Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Holy Week: Philippians 4:13, darling!

I have been hiding out.

That's not true, strictly speaking. But... I have been hiding out from my posts here. Life has overwhelmed me, Holy Week has overwhelmed me, and I've just been feeling something like... let's see...

If this cup could pass from me...?

Something like that. (Maybe this is what Beloved means by kicking and screaming.)

One thing I've done is, I've avoided my morning prayer since last Saturday. Just... kind of pretended it wasn't there. Not that I don't pray... I do a little moments all through the day, especially this last weekend. But as for my morning sit-down with El Shaddai... it wasn't happening.

Sunday was glorious in my church. Glorious. Beautiful. And the congregation must own that... I did very little, except to stand out of the way. And we were packed... Easter numbers (in fact, I'll be suprised if we can match Palm Sunday).

It has been a trend of late. Larger numbers, many of whom are not members but regular attendees.

And every time I look out at a crowd on Sunday morning, every time I feel the energy that is building in my congregation, I think: I'm about to blow this apart.

I realize that is not, strictly speaking, what I am planning to do. But I also realize that my coming out may drive lots of non-members away-- not because they're homophobic, but because who needs drama? That's not why they're coming to church.

And I realize, thanks to conversations I've been having with supportive colleagues, that the bar is very, very high for me to be able to remain in this congregation.

First, the church's governing board (church council) has to decide that they want to keep me.

Second, the congregation has to decide they want to keep me.

In each of these steps, I have to discern how split a vote I can accept. If all twelve church council members vote yes, great! What if only nine vote yes? What if it's 7 to 5? And the congregation: 100% would be grand! 90% would be very good! But even at 99%... what if the remaining 1% is comprised of certain pillars of the church, whose departure would be emotionally devastating? How do I help to heal that? (A colleague has advised me, I need help from other colleagues with healing... I can't expect to effectively give pastoral care for healing of a situation I have created.)

Suppose both the board and the congregation want me, by good amounts, and the losses are bearable (or nonexistent). Then what?

Then, the regional body has to approve me. In a season where this very issue-- who can serve as a church officer, at every level-- has been highly politicized, does this body want to risk division by endorsing me? I could potentially be in a situation in which my church wants me, and the regional body says No.

But suppose... just suppose... the board, and the church, and the governing board all say yes. Suppose they do! Yay! Right?

Well, yes. Yay. But I am still not out of the woods. Any member of my denomination can file charges against me or against the regional body for endorsing me. And if I/ we lose, I could still, in the end, not be able to stay in my congregation.

This morning in my prayer... I did pray today... I finally, finally, touched that place where I long to stay with this congregation. I finally tapped into the grief of possibly losing them. And I cried and cried, for the first time, over this possible loss.

This morning's epistle was from Philippians 4. The passage begins with these words:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. (4:1)

Yes: whom I love and long for.

6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Do not worry. Easy for you to say, Paul.

By prayer and supplication (and tears?) let your requests be made known to God.

God, make this way clear. Please.

12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

The words of someone who sewed tents so that he could have money to travel and preach the gospel. OK. I hear you.

And finally, the words Cynthia and Fr. Tim were always quoting to one another in those infernal and wonderful Mitford books. (Do you suppose she called him Fr. Tim in bed...?)

13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

OK. I hear you.

All things, including:

Bearing people's anger/ disgust/ derision/ disappointment.

Walking patiently with the congregation through a great time of unknowing, a desert time.

Not knowing for a very, very long time. Or,

Knowing very quickly I must go, for their health and well-being.

Losing them. Losing my ministry in this church. Losing my income, my status. Losing.

My richest gain I count but loss? And pour contempt on all my pride?

How does one do something like this? I know I must do it. But if this cup could pass from me... I wouldn't complain.

Philippians 4:13, Beloved!


Songbird said...

4:13. That's our cheer for you, C.

Sara said...

That is a lot to bear. Prayers for strength, peace, courage, wisdom and love.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

So many, many prayers for you, Cecilia...


Suzer said...

Oh Cecilia! My heart goes out to you.

Choralgirl said...

Courage, girl. 4:13!!


Sarah said...

There are some who might leave, yes. There are also many more who might come, who might feel, suddenly, beautifully, welcome.

There are many doors that might close, yes. There are also all of the doors that might open. The doors that might be flung way, wide, open, to let in sunlight...and the Holy Spirit.

Peace and strength to you. To YOU who is called.

Sophia said...

Oh, dear one. You put me to shame...because I have been avoiding my own sit down real prayer time, and for no such completely understandable reason.

You are dealing so bravely and honestly with something you shouldn't have to deal with at all, because it is all determined by this terrible evil and injustice. Please remember that, even as you grapple with the cup and the cross and the tough choices for integrity given and only given some concrete alternatives that are not what Godde wills at all. And over which she is weeping with you.

You mention perhaps choosing to leave for their health, even if the majority want you to stay, and this worries me. (I can completely understand leaving for yours, if there is much conflict and if it starts to tear you apart). You and Godde are the only ones who can ultimately know if you are called to do that, but it reminds me of my initial mistaken belief that, as one professor on my dissertation committee said, I was anathema obliged to tell universities that I had made the shameful choice of being ordained. You may remember that I did, a couple years ago, and it cost me that plum job in a large city near you....which has all worked out for the best, I think, but now I am appalled that I took in any of that hate and imposed it on myself by judging myself lesser and deserving such treatment.

The conflict and strife and losing some parishioners would be sad, and it reflects well on you to want to spare people that. But remember what anyone who leaves would be doing: abandoning their Christian community because their fantastically qualified and holy minister has courageously disclosed that she is a member of a persecuted minority group. I am thinking especially of people who would actually change their opinion of you and feel disgust at the beautiful person you are and the sacramental relationship in which you live, not those who would weary of the publicity and strife. This isn't behavior that needs to be catered to or rewarded in any way--it is behavior to be prophetically challenged. It is no different than leaving because they found out you were black and had been passing, for very grave reasons. And those who remain, gay and straight alike, deserve to keep that fantastically qualified holy well as those who may come, as Sarah points out. Not to mention that the haters can find the 99% of other churches that hate or don't speak against it, but where will the others find somewhere and someone that doesn't?

If this is too directive coming from someone who, er--how did a wise woman put it at my place?--oh, yeah, has no standing to challenge you on any of this....Please forgive me and know it is coming out of deep love for you and the people Godde has gifted and called and formed you to serve so beautifully, as you are doing and will do whatever the eventual choices on all sides.


Just me said...

"All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." My Vicar in our very small local anglican church welcomes gay members - totally unexpectadely the most traditional of sacramentists - welcomes and recognises -introducing them as partners. It turns out he may be gay but privately so. It is such a relief to know this to be freed from worrying that people may not wish me to join if they only knew. If you come out and choose to stay Cecilia you could provide this acceptance and hope to many gay Christians in your area. I suppose its time I told my Vicar!

jsd said...

Prayers and discernment. There's is much to stumble over and through one step at a time.

Sarah S-D said...

we're still praying every day.

i thought of you when we read that philippians passage yesterday.


Reverend Dona Quixote said...

Just checking in to see how you are, Cecilia.

Yes, Philippians 4:13.

But, I am also hoping for you that, as you run the particular race to which you've been called, you will feel yourself surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, who can perhaps help to shoulder some of the burden.

FWIW, when I did my coming-out thing, I felt terribly alone and the perception that I was alone shaped my process, the way I did it. One of the things I regret is that I never gave my congregation the opportunity to decide whether or not to love and accept me, or show me the door, because I never told them the truth about why I left. I thought I did what I did out of love and concern for their well-being as well as my own... but now I am not so sure that was the right thing for any of us. I think that, had I taken the time and care with the process that you have, and had I sought out others, the outcome might have been different.

Mary Beth said...

Praying very much for you.

Processing Counselor said...

Now I understand. I'm glad you're my friend.

Lulu Maude said...

Wow. My heart is with you.

SingingOwl said...

Holding you up in prayer. I have no words, no wisdom, no opinion...except my heart aches for you. May God make your way plain.

LittleMary said...

this is a great post, just organizing it all, writing it all out. remember that only be being you has this congregation grown in strength (and numbers) and by being you i pray it will continue.