Some Needed Perspective

In order to graduate with a Master of Divinity from CRTS, you need to finish both the academic requirements and the Pastoral Training Program (PTP). This is to ensure that you don’t just graduate with a functioning set of brains, but that you know how to use them, too. The first part of the PTP for freshmen is an orientation week or two with a pastor, during which the student gets to follow the minister around and observe his daily business. This orientation is done during the summer after first year, and can be done at any time during the summer.

I recently finished my two-week orientation with Rev. John VanWoudenberg in Dunnville. The nice thing about this sort of exercise is that it gives you a real picture of the ministry against which you can judge your strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy during the first year of school to construct an idea of what the ministry is like, and to fear it or embrace it, depending on which way your imagination tends. We underwent some personality tests in the first semester in order to better assess our personal abilities and shortcomings, and we were encouraged to round ourselves out by learning to develop our weaker sides. I have my own particular weaknesses, of course, and it was easy for me to conflate those weaknesses and to worry about whether or not they made me unfit for the ministry. So actually heading out into the real world of ministry gave me some needed perspective.

Rev. VanWoudenberg is new to Dunnville, having moved there from Guelph in January. Thus the majority of the visits we made were simple “get-acquainted” visits. However, even introductory pastoral visits tend toward the deeper, and more tender, corners of people’s lives, and I was honoured to share in that. We visited a range of people from seniors, to younger families, to those with developmental disabilities, and I am thankful for each one of those opportunities. Many of those we visited were interested in my experience thus far at the seminary, although a number of them were surprised to find that I had only finished one year. They hadn’t been aware that there was a small practicum after the first year; they only knew of the summer-long one following the third year.

I also attended a consistory meeting, but it was the one in which they interviewed the young people who desired to profess their faith. That was special in itself; it dawned on me how amazing it was that I could come all the way across the country, end up in a church building in a sleepy corner of the Niagara peninsula on a mellow Tuesday evening, and find myself in the presence of young men and women willing to devote their lives to Jesus Christ. It is a profound and moving thing to observe the Holy Spirit’s handiwork. Because the consistory meeting was not an official one, however, I am invited to attend the one at the beginning of June.

The third aspect of my orientation with Rev. VanWoudenberg was in sermon preparation. The passage we worked with was Numbers 10:1-10, where the Lord commands Moses to build two trumpets of hammered silver. What made this passage enjoyable was that at first read it didn’t look like much. In fact, although I know that I’ve read through Numbers in the past, I couldn’t recall ever having read that passage. But like many OT passages that seem immediately forgettable, this one, too, has its own hard-earned delights. Preachers have to answer the all-important question: So what? So God told Moses to make two trumpets and to get the priests to blow them whenever the camp was assembled, or moved, or went to war, or burned sacrifices. What’s the significance of all that; why is it in the Bible? The real pleasure comes with hunting down those answers, with slipping quietly through the text and waiting for the moment when the answer comes within range. When it does, interpretive manhandling ensues, after which the preacher can walk triumphantly to the pulpit and put the answer – skinned, butchered, and cooked to perfection – out there for all to enjoy. Some of those answers require a lot more patience and skill than others, but it’s always rewarding when you find them.

Arenda and James came along to Dunnville a couple times, and we really enjoyed getting to know the VanWoudenbergs. James was bushed at the end of those days, having sat still only to eat. With most of our family back in BC, it was refreshing to spend time with people that reminded us a lot of home. We are grateful for the time we spent with them. Now that everything CRTS is behind me for the summer, I’ve also found a job landscaping. Like riding the gondolas in Venice, or yodeling breathlessly in the Alps, landscaping is just what you do here in Hamilton. It’s part of the fibre of Canadian Reformed life out here; you can hardly hold your own in a conversation if you haven’t done it. Plus, it has the added benefit of being very different from the world of ideas. That world has very few clearly defined boundaries and rules; it seems as though anything goes. But dirt is dirt and a shovel is a shovel, and working with them is simple, sweaty, and straightforward. You do need that from time to time.

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