In a couple of weeks I will be voted off the active clergy roster of the ELCA.
This means that the Church that ordained me no longer will consider me a pastor. All this comes about not because of any Church mean-spirited-ness or personal failure on my part. I left the parish in 2004 to become a family therapist, and because I’m not involved in ministry as a pastor any more, I’m no longer “official” in the way Lutherans understand the ordained ministry. For these 8 years, I’ve gotten a pass as someone “On Leave from Call.” That grace has run out. So be it.
I’ve worked hard since 2004 to let this adult identity of mine go.
I planned to be a pastor since I was 16 ( I KNOW, right?!) and was one, full time, through unemployment and interviews, singleness and marriage, pregnancies and parenting, healthy churches and not, solo jobs and staff positions, parsonages and mortgages for 20+ years. That’s one deeply held self understanding. And I’m proud of the pastor and person I was, despite my own obvious flaws and mistakes. In the end, the job was so full of politics, dissembling and distress, I threw in the towel.
I’m very happy as a therapist. I find the study of human mental health provides me with answers to questions I had been asking all my life about why people behave, believe and relate the way they do. I’m so much happier working for myself, and every mistake and every success belongs to me alone. I love helping people heal in ways I had only imagined as a pastor. I really enjoy my therapist colleagues. All in all, it was exactly the right thing for me to do.
Part of being on the roster meant that I had to be a member of an ELCA congregation. Now that I am going to be released, that no longer applies. I have been attending the Episcopal church for these 8 years, and my husband and both children were received into adult membership over the years. So that leaves me the next quandary in my spiritual journey: is it time to join the Episcopal Church?
It’s a bit like leaving a family. Am I ready to join another family of faith now that I’m contractually released from my first? Is church membership even important anymore? The death knell for the organized Church in its American forms has been sounding for the last 10 years. Is being received as an official member important to the Episcopal church as it struggles to be in mission despite its own internal strife?
I’m clearly on the fence, and it’s not all that comfortable up here. It’s certainly not anything I had anticipated 20 years ago. But then again, not much is.