Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Queer Quaker: So You Want To Be a Pastor?

Queer Quaker: So You Want To Be a Pastor?

“Jesus Wept”- John 11:35

I remember when I was a really little kid, maybe 6 or 7, telling my mom after church that I wanted to be a minister.  Granted, I don’t think this fantasy was a long lived one, as the next couple things I dreamt about being was either a clown, a video game designer, a weapons designer, an astronaut, or a fighter pilot…oh lord I don’t which of those is more embarrassing for me to admit now!

In that small window of time though, I was enamored with the idea of being a minister.  I remember sitting in the sanctuary and waiting for the service to start, and when the giant organ would begin a song, a line of men in fancy suits would emerge from behind the alters.  There was usually about 6 or 7, and they would walk near the center of the stage before taking their seats in a semi-circle, facing the congregation.  After the choir and orchestra finished, 1 of them would get up and preach a sermon, and then the service would end with an alter call.

The sermons were energetic, charismatic, and convincing.  I was told that all of these men had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, just like the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and for that reason, they were qualified to preach.

The Holy Spirit had empowered them to share the words of God.

They were empowered to interpret the Scriptures.

It would not have been my place to question, much less contradict, what they said, as being anything less than divinely inspired and authoritative.

As I found out at 13 though, that same Holy Spirit empowered them, had also damned me, so kiss that thought of ministry goodbye!….or so I thought at the time.

As the title of the blog may have given away, at 23, I am beginning to look at seminaries to attend. So now I want to paint a few pictures of some of the reactions I’ve gotten when I’ve told people that.

There are a few people, generally Christians, who get very very excited when I say this. Their eyes get a little wide with anticipation, and they ask something like “Oh wow really! That is so awesome, tell me more about that!”

**Inner Dialogue begins** “Ok A.J., you got this! Now is your chance, say something intelligent, sincere, and grammatically correct!”

**What comes out of my mouth** “Well….errr… ummm… ya see, derp derp derpity derp derp!”
Toss in a couple stutters and you get the picture.

I don’t really have a lovely answer that I can wrap in a bow just yet, as wanting to go to seminary is still fairly new to me.  It was only about 3 months ago that I had finally decided that it was the path for me.

When I was just starting at Fox,  I remember thumbing through a book that had pictures of the civil rights movement in America, and scattered throughout the crowds of people mostly black people, I’d notice a couple white people that sometimes had the collar of a priest on.  Thats the kind of thing I want to do! Help be a voice for those on the margins for Christ’s sake…literally, for the sake of Christ.  They didn’t care if they had nothing to “gain” from being in those marches, or if they would get brutalized just as much as those around them.  They went there because its where Jesus would have been, and it was those people I’d see in the pictures interested me….generally not my peers who were positively sure that they wanted to be vocational ministers.  More often than naught, it was these students who were the most zealously homophobic, and would predictably chafe at the mention of Common Ground.

I know that was a bit of a rabbit trail, and I’ll write some more of those specific stories another time, but it transitions well into the another reaction I receive.

These strike me as a little more similar than not, at least in how they make me feel afterwards, so I’m just going to list a few together.

“Well, that sounds like a waste of time.”

**Inner Dialogue** “Ouch”

“Ohh……well thats interesting……..{changing topics}”

**Inner Dialogue** “Did a third arm just start growing out of my shoulder?”

“Organized religion has done awful things, do you think you’re more spiritual than other people or something?”

**Inner Facepalm**

Those conversations don’t really tend to go anywhere, but sometimes it triggers self doubt that I have so much of a problem with.  In order to re-center, I try to recall the memories of when other people who I greatly respect have affirmed me.  I remember when the first time someone said to me, “Its clear to me that you have gifts of ministry”.  I thought…well thats a nice compliment, but I want to be a public defender so…moving along! Haha…kinda funny how sometimes people can see things in you before you see them yourself.  I’m just glad enough people came into my life and repeated a message enough for it to get through my thick skull!

Another uniquely challenging response that I’ve gotten is from a couple unprogrammed Friends, which usually sounds something like…

“Well I don’t think that Quakers should be recording ministers anymore, it just seems like a way of giving someone more authority.  If everyone is equal and capable of giving ministry, than there shouldn’t be paid ministers”

…which usually ends in me sighing and not saying much else. Or if it sounds a little less accusatory, I’ll explain that the testimony of equality is extremely important to me.  I like the distinction of recorded minister (or another cool one is released minister), because all it it saying is that Friends themselves have recognized a particular gift in a particular person.  In my tradition, we don’t think that we (Evangelical Quakers) “ordain” anyone.  God ordains, we record it if we feel led to. It is beautiful to me because it implies that everyone, even a little child, can be a minister. I’ve heard some people say that George Fox abolished the clergy, but I prefer to think that he abolished the laity.

And the other part of some of these responses that drives me crazy, is that most of their criticisms of vocational ministers…I agree with one hundred percent!

I understand how damaging the wild abuse of spiritual “authority” can be, and I understand how shitty it feels to have those scars. I really REALLY want that to be clear.

I’ll tell you this though, most of the time, I’m fairly good at identifying leadings and saying yes to them.  This was not one of those times.

**Inner Teacher** Hey…you are called to ministry

**Inner Dialogue** OH HELL NO!!!

 Couple months later

**Inner Teacher** Still here, still calling you to ministry

**Inner Dialogue** Nope. No. No. No waaay Jośe.

 Couple months later

**Inner Teacher** ….ahem?

**Inner Dialogue** I really can’t do it…

 About three months ago

**Inner Teacher** A.J. … lets be real, you know this is literally as clear of a leading as you’ve ever had right? Why do you keep saying no?!

**Inner Dialogue** Why?! All cards on the table, I’m scarred as hell. I’m scared about being hurtful in any way.  I’m scared that Evangelical Friends aren’t ready for a gay pastor.  I’m scarred I would do a generally terrible job in that kind of a role!

**Inner Teacher** I hear that, and I’ll be with you.

Hehe…I’m kinda enjoying making these dramatic interpretations of my discernment process, but all of it is to say that I was pretty reluctant a-la-Jonah style.  As I said before though, different people came into my life and affirmed me, and a whole host of other tiny things. One that I want to point out is a story that I heard from George Fox’s journal.  My pastor told it during a sermon, and it was really important towards the end of my discernment.

Setting the stage a bit, George Fox is traveling around the country telling anyone who will listen to him about his revelation, and early Friends in England weren’t afraid of interrupting the Anglican program…so to speak.

I went into the steeple-house, and stayed till the priest had done. The words which he took for his text were these, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wait for it....
Then was I moved of the Lord God to say unto him, "Come down, thou deceiver; dost thou bid people come freely, and take of the water of life freely, and yet thou takest three hundred pounds a year of them for preaching the Scriptures to them. Mayest thou not blush for shame?

The priest, like a man amazed, hastened away. After he had left his flock, I had as much time as I could desire to speak to the people; and I directed them from the darkness to the Light, and to the grace of God, that would teach them, and bring them salvation; to the Spirit of God in their inward parts, which would be a free teacher unto them.

Oh George, what a gem! Can you imagine?! Well, besides my own appreciation of upsetting unjust systems, there is a part of this story near the end that really stuck out to me. I understood through this story that I was putting a lot more on my shoulders than was necessary.  I don’t need to be “responsible” for profound spiritual teachings, the always present and free Teacher would do that! All I needed to do as a minister was do my best to direct people toward that Light.

One of the last things that broke my reluctance, was when I turned to memory, which usually happens before I fall asleep. Memories of my time in Common Ground rise up often.  I remember the friends, faces, events, voices, laughter, courage, and so so much more.

More than anything in the world, when I was the President of CG, even though I had no idea what the hell I was doing…I wanted the students to know, really know, that they were loved.  Some days that meant having coffee with them and listening in the cafeteria or local shop.  Some days that looked like interrupting and addressing a homophobic or transphobic slur. Some days that looked like a late night facebook chat.  Some days that looked like holding people and just crying with them.

That, I’ve come to realize…was probably pastoral care.

I defy anyone to put to words how much I love the students in Common Ground…and yet I know… that my love doesn’t begin to compare to love of the One who made them.

So, as inarticulate as it sounds, I feel led to ministry because I want people to know they are loved.  That they were created beautiful…thats all.

I’m not a power hungry Quaker, or a self-righteous charlatan, and the thought of anyone deferring to my answers gives me the hebejebees … But if you need someone to walk with you, I will walk.

I don’t know what words I could possibly say to someone when they will experienced profound tragedy or hardship.  All I know, is that the place I would like to be when that happens, is right next to them.  

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