by Kerlin Richter
I am candidate for ordination from the Diocese of Oregon, who moved to New York City last summer with my husband and seven-year-old son to attend General Theological Seminary. In Portland, Adin was at a really awesome public school, but the school here wasn’t a good fit. He was getting stomach aches every day and feeling overwhelmed and deeply anxious, so we decided to take him out of school, at least for a little while ,and see how homeschooling would work for our family. It has been great. He and my husband are having an incredible time exploring the riches of NYC and his reading level is improving. All in all, it is working out better than we even expected.
This year I am also doing my field placement with an emerging liturgical community called Transmission. They have been meeting for the past five years in members’ homes as a “house church,” exploring ritual planning and creative liturgy. One week before Ash Wednesday, they began a three-month trial of meeting at a Lutheran Church called Grace and St. Paul’s after a long discernment about Transmission’s next steps.
There are definitely similarities between the way we are educating our son and the faith community I am partnering with. Neither one comes out of anger at “traditional” systems. I love church, I have been knit back together and felt the undeniable love of God wash over me in the context of very traditional church services. And while we are having a fabulous time this year homeschooling, Adin will probably go back to public school when the time is right. But, right now, both Transmission and homeschooling are providing space to explore and ask questions and investigate in ways that feel fresh and unique.
Adin is a very smart, self-directed kid, so much of the work I am doing as a homeschooling parent is talking with him about the things he wants to explore and providing resources for that learning to happen. It is also my job to offer him experiences and ideas he might not come up with on his own, to check out books from the library I think he might like, or take him to places he doesn’t yet know.
When I started talking with Transmission last summer, the one thing they were really clear about in wanting a “Seminarian in Residence” — even though they are very horizontal in their leadership and didn’t need a “leader” — was that they needed a theological resource. I talk with them about things they would like to explore, help with clairifying plans, and occasionally offer experiences or ideas that might not have come up otherwise.
I believe that authority serves best when it is a helpful resource not a programmatic and prescriptive stance of superiority. I am so grateful for my time with Transmission, not only because I have learned so much from the beautiful amazing people who have let me come along on their faith journey this year, but also for the chance to live into a model of pastor as resource.
Adin is not a blank slate waiting for me to fill in my perspective on the world, any more than the people of Transmission are empty vessels waiting for some well-poured theology. Adin wants me to help him learn. He comes to me to help him figure out the complex world he is making sense of. There are plenty of people in the world who desperately want faith leaders to be supportive of the very real journeys they are already on. People want us to offer support and ideas to broaden their questions. Educated clergy have a wealth of gifts they can offer, especially if we can do it in a spirit of humility, offering ourselves as resources.
Kerlin Richter is a student at the General Theological Seminary in New York City and a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Oregon. Prior to coming to seminary, Kerlin was the editor of Hip Mama, a countercultural, feminist parenting ’zine. She is currently doing her field placement at Transmission, a liturgical emerging church in NYC. You can read her sermons at Postulant Mama.