I believe experiencing the call to ministry is the closest I’ll ever get to being a Jedi.
I don’t know what it is like to pull an X-wing out of a Dagobah swamp, but I do know what it feels like to be so illogically pulled to something that you begin to make decisions that require a full-life, whole-self commitment. Things like telling your girlfriend of two years that you’re going to seminary, despite the fact that you didn’t even go to church regularly when you started dating. Like quitting a job to go to seminary, which adds even more money to an already staggering educational loan load.
Educational Loan Load is the name of my Big Audio Dynamite tribute band.
But lots of stuff like that; more and more decisions made based upon following the gospel. Decisions made because you want to speak less and do more. It is a sometimes incredibly disorientating process.
I’ve spent a lot of my life reciting my CV, often unprompted. That is the training in academia. We build up a persona–from the Latin (via the Etruscans and Greeks) meaning role or actor–that is based upon having the proper initials at the end of your name. Since I fully gave my life to Christ, my sense of self has shifted, meaning that I now longer identify myself professionally as anything other than a pastor. Oh, I’ve got some longer descriptions like pastoral theologian or pastor scholar. But they all begin with pastor. I don’t plan to use my full professional title too often even after I earn it, but when I do it will always be Rev. Dr. I know what comes first. This ego don’t need no more stoking. It was blazin’ plenty big already before Jesus got ahold of it.
I’m avoiding the topic. Dammit, I have to write this.
I must always walk a fine line. It is clear where I work, and for people within the immediate community it could be readily apparent who I was writing about if I were to disclose anything beyond the most general of details. I never want to be doubted by a congregant or anyone who comes to me for care or simply a shoulder upon which to cry; I never want someone to feel that I have violated or might violate confidentiality, or for the governing body of the congregation to feel like our conversations will be replayed for another audience. I think that I have been very responsible and respectful; it seems the people who complain the loudest and the most often never even bother to actually read anything I write. They assume.
Like this: During the first year of my pastorate I had a colleague caution me to be less active on Facebook because a post I made about being in awe of the amazing, strong women in my life ended being told to said colleague as the wild new pastor in Yellow Springs bragging about the number of women he beds. And he’s a bisexual, too! I would have added had I been brought in on the skinny.
But I’ve gotta write about what is going on. Today in worship I informed those who were in attendance that I have been repeatedly told that there are persons who do not come to worship anymore because of me. I’ve been called divisive; I’ve been told that I am–or I will, depending on the time it was said–drive the church apart.
I don’t feel much like a Jedi right now.
I encouraged members of the congregation–and there will be an email in the morning so that those who were not present will be made aware–who do not agree with the direction I have been leading the church to speak to the Session. We are coming up to my contract renewal and I think it is time we did something definitive. I understand the financial limitations of the congregation, and I legitimately believe that I have some solid ideas that are already in motion that could greatly benefit the church. Of course, I am not trying to do this alone. I want to work with the members of the Session and the congregation; this is their church, not mine.
But there are some things that I can’t take anymore, either. I’m not going to list them now. I don’t think it would be appropriate, at least until the congregation has had a chance to read my letter and begin to discern for themselves what the next step should be.
I want to remain. There is a fundamental question, though: is the call I feel on my life the same call the church feels upon itself? Do they share my emphases on social and racial justice; on creating safe space for people who may never step foot in the sanctuary but still need what it is that we can provide; on creating educational programming and partnering with area arts organizations, not only to support each other in our respective missions but also to help convert Westminster Hall into a performance space for the Yellow Springs Theater Company (fresh off an amazing production of Something Wicked This Way Comes directed by the incomparable Miriam Eckenrode Saari), YS Kids Playhouse, and the Beloved Community Project?
We could leave a legacy that will shape Yellow Springs for a generation to come.
It can’t be just me. It has to be the congregation and what they want. I have come to understand that what must be answered before we can responsibly sign another contract is: whose call is it?
Three times last week people came into the office to see me; none of them are members; one is religious in the traditional, if not overtly leftist, sense of the word. The others decidedly not. Each of them said, in some manner, “I’m coming to you because you feel like the town pastor.”
I think that is a good thing. Not everyone agrees. And we need to have agreement, really. For me to feel that I am truly living my call, I need to know that the congregation I serve trusts me and supports me going boldly into the village to serve and represent our faith tradition. I hope that they will join me in being proud of who we are, and secure enough to not even think about trying to convert other people.
Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.
I am trying to make sure that there is not a big mistake taking place. I may have misunderstood what the congregation wants. If that is the case, I truly want them to have the pastor they desire. I must also be true to myself. I have no shame in saying that the idea of being pastor to Yellow Springs makes me feel like a fucking Jedi Master.
I love Jesus. Y’all know that, so I don’t need to talk about it when we get together. Most of the people I see in a week are not congregants. That doesn’t mean I ignore the people of the church; not at all. What it means is that membership is not required if you feel there is something I can do for you. All you need to do is ask. And if you wanna talk Jesus, you KNOW I will chat all day. I do loves me that man.
God’s call on my life is clear. It is here. For anyone who requests. For anyone who needs. I have to arrange the details of my life so I can make that happen.
I wrote this to stop any possible rumors. Any conjecture that I am threatening to quit. I head to Baltimore in the morning. I am excited to see my colleagues, but before I leave I am visiting YSHS to speak to the kids about refugees and the history of Yellow Springs.
Or, you know, being pastor to the Village.
I think the time away will be good for me. I will immerse myself in studies and prayer, create new memories with these amazing individuals I am blessed to know and encourage. And when I return we have our November 1 Voter Suppression event for the BCP (belovedys.org). Then I’l look up and be ready to hear what needs to be heard, and to say what needs to be said.
Next time I rap atcha, it’ll be from B’more.