ON THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT
“Candidates approved by the charge conference and seeking to become certified for licensed or ordained ministry shall: … b) complete and release required psychological reports, criminal background and credit checks.”
(The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2008, paragraph 311.2.b)
The ordination process has served me well, over the long haul. There are issues with the process, no doubt. It can be a haven for power-tripping. It has turned away some gifted pastors and let through some unsavory people. For me, there is more positive to say than negative.
One aspect of my ordination process that turned out to be really fruitful was the psychological assessment. I took the exam in my last semester of seminary. I accepted an appointment as a Licensed Local Pastor that summer, where my exam was evaluated. The exam review was rather unspectacular. It seemed largely accurate about who I was as a person at the time. It denoted that I was rather objective and revealed some challenges to my introverted personality type. In the six years since I took that exam, I have sought to better myself in every way, to be a better pastor and a better person.
There was a line in that evaluation that stuck with me. “He is emotionally stable, although there could be something in his life at this point with which he is dissatisfied.” Writing it out now, it seems so non-descript. At the time, it struck me as poignant. I did have a fair number of stressors: newly married, new home, new career, etc. The evaluation didn’t seem to be referring to those things, however. I also found the psychologist to be comforting, something I didn’t realize I needed until I sat down with him. To find out the core of this dissatisfaction, I undertook counseling.
There were lots of things that we explored together. The psychologist is also an ordained elder, so talking church with an educated, but independent man became something I enjoyed. He was professional enough to not just be a paid friend, but someone who would proactively engage my heart, my mind and my experiences. I was astute enough to discern when he was being a psychologist, when he was being a pastor and when he was being both. It is one of the best things I ever did, all because the ordination process values the healthiness of my mind.
While in counseling, I recalled an incident from high school. It was not something that was buried so deep within me that I didn’t remember it. It was simply an incident. Counseling helped me come to terms with the impact and meaning of that incident.
In high school, I had become quite isolated from my peers, all for very tough but normal reasons. I was a year younger, having skipped a grade. I was very skinny and acne-ridden. I didn’t engage in the tomfoolery that a lot of Bluefield High students seemed to do. My one refuge from dorkiness was choir. I sang in the choir with a bunch of guys that I didn’t interact with in any other forum. I assumed a kind of mascot position which wasn’t always bad. Most of the guys accepted me for who I was to them: the goofy tall white kid who could kind of sing. My senior year, we took a trip to Fairmont State for a choir festival. Several guys hooked up with girls from another school. In a move that I now know is inexcusable, I was stuck one-on-one with a chaperon for the night. He was a college student: funny, with a big toothy grin. The kids liked him. When we got to the room, he decided to order a movie: Basic Instinct. That’s bad enough for a chaperon and a 16-year-old kid. But when he turned over to the movie, what we got was something much more raunchy. All of a sudden, here I am watching porn with a chaperone on a choir trip. I remember a lot of details about that night. I remember it as a Sunday, because I was wearing my church pants, but also my t-shirt from Summer Youth Celebration. It was teal. I remember two choir girls coming to the room to hang out with the chaperone, only to leave shortly afterward. When they left, he turned back over to the porn. He began asking me about girls. The chaperon, who was African-American explained that it was a myth that black men had bigger penises than white guys. He let me know that it would be okay if I wanted to masturbate. I declined, the movie ended and we went to sleep.
No, he didn’t molest me. But the counselor helped me understand that he was warming me up for the possibility of sexual assault. I wonder what other parameters might have changed the outcome. I was goofy and skinny, but I was also 6’2″ and surprisingly athletic. I could have escaped him had I needed to. The choir had gone to the same festival 2 years earlier. Would things have been different if I were 14 instead of 16? I guess I am grateful that he wasn’t more aggressive. “If you would have said yes (to the masturbation question) he would have been on the bed with you,” the counselor told me. The double insult was that this was choir: the one place where I was not totally rejected, and it became the arena where a chaperone crossed the line with me sexually.
In the years since that incident, I have spent two years in a children’s home working with the victims of abuse. I have seen first-hand the extraordinary damage such a violation can cause. As a pastor, people have shared with me their experiences of abuse. I have also acquainted myself with the United Methodist Church’s policy called Safe Sanctuaries. When the scandal at Penn State broke out, I took a day and read the Grand Jury’s report (PDF here, graphic), spending the next several days in a state of saddened horror over what happened to those boys. But it was the ordination process, coupled with my own initiative for self-actualization, that led me to realize just how close I came to being a victim. God have mercy on those who live with this every day.
Here is the CODA: I am now living back in the county in which I was raised. I played a little Facebook-enabled game of six-degrees-of-separation to see if I could find my almost perpetrator. I think he’s still here. And now I am a pastor, a leader in the community, mandatory-reporter even. There’s a part of me that wants to see him and say “Remember me?”
As I near “Full-connection”, I am thinking of what it really means to assume such a calling. In a few weeks, the Bishop will compel me to “take authority” (which, BTW, I’ve been doing for several years now). That command comes with the blessing of the body of Christ and applies to a world-wide parish. That authority is also informed by my experiences, including this episode at a hotel in Fairmont. A few months after that incident, following another choir-related disappointment, I skipped school, visited my pastor and picked up The Christian as Minister. Initially, I wanted to work with youth, to be a man of integrity for good, for God. Perhaps there was some holy rebellion against a foolish chaperone mixed in. To think that almost 20 years later, I will be completing the process is mind-boggling.
In all, the process has been long and arduous, but not without its reward. Yes, even coming to terms with a thankfully-isolated incident of impropriety has been a kind of reward: I know myself better, I know peace a bit better, I better know of the vulnerabilities of life, I better know what grace means for me and I better understand what it means to be a child of God.