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Let the golden age begin
otherwise known as the last sermon I never preached
A couple weeks ago I was supposed to guest preach at a local church. I hadn’t been in a pulpit in 8 months, when I resigned from my parish ministry job. I was nervous. I was on edge. I was anxiously over-prepared. And in the preparation up to the day, I couldn’t get any assistance from the congregation that was hosting me. In fact, no one but the hosting minister responded to my emails. I assume they just expected me to know what to do. But it had been a long 8 months. I needed some help.
I poked at the minister over email and told him how disappointed I was at the lack of support, that I was uncomfortable with the ambiguity. In my anger I cautioned that putting a disgruntled minister in the pulpit is probably a bad idea. He wanted to talk on the phone. I refused. And then he promptly uninvited me from preaching, sending his rejection out over email, text and Facebook, “so there’s no ambiguity.”
Two weeks later I sit here still awash in awe and gratitude. Being uninvited from the pulpit was the kindest thing anyone has done for me in a long time. I felt giddy with joy for days afterward. Something inside of me had been freed. And I waited, as one would, for fear or regret or guilt to find me. But it never did. Instead I’ve surfed that wave of relief like the real Gidget Kathy Kohner.
Not to say I haven’t felt anxiety and depression since then, and mourned the loss of my “ministerial identity” but I’ve been working through that grief for years. All along I have felt disillusionment lurking. All along a poet with the voice of Tom Waits and the soul of Joan Didion sat at a typewriter in my psyche, laughing, waiting. I knew the end was inevitable. Anticipatory grief has companioned my ministry journey since the very beginning.
When I left parish ministry in January I was beset by new griefs, powerful griefs, griefs so varied and painful and astounding in their creativity that we became paramours. They were disgusting and delicious. I drank them up and swallowed them down and drowned in them. My heartbreak was like a novel by Jane Austen that I couldn’t put down. I missed everyone desperately. I had worked hard to become an ordained minister. And I missed Rev. Jessica—the minister self I had created—most of all.
In moments of deep grief over the loss of the minster I was my memory flashes back to an image of my dad crying in the front row of the church during my ordination service. My grandmother’s last email to me before she died was how proud she was of me. My husband and young son lived without me for months on end as I traveled the country pursuing my dream. Every weekend was devoted to another family, a church family, of which they were not a real part. I have spent over a decade of my adult life deeply committed to the Unitarian Universalist faith in the absence of all else. And then one night, seemingly overnight, I set sail and watched as it disappeared behind me.
Parish ministry as it is currently practiced is not for me. It is a burnout factory. I found myself dabbling in fakery and hypocrisy. It perched upon my soul as a suit of control that disguised itself as enlightenment. I bless all of those who have survived the formation process. I bless all of those who have faith they are bringing their gifts to the world. Keep marching on up to heaven, friends. He’s a mighty good leader.
For my part, I have a lot more to do out here down here around here in the depths amid the shadows of the wombs and the tombs of the vast hinterlands. My faith is large, it contradicts itself and contains multitudes. It is poetry and music and nature and wonder. I ask for your blessing in return as I seek deeper truths. I ask for your joy as we both let that version of Rev. Jessica go.
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.”
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