There is no actual typical. That is as true for CCS students as it is for the rest of the world. CCS’s signature leadership program, Learning on Purpose, attracts a wide-range of students ~ diaconal, lay, ordained, Anglican, United. There are often students from the Sandy Saulteaux Spiritual Centre and other theological schools, various denominations and occasionally other countries and faith groups.
We recently spoke to four students who might be considered atypical, about their experience taking CCS’s signature leadership program, Learning on Purpose. Two are ordained ministers in the United Church and two are lay ministers in the Anglican Church. As an added point of interest, they are two couples. All of them live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Min Goo Kang is the minister at Fort Garry United Church. Ha Na Park is the minister at Immanuel United Church. Stacy Stanley Young is a self-employed book-keeper and volunteer treasurer at St. Paul’s Anglican Fort Garry. Evan Young works for the city of Winnipeg and is a liturgical lay leader at St. Paul’s. Min Goo and Stacy attended the LoP in August 2016. Ha Na and Evan attended in August 2017.
CCS – What drew you to CCS and Learning on Purpose?
Min Goo – I was new to Winnipeg and was looking for community. CCS is a great school and I had been going to events such as second Friday. I met people, and made friends and connections.
I wanted to learn about myself and my leadership style. When we are in ministry we just focus on what we are doing. I needed a time of reflection about myself and my ministry. And I wanted to learn in community. Before LoP I took Loss and Lamentation in the Pastoral Care year and had a good experience. I don’t mind being challenged and don’t mind challenging others in the same circle. The LoP was more intense.
Ha Na – MIn Goo recommended the LoP. At the time I was considering it, I was going through a difficult time, considering transition. I needed to recharge myself, refresh spiritually and renew theologically.
I thought LoP would be like a retreat. Something like hold a cup of coffee and talk to students. I learned that LoP was a transformative course. I was used to doing things alone in ministry. This challenged me to work in community and learn in community. Giving and receiving feedback was really transformational. Ministry is vulnerable. CCS is a safe place for a person like me to learn about these things and get confidence and renew the sense of meaning of ministry.
Stacy – We were born, baptised, married at [the same Anglican] church. It was hard to believe we would ever leave. There was a change of ministry and change of atmosphere at the church. It was tumultuous. This parish that we grew up in is no longer home. Then there was a family crisis. A family member was arrested and went through court and eventually went to jail. We supported him. People couldn’t understand our support. I didn’t have to like what he was doing, but everyone deserves a hand to hold. We entered a new parish and were immediately embraced and welcome. People at the new parish recognized the support we were giving.
Tim Sale (a CCS council member) said to me “You need to take this class.” At the time I wasn’t ready for it. It took both time and money. Then I got laid off and had the time and we worked out the money.
Those two weeks were a perfect blend of people, facilitators and timing in my life. It was the most soul changing experience I have ever had. I had decided if I was going to do this, I was going to be vulnerable. I came home and said to Evan, “You’ve got to take this class!”
Evan – I had taken the Ministering by Word and Example course. It’s a much more lay action course. I thought, this was kind of cool. These people weren’t completely nuts. When you are a white male and you are considering approaching a school that has an active and out there liberal feminist agenda, you wonder how would that be. Would I be the white male that has to be fixed? Or welcomed and engaged?
Everyone was willing to listen and be with where I was coming from. Both the students and the staff. The tone was very welcoming. At the same time, it was the first time I had done masters level work in 25 years. It was rigorous and engaging. That was cool. Not lightweight.
CCS – What was a particular learning or aha moment?
Min Goo – I took LoP after I took a [course that engaged] a deeper understanding of intercultural ministry. LoP had almost the same impact. The LoP students were slightly more diverse than other learning circles.
At the beginning, we were invited to think about our context, where we came from. Throughout the course we talked about power and privilege. It was a humbling experience as well as an empowering experience. When there is authentic conversation, there is possibility to be changed, transformed.
In the United church, we need to start from the beginning. We need to go back to the basic teachings and ways of Christ. In communities. When we rely on the powers because we are ministers, it does not work that way anymore. There is an intercultural aspect and building community.
A highlight was how we made a safe space so we could give each other feedback. In ministry we don’t do that because we have a fear of feedback. We don’t feel comfortable either giving it or receiving it. That was a most beneficial experience.
Ha Na – A surprise was that anywhere you go you find a time or a moment that you have to make a breakthrough. Each student will have to take initiative to make the learning valuable to them. In this learning process in community, the staff interventions are minimalized. It gives freedom to the learning community to sort out their needs amongst themselves. Each student will have to find their own need. It creates meaningful learning.
For example I was the only one foreign born or a person of colour. Even learning at CCS is not immune to white privilege. I needed to find how I would create the space that would work for me to be more fully myself to learn in this community.
Stacy – One day in class, we sat down and talked about the different types of theologies. I”m sure there was a dozen named but the only one I heard was disability theology. It unlocked the door that there are other things out there. Now I get it when people talk about feminist theology. This was close to my heart. I have a brother who is severely affected by disability and a son who is as well. It opened up a different world. Just blew my mind. I realized that the words could say something different. That I could come away from the subject matter and find acceptance.
Evan – I come from the structure of liturgy. It was very cool to be exposed to and connecting with people who had a very real and deep connection to the Divine and were willing to share that with me. And for me to begin to reach out and connect to that space in a way I haven’t normally done. Here’s a bunch of academic people who were willing to open up and to accept me. The profound spiritual welcome was very cool.
How has Learning on Purpose impacted other parts of your life?
Ha Na – After I went home I looked at my children. They want to participate in family life. I realized I was not giving them the chance and space to participate equitably and equally. Coming from my own cultural background [Korean]. Parents are parents and children are children.
Min Goo – I agree with Ha Na. I want to fully embody the circle way which is used by the CCS. I realize there are lots of opportunities in my life with family and neighbours to grow.
At LoP we talked about different ways of learning because we are all different. That was an important learning for me because I didn’t pay attention before. In everyday life, I assumed that everyone would get the same meaning, but now I realize that I have to take more time on how I include everyone I engage with.
Stacy – It has gotten us a lot more soul searching. For the first time since I left high school I have considered doing more schooling. I don’t know if I’ve ever had anybody outside of Evan express so much faith that I have enough smarts to do it.
Evan – I am coming up to 40 years in the scouting movement and coming up to the end run of that. I’ve become aware in the last few years that some of the work I have done in scouting could be considered ministry. Some of the work that I do with staff, supporting them in day to day work as a supervisor, ensuring that they have tools to get done what they need to get done, supporting people in family crisis, talking to people for an hour about what is going on in their lives, it’s ministry. There are people in my office, not on my team who have come to just sit and talk.
Stacy – Sometimes I think my business card should say “accountant and counselling.” When I meet with people, often I get “I don’t know what to do, I just want to talk.” We’ll sit in office and cry together. They can’t cry with staff or with clients so they cry with me.
CCS – If somebody asked you “why would I take Learning on Purpose?” what would you tell them?
Min Goo – Most of us who are ministers are lonely. We need support, we need community, we need a safe place where we can be ourselves. We need to know how to trust each other and trust God. These are basic things that we all need but especially those of us who are in ministry. It is soul work. It’s a hard thing but also an honourable thing. If we experience that kind of environment I think our ministry we will be better equipped. I have been talking to my friends about LoP. Everyone can benefit. It’s a kind of unique environment where everyone can be shown who they are, they come as who they are.
Ha Na – I think in its character CCS is free from limitations that other theological seminaries might have. The whole atmosphere of learning is affirmative. How the school shapes your learning and how the staff looks at you and supports you and treats every student with compassion. Every aspect of CCS is focussed on affirming and growing each participant. I would like to recommend this to my friends who come from other cultures, like Korea. They will get what ministries in Canada would ask them to do. In their local congregations they would ask people to come to find safe and affirming space. This is the place where you can try the creativity that is alive in anybody.
Evan – It was a good survey of other things that CCS does. Janet’s exploration of theology was an hour and a half and I felt “Give me more!” Each of us presented a different kind of a liturgy, different opening and closings each day. Mine was an Anglican Celtic presentation. I did it outside with candles. And it was an interesting opportunity to taste other stuff.
LoP stands on its own. You can comfortably take it without intent to go on. I’ve told some people that it is s leadership program. This would be interesting to somebody if they wanted to go into leadership in some other area, for example somebody in a social service industry. We did presentation skills, we did speaking. I was very happy for the opportunity. It was very enriching.
Stacy – I would say that it would be challenging. Not only from that academic point of view, but a challenge to what you are thinking and what you believe. Every so often as I listen to the gospel reading, I find myself thinking “did it really happen that way?” This gave me permission to question what I was thinking and how I understood it. It takes you deeper and you have a deeper faith. It’s ok to say those questions out loud as opposed to a generic Bible study that says this is what the Bible says, you either believe it or you don’t. Although it was a theological class, I would say for anybody who’s desire is to help anybody else in either a religious or spiritual way. It gave insight. Even if someone was afraid of church. It was two weeks and it will change your life.
The next Learning on Purpose will be held at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, BC, June 11 – 23, 2018. Register today!
The interviews have been edited and adapted for publication.