Over the course of the next few months, I had a series of meetings with my Rector, the Associate Rector, and several members of a newly formed parish Discernment Committee and went before the Vestry. I received a formal recommendation from the parish and then applied through the Diocesan Offices and took the usual battery of psychological tests and background checks as per the Canons of the Church. Shortly thereafter, I met with the Canon for Ministry, where she described the process going forward as well as how seminary selection works. After the meeting, I received a letter from her stating that it would be best to put off the Discernment Process for a time so I could focus a few things, such as some leadership skills and working with a Spiritual Director.
In the following years, I helped to reconstitute New York’s chapter of Integrity (an Advocacy organization for LGBT Episcopalians) and served as Convenor of the chapter for three years. In that time, we were able to get a solid core of individuals to help grow the chapter and hosted several different fundraising and social events. We were also a contact group for the various Episcopal parishes in the Diocese for New York’s Pride Parade in June, and we were able to get all of the parishes to march en masse. That fall we held our first Integrity Eucharist after many years and I preached for the first time. My colleagues felt that it was appropriate since I was Convenor and they also knew I had gotten into the habit of writing reflections on the Lectionary for certain Sundays (many of which can be found if you click on the sermons/reflections tag in the tag cloud on the sidebar). As I climbed the steps to the pulpit and began the sermon I had prepared, the sense of being exactly in the right place and time came back. The experience was reminiscent of what happened on Christmas Day which i mentioned in the last post.
I also sat on the Diocesan LGBT Concerns Subcommittee (which is part of the larger Social Concerns Commission) for a term of three years, which helped me to get a better understanding of how the polity of our church works at a diocesan level. I worked with a therapist for a year which helped me to get more in touch with myself including what brings joy, pain, anxiety. This time proved to be a well placed investment as the increased self-awareness I believe will help me to have a deeper empathy for what others go through. I also found a Spiritual Director through General Seminary and am still in contact with her. We speak monthly over the phone, and when I visit New York, I make it a point to see her. One of the greatest gifts that I have gained from that experience is the realization that in pastoral settings, I am neither ‘the healer’ nor ‘the fixer.’ Those are things that only Jesus does as The Great Physician. As priest and pastor, I feel that I better serve the pastoral needs of others by being present with them, walking with them and sharing in their joys, pains, sorrows, triumphs and defeats.
In addition to my parish involvement on the altar guild and serving in other various liturgical functions as needed, I had annual meetings with the Canon for Ministry as well as bi-monthly meetings with the parish Discernment Committee. I always felt that I had their support in the process and they believed in my sense of vocation, but there was some pieces missing before I could go forward, especially on the leadership front. However, I also experienced a deep sense of frustration as if the opportunity to develop the “muscles for ministry” my former diocese was seeking simply would not reveal itself. I felt at a loss as to what to do, and at times simply wanted to process to be resolved one way or the other. The only answer I received on all sides was “not yet.”
The period between my initial letter from the Diocese of New York and my departure to Key West may be best described as one of tension. Sometimes I felt as if I wanted to give up and that it would be all-so-very easy to turn away and live a life of relative comfort in a great city than to continue in what felt like limbo and not knowing where I would end up. During these few years, in spite of all the frustrations of a process that appeared to be stalled for an indefinite period of time, I kept at it. Through various conversations in person and through social media, I learned the nature of ordained ministry was changing … dwindling are the days when newly minted priest would find a traditional position as a curate complete with housing, benefits and stipend. Part-time clergy may be the norm in a decade or so, and like St. Paul, clergy may need to find ways to supplement their income from what their parish may be able to provide. The nature of what it means to be the Church is changing, even though the work of mission and the call to bring Christ to the world has not. Many times, I also felt rudderless, as if I were searching for missing pieces which would allow things to move forward. Throughout this period, my love for The Episcopal Church did not wane, my trust in the Discernment Process did not waver, and I remained persuaded that I was following where God was leading me, even though it was one step at a time with no real indication of where the next step would lead. What kept me on the path I had started was a trust that God’s will would be done, and an abiding assurance that being faithful to my sense of vocation was the right thing to do, even knowing the outcome is not guaranteed.