In the run-up to the due date, I was, admittedly, hoping for another daughter. A. has been such a delight and I was nervous about having a boy. Since we waited to find out the gender of our second-born, I was calm but uncertain. Wow, was I wrong. What a delightful and charming little guy we have! I am completely smitten. I thought A. had taken all of my smittenness. As it turns out, joy produces smittenness as needed. Certainly, there will be gender specific challenges which will make raising a son different from raising a daughter. My commitment and connection to O. has been quick and strong. Turns out my commitment to him was an element to my lowest moment of 2013.
The Valley Moment of 2013…An Unjust Initerancy
As our family prepared for the arrival of our newest member, M. and I sought to replicate things we had done well with A. and correct things that we had done not-so-well. One of the lasting successes of our early parenting years was taking appropriate time off for family. M. had taken 12 weeks off following A.’s birth, and I had followed with an additional 8 weeks. The United Methodist Church is certainly generous on this end, by American standards (stingy compared to some other countries in which we serve). Approaching my congregation about Family Leave, I anticipated some uncertainty. I had encountered that in 2010 and was ready with information. The backlash was tremendous. Talk of being moved came quick, which still baffles me. After the decision was made, I only cryptically caught wind of ‘other matters’. I still don’t know what those other matters are. It doesn’t matter. Despite doing hard but important work, I was moved. I’ve done well to have endured the still-unresolved stress. But I do think about that other place. I was dedicated to it for 2 years; it’s where I grew up and God had gifted me with some important insights as to the ministerial needs of that community. In the end, O. was born, and I got to take the 8 weeks off. But I spent those 8 weeks packing for Parkersburg. I do feel that someone owes me those weeks back.
The Surprisingly Enduring Moment of 2013…The Gift of Presence
Two similar things happened in the fallout of my removal that remain moments of poignancy for me. As the windstorm of controversy over my desire to spend time with my newborn son subsided and the Cabinet’s decision to move me was made, I still had to perform the tasks of leaving. One of those tasks was informing the congregation. The controversy was somewhat limited to one faction within the church. Others heard the criticism but didn’t agree. Still others didn’t know at all. The Sunday arrived when I announced that I was leaving…in two weeks. While I remained calm throughout the moment, it turned out to be a tough thing emotionally afterwards. I announced to the 9am service, and they had no idea what was going on. They were completely broadsided. I felt so bad for them. As I entered the sanctuary for the 11am service, I was moved to see my dad in the audience. My parents are the silent victims of this ordeal. And yet when I had to endure the embarrassment of announcing my departure, there he was supporting me. After the Benediction, I took my place at one of the entrances as folks filed out. A parishioner, who had been instrumental in my ouster, and had used my daughter to get me back, approached me to give me a hug. It was a total farce and an insult that, for the sake of the dignity of the office of the pastor, I had little choice but to endure. I tolerated her arms and her lies but didn’t return the favor. Dad was right there. Months later, that means a ton.
The following week was my final week. I preached differently to the 9am and 11am services. To the 9am service, I exhorted them to forgive those who had disregarded them. But to the 11am crowd, I preached, with some defiance, that I had forgiven them. In the crowd: M., my daughter A., my son O. (making his first and only appearance), Mom and Dad. Their presence emboldened me. As I am prone to self-blame, their support of me in a very humiliating time has been of tremendous value. I still listen to the CD of that last sermon. My son cried throughout most of it, and I am glad that M. stayed in the room with him. I have a record of a low moment of defeat being gloriously interrupted! LMAO!
The Saving Grace of 2013…A New Place
I returned to the pulpit in July, in Parkersburg, WV. The move has been strenuous, to say the least. At the same time, coming to a place with ambition, resources and energy is a blessing. Certainly, I have had to lick a few wounds. But I have felt emboldened by the recent struggle. I can’t call myself a winner, but there’s something to be said for being a survivor of the church. This new congregation has welcomed me well and we have responded positively to each other. We are still feeling each other out and neither one of us know where 2014 will lead us. But I am grateful to be here. This is the right place for me at the right time. Warren Buffet is selling land down the street, the town is about to burst with a new cracker plant, the college across the street is expanding and the church is poised for expansion. And I have found a new courage to be more authentic and effective in the pastoral role. I am entering 2014 on an upswing.