Being a pioneer—this character trait flows in the life blood of Americans. It helped me be the first to step up to the altar after completing a full priest training at the North American Seminary of the Christian Community.
My journey to the altar began in the summer of 2009, when my husband woke up with the thought that I should go to
the seminary and prepare to become a priest. I was a Waldorf kindergarten teacher at that time, and was surprised at how quickly this new thought took hold of my life and began to change it. By the time I began Seminary training in September 2011, I had left teaching, given away half of our possessions, sold our family home, and moved the family to a different state, leaving friends and familiar surroundings behind.
Life as a first-year student was fulfilling and challenging. Seminary is a kind of karmic fast-track; if you are open, you can quickly work through what normally takes years to acknowledge and transform. In times of struggle, when I felt like the ground was shaking beneath my feet, what flowed from our daily experi- ence of the Act of Consecration of Man became the ground on which I stood.
In the fall of 2012, a second year of the priest training was offered in North America for the first time. Emma Heirman and I were the ground-breaking students, entering this pioneering phase along with Seminary Directors, Gisela Wielki and Oliver Steinrueck. It took a few more months before another import- ant participant in this adventure, Bastiaan Baan, was able to join us. It seems that the government of the United States was not as excited about pioneering as we were, as it slowed down the entry of our new Seminary Director with visa paperwork!
It was on Good Friday of 2013 that Bastiaan and Gisela told me that they were sending me to Forest Row, England for the first part of my internship. This was a place that I had always wished to go, but would the umbilical cord that ran between my family in Massachusetts and the Seminary in Spring Valley stretch all the way across the Atlantic? After prayerful consideration, I put my trust in the seminary process and said yes. And so my year of “practical experience” was spent with two wonderful congregations and in two beautiful places: Forest Row and the Taconic/Berkshire Christian Community in Hillsdale, NY. The priests and the members that I met during this time helped me understand in a deeper way the need for the sacraments in our very human lives. These experiences away from home also helped shake me free from place, things, and the shelter of the family, freeing me to be who I am no matter where I am or whom I am with.
I had reached the end of the seminary path. Now I could go further only if invited to do so by the Circle of Seven, the leadership and spiritual organ of the Christian Community. So in June of 2014, I journeyed to Berlin along with fifteen other candidates to meet with the leadership. This was not my first trip to Germany; Emma and I had already spent a number of weeks at the Stutt- gart Seminary, getting to know the other students, experiencing the Seminary culture, and visiting German congregations. Emma had even spent her intern- ship year in Germany. But this visit to Berlin was a threshold moment.
I was invited to step across this threshold and in October, 2014 I entered the final phase of the priest training. I was the only student from the North Ameri- can Seminary to move forward at this time, as Emma decided to postpone her entry. Pioneering can be a lonely task! So the Circle of Seven invited me to participate in some of the classes with the others preparing for ordination at the Stuttgart Seminary. I spent October and February in Stuttgart, with my transla- tor and colleague, Rafal Nowak, whispering English in my ear during classes. In November, December, January, and March I was trained in Spring Valley.
I was ordained in Spring Valley on March 14, surrounded by priests, students, congregation members, and the ever-present spiritual world. One can hardly describe the miracle of this moment—so many things had to come together in just such a way, so many doors had to open, and so many people had to give of themselves to allow me to step up to the altar for this sacrament. It was a deep and moving experience. It was nourishment for the souls standing as witnesses, for the life of the Seminary, and for the work of the Christian Community in North America.
The path to the eye of the needle may be narrow, but when you reach the other side, everything widens out again. To walk this narrow path, I had to let the old fall away, stand up and face my fears, and learn to trust in the guidance of the spiritual world. Now standing on the other side, it is time to step out into the wide world and take up my task as priest. Where would I be sent? After all the homelessness and wanderings, I am back home, in the Boston Christian Community! I may have returned to a place that is familiar, living with family once again, but I have come a long way. I am born anew.
by LISA HILDRETH
picture1: Rev. Lisa Hildreth with her husband Arthur
picture2: Impressions from our course on Christian Initiation by Vera