I am the child of a person ordained through Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination that began in the late 1960’s as a space for LGBTQ people to worship. It was a radical notion when it began, and I still have a lot of love and respect for MCC, but as I have grown older, I have found that my connection to that denomination isn’t as strong as it once was and my attendance at church has tapered off in the past few years.
I am co-parenting a seven-year-old with two people who are both on different points of the atheist scale, so I was shocked when the child’s primary parent suggested we check out this church down the street from us. There were some kids that kiddo knew from her afterschool program, and the church (while distinctly Christian; Methodist, in fact) was very welcoming.
So, my partner and I checked it out last week and really liked the vibe of the church, so this morning, we decided to all go together as a family. The sermon was on John 12:1-8 (which is a passage I love dearly, and might be good to discuss and expand upon in the blog I co-author with Rev. Robin Gorsline on sex, bodies, and spirituality). After the sermon, there is an opportunity for members of the congregation to share their thoughts about the passage and sermon with the group (it’s a small community church, so that’s less overwhelming that it sounds), and I decided to share some thoughts I was having on the passage as it relates to accepting care from others before we are able to provide care. Afterwards, I spoke to the pastor briefly, and she (very lovingly, but not mincing words in any capacity) pointed out to me that I have a lot of scripture in me. Some gentle nudges, a few pointed words, a reminder, all things that poked a long-standing bruise that never quite seems to heal.
I remember the first time someone ever made a comment about me and ministry. I was about 9 or 10 and my mother was struggling with the reemergence of her call own to Christian ministry. Our pastor at that time was talking it through with her and made the comment that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and looked pointedly at me. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but it made me nervous, so I tried to forget about it.
When I got baptized, one of the ministers who took part in the ceremony looked at me and told me I would preach within the year. I was 14 years old and that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I denied it vehemently. Within the year, MCC Richmond held a youth-focused service and I was called to deliver the sermon that Sunday. It was elating and terrifying at the same time. Around the same time, I was sitting on the steps of the church, waiting for my parents to get out of a meeting, and something clicked in my head: I did have a call to ministry. At the time, I interpreted that to mean that I would be a senior pastor of an MCC because that’s all I knew: if you were called to ministry, it means you’re supposed to be a pastor. I called my best friend when I got home, talked it over with him (up until this point, I had always planned on being a lawyer, so it was a bit of an about-face… I think back now and relate somewhat with the story of Paul’s conversion as a result) and set my life path toward ministry.
And then life happened. I was young and making all the mistakes that young people make. I fell in love and moved, wracked up a ton of credit debt, screwed up my ability to finish my education, got stuck in a never-ending cycle of bills, and all of that fell to the wayside. When I finally got back on my feet, I knew (much as I have known my whole life) that whether or not seminary was somewhere in the cards for me, it wasn’t now, and I was certainly too young to be a senior pastor to anyone, anywhere. I was in my early- to mid-twenties and knew how much I didn’t know. So I put it on the back burner and focused on other passions. Writing, art, mathematics. Serving a church in the ways that I could- running technology and sound, preaching occasionally, helping and supporting my mother.
I watched what the church did to my mother. I watched the way she was torn in pieces trying to keep the congregation on a healthy, spiritual path. I watch the way she gave and gave and gave and was taken completely for granted. She planted that church and that church destroyed so much of her spirit. Like teachers and nurses, ministers hold a thankless job. Ministers are not supposed to say what we want to hear. Ministers are vessels, a conduit through which truth can emerge and, in a world as imperfect as this, the reality is that truth makes us uncomfortable because it requires that we shift and change something in our lives. Truth isn’t necessarily happy-feel-good messages, but hard, real messages about what it means when Jesus says that he goes to prepare a place for us, or who our modern-day lepers are, or what it really means to “turn the other cheek.” Ministers are supposed to ask hard questions, give us something real to struggle with and against, things that make us uncomfortable and force us to think about something from a new perspective.
To say it is a thankless calling is an understatement. I am married to a psych nurse, and have a pretty good grasp on how this society views “invisible illnesses.” It doesn’t bode well for our spiritual sicknesses- we very much want to pretend like they are not real because we are able to function in our day-to-day lives as spiritually ill people. We ignore what we cannot see- both spiritual and psychological- and wonder why ministry is such a thankless job. It’s difficult to get better when we can’t even admit that something is wrong.
Anyway, I’m rambling. The point is, I didn’t want this. I still don’t. This urging, nagging sensation toward ministry, the one that I can feel every time I write, the one that pulls and tugs at me when I’m presenting workshops, that I can feel filling me when I sit in a church that feels authentic… I don’t want this. And yet, here it is again- a new denomination, a new pastor, a new city, a new everything, and still, I hear affirmations, both external and internal, that I need to focus on ministry. That I have scripture within me, a message to bring, a conversation to have, a question to ask. I never know what to do with this, because I have a hard time with the idea of seminary. I have a tough time with the role of pastor, and I’m a little jaded by watching so many people I love raked through the coals for having the audacity to speak truth. But I thought I could be just another congregant. Just another person that shows up and gets something awesome out of the service, that gives back to that community with money and time and skills, that believes in and supports that church. And maybe I can be that. But there will always be more to it than that, and want it or not, it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.