Saturday, February 19, 2011

"My kind of pastor"

"You're my kind of pastor!" the woman seated to my right said on hearing my story (the short version).

I was one of four women eating lunch at a small square table at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, part of a day-long writing workshop sponsored by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Each of the others had already shared something about their writing projects, some of which were well under way. I was dreading the moment when it would become my turn to speak.

It had been almost a year since I had taken the step of formally "renouncing" my ordination as an Episcopal priest--turned in my badge, so to speak, and hung up my collar and vestments and my right to celebrate the Eucharist (and other assorted privileges of ordination). And while I had always assumed that I'd write some sort of account of this journey, I was still pretty tentative about it.

Not only unsure about just how or what to write, but also a little sheepish about the fact that I'd done this deed at all. Actually, let me be more honest--I was very sheepish. And wary of speaking about it, especially with strangers.

I didn't relish tripping over other people's religious sensibilities, causing undue offense that might wash back on me in . . . what? What was I most afraid of? Condemnation? Horror? Shock? Platitudes? A pious attempt to save me from myself? (Clearly shadows of these responses were lurking within myself.)

In addition to the whole "religion thing"--the fact that my story, though thoroughly individual and personal, was inextricably also a religious story, and religion as we all know is one of those topics one is advised not to raise in polite conversation--I was also a bit sensitive about being asked the usual follow-up question, "So what do you do now?"

(Ah...I could write volumes on that question! That most modern American of questions that seems to want to define a person, or even measure the value of a person, according to what kind of "work" she or he does. And usually by "work" is meant "work for which you get paid." And since I had very little of that kind of work at the time, I  really didn't like being asked that question. Even writing this now, I can feel a growing anxiety and discomfort. This is not a finished topic!)

When it was unavoidably my turn, I gave as succinct a summary as I could summon--something about writing the story of my leaving the Episcopal priesthood after 24 years of ordination. Something about what it was like to start over, nearly clueless.

A few questions followed, of a very positive tone, really. There were affirmative comments around the table--"Oh, I'd like to read that story!" or "You have to write that. What an intriguing journey!" That kind of thing.

And then the woman to my right spoke: "You're my kind of pastor!"

I couldn't believe my ears. Her words went right to my heart. I don't remember if I asked her to say more, or if she continued without prompting.

"A pastor who struggles with faith and religion as I do--and is honest about it--you're my kind of pastor!"

I felt hopeful and grateful beyond measure. For that momentary glimpse and expanded sense of my self and my continuing value as a human being, and even as some sort of pastor--not in spite of but because of what I had chosen to do.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I still struggle and wrestle with those same issues--my own tendency to define myself and my value as a human being on the basis of "what I do" and "what I do for which I get paid" rather than by some deeper and richer measure; and a continuing habit of hiding the fact of my formerly ordained status, as if it were something to be ashamed of instead of something that might actually be a gift, not only to me and my family but also to others.

Hmmm. I did not know what this post was going to be about when I started to write it this morning. I just found myself thinking of that woman who became my friend* who said, "You're my kind of pastor!"

*although for a year or more she was part of my life in my memory only as "that woman, Raye Tibbitts, who called me her kind of pastor." I found her again last year on Facebook, and we've traveled on from there.


Cori Lynn Berg said...

You know I'm a fan! I linked this on my Saturday share.. hope you get some new readers!

Sukie Curtis said...

Thanks so much, Cori! I hope you get some new readers from my end, too!

Raye said...

And Sukie, just so you know, you are also my kind of writer and my kind of painter and my kind of friend. I posted this to my Facebook, and it was very hard for me to not plug you as a coach!!!!

Sukie Curtis said...

Raye, my gratitude for you is immense! And I may just have to amend my post to be more explicit about your coaching and writing, too. And thanks for posting to Facebook! xoxo

Nancy said...

As a person who knows Raye AND was a part of the formal ritual of you renouncing your orders, I have to say that as I reflected on it all, I was reminded of the priesthood of all believers--many people are pastors without being ordained. You are no longer an EPISCOPAL priest, no longer part of the institution in that way...but definitely still a pastor. And in an odd way, my own relationship with my (ordained) priesthood was strengthened and cemented that day.

Got It, Ma! said...

Followed this link from Raye's fb page. This is really interesting stuff. I'd like to read more, too, both as a member of an Episcopal congregation, and also as a mom and maybe-a-writer who struggles with that need to have a profession, a designation. I've been home with my kids for 8 years now. Eight years with no performance reviews, no merit based pay raises, and a whole lot of societal input on what I'm likely doing wrong. There are times when heading for an office with a list of defined tasks that have beginning and ending points sounds almost heavenly. Maybe that's why we like to define ourselves with job titles. If we know "what" we are then we can better asses if we're doing a good job, meeting the requirements. There's something to be said for that, from my perspective. How can I be sure I'm doing a good job with my kids? How can I know if I'm doing a good job as a (largely unpublished) writer? If a woman blogs into the ether, does anybody read it? Great post. Looking forward to reading more.

Meredith said...


One of your favorite poets recently taught me that the soul is always running out ahead of the psyche (ego), seeking and finding those new ideas, events, experiences, people and places that will expand us and enhance our spiritual growth. But the psyche (ego) is always lagging behind, dragging its feet, wanting to keep the status quo and familiar (or the illusion of safe). It takes a person of great courage, he says and I agree, to have "the conversation with oneself that we are born to have," or---in other words---to have a good, deep chat with the psyche from the soul's perspective.

Move on to the new things that call us (which we recognize through our passion for them) and leave behind the ones that no longer fit or "bring us alive" (you'll recognize that line). If we fail to have this conversation, fail to bring our lives current with the soul's longing, we have ceased to become faithful to our original vows (not ordination vows) and begun to "impersonate ourselves" through clinging to an old image of who we are.

You get the point.

You, my friend, are willing to enter that conversation, to follow its instructions, and thus to follow your new passions. As it is meant to be, so it shall be.

love to you...

Sukie Curtis said...

Thanks for some great comments! If I weren't off to visit my mother for 24 hrs, I'd sit and reply. But it'll have to wait...

Missy said...

I have to say that this blog post touched me very deeply. You are a authenticity coach for me in a big way... as a painter, as a writer and as a seeker. Thank you for showing us the definition of courage!

Anonymous said...

You are indeed my kind of pastor and my kind of writer.

Sukie Curtis said...

I am smiling!