I learned about Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) and its Volunteers Exploring Vocation (VEV) program while serving in Baltimore, Maryland, with Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS). I entered MVS directly after completing my bachelor's degree in order to take a step away from academia for a short period of ministry experience before heading to seminary for my Master of Divinity degree. Therefore, learning about VEV didn't create my desire for further theological education, but that in no way means it didn't shape my journey.
I wasn't able to attend the regional FTE conference that year, but through that invitation I became aware and was able to apply for the new VEV fellowship that was seeking its first class of seminary students, and was fortunate enough to be accepted into that inaugural cohort. In the six years since, VEV has given me two large blessings: financial aid and an inspiring support group of like-minded individuals.
The financial gift came in the form of a four-part scholarship, one part for each of my three years pursuing my seminary degree and the fourth part as I put my faith into service during the summer between my second and third years. That aid greatly lessened my student loan burden and, though I may not have been conscious of it, has allowed me to accept opportunities for service that do not offer high wages. Instead of seeking summer employment and work after seminary specifically to pay down the cost my education, I've been able to work at summer camp and become a Service Adventure leader. Those choices would have been much more difficult if FTE hadn't eased my student loan situation.
Greater than that blessing, though, the networking and my 2011 VEV fellowship cohort, has positively impacted me as I progressed through seminary and on to Service Adventure leadership. At its onset, VEV had a network of maybe 15 to 20 Christian voluntary service organizations, and, I think, the initial cohort brought together young seminary students with a heart for service.
We soaked up the newness of our program and, despite our different Christian backgrounds, came to it with energy and optimism; we were told that we represented the future of the church – and we believed it. We became fast friends and compatriots on our parallel journeys.
Each summer before our years of seminary, FTE brought us together along with the next year's VEV cohort for a conference of worship and education. We learned about the skills that it would take to be a mover and shaker in our denominations and church contexts, specifically to direct the Church toward living out the instructions of Jesus to care for the people and the world around us through service in the name of Jesus.
We're now priests, social workers, campus ministers, workers at nonprofits caring for the homeless and powerless – mentors and aids to others who share our passion. And most of all, we're still connected. We are a support network for the highs and lows of ministry and a sounding board for thoughts and ideas. The VEV fellowship program lasted only a few years, but the 2011 cohort will last much longer.
I would still have graduated seminary and I likely still would be serving with Service Adventure if I hadn't been connected with and aided by FTE through VEV, but my journey would have been much more difficult. It would have been more of a financial strain and a more isolated journey. The value of being surrounded by like-minded, energetic, and inspiring allies as a source of encouragement and empowerment that cannot be over-stated. I'm very grateful for the blessings VEV has provided for me.