One day ends and another begins. I have ended my formal ties with the denomination I was a part of and am no longer a ‘licensed’ Pastor. I’m just Jen again, (though Pastor Jen’s heart still beats within me), and working on how to navigate this new frontier.
I pressed ‘send’ on my computer to email a long five page ‘break up’ letter to various denominational leaders and let them know of my decision and immediately began to sob. It felt like a piece of my heart tearing out. The people in my church… I love them so much. The wider denomination… it’s filled with those people I love. Many are bright and learned and wise and grace-filled. They are kind and funny and curious. But I couldn’t stay.
The church I belonged to, and will still attend sometimes, was a place where we were learning how to get along with each other even though we had differing views and opinions. I made friends there and experienced fellowship in the love of Christ with many. Those people have walked with me through some really difficult experiences. They’ve taught me lessons and given me chances and believed in me and helped me to grow. I’d like to think I’ve done those things for them too. But I couldn’t stay.
In the three years I spent there I led a bible study, formed a women’s group, held a women’s conference, created a women’s ministry, led a few small groups and created and hosted two excellent women’s retreats. I attended leadership meetings faithfully each week. I emceed from the front and helped out on Sundays. I tithed. I ran slides and sound. I preached a few times. I vacuumed the carpets and cleaned the kitchen. I passed a background check and studied denominational doctrine and polity and sat before a panel of judges to be approved for licensing. I painted and weeded and mowed the lawn. I served. I invested. But I couldn’t stay.
Despite all of the people and experiences and love and investment, I realized a few things.
- I am feminist. Even though the denomination affirms women in ministry as part of its doctrine, the picture of every president of the organization since the woman who founded it is a picture of a man. In addition, leadership in my own church stated they did not feel women should be placed in ‘lead pastor’ positions. These and other observations made me realize that I was walking against an invisible tide. The affirmation of the patriarchy by both women and men in the church is changing (I hope), but more slowly than I feel comfortable to wait for, so I couldn’t stay.
- I am LGBTQ affirming. After praying, fasting, studying scripture, different theologies, the history of marriage, the culture of Greco-Roman society, Christian history. . . and after opening myself repeatedly to God, saying ‘Lord, I give you my heart, change me if I am wrong’ I wasn’t changed. In fact, my convictions only became stronger. I can state with clarity now that as a Christian, (and maybe even more so because of that fact), I am LGBTQ affirming and that isn’t going to change. I believe our Father wants to bless all people in fullness, including the LGBTQ community. I cannot operate under restrictions against the LGBTQ community and express that message comprehensively, so I couldn’t stay.
I am an environmentalist. I know we are to partner with Creation in order to usher in the kindom of God. There is as much creation theology to be gleaned from the bible as salvation theology, yet salvation for humanity is all we speak about. I feel called to emphasize this fact. I believe, as Christians, we must step out of our anthropocentric paradigm. It is up to us to stop missing this huge chunk of the puzzle and point the way toward shalom, which is the true expression of God’s ordering. This includes caring for all of creation. I didn’t feel free to express that message with vigor within the ministry context I was in, so I couldn’t stay.
So I sent the letter. I’m a free agent again. I must admit that after the tears the prevalent sensation I experience is relief. It feels good to be clear and settled about what I believe. I am more comfortable in my own skin. It’s a gift Christ has given me delivered, in part, by the company I’ve kept for the last three years. I am grateful.
I know I made the right decision for me and for the people God will give me as my ‘sheep’ to tend. Yet, I also know these last years have not been a waste of time. I know the hand of God has been in all of it. The relationships I developed are real as is the love – genuinely. But things change. And I couldn’t stay.
So with a new clarity and sense of purpose I have set out on the road ahead. I don’t know where it leads exactly, but I’ve got some ideas. It’s possible a lot of things could change – my relationships, my lifestyle, my location… or maybe not. I guess time will tell. I do feel a change in the way I experience who I am in Christ.
I feel… freedom. I feel an open ended readiness to accept what comes. I feel like I’m looking over unfamiliar terrain, a new frontier, where things are completely unknown to me and absolutely wide open. Yet I know I am not alone. I know God is with me.
I also know I am called to carry the message of Christ into a world who needs His mercy and grace and I’m more excited about that than ever. I am working on beginning a new community. I am connecting with others who share values and theology with me (and there are many). I am in prayer and contemplation and reading scripture. I go where ever I can to receive the eucharist, even to my own table.
Mainly, I seek to find the presence of Christ in all that is happening around me. I ask God for help to trust and seek to turn my life over to God again and again as each day passes. I ask Holy Spirit to fill me and continue to give me the graces to participate in God’s great plan.
I am learning that to truly follow Christ I must get comfortable looking out over a new frontier. As this one becomes familiar, there will be another waiting on the horizon. I worship an infinite God, so I must become comfortable with movement and change and walking on unfamiliar terrain. I have to be willing to strike out in humility and trust, my hand in Christ’s, and walk fearlessly with Him into deeper grace and love.
Ever deepening Grace and Love. That is the constant new frontier, isn’t it? I guess that is the place I will stay.