Hi Immanuel Family,
I want to give you an update on my educational journey. Meeting requirements to become a Pastor in the Christian Reformed Denomination is somewhat of a complicated process, so I will do my best to explain things simply. I should have learned how to explain things by now, right?
I am currently in the final week of my final semester at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. It has been quite the journey. In September 2016 Jill and I moved to Grand Rapids to start this chapter of my ministry preparation. Early on, I made experiential learning a priority. I participated in the first concurrent pastoral internship at the Seminary in a local church in GR. After completing that internship, and another required cross-cultural internship, I was still longing for more hands-on experience in ministry. A professor of mine who was equally passionate about experiential learning helped enable me in my obsession to learn while doing. This professor, Geoff, also happened to be friends with Erick. When Erick reached out to Geoff after your last ministry intern, Cara Dehaan, left, it was a match made in heaven. I’m not exaggerating either, Erick’s words on the phone to me were literally, “giddy up!” So, in January 2019 Jill and I moved here and I began my service at Immanuel. I’m sure I don’t have to recap anything more since my time here has been SO memorable for you all (I guess I missed the seminary class on humility).
Since I’ve been in Brampton, I have been taking classes online. Online class has been tough for me. I am a verbal processor and need peers and professors to discuss with. I empathize with all our students who have been subjected to online classes against their will right now. What has gotten me through this online learning is the very reason I decided to switch; our church. Preaching, youth alpha, pastoral care, Executive team meetings, and all the rest of my opportunities here at Immanuel have kept me grounded. If I needed to discuss things, I knew the entire Immanuel Staff was more than willing to listen and help me out. There have been moments when I seriously doubt my abilities, and at times even my whole calling. However, the consistent encouragement you as a church give me is what gets me through and makes me even stronger.
Part of my journey through seminary involved a 2-part final examination. This examination takes place alongside of the courses that I am taking online. The first part is an oral examination in front of a panel of 3 professors (unfortunately Geoff was not one of them). My oral exam took place a couple months ago in March. I was certainly anxious about it and was not myself at all in the weeks leading up. But the support of the Immanuel staff, your prayerful support as a church, my amazing wife, and the Grace of God got me through. I was so excited to share the news that I passed because you all celebrated with me! Every congratulatory email, text message, and Facebook comment brought a smile to my face and sometimes tears to my eyes. In this time of physical-distancing we are sharing our burdens, which is important, but I am thankful that we can share our joys with each other too. The 2nd part of my examination is a case study involving a particularly complicated real-life issue that a Pastor might face in ministry. Part 2 is less intense than part 1 of the exam, but was still thought provoking and time consuming. I had to write up a thorough and well-researched response to this case study and then defend that response verbally to my same panel of professors. The case study part of my exam took place at the end of April. I am excited to say that I passed!
Now, if all that information about graduating seminary wasn’t complicated enough for you, there is also a process that the Christian Reformed Denomination requires aspiring Pastors to complete. The process, in short, involves mentor meetings, classis meetings, and a Zoom interview with some denominational representatives. While I still have some minor loose ends to tie up here, I passed my interview and am all set to complete the Denominational process. The million-dollar question right now is, “What does completion look like?” Will there be a ceremony once things get back to normal and social restrictions are lifted? I certainly hope so. Walking across a stage and shaking the Seminary President’s hand is something I’ve looked forward to for a while. The CRC requires that before any Minister of the Word can receive a full time long term call to a church they must stand before Synod and receive a blessing. Just in case you are unfamiliar, Synod is a yearly gathering of CRC churches across North America. This has also been jeopardized by Covid19. However, I will be blessed by a select few representatives of the CRC over a Zoom call in June.
When I started my journey in Seminary and into ministry preparation, I was full of wondering and expectation. I didn’t know if Greek class would keep me up late with homework, if my professors would answer all my questions about God, the bible, Christian ethics, or if my time in Seminary would truly prepare me for life as a Pastor. Now that I am almost done, I am equally full of wondering and expectation. Will I be able to experience a graduation ceremony? Where will God call me now? Will ministry be fundamentally different now that Covid19 has rocked our society? Will I be ready?
Most of my questions are different now that I’m almost finished, except one, “will I be prepared, will I be ready?” While only time tells the answer to my other questions, I think this one can be replied to right now. I will never be ready, but I am certainly prepared. Your encouragement as my church family has told me this. Jesus has told me this too, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me … surely I am with you always, until the very end of the age.”
Thank you for all the support you have given me this past year and a half. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and serve God. Thank you for your patience as I learn. Thank you for your trust to let me be a pastor to you. I am excited to continue my ministry here for the time being and for the discernment process around what that might look like long term.
– Pastor Derek