For those of you who don’t know, this summer I began to study for the Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree at the Aquinas Institute of Theology. This is a decision that was a long time in coming, and helps to fulfill a longtime dream of mine to get back into the classroom not as a teacher, but as a student. We just finished our three day Orientation class here in St. Louis, and I am sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home. I thought it might be worthwhile to put down some of my initial thoughts about the experience, and establish a sort of baseline of my experience here, and where it will lead.
Frankly, it’s hard to begin on how to summarize my thoughts. After drinking from a firehouse for three days, I am a bit, uh, sated. However, I’ll give it my best shot.
For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in St. Charles, Missouri, which is just across the river from St. Louis. It is a special treat for me to have a reason to go home, especially since none of my family live here anymore. Between this and my work on the Board of Regents at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, I should be in St. Louis about half a dozen times a year.
Quite simply, I love St. Louis. It has always been one of my favorite cities, and not just because I grew up here. The sights, the sounds, the food, the drinks, the sports (Go Cards!), all of them are a part of my DNA, and I am thrilled to have an excuse to be here for a time. Except for the humidity. There is no good reason for humidity. Ugh.
Aquinas Institute of Theology
Aquinas is a Dominican (Roman Catholic) school. They train pastors, and offer several other degrees, but in many ways are best known for their DMIN program, which has been in existence for about 35 years. The campus is entirely housed in a converted adding machine factory, and is right next to St. Louis University, with whom they often collaborate. Somehow, the managed to pull off making a building that’s basically a big box into something that is intimate, professional, and Ecclesial. We can learn from them, because they have done it right. I’ll talk more about it in the future, I’m sure, but suffice it to say right now that I really like the space and how it is used.
Most of the students spent the week at the CSJ Motherhouse. This is a retreat house that is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. I don’t really know anything about the space or the order at this time. I think they said there were seventeen nuns that live on campus. It is a beautiful old building, probably dating from the 1920s or so. They were kind, hospitable, and the meals were fantastic. What more can you ask for?
The DMIN Program is rigorous. I can see that already. It uses a cohort system, so the eleven of us that began the program together will take all of our classes together, work on projects together, listen to and critique each other’s sermons, and kind of do everything together. At this point I am glad to say that I like everyone, and I pray they feel the same way!
Our first professor is named Fr. Greg Heille, O.P. He is a kind man, both meticulous and articulate. I expect he will get us on the right path, and help to blow out the dust of academic writing that many of us are felling.
One of my big concerns coming into this program was whether I will be able to be true to my confession as a Lutheran. At this point I would say certainly yes, and that in many ways they welcome it.
The real joy of the week was the people. There are eleven of us in this cohort, and it is diverse, much more so that one might even expect. We can be divided up in many different ways. 10 Catholics, 1 Pentecostal and 1 Lutheran. Or 10 men and 1 woman (which, FYI, is one of the Catholics). Or two members of religious orders and 9 who were not. Or 8 North Americans, 1 Canadian, and 2 Nigerians. Or 5 parish priests, 2 pastors, 1 hospital chaplain, 1 permanent deacon, 1 lay ecclesial minister, and 1 Pastoral Associate for Adult Faith Formation.
But despite the various differences, it is actually our commonalities that are more interesting. All eleven have a deep desire to proclaim the Gospel (although what is the “Gospel” for each remains to be seen). Each person in their own way, sees preaching as a craft that can be learned, worked on, and improved, while at the same time, recognizing that it is the Holy Spirit who is at work through each. My impression thus far is that there is a fairly broad view in terms of the them-political spectrum, at least in Roman Catholic terms. But my familiarity with modern day Rome is quite limited, and I’m sure I’ll spend a great deal of time learning.
It is certainly fair to say that we are still getting to know each other. I am very much looking forward to that process, and think it may be the best part of the whole thing. I did not expect that.
THE LUTHERAN IN THE MOSTLY CATHOLIC ROOM
This is really the interesting and in some ways funny part of the whole thing. I am a Lutheran through and through. That is very much my DNA. But it would also be fair to say that I find that I have a much closer affinity to modern Rome than I do to modern Protestantism, or even more with Rome than with some groups that call themselves Lutheran. There are many Lutherans, even of my same confession (The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod) that would find themselves much closer in terms of practice with the Baptist or Evangelical than with a Roman Catholic. But I am clearly not one of them.A part of what this means is that it was both amusing and gratifying to see that by and large, this little band of Roman Catholics had about as many caricatures of me as I did (do?) of them. Crucifixes, consubstantiation, the authority of the Scriptures, the place of tradition, the Sacraments in general, private confession, vestments, we covered all kinds of Lutheran practices or caricatures. In the same way, I was asking questions throughout orientation about everything from the Monstrance to what it means to be a part of a religious order, to concelebration, to all kinds of peculiar terms that I’ve never even heard of. And I’m probably on the much more educated end of things when it comes to knowing about Catholicism!
But what the experience highlighted for me is that we really are separated brothers and sisters in Christ. I could not go to the Eucharist with them, nor would they let me if I tried. This is good and right. It means that words matter, that we have much work to do, and that maybe, just maybe, we can actually learn from each other.
Anyway, these are my initial thoughts on the orientation time. There’s a lot more to say, but I expect it will take time to digest before I can put it into words.
And go, Cohort of 2016!