I was once a minister. When my marriage fell apart years ago and I was divorced I left the ministry thinking I would eventually get back in. That became much more difficult than I ever thought. Eventually I went into other things.
I actually loved preaching. I loved the struggle. The demand it placed on me. The need to say something every week that meant something. I loved to research a theme. I loved the thought of looking at my faith in different ways. I loved exploring the whole idea of God. The what and who and where that always circles God. I never knew for sure any solid answers for any of that but I wanted to know. I loved reading and finding things to put in my sermons that helped bring my point home. I read everything: novels, poems, biographies, billboards, menus, greeting cards; anything that might me make think. There were messages everywhere and I wanted all of them. I loved writing. Someone once asked me which I enjoyed most, preaching or writing. I said I enjoyed preaching what I wrote. And I did. I loved watching people as I spoke. Their faces. Their body movements. I wanted to see if they were getting it. Sometimes they were even when I wasn’t. I loved all of it.
I was a bleeding heart liberal. I pulled for the underdog, for the guy who drank too much and the woman in the affair, for the gay teen whose parents refused to accept reality, for the popular pregnant high school cheerleader terrified in her dilemma, for the local atheist everyone misunderstood, for the community big shot who nobody liked, for couples in messy relationships, for old people worn down by life and left in smelly nursing homes with indignant care takers. I felt an affinity with people scarred and hurt and human. They were always interesting, always open to the slightest hope that God might still care. I wanted to be a friend to those people.
Church however is often filled with individuals so proud of their piety, their status within the church, that it makes them almost unendurable. These members never gain any real perspective on life. They stay stuck in their rules and a sense of their own uprightness. They are often incapable of introspection, of self-awareness, insight, and compassion. They worship the Bible as though it is God and they find things in there to justify their own lifestyle and mindset but ignore the things that are cruel, contradictory, or hard and demanding. They don't want their beliefs challenged. They often hide their weaknesses and deny their fears. Jesus is the answer to everything, they say. Although Jesus never made such a claim for himself. Some things don’t have an answer, even from Jesus. These people are often good people, even well intentioned, but they can be close-minded, intolerant and indifferent. I met a lot of these people over the years in church. They liked me until I didn't support their beliefs or failed to settle their conflicts within the congregation which were often petty and misguided.
I have married hundreds of people in all kinds of settings. I have never married a gay couple, but I would if asked. I have been with the sick and dying in the most heart wrenching moments imaginable. I have buried babies, and teens, adults in the prime of life, the old and the sick, people killed in car wrecks, heart attack and stroke victims, and suicides. I wept so hard in some of those settings I could not speak or move. When my grandparents died I spoke at their funerals and at my own father’s. I could not speak at my mother’s service. My heart was broken. We lost her so quickly. There was so much that needed to be said about Mom and I was the one to say it. But I couldn’t. I would have stood mute in my tears. But to this day I regret I didn't try.
The ministry is often an achingly all-consuming thing. You are always on call. I have officiated, as most ministers have, at both a funeral and a wedding in the same day and spoken at a civic club in between, and that is exhausting. The clash of emotions, the strain of people’s expectations, can crush you. I somehow found places to put all of that within myself. But I wasn't always successful in keeping it there.
I counseled people beaten down emotionally, carrying heavy inner burdens and dark secrets that took all of the fun out of life and left them immobilized in their guilt or shame or pain. I have confidences I will take to the grave with me that no one will ever know about. But those secrets never changed how I felt about those who shared them with me. I only just wanted to help. And sometimes simply listening was the only thing I had to offer.
I was fortunate to lead four great congregations over a period of twenty-two years. My last one, where I stayed nearly 14 years, is a memory of love. It wasn't all rainbows and ice cream. We had our struggles, our challenges with budgets and staff and local politics. I had my critics, some of them fierce and unrelenting. But I loved even them if only haltingly. Most of my best friends in the world today are from that loving congregation. I had minor success there as someone who grew the church in big numbers. That was never my emphasis as a minister. But we did face life together with incredible clarity and honesty and care and that is what I cherish.
I was once a minister. And though I’m honestly not sure I was ever really cut out for it, or ever felt comfortable in it, it will always be a part of who I am.
© 2015 Timothy Moody