I didn’t sleep much last night. I cried a lot. In the darkest hour I began to question my call.
That’s a big deal. That’s not something pastors talk about lightly. It is not like questioning if you should leave your job. It means questioning whether you’ve deceived yourself into believing you’ve attributed to God what was actually just a personal fancy. A thought that it might be fun to play pastor. It can quickly become a slippery-slope that lands one in a tepid pool of theological nihilism. By 5 am I was wondering if the last 14 years of my life have just been an elaborate coping mechanism to avoid really dealing with my brother’s suicide.
As someone with bipolar disorder, I have to say I’m really proud of myself for not drinking a drop of alcohol, and I got up in the morning and faced the world. Last night was spent replaying moments from the past 6 months over and over until I had worked myself into emotional exhaustion. It would have been really easy to call in sick. But I got up. I’ll go ahead and give myself major kudos for that one.
I’m not going to share any more details about what was going on mentally because the fact is I absolutely believe I am called to serve First Presby and I know that there is nobody in the congregation who has ever wanted anything but a good, positive, loving relationship between them and their pastor. We love each other, I firmly believe and know that; I don’t want my words over the past few days to be taken as a sign that I don’t care or that I think ill of anyone. I really don’t. When I talk about love in all things and all things in love, that’s not just a catchy way to sign off FB posts.
Relationships are messy. They are especially messy when a sense of call is involved. I have learned that this must be a regular and sacred conversation between a pastor and a Session. I tried to communicate that in the past, but I clearly did not do so well or in a way that people could receive. I accept that and have been quite prayerful about how to rectify the problem.
Here’s how I think I can best explain why I have been in such agony lately. I’m a musician. An amateur musician. Some people claim that I am rather good; I will always know that I am not good enough to make it as a professional. I know because I tried for four years. And after four years I was a great bartender. I did a lot of gigs and sat in on a few recordings; I was even accepted to Berklee College of Music for guitar performance. But I am not a musician like my friend Martin. Or Matt. Or Amon. Or like the countless other musicians who have come out of YS and still live here. So if one of them said to me, “Aaron, I’m a musician in a way that you are not,” I would not bat an eye. It is absolutely true.
I attempted to explain how my sense of call was not being fulfilled through current ministry; in so doing, I tried to communicate that I am religious in a way that others in the congregation are not; it is not a value judgment. It is not even a controversial statement, one would think, but it was met that way. In very condescending, painful ways. Some nasty shit was said to me. That needs to be owned. I have yet to receive an apology over things that were completely out of line, and that needs to be talked about. I lost a safe space in a meeting and I’m not over it. Because when I am attempting to communicate needs connected to my call, when I am pointing out that I am spending tens of thousands of dollars of my own money to pursue a degree that facilitates me studying the congregation and developing a model of ministry with one of the greatest scholars in the country, that should matter for something. It should mean others listen to how I believe God is operating and working. It should mean that the hundreds of hours I have spent researching, studying, praying, writing, and being challenged so that I can be certain that the ministry is about God and not me, matter. Because that is not only my job but also my calling.
Call is not about money. Not really. I mean, I wish we weren’t broke, but I know that I am wealthy and First Presby is a big part of that; I am fiercely proud of being associated with this church and it is my life’s ambition to have a ministry a quarter of that of Rev. Dr. Buckley Rude, the pastor who led the integration of the congregation in 1948. I can list nearly every member and can recall a wonderful memory about each one of them. The very idea of no longer serving there causes a great deal of pain. It feels like being anywhere else would be going against God. But relationships are two way streets, and my request last Sunday was genuinely about trying to discern if my call really is the congregation’s call.
My call is also writing like this; it is sharing in honest and raw ways. It frightens some, but I cannot let that fear impact me. I wrote a very pained FB status this morning because it was the only way I thought I could get into Dr. Tony’s car and go forward with the day. I had to express my pain and despair because I felt like I was going to spend the day playing pastor. I was questioning everything. But God is so, so good. There was an outpouring of love and support, of people encouraging me to be honest. To continue following my call because they see it as good. A car ride with Dr. Tony filled with intellectual conversation and passionate reflection on the nature of call prepared me to spend the day with the cohort on the campus of Wesley Theological Seminary, right next to American University. Our session was filled with challenging, in-depth conversation about scriptural exegesis and hermeneutics. We broke bread and prayed. Dr. Tony and I had a very long, traffic-filled ride from D.C. to Baltimore. For another two hours, I had the exclusive attention of a truly great scholar who loves to talk. So much learning afoot, friends.
So the call called today. I answered. I’m feeling myself starting to heal, to cast off some of the more extreme emotions and to come back home ready to engage in honest, yet loving conversations with those who want to speak to me. I look forward to worshiping at Central Chapel AME Church on Sunday. I’ve already told them that when I retire from First Presby, I am joining Central Chapel. Most of all, I look forward to hugging Mimi and to returning to where God has placed me. Led me. Called me.
Be well, do good works, and love one another. I’ll try to do the same.