Entrance essay for candidacy

I will be continuing to post some of the things I’ve already written; I hope to get around to creating new content for this blog.  What I’m posting here is the essay I had to write as part of the first step of candidacy — it outlines the major chapters of my “call story” and gives some insight into why I chose to begin this process in the first place.

Entrance Essay

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”  James 1:2-4

Faith has always been an integral part of my life, but my relationship with religion has been a little complicated.  I was raised in the church — Immanuel Lutheran in Coleridge, NE — by a large, loving family that was and is highly active in the church and in the community.  My father and grandmother have always been two of my strongest role models, teaching me the value of honesty, personal integrity, generosity, hard work, commitment to family, and above all, faith.  As a child, I loved church and looked forward to Sunday School and singing in worship every week.  However, when I was nine, my childhood faith in a loving God was profoundly shaken by the loss of my mother to a years-long battle with cancer.  I couldn’t understand how God had allowed such a thing to happen; hadn’t we all prayed and done everything we were supposed to do?  Afterall, I hadn’t just lost my mother; I’d lost the buffer protecting me from the full brunt of a school and social life in which I was relentlessly bullied and harrassed for being overweight, bookish, and just plain different.  Maybe God was a bully, too, I thought.  With this thought in my heart, my animosity toward God grew.  Outwardly, I still did and said the things I was supposed to, but inwardly, I was filled with feelings of bitterness, anger, and isolation.

In eighth grade, this attitude was radically altered by a week of camp at Carol Joy Holling, which was required for confirmands in my church.  Over the course of a single week immersed in the company of other youth and enthusiastic counselors who shared their passion for Christ with us, my faith in God began to revive.  I began to accept that maybe God was still good after all, that perhaps God hadn’t inflicted my suffering, but shared it; that maybe God’s heart was hurting along with mine.  This experience came to a dramatic climax during an evening worship on a hilltop at CJH near the end of the week: we performed a confessional rite in which we wrote our sins and other negative things that got in the way of relationship with God on small pieces of paper, and then nailed them to a large wooden cross, where they were subsequently burned; ash and glowing embers curling up into the beautiful shape of a rose.  I was deeply moved by this experience and felt the burden of my grief and loneliness finally being lifted off of my shoulders.

Life got much better after this as I entered high school and began making friends and became very active in church by reading, singing, and participating in Luther League and other activities.  However, like many young adults, when I reached college, I gradually fell away from the church.  I was fascinated by the number of different perspectives and spiritual identities I was suddenly being exposed to, and was astonished to learn that most of my new friends were not Christian.  Furthermore, the left-leaning political inclinations I’d been slowly developing all through high school coalesced into a more fully-realized sense of social consciousness that suddenly put me at odds with the views of my deeply conservative family and many of the politico-religious ideas with which I’d been raised.

I began to see a divide in my life between those who were politically conservative and Christian and those who were politically liberal and not Christian, and felt pressured to choose one side or the other — a conflict that crystallized in my imagination as “Sunday School me” vs. “bohemian liberal me.”  For most of my early years in college, I chose the latter role, and quickly fell again into depression without the foundation of my faith.  My spirit buckled under the weight of newfound responsibilities, mountains of homework, and the pressure to succeed; and I watched helplessly as a number of my close friends struggled with drug addiction and abusive relationships.  I began to feel as awkward, insecure, and socially alienated as ever.  Maybe God was disappointed with me, I thought; I couldn’t seem to ever do anything right, and I certainly wasn’t doing any good for anyone else.

During a chance encounter with a coworker, memories of camp were unexpectedly dragged back into the forefront of my mind, and for months, said friend persistently encouraged me to apply for a job as a counselor.  I ended up working at Carol Joy Holling for two summers, and it was for me a hundredfold what my initial taste of camp had been.  I felt humbled and amazed by the grace that could take even my shortcomings and haphazard faith and use them to teach a new generation about the depth and beauty of God’s love.  I even got to relive that glorious encounter with the burning rose on the cross.  I had never felt so close to Christ as I did there in the lovely simplicity of God’s creation, growing and guiding God’s children and feeling my own light shine out again.

I graduated from college and moved forward into four years of Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, feeling strong in my faith and deeply motivated by it to serve others.  I threw myself with zeal into study of the Bible and unexpectedly found sympathetic companions in the large number of expatriate Jehovah’s Witnesses living in my site.  Increasingly frustrated by language and cultural barriers and the constant setbacks to progress in my project work, I found their English-speaking, North American, Christ-centric presence wonderfully refreshing, and soon began studying with them.  My friendships with them deepened and I seriously considered joining their ranks, easily able to envision offering my life to Christ and sharing my faith with others.  However, as I progressed in my studies with them, some of their more esoteric beliefs started surfacing and I grew deeply uncomfortable with their insistence on an all-or-nothing acceptance of every facet of their religion — facets predicated on the “truths” revealed to an unquestioned and all-male ruling body whose “new light” often suspiciously resembled the “old light.”

After I made my break with them, I fell deep into uncertainty and doubt.  My faith had been so twisted by these new teachings that I was no longer sure of what to believe.  Either I was an idiot for having so readily abandoned the faith I was raised in — again — or worse, I was a traitor for having betrayed the new “Truth” that I had been taught.  I couldn’t even bring myself to pray; why would God listen to someone as fickle and faithless as me?  I felt scarred and tainted and far from God.  I avoided church for the rest of my time in the DR.  In December 2011, I moved back to Nebraska, hoping and timidly praying to God to restore my spirit and to lead me to a place where I could heal, to bless me with new teachers who could help me untangle the knotted mess of my faith.

God answered.  Through an unforeseen string of events, I ended up at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, and it has been grace for me in every sense of the word.  Through Grace, I reconnected with friends from camp and connected with a wonderful new pastor and his wife who helped me make the powerful realization that there is no divide between “Sunday School me” and “bohemian liberal me”; my passion for social justice and my passion for Christ are one and the same, and I am not alone in feeling that way.  What’s more, the message of Christ’s death and resurrecton has finally hit home for me in a very real way.  I have finally embraced the fact that, yes, I am an idiot and a traitor.  I am broken and tainted, tangled and scarred, but it is for that very reason that the cross has any meaning at all.  It was God’s most supreme act of love.  For all of us.  For me.

Perhaps I needed to experience all of these ups and downs of faith in order for that truth to take root in me.  God made me a person of deep emotion and vivid imagination, and my story is full of both.  Whatever the reason, my heart was open to the call the night it came.  It was on the ride back from a youth group campout — we had just concluded a fireside evening worship that featured, of all things, the confessional rite of the burning rose on the cross — when my pastor suggested that I should think about seminary.

Now, I can’t get enough of the church.  I am an extremely active member of Grace:  I teach confirmation, serve on the council, sit on the youth committee and the social ministry committee, regularly assist in worship, am working to forge a relationship between Grace and Lincoln Literacy to benefit refugees and immigrants in the area, and have helped start a young adult faith discussion group in the Near South neighborhood.  I sing in the Lincoln Lutheran Choir and have also become an Oblate of St. Benedict in order to further deepen my relationship with Christ.  I share my faith with just about anyone who will listen, especially with my friends — Christian and otherwise — all of whom overwhelmingly support my desire to become a pastor.

I believe that the particular gifts God has given me lend themselves to ordained ministry.  I have a strong, personal relationship with Christ, a passion for serving others, and a deep love for people.  I am outgoing, compassionate, creative, hard-working, and resourceful.  I am emotionally intelligent, a good communicator, and a natural leader.  As for weaknesses, they are mainly the excess of some of these strengths:  I am a bit of a workaholic, have a tendency to “always be right,” and can sometimes get a little carried away by my feelings.  I continually work at maintaining balance in my life, with varying degrees of success.  I am drawn to the role of a pastor as one who leads the church forward, who shares faith with the hope of strengthening and uplifting others, who reaches out beyond the walls of the church to spread hope and to help the world in a meaningful way, and who becomes a friend and a guide to others through all the most precious and vulnerable moments of life, from the very darkest to the very brightest.

…I fully expect that ordained ministry will be an unpredictable but rewarding adventure, and I believe that I am up to the challenge.

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About Day Hefner

Day Hefner is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), going through the candidacy process to become an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Before moving to Chicago for seminary, she worked teaching English and job skills to refugees and immigrants in her native state of Nebraska, and also spent a year on staff at the Nebraska Synod office. Prior to that, she served for four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Currently, she works part-time as an itinerant preacher. Her interests include Latinx ministry and immigration activism, as well as interfaith and development/redevelopment ministry. She also has a degree in music, loves cats, and is an avid crafter.
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One Response to Entrance essay for candidacy

  1. Pingback: Please help me go to seminary! | This is the Day

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