Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Letter From Noah Lawson New Seminarian

(Note) Seminarians are required to submit ember letters to our Bishop. Noah graciously agreed to allow me to post this letter on Soundings to inform others about the heart, rationale and adjustments a new seminarian experiences. He is young but mature in the faith. May God continue to richly bless him. Fr. Dale Matson 

September 28, 2011

Greetings Family, Friends, & Supporters in the Diocese of San Joaquin,

At the writing of this letter I have started my sixth week here at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. I hope that this note finds you well. You all are in my daily prayers for protection, wisdom, courage, and increasingly stronger manifestations of God-the Holy Spirit in your lives and ministries. You are God’s people.

I have been asked by many folks back home if I am feeling homesick. I have responded that I do in fact find myself missing my parents, sisters, and all of the other vital relationships in my life that I left back in California. While reflecting on those feelings I was reminded of God’s command to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love--Isaac--and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you." (Gen 22:2 NIV). It was an unthinkable demand to make of Abraham, to give up his only son. However, Abraham responds in the affirmative by rising the next day setting out to the place of sacrifice with Isaac. When they arrive the boy is bound and laid on the altar for sacrifice and as the knife is raised,

11…the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. 12 ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Gen 22:11-13 NIV)

While God’s call on my life to be a priest is the not quite the same as demanding the sacrifice of my child, it did require significant sacrifice none the less. I know that God has recognized the significance of my sacrifice to him: leaving family, friends, status, a political future, money, security, and comfort. In the same way that God recognized Abraham’s faithfulness by providing the ram for sacrifice and giving Isaac back to him God has provided for me by making the relationships that I have left behind that much sweeter, dearer to me, and more vital than ever. He has surrounded me with a new community of believers who are fast becoming men and women whom I can count as friends and fellow disciples. They are people who are passionate about Jesus, the Church, living into the call on their lives, along with professors who are grounded in the Faith and exercise their gifts of teaching in such a way as to equip us for ministry. Each day He is revealing a little bit more of what this exciting and extraordinary new vocation will look like and what it means. As you may know, many times God will ask us to give something up so that he can restore it to us in such a way as to draw us closer to him. So my response to the question of being homesick is that the feelings are within the context of something new, something healthy, and something exciting. God has provided for me richly here at Nashotah House. I have gained more than I have “lost.”

Classes here at Nashotah House are robust. My schedule is as follows:

Monday Evening: Ascetical Theology 1
Monday/Wednesday/Friday:  Biblical Interpretation 1, Greek 1, and Historical Theology
Tuesday/Thursday: Patristic & Medieval Church History, and Church Music 1

As many shared with me, the assigned reading for all of these classes is massive. My organizational, study, and discipline skills are all being stretched in significant ways. Each class is enjoyable and the relevance for ministry is clear. Greek is proving to be the most challenging. I have enlisted the support of a senior tutor and we have started a study group for mutual support and encouragement! I am working on assigned papers and projects and due dates will be here before I know it. Your prayers are appreciated on this front.

The classes are in addition to a rigorous schedule of extra-curricular activities. The center piece of Nashotah House’s life is community prayer. We are in chapel twice a day Monday-Friday conducting the Daily Office (a scheduled rotation of readings from the Old & New Testaments, the Psalms, and the Gospels) with daily Eucharist. On Wednesday I attend the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. There are voluntary services conducted on Saturday and Sunday. I attend Morning Prayer on Saturday and Saint Michael’s Anglican Church on Sunday mornings. The seminary says that more important than what happens in the classroom is what happens in the chapel. The primary concern of the seminary is to keep us rooted in the scriptures and in worship. Additionally, we have weekly community choir practice, work crew (I am on the refectory cleaning crew), and I serve as Rev. Dr. Klukas’ teaching assistant (right now I mostly make copies). Each of these activities along with my academics is a part my formation.  

As I mentioned in the paragraph above, I have been attending Saint Michael’s Church. Saint Michael’s is a new church plant and meets on the campus of Nashotah House. I am excited about the possibility of being a part of a new church plant and learning from that experience. The church has an average Sunday attendance of a little over 100 and seems to be a healthy community of believers. The Rev. Thad Butcher is the vicar and has indicated a willingness to allow me to do my internship (two semesters of supervised ministry) with them.

At the time of this writing the seminary was engaged in a silent retreat. During that retreat I met with the Rev. Peter Floyd of Saint Anskar’s Episcopal Church in Heartland, WI for spiritual direction and confession. The seminary would like for us to secure a spiritual director.  I felt like Fr. Floyd was sensitive, direct, and will be discrete. He is about 10 minutes from the campus and comes highly recommended. I hope to meet with him at least once a month for direction and confession as necessary. Related to this, I am in the process of reevaluating my rule of life (the personal commitment that I make to stay connected to God through reading, prayer, and work) and hope to establish it in the very near future with his aid.

I recently met with my new chaplain recruiter along with Rev. Steve Schlossberg, who is the director of field education for the seminary, to discuss how the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program and the seminary's Clinical Pastoral Education/Teaching Parishes Program requirements might be complementary. I hope to fulfill CPE/TPP requirements at naval installations (hospital, substance abuse centers, Fleet & Family Services, chapels, etc. under the direction of Navy Chaplains/personnel) in addition to going to "fork and knife school." These experiences will, I hope, help me discern this specific call to the Navy Chaplaincy and provide me with meaningful pastoral experiences.

The Lord also continues to supply all of my needs through you. I am working through a rotation of 132 supporters by either calling, e-mailing, or writing on a weekly basis as I have “extra” time (If I haven’t made contact with you…I will in the near future). It is a blessing to grow these relationships with family, friends, and supporters back home. You all are in my prayers.

Blessings to you & Keep the Faith,

Noah Soares Lawson       

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