Today I turn 40 years old. That’s not too old. But I’ve been calling myself 40 for the past 11 months, so clearly, it’s been on my mind. I tend to be overly reflective anyhow, so I thought I would take the occasion to consider 40 moments in my life through which I know I changed. I’m calling these linchpins after the segment on the old Joe Frank radio show.
- My Bible with the Lord’s prayer in it…I got it from the Nazarene church and I remember thinking that the Lord’s Prayer was good even if I didn’t understand the words.
- The Day nursery school ended…I remember going home, feeling sad. Mom allowed me to help make fried baloney sandwiches.
- Kids making fun of kid in Elementary School…and me sticking up for him. In kindergarten, 1st grade all the way up to 12th grade, I gave up a lot of popularity being his friend.
- Last minute game winning goal in 7th grade soccer game…I made some swift moves to score a last minute game-winner.
- In 8th grade choir being called a faggot…for not joining in the ‘who would I fuck game’.
- Kara Nabors defending me…people were making fun of me, but Kara stuck up for me. She was really cute and caring. I was absolutely in love with her.
- Michael going on a mission trip…my brother came back with an earring, ditched his loser friends, cut his mullet and led the best year of youth group. That series of changes has always stuck with me.
- Hearing the N word in church…two African-American gentlemen, in nice suits, attended worship. Exiting the choir loft, one guy said, “What were those n—–s doing here?” He and I made eye contact and I could tell he remembered me bringing a black friend to church.
- Sitting at Pizza Hut outside Oak Hill, WV after a game…the rest of the soccer team was huddled and laughing. And I just didn’t belong.
- Letter from my brother…out of the blue, in my first real season of melancholy, Michael sent me a note of encouragement. He talked about being proud of me, about what was real and what was fake and that he wanted me to join him at King. I was home last summer and it is still up on the bulletin board in my room.
- Quitting choir and rejoining…I was a candidate for All-State choir and lost out in a very controversial way. I quit choir for one day. I knew immediately that singing for accolades was not my way of being.
- That time I saw a bunch of honor graduates smoking in Mr. Bourne’s room…my exact words were “What fucking planet do I live on?”
- At King when I was an RA…at the end of the semester the baseball team at King came up to confront me about being “mistreated by authorities”. They brought baseball bats and talked a bunch of threats. I just stood there and called their bullshit for about 45 minutes.
- James King Singers…this was a singing group at King that was derided by so many people. A Trustee and a guy from another singing group even gave me hell about it in class. But I’m glad I joined.
- My buddy wrote a letter to the editor…that was so full of pompous fake rage, I could barely stand it.
- That time I kissed a girl, even though I was dating someone else…it brought plenty of pain, but, as it turns out, very little regret.
- Getting dumped…she left the hotel, I wrote a terrible poem and slept a solid eight hours. For a while I focused on the terrible poem. Eventually however, the eight solid hours of sleep became more important.
- Kid calling me out in class…at the Children’s home we had a new assistant teacher who was a real discipline guy. I kind of recoiled and stuck to teaching. One of the students, a real leader, said: Christopher you’ve ‘shrunk’ in here. I knew she was right. That other guy was gone soon.
- “Can Christopher be the chaplain?” at Epworth…The chaplain announced to the Children’s home residents that he was retiring. “Can Christopher be the chaplain?” was the first thing they said. I didn’t know I mattered to them.
- My interview to go to England…Time for God had us for a 3 day orientation and interview. I went in wearing no shoes and just knew I had what it took to serve in their organization. I was so confident, I actually surprised myself. It was a year to the day after “Getting Dumped”.
- Taking Communion at US-2 end-term…receiving the elements from an openly gay clergy and knowing at that moment it was okay because I was okay.
- The preacher broke my confidentiality in the sermon…In my mid-term review for Time for God, I was honest about my struggles at Emmanuel Church (Cambridge). I was really homesick. Instead of supporting me, the pastor took my review and “answered” it in Sunday’s sermon. I was furious…and completely alone.
- In GBGM personnel meeting making decisions about Cambodia…with a bunch of white people…and we all knew how messed up it was.
- Mom and Dad in New York…my mom had just recovered from cancer. We were going through security at the Statue of Liberty. The guard asked mom to remove her hat and she begged him not to make her. The guard was so compassionate.
- Taking Communion at Drew…there was a guest celebrant who just radiated peace and welcome.
- Wedding day…I always wanted someone who believed in me and she has been that without fail. I don’t want any future linchpins to be without her.
- Standing w/ the Licensed Pastors at WV Annual Conference…I had failed for the 2nd year to qualify for probationary elder status…and thought “Why am I never good enough?”
- Telling Mom and Dad we were pregnant with Anna…I always knew my mom would cry. But when my dad cried…oh my!
- Birth of Anna…The most honest prayer I’ve ever prayed was when I was parking the car, knowing I was coming back a dad and feeling scared, but ready. And holding her for hours after she was born was just incredible.
- Watching Anna during family leave and she choked on paper…I was able to fish it out and that’s when I knew I was smart enough to care for her.
- Visiting Suncrest with Anna as an infant…we were removed to the cry room. It felt awful.
- June 12, 2011…That morning, I was ordained by Mrs. Naomi Butler at Jones United Methodist Church who placed the red stole on me without asking. I was embarrassed and honored and moved and, well, BLESSED. And that afternoon, Anna was baptized in the most beautiful ceremony I’d ever witnessed.
- Birth of Ollie…His arrival coincided with my lowest point professionally. And I remember feeling happy but also secretly worried about my life. Several weeks after Ollie was born, I was visiting an elderly parishioner who asked me about my son. I said, “Georgia, I thought I wanted another girl because Anna has been such a joy. But now I know what it means to be overjoyed to have a son.” I knew choosing him, even if it meant losing the church was clearly the right choice.
- My next-to-last Sunday at Greenview…I had to announce that the following Sunday would be my last. My dad came to support me which meant the world. Afterwards, one of the architects of my dismissal tried to give me a hug after worship. I just stood there, silent, hands to my side as this two-faced fraud grabbed me.
- My last Sunday at Greenview…my wife and kids and my parents were all there. It was Ollie’s only time in that church and he screamed throughout the sermon. I preached on forgiveness.
- In the Bishop’s office, deciding that I was done with WV Annual Conference…it was clear what had to be done.
- Mom and Dad leaving parsonage at Parkersburg…probably the saddest moment of my life. They hated that I was moving cross country. There had been arguments and hard words. After the moving van departed, they hugged my kids and started to go. I said, “Can I have a hug, too?” That has been the worst feeling of guilt and pain I’ve ever had.
- In the room as Sunnyside voted to close…although I had only been there 8 months, I know I had done holy and difficult work.
- When we were pregnant with a 3rd child…I was scared but ready to do what it took to care for this new child. And I was both relieved and heart-broken when she wouldn’t live.
- Leading Sunnyside’s last service…I felt so proud and able having done a tough job well. And it was the best service I’ve ever created. I learned then that quality work is within me.
Who knows what the next years will bring. But I know I’m blessed. And best of all: God is with us.