CTS Essay Questions
Tony E Dillon Hansen
8 May 2018
I am pursuing theological studies due to a renewed sense of call. My call comes despite a long time of wondering and a period of serious doubt of organized religion.
The calling to ministry has been part of me since my youth, but I just ignored or put that answer on hold for a long time. I have endeavored throughout my life to serve the community and the Call just tickles that desire. Thus, there is a reason for everything and God has made that clear to me, including the time away from church as much as the return to church. With that, I have felt a spiritual connection in my youth, while in exile from church, and now that connection has been fully restored these years with the UCC. After reconnecting with the Church, serving various roles at Plymouth UCC, leading worship at area retirement centers, and then later serving as Student Pastor at Urbandale UCC, I feel that I am firmly called to parish ministry with an eye towards social justice and witness ministries. When you read the short religion and vocational history, I believe readers may understand more about this call.
With my goals, I was realizing that PATHWAYS was limited, and that my goals seem to require another degree.
My Religious and Vocational History (How I came to serve in the UCC):
I grew up Roman Catholic (and if we went my grandma’s house (my dad’s side) we went to Missouri-Synod Lutheran). My baptism patron saint is Anthony of Padua and my confirmation name is from Matthew, the tax collector. Perhaps, there may have been some intercessions in my life from these great spirits. In our family, we believed that Mass was not optional, neither were the beliefs and neither was service. For a while, I thought maybe I was hearing Holy Orders in my youth. Fundamentally, and probably due in part to my upbringing, I desire to and wish to serve my country and my community. There, however, was a problem with Catholic Holy Orders with who and what I was.
So I was in exile for years. In that time, I found strength and skill in martial arts (eventually achieving the rank of master) but also in studying Asian traditions that surrounded them. I also found myself serving our community through non-profit advocacy work in areas like human rights awareness, legislative lobbying, running pride festivals, HIV awareness, and later with competition taekwondo and interfaith dialogues. Through these efforts, I have grown to appreciate the value of the community and togetherness.
Also, I am a software developer by title and pay. Since my primary job is IT, I regularly use technology and have consulted on several great projects and strategies. Through this career path, I have learned the value of logic and simple designs. It has been a means of income for me but has lacked purpose.
I have learned much along the way, but something was elusive to me. Eventually, I found myself at Plymouth UCC by way of the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus and Interfaith Alliance of Iowa already meeting there. Subsequently, I had to see what was happening in the other rooms since I was already there every week. I attended worship with skepticism until I understood the UCC was really about embodying what I learned of the Gospels in my youth.
I became a member with my spouse, and like my youth, why just be a member? Where is the limit? I started as a Deacon, Chancel Choir and also Stephen Ministry. During that, I heard God calling me again (maybe it was Pastor Dave Ruhe of Plymouth UCC), but to invoke Psalm 23, perhaps I “heard” the gate open by the still waters and with Jesus waiting and calling again. So I have been serving at Urbandale UCC (UUCC) as part of PATHWAYS supervised ministry, along with Stephen Ministry via Plymouth UCC, leading worship at area retirement facilities, and pulpit supply where they invite me today as a result of listening to that call.
I realize that I have made a few mistakes along the way, but I have felt so many graces and connection with the service. I have learned so much from Pastor Dave Sickelka and his team at UUCC as well as colleagues in Stephen Ministry. Most of all, I learned from the congregation and how pastoral care is more than individual but can be projected in the communal setting of worship.
I want to serve my community and to help lead advocacy efforts in our community. I believe the power of the Gospels can help increase the effectiveness of those efforts. I also want to give voice to many sides of the theological perspectives rather than rhetorical and token slogans attached to harmful traditions that have caused so much damage and unbelief. With that, I see myself in pastoral ministry with an eye for social justice.
Also, after walking with my dad at the VA in his final months, I am also considering chaplaincy to help the many people that simply don’t have someone to walk with them.
The biggest challenge to my goals is competing priorities with my current employment and a need to pay down student loans that I acquired with my previous education. I thought maybe I would be able to take class work along with CPE, but I learned that CPE via UnityPoint in Des Moines may not be feasible due to potential schedule conflicts with my current career. I may have to get creative for CPE credits.
Religious institutions and community roles:
As I consider new paths beyond today, I realize that nothing good has ever happened when I did nothing. Sometimes, we have to change paths to do the good we want. For institutions relying upon doing nothing different will not change their situations or the situations in the communities we live. Our religious institutions influence are waning along with the decline of participation. The effort to reverse this seems to be relying upon well-worn methods from society that may not be effective today. There are core components of worship and some worthy traditions that we must consider, but I believe that we can work the mission Jesus gave us in ways that work today.
I have consistently made adjustments throughout my life to prepare for where I am, and with that, I do not expect to ever have the “perfect” anything. I believe that the UCC is a great home for the many in our community looking for a church home, and I would submit even for those not necessarily looking for a church home.
I see possibilities for activism in contrast to the many voices that have caused my own self-exile as well as social justice activism as part of the mission Jesus has given to us. Thus, the role that I anticipate is as parish and ministry leader that promotes social justice advocacy in the community. I like the idea of working with mission of Jesus to inspire people to support our community in unique and sustaining ways.
Two Critical issues:
The two critical issues facing religious leadership is 1) waning interest from the American population and especially younger generations and 2) rejection of religion due to personas that have damaged the pastoral institutions. The PEW Center has reported a continuing decline of Church participation and attendance especially with younger generations. This is a persistent issue from when I was a youth. While there are plenty of ways to distract people today, there is a fundamental question of the future of the Church when there is a decline that yields no end at this point.
This leads me to consider the second issue is that the Church has to be willing to take a hard look at itself, its practices and if its message really demonstrates what Jesus taught. The traditional building (church) for ministry is looking more and more foreign to people that have never stepped foot into a church and less welcoming to those that felt shunned by window-dressing rhetoric.
I am not here to fix things or to save people and I cannot undue damage that has already been done. I don’t want to add to that damage, and I want to offer the worship and community of God that lifts up and heals. I believe that we are here to learn and to work together in community. We have to be willing go into the community, and from 1 John, our Church is a mission started by Jesus not just for words but for action. We have to be able lift up the struggles and social justice issues of our community just as Jesus did. We also have to be open to listen to all of God’s people because there have been too many pulpits that excluded people from the Good News. The Good Shepherd story of John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus, by example, shows us how to be examples to our community for all people, not just those in the pews on Sunday. That is how our Church lives into future generations.
Why CTS application?
God has called me here and is slowly revealing the path for me, and I have yet to learn where this will ultimately take me. As I said, I feel my primary call is leading towards pastor at a congregation. Yet, by Jesus’s example, we are reminded to go the watering hole (John 4:1 - 26) to be with the community. Also, my experiences with my dad’s cancer treatments have me looking at chaplaincy, in addition to pastor role. I have pursued seminary training through the SE Conference of the UCC called PATHWAYS seminary program. PATHWAYS has greatly improved my theological connection and understanding for ministry in the UCC, but I realized the limits of the program. I pray that CTS will enhance this foundation as I move forward because it provides asynchronous program like PATHWAYS, CTS provides a path towards MDiv, and I have friends and colleagues with positive experiences at CTS.
As a pastor and church leader, I pray that my words and the meditations of hearts will be worthy in God’s sight always and worthy of the recommendations and recognitions given to me by Plymouth and my mentors. I will always give thanks for the opportunities and blessings I have, and I hope to share them with the Church and CTS.
Thanks Be to God