So I am going to a bible study at the church across the park from our place. I happened to visit the church a few Sundays back, on a day when I was too lazy to get up in time to make it across town to a church of my denomination, but not so lazy that I slept in. When I visited, I saw in the bulletin that they were starting a new study from the Living the Questions series, a series I have read about but hadn't had the opportunity to experience. So I decided to attend.
I called Nancy, the woman leading the study, whose number was listed in the bulletin, and she informed me that the class was not full and they would be delighted for me to attend.
"I want to ask you," she began, "have you ever done any bible studies before?"
"Oh, yes. I have."
"Oh, good. Well, are you familiar with the LTQ series?"
"Yes. That is what attracted me to the class in the first place."
"Oh, good, so you know how it works."
Actually, I didn't - exactly. But I really appreciate how Nancy wanted to make a newcomer feel welcomed. And I can understand what a baffling situation I put her in; it is not a usual occurrence to have a visitor to the church (this was only my second time to come - in eight months) want to attend a bible study. In my decade of church work that happened exactly zero times.
I assured Nancy that I wanted to come and that my level of interest was high and my ability to keep up with the class was adequate.
I did not tell her that I have a seminary degree nor that I am an ordained minister. I decided to go in cognito.
I went to engage in theological discussion with thinking people without having everyone in the room turn to me for answers. And I know that once I am out as a minister, I am doomed. I won't get to be a part of a community of questioners without people questioning me. So I kept silent about my education and vocation.
Which has not been so easy. I have so far avoided the "what do you do?" aspect of my story by telling what people really want to know: where the "y'all" is from (Texas) and what on earth brought me to Edmonton ("my partner is at the University"). And I have tried to stay quiet, to listen and to learn without adding my two cents here and there. But I am a loquacious gal, and despite vague attempts to dodge the professional question, my familiarity and grasp of the topics at hand have been evident. On Monday, our second class, Nancy called on me, "Now Rachel, this is obviously not new to you..." and continued asking me what I had gotten from the first session.
I replied that, yes, I had some previous exposure to the liberal theological ideas espoused in the series, so the thoughts weren't new or paradigm-shifting for me (anymore). And I continued to say that what I was taking from the course was the discourse around the room and the input, thoughts, and experiences shared by the people in the course. So another successful dodge.
I am enjoying the course. I really love the dialogue. And while it is somewhat exhausting to evade, I find it energizing to be able to be just "Rachel" and not "Rachel Rev", to ask questions in a circle without having to come up with answers, to let people teach me, and to learn what people really say when they think their ministers aren't listening.
Interestingly, at one point last night, one gal asked if I was a professional musician because I wore socks with music notes on them. Actually, the socks prompted the question about my interest in music, to which I responded saying that I sing and accompany myself badly on piano and guitar. I never once mentioned that I have my undergraduate degree in vocal performance. So I am a bit surprised that my musical socks outed me as a trained musician while theological discourse has not outed me as a trained theologian. Perhaps I am not as learned as I had thought. :)