming that everyone approves me the first time (which has been the case so far).

It's a rather involved process. I started out by reading The Christian As Minister (the red book). That's a fairly short book and rather easy. Next, I worked with a guide through The Ministry Inquiry Process (the purple book). This book leads you through a series of nine sessions with my guide, each between 2 weeks and 6 weeks apart from each other. In those 10 months of study, I had to write up lengthy answers to all sorts of questions about my call. We covered just about every possible thing you might want to consider before deciding the pursue ordination. (In the mean time, I had started seminary at The Northwest House of Theological Studies.)

Following that, I had to write a letter to my District Superintendent, who assigned me a mentor (different than a guide, apparently) and we started the next book, The Candidacy Guidebook (the blue and white book). At this point, I became an exploring candidate. Yes, that's right, after over a year of being diligent in the process, I had graduated all the way from Inquiry Candidate to Exploring Candidate. Woo Hoo! So anyway, this blue book was another 15 sessions with my mentor, each about a month (or more) apart in which I had to go even more deeply into the same material that I had gone through in the purple book, but now writing longer essays about it. Even after two years in the process, I was still considered an Exploring Candidate, which meant that I still had to figure out whether I was called to ordained ministry or not. Two years of answering that question.

So... then came the trials. First I had to prepare to go before my Staff Parish Relations Committee. I had to write a huge paper on my whole call story and my answers to Wesley's Historic Questions. They didn't read it, by the way, but they did pass me. Then I had to go before the entire All-Church Conference of my local congregation. That was between 50 and 100 people. They passed me too. I became a Declared Candidate. Yes, after two and a half years of candidacy and seminary education, the church finally agreed that I had indeed made up my mind to pursue ordination.

Okay, then comes the District Committee. More essays to write. A huge old psychological test that required me to fly back to Oregon twice. Then I had the meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (about 10 people) who could ask me anything they wanted. I passed. I became a Certified Candidate.

Now, I continue to be reviewed annually by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, the All-Church Conference, and the District Committee. Next I get to go up against the Board of Ordained Ministry (about 50 people, and this is where the most difficult part is). Then, if I meet all their standards (they can ask me absolutely anything), I go before Clergy Session (every ordained person in the Conference) who usually take the recommendation of the BOM, but can also ask me absolutely anything. Etc. Etc.

So, it all adds up to something like 300 people reviewing and analyzing me over a period of 9 years.

Plus, there's school. I won't go into as much detail, but there's faculty (lets say 30 of them). I have a two colloquium groups that analyze me (20 more people). Then there's the school psychologist. And I have field education supervisors (2). There's a lay committee at my field ed that evaluates me (that's about 5 people). I also report to the Staff Relations Committee at my field site, and the Church Council, etc. And there's some various other staff, etc. that evaluate me.

This is a bit of a demoralizing process. Just about everything about my life involves being analyzed and evaluated about my ultimate goals and calling, whether or not I'm experiencing those correctly, and whether or not actually have the gifts and graces to carry them out. Very little of this process is affirming. I'm passed all the tests, yes, and I've gotten mostly positive feedback. But in truth, I feel very disconnected from the whole thing. Basically, I have to do a ton of work that in the end, most people don't even look at anyway. It's very emotionally draining and straining.

Now, my wife and I are beginning an adoption process. I am excited about the possibilities, but I can't help but be a little burdened by the process. Once again, we get evaluated constantly and by huge numbers of people. First the agency decides after interviewing us whether they want to work with us or not. Then we go to class. We get evaluated at that too. Then we start a process of home studies in which they evaluate just about everything about our lives. It involves five visits, plus they interview our friends, do background checks on us, etc. After that, we get to write up everything about ourselves and try to sell ourselves as good potential parents. We get put into a notebook. Then birth families review us and decide whether or not they think that we'd be good parents for their child. If someone does, then we might have a child placed with us. Then there's more evaluation. They visit us unexpectedly, etc., to make sure that we're okay parents. Then, after six months of that, we might be able to actually adopt the child.

Ughh... Yes, I understand that these processes are important. Yes, I know that people's safety is at risk. But that doesn't mean that it's not painful. It doesn't mean that having something on the order of 500 people prying into every possible aspect of my life to determine whether or not I'm worthy to do what I hope to be doing for the rest of my life and hanging on their every decision is not invasive and hurtful. It is. It's very stressful and even painful at times. I can understand why so many people drop out of these processes, even if they really are qualified and willing. It's just very hard and dehumanizing.

That's enough rant for today. If you made it all the way to the end of this post, congratulations and thank you.


Blogger Brian said...

I mean this in all seriousness - what you have to go through sucks, but I think you (and Melissa) will be (are now) better people because of it. So many of us can wander through life totally unreflective with little to force us to carefully examine our lives. For a couple of reasons, you can't be in that same boat.

I admire your willingness to go through all of this. I'm really glad that you guys are getting started on the adoption stuff. That's a huge move, but a great one!

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m very glad you wrote this. I was feeling very bad after Brian told me you were going through the candidacy and adoption processes at the same time (a double dose of “guilty until proven innocent” status!) but I actually feel better after hearing you talk about it. I honestly don’t have a lot of hope that the candidacy process is good or healthy for you, but what I can celebrate is the wisdom and perspective I’m seeing in you – something I’ve been getting lately from people who look back at it from a distance, but it’s impressive and heart-warming to hear that from you already at this point. I don’t honestly believe that this process bears fruit or develops character in your life, but at least I can witness the process revealing those things in you!
Personally, I already have some strong feelings about Colorado adoption laws. I wish you could come back here, because we could offer you a somewhat more merciful process, at least after the point at which your baby is placed with you. But I am fully confident that you and Melissa will get chosen very quickly before you ever get a chance to come back here. I think ultimately what makes the scrutiny of your private lives (and our mountain of paperwork) necessary is that without the horrendous legalistic safeguards, we eventually end up with babies being treated as merchandise or sold to the highest bidder, etc. I don’t see a way to prevent that without all of the legalistic junk. Your sacrifice is a living testimony of human value and dignity!
I also truly deeply believe that it is a very real assurance to birthparents, to know that you are willing and able to pass that kind of scrutiny. People who make that decision will normally say that it’s the hardest thing they ever did in their life, and also the best thing. One girl I know articulated it by saying, “It hurts worse than anything. It’s like somebody tore your heart out. But it’s a wonderful thing…” All in the same sentence! It’s a strange combination that I think of as a kind of hell, but the holiest hell I know. And I don’t see how it could be so if not for you. It’s my job to try to minister to people in that position, but I firmly believe that there’s nothing that truly blesses them like finding the right family. I hope you have some idea of how your current suffering is not only blessing a baby, but is also blessing a birthmom. In some cases she is a child too. And in all cases, she’s a child in God’s sight as much as your baby, I think. And I think in this situation when someone has to reach out and trust a stranger with something of ultimate importance, the fact that you’ve done all this junk actually does make that decision a little bit easier. And it’s just such a hard thing to do that noone can imagine it. Most things that are that traumatic and painful are things that happen TO us. It’s a rare thing for someone to be able to find it within themselves to take the initiative to choose to go through something like that. I truly believe that what makes it bearable is people like you being willing to put yourself in the position you are in. I pray that when you’re going through the process of being chosen and possibly “interviewed” that instead of just one more experience of scrutiny, you can see yourself as a gift of peace and assurance to a birthmom, and to know how you are ministering to her in a way that will change her life forever. The girl that I mentioned before, who articulates all of this so well, had experienced both abortion and adoption by age 17. At one point I had heard her explain how doing an abortion “makes you feel like nothing, and then you have no standards. And that’s how I ended up with [birthfather of baby] – I had no standards.” But after the adoption, she explained to me several times how this baby had changed her life forever in such good ways. Even when she was uncontrollably sobbing, after handing the baby to the adoptive parents, she was saying, “that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made.” I just want you to be able to think not only about how much it matters that you’re willing to put yourself up for a baby, but that you’re willing to put yourself up to be chosen by a birthmom. And know that you will profoundly bless her life in a way that will continue to matter for her forever. I truly believe that all of this junk you’re going through really does bear fruit. It would be profoundly sad if you weren’t there to be chosen, and if someone didn’t have the opportunity to spend the rest of her life with peace and assurance, knowing that she can trust you to be the best dad in the world. So I very sincerely want to thank you for being willing to go through all this junk. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, and more!!!!!!!

4:17 PM  
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1:35 PM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Thanks for this post. When I called my DS to get things started he just referred to the Red and Purple books without any clue as to their title.

Hate that you're doing all this at the same time, too, though. I'm only 19 and starting but right now am not looking to do the family thing until candidacy is over and I'm ordained. :-)


3:43 PM  

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