Monday, October 12, 2015

Ten Years

October 12, 2005 was the worst day of my life. I've told the story before: how my district president called me aside at the end of the district church worker conference to tell me he was placing me on Restricted Status with the possibility of removing me from the clergy roster; how the senior pastor called me on the way home to tell me I was required to be present at a meeting; how the president of the congregation told me the congregation's elders voted to demand my resignation, and how they'd withhold any severance if I were to resist; how I called my wife, 28 weeks pregnant with our twins, and decided with her to resign; how, with my wife 32 weeks pregnant, we moved out of the church's house at their demand, making the long trip to Louisiana from Ohio; how I remained on Restricted Status for 10 months, even though the district president made the decision that my offense was an error in judgment, not gross misconduct that merited removal from the clergy roster; how I spent four years, seven months, and four days without a parish to serve.

That was ten years today. That's a quarter of my life so far, give or take a few months. My life and the circumstances in which I find myself today have improved dramatically over the course of those ten years: the birth of the twins; my eventual employment at the Amelia Community Center; preaching in numerous churches in Louisiana (and one in Mississippi); receiving the Call to serve as pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois; the love my family and I have received in our five-plus years here. I am, to put it mildly, content to be serving and living where I am.

Nevertheless, there are scars that remain from those dark days. My cynicism toward and distrust of Synodical bureaucracy remains, though it has been tempered at least some through the faithful service of my current district president. My discomfort on the days of congregation meetings is palpable, though the leaders and members of my current congregation have never given me reason to worry that they intend to seek my departure--if anything, the opposite is true, and the threats to keep me superglued to the pulpit should I try to leave are heartwarming. My anger and hurt and shame regarding the events that transpired with the leaders of my previous congregation, though less heated, crop up unexpectedly. (I saw a picture yesterday which was taken in the fellowship hall of that church, and my reaction was visceral. That was the room where the meeting took place, where I was forced to resign. That's what I call fellowship!) Fighting that anger is a common battle for me. There have been times I've felt I've won the battle, let it all go, but then the anger roars back. It is a common topic when I visit my Father Confessor. And those are just my issues. My family has their own to deal with as a result of our years in exile. You'd think that after ten years, after spending more than five of those years back in parish ministry, these things would just go away. Then again, as my friend Sandra said, "PTSD is the gift that keeps on giving."

Still, hindsight being what it is, I can see blessings now from those days that I was blind to back then--or if not blind, I did not appreciate them as I should have. I was able to be a full-time father to my twins for nearly a full year. When I finally did find a job, it was one in a field in which I had experience, one which kept my mind active, one which allowed me to accept the invitations I received to preach. And those invitations were plentiful--indeed, I think the pastors and congregations occasionally invented opportunities to ask me to visit. I won't spend the day enumerating each blessing--there are too many to count!--but I'm in a position to appreciate them more now than I had graciousness to do so at the time.

And now I'm also in a position to do some good. I wrote a book about my experiences (and the experiences of other pastors who, like me, found themselves on the outside looking in). Though Lutheran Purgatory: Pastors Without Calls has been ignored and in some cases ridiculed by many of those who most need to take it to heart, it has brought awareness of the greater problem of how we as members of the body of Christ treat our brothers and their families in these difficult circumstances, and the sale of this book has allowed me to raise some money to support my brothers and their families in times of need. I was asked by the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations to present at their annual conference on this subject, and as the opening speaker I had the opportunity to set the table for the rest of the presenters. (You can listen to my presentation by right-clicking this link and saving to your own computer.) This is a subject our Synod now realizes is a troublesome one, one that gives lie to the idea that we're in koinonia (fellowship--what we've taken to calling our "life together"), that we are earnest and quick to display our diakonia (service--what we call "mercy") toward each other. I hope that our Synod in convention next summer will act to address these issues and will respond appropriately to what the Synod's task force on this issue brings to the table, whether their report deserves praise and action or rejection and re-tasking.

Ten years. It's strange to think of how my life and the lives of my family members has changed over that time, how our time in exile has affected us. But one thing that has remained constant in all of this, the good, the bad, and the ugly, is that God has remained good to us. Whether or not the wounds fully heal here in time, the Day is coming when the wounds will be healed, when we will finally be fully at peace with the events and the people. God grant it for the sake of His Son, Jesus.

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