Not long after I began full-time ministry in the parish, Barbara Brown Taylor published a provocative book, “Leaving Church” in which she suggested that the job was impossible — the preaching, the administration, the teaching, the maintaining kindness when exhausted. I was pretty sure she was wrong. That is, I knew on one level that she was probably right, but I trusted my ability to juggle what needed to be juggled, and maintain my spiritual center.
Congregational ministry is the heart of my tradition, Unitarian Universalism. We are descended from Pilgrims and Puritans who believed that the local congregation is the highest and best expression of the life and ideals of Jesus. It is a lofty ideal, one that brings out the best in us, and sometimes the worst. When things go wrong in a congregation, especially in ways that people are certain are not supposed to happen in a religious community, they can become highly anxious. They can turn to blaming one another, or the minister.
My first pastorate was an associate ministry in a large congregation in Virginia, and even before I started work, I was out canvassing against a mean-spirited constitutional amendment that would deny marriage, or any status approximating marriage, to same-sex couples. That congregation worked hard to defeat the amendment, but it passed anyway. As I write today, four years after I left that ministry for another pastorate, my colleagues and friends in Virginia are awaiting word from the U.S. Supreme Court that may well allow marriage equality to become the law of the land in the Commonwealth. I am reminded today that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it does bend toward justice (thank you, Theodore Parker; thank you, Rev. Dr. King). I am reminded today that the work of many people in small and large ways does add up.
At the same time, I am following the good and hard work of my colleagues in congregations as they struggle, many of them, to know how to lead their congregations — many of which are largely white — into a deeper sense of connection with the people of Ferguson, MO, following the police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager. What would I be doing, I ask myself a hundred times a day, if I were still leading a congregation? What can I be doing now, from the place where my feet are taking me?
These are the kinds of questions I will be exploring in this blog. For now, I have chosen to leave the congregation. I may be back one day. This day, however, I have set my course to serve a more amorphous community, one I have yet to discover, one I discover with every step.