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Today marks a bittersweet anniversary for me: I was ordained on this day in 1999 at Faith United Church of Christ in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Bittersweet? Well, yes. I have had a rocky time of it in ordained ministry: four really tough experiences in congregations, three really good experiences.
I don't want to belabor the point. The short version is that I just wasn't a good fit for several of those congregations.
Churches, particularly small churches, have become progressively more anxious over the past twenty years, as the reality of aging and disaffiliation has hit home.
They've become less able to tolerate a holy goof such as myself, and I haven't always done a good job in dealing with the inevitable issues. I probably should have gone with larger churches, and instead I went the other way.
After a lot of hard work in therapy and elsewhere, I finally unlocked some things. I learned to have self-esteem, a strong sense of self. I learned that I have my own anxieties, my own interests, and that's okay.
From there, I came to accept, finally, that I'm not the hard-bitten asshole I like to depict myself as. I'm kind, deeply spiritual, and yes, holy. It comes off me in waves that for whatever reason I can't see or understand.
I am deeply, deeply committed to the ethical life, to the point of making others crazy with my stubbornness.
There has been a lot of hurt in ministry - people have said and done things to me that no reasonable person should be expected to tolerate.
I had one mentor who asked me how I liked working with the Pennsylvania Dutch. His experience, he said, was they were so mean they wouldn't bother stabbing you in the back - they'd just stab you in the face. That's some church people everywhere, I'm afraid.
But there have been good moments as well. Amazing moments. I've sat with the dying, welcomed the new born, helped young people turn into adults, given comfort to adults in their struggles, and taught so, so much.
But after getting kicked out of my last congregation, the call to pastoral ministry is pretty much done. Maybe it will come back, but I sort of doubt it. I've moved on.
I'm left with conflicting emotions: lucky to have been there for the sacred moments, hurt and angry at some of the injustices, sad and disappointed in and sharply aware of my own shortcomings.
The only thing that will resolve that internal conflict will be time. Eventually I'll get old(er) and will say, "Eh. It doesn't matter anymore."
(Twenty years after leaving a bad church, my parents still get wrapped up in rehashing the experience.)
I look back and realize that I never had the kind of career success I wanted. Honestly, I'm jealous of my colleagues who've had long ministries, or gone on to do bigger and better things.
But I was faithful to the call while it lasted, which is the important thing. And the skills and habits developed in congregations have prepared me well for the next phase, which seems to be teaching and communications.
All of this being said, I will never regret my ordination for one reason, if no other.
I invited my friend Jennifer to come out for the big day. She had to decline because she was taking a weekend class, on her birthday no less.
And yet, during the laying on of hands, when the entire congregation comes forward to endow the new minister with the Holy Spirit, I felt a touch, and went, "Oh, there's Jen."
It wasn't until I stood up that I remembered that she wasn't there, physically. Weird.
She decided to make it up to me by coming out for a visit later that summer, and from there, a romance blossomed. We married the next year.
And from there, pretty much every good thing I have resulted. She was the one who diagnosed my as having bipolar disorder. It was with her that I adopted children. She keeps our finances in order and, God help me, makes me exercise.
(Oh yeah, and then the kid had a kid, so now I'm a grandfather.)
She was even the one who suggested that I apply to be an adjunct theology professor, which has turned into my most passionate endeavor.
(I developed the love of craft beer all on my own.)
Had I not been ordained that day back in 1999, would I have received all of this? I dunno. My life would have been different, that's for sure.
And one of the keys to happiness is to accept the gifts you've been given.
So, uh, thank you God, or whoever's out there. I don't honestly know that I would do it all over again if given the opportunity, but I'm grateful to have had the experience, and I'm grateful not to have wound up an asshole at the end of it.
Oh, and thank you for Jen, the light of my life without whom I would be utterly lost and buried in a pile of my own filth.
This has been pastordan's diary. @threadreaderapp, please unravel.
@threadreaderapp I guess I'm supposed to say @threadreaderapp please unroll. Either that, or Mary Hartman three times.
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