What brought me to Calvin Seminary?
Honestly, in a name, God.
I remember one day in November, walking on the Calvin College path between the library and the Commons Annex, and looking out onto the sugar maple tree that sits off to the southwest side of the Commons field, when a thought passed through me—it sort of settled into me slowly, not in a grand or significant way, not even a feeling necessarily—just a sense, a knowing I guess, that I was going to be at Calvin Seminary.
As I said, there wasn’t significant feeling or conviction attached to it yet, so I didn’t think too much of it, until later.
I spent the rest of the semester effectively trying to ignore the sense of pressing and feeling toward seminary and pastoral ministry which I had kept trying to shrug off since my junior year as a Jubilee Fellow at Calvin College; I was being disobedient.
What about it scared me off? The impossibility of the task. Let’s not kid ourselves: serving the church, the body of Christ, is an impossible task. There’s no self-equipping here, no amount of good intention, hard work, effort, strategizing, that can grow or strengthen or equip the church apart from the Holy Spirit. I was worried I wasn’t going to be enough. That in the process, I would burn out and die as I realized I wasn’t enough. That was terrifying.
God though. God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. With a loving and gentle hand, God waded with me through the mess of my own inner conflicts, sifting through the apprehension, fear, inadequacy, contempt, and rebellion to see clearly the inner conviction and calling of the Holy Spirit. This inner conviction coupled with the testimony of wise mentors, my parents, my dad’s seminary professor, and friends all calling me out, and naming ministry as my vocation, long before I even wanted to consider it, was the movement I needed to get me to step out in faith.
February of my senior year, after attending the Urbana Missions conference, where God effectively dismantled my every reason for my resisting and begging “Please, no,” I had the courage and joy to apply to seminary.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. After being accepted to CTS, July came and with it a wave of doubt and wondering what in the world I was doing. But, August came, and when I moved into my Burton Street apartment, peace washed over me. I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
Last year was my first year in the M.Div program. God granted me such a sense of assurance and peace as I began seminary. It was deeply satisfying and enriching to study church history, theology, pastoral care, Greek, and to practice spiritual disciplines. But I understood what people meant when they said that seminary could be the loneliest of times and places, too. Now, I rest steadily in the assurance that Jesus Christ is my rock; the Church is his, not mine—not yours. I will not be enough for ministry. Yet, that is the way it ought to be. We don’t do this—ministry—in our own strength. But in God’s power, God’s strength.
This second year has been deeply enriching, challenging, and stretching. New aches, new joys. I’m finding the more time I spend at CTS, my love and commitment to this place grows. But, the flaws and injustices in this community of faith and study also are more apparent and glaring and painful. But God has brought us, you and me, to Calvin Seminary for such a time as this.
I am at Calvin Seminary because God has brought me here. I couldn’t have seen this when I was in high school applying to Calvin College out of the blue. Dale Cooper, who was one of our mentors for the Jubilee Fellows program would say often, quoting Walter Brueggemann, “God’s other name is Surprise.” Surprise, indeed. Thanks be to God.
By Joella Ranaivoson