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Middler Review Vocational/Theological Statement, The

Michelle Mueller

For February 21, 2007

Intoduction

Petition to My Readers

As you read the following pages, I invite you to engage with the critical theological tools I have created as I have begun my seminary experience. I will share with you the visions, which have spiraled through my theological mind. Please open yourself so that you may engage with my ministry, in a process of co-creation and improvement. In this Middler Review, the committee and I will evaluate the lessons I have learned while in seminary and will reflect on my progress. In this essay, I will state that which I have already learned and will set new goals for myself.

I ask that the committee use this process as a means to experience a seminary education with me, and to guide me in directions which might work to my greater benefit. Halfway through this curriculum, it is time to make sure that I have established reasonable goals for myself. Through my courses thus far, I have learned a certain amount regarding what I should expect out of this education. Now is a time to take in that information and to set further goals based on that knowledge.

In seminary, divine wisdom and the classroom merge. We, as students and as teachers, transmit precious wisdom to each other. Within the classroom, we share experience and knowledge. We prepare each other to do the same for our congregants.

We become messengers for our divine guides. In order to make this Middler review a spiritual experience, I intend to liken this committee to a council of wise mages. I come before you with my own statement. I ask that you review my work, and comment as needed. Please do not use this as a venue to project your own agenda. But do bring in your wisdom from your experience in ministry.

How can I incorporate the practices of Christian ministry into Wiccan service? Through my involvement with the Pagan community, I am able to administer care and guidance to Pagan congregants. I am learning to identify Wiccan pastoral skills and to situate them in relation to Christian pastoral skills.

I invite you, during this Middler review, to come into places of power and of wisdom. Please engage thoroughly with my statement and accept your spiritual power, so that I may benefit greatly from this experience. Sometimes we who are in positions of authority, even in the institution of education, choose not to acknowledge our own positions of authority. In the case of this Middler review, it is preferable that you do accept your spiritual power and allow it to be present during this review.

My Intentions for the Middler Exam

I enrolled at the Pacific School of Religion as a Wiccan student. I have retained my prior spiritual affiliation, but I have completed three semesters at a Christian seminary. Before enrolling, I knew I would have to make adjustments in order to excel at a Christian institution.

In this paper, I will state my own theological values, and will write about how they have changed in relationship to my experience in seminary. The M.Div. curriculum intends to endow each student with a certain set of tools, all of which will be necessary in ministry.

Over the last year, I have accepted that, at the Pacific School of Religion, I will learn a Christian way of doing ministry, and in order to continue within my own denomination, I will have to create the bridges between my course material and Pagan practice.

The majority of my professors have been willing to allow compromises with assignments. As long as I include Christian doctrine and/or values, I can apply the question to an issue relevant to Paganism. In this manner, I learn the tools other PSR students learn. Simultaneously, I participate as an active member of the Pagan community.

At this critical point of the Middler exam, it is a time to reflect on how my theology and my vocational plans have changed over the last three semesters. In my original application, I made clear that I intended to enter the Pacific School of Religion with the support of the Bay Area Wiccan/Pagan community. Thus far, I have continued to prioritize the Pagan community in my work. For example, my internship with Carol Queen was one way of satisfying PSR requirements with support from a Pagan leader.

Furthermore, I am studying with the Gardnerian Coven Hermes Trismegiston. I hope to combine my coursework at the Pacific School of Religion with the degree work required by my High Priest and High Priestess. Most PSR students satisfy the ordination requirements within their respective Christian denomination.

Because I am not a Christian, negotiating PSR's requirements with my Wiccan coven's can prove to be a challenge. I have experienced a shift in my priorities as I have participated in the M.Div. curriculum at the Pacific School of Religion.

I have become familiar with the type of coursework at PSR and have learned to make relevant assignments within courses. Before enrolling, I expected to pursue a Ph.D. after the current master's. I am no longer sure I will pursue the Ph.D. My career plans have become less clear. I wait patiently for further inspiration to emerge, or for my committee members to make appropriate suggestions.

I hope that, I am doing helpful work through my assignments and volunteer service at the Pacific School of Religion, and that a path will unfold before me. It is therefore my task to articulate a "Pagan" way of doing ministry, in opposition to Christian ministry.

Skills I Hope to Learn

In the field of ministry, individuals are trained as leaders. The people who become leaders might sometimes experience some doubt. Professional ministers most often should not display their lack of faith publicly. A skill someone might try to learn in seminary is the skill of presenting one's self as confident, even when one feels insecure.

Over the next year, I would like to learn how to continue professional during the times when I lose faith. A minister should maintain one's belief in God, but it is natural to go through periods of doubt. Such a minister should then turn to whatever sources preserve the minister's spiritual practice.

A problem of dishonesty between the two may exist. For example, a minister might strive to present him or herself as a person of faith when the person's faith is most challenged. The dishonesty lies in the conflict between professionalism and faith. A minister's profession roots itself in religiosity. If, the minister then loses faith, his or her profession suffers. I would like to learn how to balance a professional career and a spiritual life.

Community Life

Participation in Chapel

I have found that participation in chapel service has been a great way to connect with the PSR community. Were I not to participate in chapel, I would have less means to interact in a spiritual way with other students. In chapel, I experience the religious practice of my fellow students. Students within the PSR community step forward and plan services.

When I partake in a service that has been designed by fellow students, I honor those students for their contribution to the community. As for my own theological development, the idea that students can create religious activity at PSR affirms we are creating our religious life here in this program and at the institution. PSR coursework provides a framework for our education and training for ministry, but, because we can design religious services, students create religious life here on our own terms.

Theology and My Neighbors

For anyone training to do ministry, theology and its relationship to one's neighbors is a very significant topic. For, the profession of ministry is a social one. A minister must understand the parishioners within one's community. The minister should have a solid grip on the demographics of one's community and should know what parishioners seek from the group.

The best minister should apply one's theological understandings unto its audience. If a minister is positioned before a community outside of the minister's comfort zone, the minister should refer to her or his theology for meaning. A skilled minister can relate theology to its parish, congregation, coven or small group ministry.

In my field education project, I learn about my community, and thus develop the skills to minister to my small group ministry. As I practice ministry with different small groups, I will continue to learn and will in the future know better how to minister to Pagan groups.

Growth in faith

In seminary, I have encountered several people who strive to be religious leaders. Seminary is a place for students to explore their own faith as they learn tools to lead congregations. Seminary is then a professional school; students learn very specific methods, which will enable them to handle situations. But, students are also encouraged to have a very personal experience with course work and in chapel services.

As a student of seminary, it is important to have a spiritual experience, but to not get so caught up in the experience that one does not achieve a firm grasp on the intellectual aspects of seminary training. The student must open one's heart to the faith experience, but must remain grounded enough to acquire the skills taught in courses.

The role of seminary student is thus a challenge. The seminary experience gifts the minister, priest, priestess, or spiritual coach with a capacity to guide a person's transformation spiritually.

A Synopsis of my Theological Tools

Competencies in Ministry

A second year student at PSR, I am now conducting my second field education project. As a first year, I designed a special field ed, using the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco as my site. I interned with Carol Queen and her partner Robert Lawrence. Carol has been a personal influence of mine for the last seven years. She has published/edited several books and has contributed to the insights and teachings of the sacredness of human sexuality and its connections to the holy in the feminist and Pagan communities.

Working with Carol helped me form an important bond. I added an annotated bibliography of all things pertaining to sexuality and religion, particularly education. In the future, I can call on Carol for advice in publishing and/or ministry. In regards to that internship, I conducted academic/theological studies which will benefit my community. Additionally, I made a significant contact with someone whose work I admire.

This year for field education, I have acted as an organizer/campus minister for a group of Pagans at UC Berkeley. I chose campus ministry as my project because I already had some experience in campus ministry (at Bryn Mawr College).

In the current field education project, I have learned some of my strong points regarding campus ministry, and I have also learned the areas that please me less. I enjoy planning events and writing liturgies. So far the group has held one successful ritual, and has together begun to write a ritual for the next holy day in the Wiccan year.

In addition to having created successful liturgies, I have also demonstrated a skill in adjusting to the current resources. For example, one individual showed up to our first ritual with a musical instrument. The participant demonstrated enthusiasm to share his talent with the group.

Also enthusiastic about the prospect, I skimmed through the ritual and identified an appropriate place for the individual to play a tune. Luckily, the participant agreed, and the ritual went smoothly. This example demonstrates creativity and spontaneity. Surprises such as a participant prepared to add music to the ceremony are the perks of campus ministry.

I have found that I perform best as a minister when I am most stimulated by the project or the group. If I notice that I am lacking momentum as a leader, it is usually a sign that I do not feel inspired. In order to continue, I should search my heart and discern what is present and then generate the needed breakthrough in my own thinking before.

When I feel least stimulated, the best tactic is to remind myself of the overall positives related to the project. If I can orient myself towards a specific goal, I will understand how the positive outcome makes the laborious steps worthwhile.

I have learned to take note of my enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm during specific moments of my practice as a campus minister. Understanding one's own motivations and being can be a key step to improved ministry. By knowing where my head and heart are at, what is present for my being and transform it, I can learn to tap into that inspiration when I feel as if I have lost it.

The ability to recognize one's own moods and to reorient one's self when one's mood does not match the desired effect is a learned skill. The above description speaks for the portion of seminary, which assists individuals in knowing themselves. In order to become a skilled minister, one should know one's self and one's congregation. The minister should also learn the basic (and advanced) skills for giving pastoral care in one's faith community.

The seminary student should not focus too much on knowing one's self, but should include self-knowledge as one component in a greater theological project. Through field education, I have learned what subjects stimulate me, and I have learned in what areas I am best able to excel or to contribute. Working for organizations such as the Center for Sex and Culture, which is run by Pagan leaders, I have also learned how to contribute to my religious community directly.

My Ministerial Vision

I hope to do ministry because I would like to assist others to find that spark of divinity within themselves. In seminary, I am learning certain skills which will help me serve my community better. Most students in seminary work towards ordination within their own denominations. In contrast, I am working towards the Wiccan priestesshood. At this moment in time, I am wondering whether one becomes a priestess, or if certain people are born with a certain energy that would lend them towards becoming priests or priestesses.

With the beingness of priestess. I also wonder and inquire in to my own self what is it that others see in me that I cannot yet see in myself. Are priestesses born or created? Is it a way of being that is guided forth by the Divine?

In order to successfully make use of the tools gained in seminary, one should understand for one's self what it means to be a priest or priestess. In order to act as priestess, one should establish a direct relationship with all that is divine, sacred and holy. In seminary, one learns organizational methods and keeps one's spiritual connection at the forefront of one's experience.

If one does not have a direct relationship to divinity, the seminary student will accomplish less. A firm grounding in faith helps the seminary student accomplish all of one's goals. However, as I mentioned earlier in this essay, sometimes one's faith diminishes. During that time, one should rely on any sources of strength that person has and pray for faith to return. If the person is intended for ministry, faith will return.

Personal relationship with deity

In my Wiccan practice, it is important to have a personal relationship with deity. Often, Wiccans identify one god and one goddess as their "patron" and "patroness." The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, my former tradition, especially emphasized that practitioners should try to find their patron deities. The leaders of the tradition did not encourage practitioners to "fake" finding their patrons. A practitioner will generally know which deity has called him or her.

Sometimes the deity appears to one in dreams or in meditations. If one deity makes Him or Herself present on many independent occasions, that deity has obviously expressed an interest in connecting with that individual. The practitioner should then gather symbols which are sacred to the god or goddess as offerings, and as markers that the deity is welcome in that person's life.

In many of my courses at PSR, I have been asked to write personal statements or social location paper. In these assignments, I write from the first person, identifying my educational and familiar background and my theological values. My PSR education encourages me to further develop that personal relationship I have with deity.

Most PSR students of course make use of our education and connect with the Abrahamic God. I have chosen to enroll at the Pacific School of Religion with a different objective in mind. PSR faculty has designed courses, such as Christian Worship and Christian Education, for Christian students. I have found that I am able to negotiate in some courses better than others. The courses that are "the most Christian" in content and in practice prove to be the most challenging courses for me. I perform well in the courses that deal with non-Christian traditions, or with alternative spirituality.

After leaving the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, I moved to Berkeley and began study with the Gardnerian coven, Hermes Trismegiston. My current coven also encourages intimate relationships with deity. The patron deities of this coven are the Greek Hermes and Hekate. I have been especially attracted to this coven, in part because I already had strong connections with both of those deities. It made sense to join a coven, which was dedicated to two deities to whom I feel close.

A regular practice of prayer helps to foster a similar intimate relationship with divinity. Wiccans choose to pray to one or two deities and to connect to them in that fashion. Christians go to chapel or pray to a private altar at home. Wiccans and Christians go through many of the same procedures when they create personal relationships to the Divine through prayer, reflections and meditations. They are also similar in the levels of discernment and worship at times of personal need.

Conclusion

In a recent conversation with a mentor, my mentor reminded me that I am a Priestess. The faces I made from my end of the phone conversation were similar to the faces when a close friend reminded me of the same thing. Although I have committed myself to a seminary education, for whatever reason, I still do not like to think of myself as a Priestess. Reluctantly, I allow myself to be a Priestess in the making.

I turn to my committee for the following advice. I would like to know how seminary might support me in coming into my power as a priestess. When one enrolls at seminary, the student commits to professional ministry. I have enrolled at seminary with the intention of taking on Wiccan ministry. I am thus learning skills which will assist me as a Priestess.

Despite having enrolled at a professional religious institution, I still experience a fear of accepting the role and responsibilities of a Priestess. Please consider this theological statement and provide advice for me to act responsibly as a Priestess. How can I best put this seminary education to use? In order to make the best of my seminary education, I should come to terms with the fact that I am working towards the Priestesshood, or that I already am serving as a Priestess.

In seminary, students follow a call that they received at an earlier age. Sometimes seminary students felt called to ministry as children, or perhaps, as college students. The work in seminary demands that those called to ministry step forward and accept greater challenges.

Before enrolling here, I agreed to train at a Christian school and to work towards the Priestesshood. Now that I have completed half of my studies, it is time that I demonstrate new skills in leadership.

In college, I excelled as a student and as a student leader. In seminary, I feel as if I have performed moderately. The Priestesshood is a council for the strong. Through my coursework and through the demands of my religious community, I have come to understand what a difficult task the ministry is.

In conclusion, may this Middler exam prepare me for an extended journey in the life of a minister. I hope for extended sessions of mystery, magick, and unrevealing. I hope for a blossoming career in ministry.