Moments in Ministry Formation: Student Share Their Experiences at Calvin
Published by Calvin Seminary
“I was called to seminary in a moment, essentially.” MDiv student Kristy Bootsma says, as she sits down for a Zoom conversation with two other women studying at Calvin Seminary.
The Edmonton, Alberta native is remembering that moment of clarity five years ago when she suddenly received her calling.
“From the tips of my toes to the top of my head I was filled with the Holy Spirit,” she explains. “It was something I’d never felt before. God said you will do this. And I knew that ‘this’ – the only word for that was ‘pastor.'”
“Here I am, send me,” she responded, echoing Isaiah’s commission in the Old Testament. And she found Calvin Seminary was a good fit for her next Steps.
HEARING AND DISCERNING
It is then that Nicole Romero, a third year MDiv student, jumps in the conversation on calling.
“My call to seminary was not nearly as organized,” she says, nodding to Bootsma. “To tie a word to it, I come back to the word’ whirlwind.'”
After completing her undergraduate studies in intercultural studies, Romero had envisioned herself living overseas or connecting with her Honduran roots in Central America. All of her opportunities were leading to serving outside of the U.S.
However once offered a position teaching English in Indonesia with the Peace Corps, she sensed she needed to turn it down. It was then that past conversations came to Romero’s mind. A professor and a supervisor during her undergraduate years, both Calvin Seminary alumni, had separately posed the same question: “Have you ever thought about seminary?”
What is that? thought Romero. What could I do?
Recalling these questions led Romero to Calvin Seminary to jump into the MDiv program.
Fellow student Gail Ashmore, who is pursuing an MA in Ministry Leadership through distance learning, shares some of her own questions about her role in ministry. They were questions for which she didn’t have all of the answers when beginning her seminary journey.
“It was this step of obedience and abiding in the Spirit one step at a time,” she recalls.
At first, Ashmore says she looked for the approval and affirmation of others. But in time, she learned that God’s imagination is bigger than what others could offer.
So Ashmore took the first step towards seminary, feeling called not to a specific role, but to God himself. Soon she began discovering her enthusiasm for pastoral leadership. Now, she says, she’s dreaming about completing the MDiv. “God has taken me so much further than I could ever imagine.”
WOMEN OF WELCOME
At the time she was called, Bootsma didn’t have a clear picture of a model for being a woman in ministry. After more than 20 years spent in the church, she knew only of one female youth pastor. Today, she can’t count the number of women in ministry she not only knows of, but with whom she’s personally connected.
Bootsma says that the mentorship aspect of seminary has been absolutely crucial in her formation.
“I was unprepared for how important mentorship would be,” she says, noting that a leading guide in her journey has been Dr. Rev. Mara Joy Norden at The Community Church, an RCA ministry in Ada, MI.
Norden, Bootsma’s internship supervisor has become “a friend when ministry doesn’t always feel friendly.”
The future pastor says of her mentor, “She has encouraged me to lean into what is good and lean into what is hard. She’s been able to identify gifts in me and encourage questions in me.”
“She models what a ministry leader should be.”
Romero can’t imagine her seminary experience without her own mentoi} Ann Kapteyn, a Bible translation consultant and former missionary-in-residence at the seminary.
“She has been such a foundational person in my life as well as in this seminary journey,” Romero reflects.
Romero and Kapteyn, who have served in Brazil and Cameroon for two decades, found an immediate connection through their interest in communication among and between cultures. The pair also dialogued about their tendency to feel overwhelmed at times, recognizing that the spaces they walk in as women can be unfamiliar to them and toward them.
Ashmore says that her mentor, Rev. Samantha DeJong-McCarron, has been just as influential. Dejong-McCarron, Vocational Assessment and Discernment Specialist at Calvin Seminary, often reminds Ashmore that “we are human beings, not human doings!’
This realization., Ashmore notes, frees her to “not lead out of a place of productivity but to lead out of a place of Jesus’ healing and love.”
Ashmore has also taken comfort in this principle as she has witnessed the pace of her own “productivity” ebb and flow. Her first seminary experience, at a different institution., provided “inner transformational work,” she says, preparing her to let go of fears she had harbored as she began to walk into ministry training.
That work was needed, she says, but slow — “like molasses.” That all changed when she found the MA in Ministry Leadership program.
“When I came to Calvin.” she reflects, “I felt like it went from molasses to sprinting.”
Ashmore said she found a community of support in everything from the admissions process, to financial aid, to faculty and staff speaking into her giftings.
As she looks toward graduation from seminary – an educational space that once had intimidated her – she finds herself saying, “I don’t want it to be done.”
Romero won’t have to worry about her theological training being done anytime soon. After completing her MDiv, she will undergo several steps to become a board-certified hospice chaplain. It’s a path she couldn’t have predicted, but one she couldn’t be more excited about.
Romero knew the calling was “not of her own making” when she woke up with the idea of hospice chaplaincy, and needed to do a Google search to discover what it was and just how intense preparations would be.
“I found out it was a huge undertaking.” says Romero. But her determination to pursue the calling came with an unexpected affirmation.
When someone close to her entered the dying process, she was able to come alongside the woman’s immediate family and pray through the experience, which she remembers as “a sacred and special and hard time.”
Romero knew she needed to put into practice her pastoral care training and be present with the woman and her family throughout the hospice journey. Now she feels confident there will be more individuals and families to walk with in the future when she is granted chaplaincy.
It’s soon time for the three women to sign off and head to their current work with it’s own mission: Bootsma to a meeting, Romero to writing papers, and Ashmore to tend to her young children.
In closing, Ashmore reminds her fellow students of something she tells all future seminarians, and particularly women, about the journey.
“Don’t lead from your own sufficiency,” she says. “Do this with your shepherd and lean on him.”
By Amanda Greenhoe
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