[VST] When you think back to your time here at VST, what are some important memories?
[Karen Medland] I graduated in 2002. We were in the old building, the castle. I think the castle itself became a character in the story of being at VST. The rabbit-warren of study carrels downstairs. One of the things I distinctly remember is the front foyer space where everyone hung out.
The other piece was the strong desire from the school to build as much community into our work as possible. Being together in class and socializing together was really fostered.
Every year the students would make lunch for the Vancouver School of Theology Ladies Auxiliary as a thank-you for the money they raised. These ladies raise tens of thousands of dollars every year for the school. When we graduated, we were all gifted our graduation hoods. We all got book tokens. They populated the library with books in a way that a school of VST’s size really could not afford without them.
My best friend, Anna Constantine, who was in class with me, and myself volunteered to organize the luncheon one year, which ended up becoming two years. Organizing students to make sandwiches, to serve tea, and to host the ladies. How grateful the ladies were for the students who took time out of their busy schedules. The ladies were grateful we could make them lunch once a year.
Getting the opportunity to connect with folks who are giving time and energy to the school with such love and dedication was a real honour. To chair the lunch committee two years in a row was a huge honour, as well. Just to be able to say thank-you.
Were there any courses that resonated with you?
In our final year, Bishop Jim was teaching one of the classes. And he asked, “think of something that we haven’t taught you that you would like to know.” A group of us said, “How do we deal with media?” How do you do media relations as a minister, because you are the voice of the church.
My first pastoral charge was in North Thompson. We had the McLure forest fire blaze through. The fire took out the little village right next to our town. I was dealing with media endlessly. Wow, I actually had to use what I learned in that class. I had to learn how to do an interview, learn when to shut up, and what I should and shouldn’t tell people. That little class that we all thought was an easy-A ended up being really helpful. I was in front of the media constantly for about a month after the fires.
Can you connect your education from VST to your vocation?
In my work, in the Office of Vocation, we talk a lot about resiliency, and I know that’s a real buzzword that came out of the pandemic. But we’ve been seeing it pre-pandemic. How do we build resiliency into our clergy? How do we help them hear [a counter viewpoint] to their thoughts or ideas, and not take it personally? Which I think is a struggle for both the denomination and the schools because both focus on pastoral identity. We’re going to make you a minister. You’re going to have this pastoral identity. And, then what happens on the other side, you go into pastoral charge and you discover that no one cares about your pastoral identity, no one cares about your ideas. How do you negotiate putting everything together? Your idea of what your personal identity is, what their concept of your pastoral identity is, what your ideas are, what their ideas are, and how to mesh that together in a way that does not bring conflict.
We have to be really resilient because our people are struggling. And for me, as I think back, my time at VST was a place where that resiliency was built. In some ways that was because the school and the church agreed the eight-month internship would happen in year three. After our internships, we all came back for our fourth year and talked about our internship for a year. I mean, literally, we talked about our internship for a year. I think that’s where we built up some resiliency. We had these experiences – some good, some terrible – then we were able to come back and go, “Okay, so this is what I learned.” We had this safe place to process it. I think that’s probably where we built up some pretty good resiliency for ministry. Not all internships went well, and we were able to support each other and help one another process it better.
What advice would you give VST students that are preparing to go into ministry?
One of the things I would say is, I know passing your classes is pretty essential, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of being in preparation for ministry. In many ways, we did more preparation for ministry by sitting around the lunch table talking about experiences of actively doing
ministry. The ability to integrate into the everyday experience of being the minister was much more for me. I’m not an academic. I know lots of folks really get into the academics of doing their MDiv, but I found being able to integrate the experience of the practice of ministry, especially valualbe
The other piece, just because someone else has done it really well, doesn’t mean that you can. I think one of the pieces that we often see in ministry is we hold ourselves up in comparison to other people. And that was probably one of the hardest things to learn. If they could have taught me that in school, it would have made life so much easier. Learning not to compete with other ministers. Just because someone down the road has written the book on something – they’re on the tour, teaching everybody else how to do it – does not mean that it will work in your congregation. What you need to figure out is what is your congregation needs.
Don’t compare yourself to anybody. Do the best you can do and be the best you can be. And don’t worry about whoever’s down the street from you or even halfway across the country from you. Don’t worry about those people. Because, strangely enough, they’re probably comparing themselves to someone else too. Do your best, be the best you can be, and that will work.
Karen Medland was born in Johnstone a small industrial town outside of Glasgow, thus the accent if you’ve ever talked with her. She moved to Canada in the 1990’s and began studying at VST a couple of years later. Karen graduated in 2002 and was settled to the North Thompson Pastoral Charge. She was there during the fires of 2003 and floods of 2005. Karen moved to First United in Kelowna in 2005. This was followed by a move to Carman United in Chilliwack. For the last 3 years she has been working in the Office of Vocation as part of the national office staff. Karen gained her DMin in Preaching from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2019.