It’s September. That means CCS staff are out visiting our students across the country for field placement orientations.
This is Sparky, a fictional, totally made up CCS student preparing for diaconal ministry. Ted (somewhat less fictional CCS program staff) is visiting her in her home community of Oxter, Ontario. On a Saturday afternoon in September, Ted, Sparky, and all of Sparky’s support people have gathered in the basement of St. Cul-de-Sac United for Sparky’s orientation.
Ted outlines the roles:
- Obviously Sparky is central. The field placement is an opportunity for her to develop ministry skills through practice. It may look like work, and Sparky might even be in paid position, but the field placement is primarily a learning opportunity.
- There’s the school, represented at the orientation by Ted. Through learning logs, case studies, and reflections CCS encourage students to integrate their theoretical learning with their practical field experience.
Then there’s Sparky’s Learning Facilitator, Vern, who will meet with the Sparky once a week for reflective conversation about her learning.
- Sparky’s Diaconal or Vocational Mentor, Deborah, will connect with her eight times during the year (September to April) to explore what it means to be “diaconal.”
- Sparky’s Local Committee is made of four or five people. They will support Sparky by gathering six times during the year to share ideas and receive feedback from people connected to the field placement in a variety of ways.
Vern, Deborah, and Sparky’s Local Committee are all volunteers. They’re doing this because they’re committed to helping Sparky develop as a minister. They all have responsibility for support and accountability, naming affirmations and identifying areas for further work for Sparky. They’ll gather again in January and April for formal reviews of Sparky’s field learning. So at the orientation, Ted makes sure to touch on reflection tools and feedback principles.
Diaconal ministry is largely misunderstood across the church, so Ted spends some time focusing on this. This year program staff are using a set of symbols and images, from a speech by Lutheran deaconess Louise Williams, — towel, basin, bible, keys, light – to reflect on our vocation. Other years they’ve used elements of the 2000 years of diaconal history or principles and values of diaconia – mutuality, justice, community, gifts, integration, service, advocacy, solidarity – to mark the topic.
As Ted reviews the demands of the four-year CCS program, you can tell that he’s passionate about its integrative educational style: its action/reflection pedagogy, its sense of “both/and” need for affirmation and evaluation, its honouring of both individual growth and self-initiation AND relational connection and learning in community.
Sparky is pretty exhausted by the end of the day. Not only has she had to books the space, arrange the lunch, and get everyone together, she’s had to clearly name her learning goals for the year (with a bit of pushing from Ted to get really clear about what she wants to learn not just what she wants to do), and start to figure out how she’s going to relate to all these people who are there to support her.
The field orientation is about training. But probably as important, it’s about connecting. That’s why Ted likes to go in person when he can. It allows him to form a relationship with all the people who will be part of shaping Sparky’s vocational attitudes and ministry skills. Sparky, Ted, Vern, Deborah, and Sparky’s Local Committee (Samantha, Jon, Krysti, Tim, and Jorge) are all partners in the education effort.