Unfit Pastor

I havent’t written anything new in months. My lips have been dry to preaching. I’m quiet more often, paused on the regular. Paused to motion while spring kisses the waiting world. I have been waiting, too.

Now, as I watch my own movement settle to rest and recover, I recognize that I am waking up to myself in a very different season. It is spring, yes, but it is not the spring I had imagined. When snow first fell I thought of the tulips tucked under the ground; bulbs full of color. I thought of my job, I thought of our family, and I thought of our farm. The tulips are sprouting, but we are not the same.

I am finding that each day I sit with the feeling of everything and the feeling of nothing. I smile as buds open on branches, and in the same day, sorrow makes heavy my bones as a new baby goat dies. We finalized our adoption, but recognize that it’s newness means sadness for a lot of people we have never met. I officiated my first wedding, and I woke up Easter morning, with no church to call home.

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I am surrounded; I am lonely. I am holy; I am wild.

Life and death are the poignant peaks and valleys that surround me. And through it all I have been still. So often I have felt the urge to press forward, seek answers, find peace and find solution. But nothing feels more right these days than refusing to move for the sake of simply moving. Nothing will be fixed by rushing. Quick to conviction is a dangerous pace.

Perhaps none of this melancholy reflection makes sense to any of you, who are reading. To shed some light - two months ago I left my church, resigned as pastor, and publicly I have not said much about it. I remain firm in my choice to keep the details between myself and those involved.

However, as I sit with the truth of the pain it has cost so many of us, something inside tells me there is something to be said for it all. It has implications for me, my husband, my children, and maybe for you.

I did not leave because I wanted to. I did not leave because I had to. There was no one forcing or asking me to. There was, put simply, unresolved conflict between myself and the senior pastor. Conflict which mediation couldn’t mend with forward momentum. The conflict pressed questions and pain into who I believe I am as a woman, a pastor, and a friend. It caused me to look at the work of the church, and wonder with deep perplexity, is this what it is supposed to look like? I could not rightly be who God has asked me to be, and stand in that role any longer. In a time of deep prayer, The Spirit was sweet with peace, and I knew in that breath that I would not stay.

I choose to leave my church, and watched the lies that chased my heels when I tried to close the door gently. To think of the pain it has caused everyone steals my breath away. And the pain was the greatest conflict of it all - do I choose to leave, knowing how many it will hurt?

I cannot tell everyone else’s part in this story, only my own. And for me this is a homecoming. A birth with all the pains.

I have been called selfish for choosing to leave. I have been called a hypocrite, and have been asked how exactly I can say my actions look like love, at all. I have been told that to be a female pastor means to accept the waters I swim in, giving pardon and being silent to the ways ministry often hurts us. This is what we must endure now while we hope for tomorrow. Maybe you agree.

When I was young, barely a teenager, I sat alone in the middle of my mother’s front lawn. A flimsy lawn chair, as threadbare and as tired as I was, held my shivering self. The lights from the police car parked in our driveway drew a crowd of neighbors around me, but they would only come as close as the curb at the edge of the lawn. My mother and her abusive boyfriend had had a fight. Another fight of many, where insults and fists were thrown in equal measure. I cried and begged him to stop. When the cops were called, he blamed me for her bruising. I was escorted into the middle of a circle of watchers. I could not speak. I could only wonder why nobody else would.

I left, that day. I do not remember what few things filled my pillowcase, but I remember walking down the stairs and out the front door. And I remember all of the people who would not meet my eye.

I chose myself, then. Chose God in me. I chose alone and unsure, over a house that no longer fit as home. I walked my own path, nearer to God than I had ever been. I heard the spirit whisper I love you, and from this story I will bring redemption.

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You see, in a different generation, my mother was the young teenager wishing she could be the one walking away. Walking toward God, and walking toward herself, on an unselfish path that looked like healing. I ended a cycle that day, because of the ways she and my grandmother and Mother God whispered the truth between the lies - strong is not bad, you deserve to be whole, and I am giving you a name that means love.

To so much of the watching world, I do not fit. My family doesn’t fit in a standard sized car (or van). The people who sit at my table make me unfit for many Christian conversations. To many, I don’t fit the role of pastor. It is a title I did not seek, but one that was given to me by a congregation of people I love. I did not acquire the degree and have no certificate to hang on my wall.

I do not fit into the tidy lines that say forgiveness looks like allowing a pattern to continue. I do not fit the role of woman who assumes the best, at the cost of enduring the worst. I do not fit as the cooperative coworker, at least not when participation means not speaking my heart. And I know that to some, no gentleness will be found in this post, and these very words will be read as a betrayal.

I do not fit. I am unfit.

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I am the girl who has become the mother who will become the ancient woman, who chooses to believe that we must cherish God within us and around us. I am willing to appear selfish, because I know in my gut, my belovedness is just as worth fighting for as is all the ones who I fight for, daily. Your worth, your identity as a child of God, your preciousness is worth my walking.

Honestly, I don’t need you to agree with me. I just need you to know you are loved.

A belief in ourselves is not disbelief in God.

My choice is one of privilege. Because of the work done by women before me, I can quit my job. Because of the careful voices that sang long before mine, and those that hummed before singing was allowed, and those whose song lived only on the inside - I can write about it. It is a most privileged place to be able to walk away. And so, I must tend that privilege with care. Thank you to all who have allowed me this choice.

Women, here is my cry and prayer: Love people well, and please don’t think it wrong to love yourselves. Start with loving God, and watch how God adores you. God is within you, and you are created beautifully. May we not consider our spiritual self care to be self gratifying, and may we take the love we learn and teach it. May we take the love we have and spend it foolishly, especially on those who don’t deserve it. May we always believe we are worth something, and humbly refuse anything less. It is not prideful, it is purposeful. Our posture rights the backs of many.

May we look for those who need us, bend down to help often, shoulder more but carry less, practice gentleness more regularly, hush judgement as a discipline, and be thankful with every breath. May we recognize the difference between abuse and endurance, and then draw on the strength of God that lives in our bones to move the correct direction. May we match wisdom with patience, bitterness with sweet, and fire with holy-fire, not to burn but to forge.

I am unfit for most of the boxes the world has to offer. Praise God. Perhaps you can be uniquely unfit next to me, in this dance of life.

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Life and death are the poignant peaks and valleys that surround me. I did not expect to be here, yet here I am, unsure of what will come of it. And through it all I have been still. Listening, breathing, and still. I am feeling now that movement is near, though I do not know what that will be. For now, it means speaking the things that ring in my heart.

For now, it means trusting God in the moment, walking beneath trees, and feeling small under God’s wide open sky.