"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.