Me and St. Luke’s.
by Francisco Herrera
When I moved to Chicago in the dead of winter in 2005 to start the whole ordination-process-thing I was virtually clueless. I knew almost nothing about church, the ELCA didn’t know anything about me, and sometimes we even brought the worst out of each other. I persisted, though – repenting and growing along the way, benefiting from intensive therapy, my professors at Chicago Theological Seminary, CPE, a sympathetic Candidacy Committee, and a very devoted and loving wife (Thanks, Sanja). But I’d screwed-up a lot – angering and hurting people in my first attempts at Christian leadership, and despite my progress, many church peeps were still quite reluctant to welcome me in again.
Then I came to do my MIC at St. Luke’s (September 2011 – May 2012).
While there I was afforded a genuinely ‘clean slate’ – my past mistakes treated more as a beginning than an ending. Generous and patient, the community willingly and lovingly accepted and challenged me, and even my inevitable slip-ups served only to deepen the relationship between us rather than compromise it. St. Luke’s sainted souls bathed me in a respect and affirmation that I had desperately needed and filled me with a deep, stabilizing joy – like that time when, after asking Pastor Erik for thoughts as I finalized a mid-week worship service and, shaking his head, he warmly assured me:
“No Francisco. I’ll leave it all to your very capable hands, and we’ll see each other on Wednesday.”
I cried off-and-on for the rest of that afternoon, relishing in his blessing and realizing that maybe – just maybe – I really COULD be a pastor.
Sadly though, at some point my bishop received a new complaint about me and boundaries (long the synod’s chief concern) and my process was abruptly rescinded. He told me I could eventually re-apply but I knew that I wouldn’t. After having seen too many others in my same position spend years sacrificing their agency and peace-of-mind to the idol of ordination, I wasn’t about to do the same. So I left Candidacy for good. But though shaken and unsure, the Lord wouldn’t be long in revealing my next steps, even planting a hint of it in a parishioner’s side-comment during my very last day at St. Luke’s, a bit more than three months before I got the bad news.
“I know you’re studying to be a minister,” said this loving grey-beard, “but I really see you more as a professor. I know you’ll make a good pastor, though.”
Funny how the Spirit works that way, ya’ know?
So after a year off, I switched my degree program at LSTC from MATS to PhD and began jamming to my current beat in August of 2013. Since then I have had many many blessings – traveling, writing, working for #decolonizeLutheranism, loudly proclaiming the hard truths about church that others can’t (post-Candidacy, Pastor Erik recommended that I “enjoy the fact that [I was] no longer being supervised.” GREAT advice. Thanks, Erik!). But suffice it to say, my séjour with St. Luke’s is holy to me – not just as the place where I first ‘practiced’ being a pastor, but as a community which gave me full openness and full trust and full blessing – fully acknowledging my gifts to ministry, and fortifying my soul in ways that have sustained me through many a danger, toil, and snare.
And I always feel a little rush of delight whenever I learn that a seminarian I know is going to be working with y’all. You’re pretty great at what you do, so please. Keep doing it.