The Chair of the District Committee on Ordained Ministry looked me in the eye on February 27, 2013 and told me I had “no place in ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church now or ever.” There was no room for ambiguity. She tried to temper the harshness of her remarks by welcoming me to remain in fellowship. What she really meant was I was welcome to be pimped another way by continuing to give the church my money and free labor with nothing in return.
I had to decide whether I was going to clip my wings and reduce my presence to being a perpetual lay member or launch into a new beginning apart from the denomination. The former was not an option. Previous efforts to put the call behind me failed. It met me every morning I arose, followed me throughout the day, and gave me unrest at night. I was far less attached to this church after experiencing a long series of disappointments at others. Therefore, leaving was not too difficult.
Little did she know, I no longer cared about institutional approval. I addressed the Chair emphatically. “I do not support anything that does not support me!” She and the others around the table looked stunned that this little Black woman would come in there and sass them in such a manner. With that exchange, my fate with the United Methodist Church was consequently sealed.
Hence, I did not preach at the United Methodist Church that invited me to deliver the Pentecost message this morning. In ironies of ironies, the day commemorating the descending of the Holy Spirit would be the day they require me to quench mine. We first discussed the opportunity several weeks ago following the release of my spiritual memoir, but a typographical error resulted in the actual invitation not being delivered until three days prior to the engagement. I called the pastor to decline due to short preparation time and logistical problems. He stated how much the people were looking forward to hearing the message of Deinstitutionalizing God so I reconsidered.
My body and soul resisted no matter how much I pushed myself. The sermon was laid out, but the anointing absent. Then the neighbor who usually lets me borrow her older car since bought a new one informed me she needed it today. Another neighbor who graciously extended an open-ended invitation to borrow her vehicle after mine was totaled in a collision likewise had a conflict. The rear windshield of a third neighbor’s vehicle was shattered by an errant rock Friday while his next-door neighbor’s lawn was being mowed. Sensing the direction of the wind, I stopped asking around.
One thing I learned through my futile attempts at ordination was to stop knocking on closed doors. Where God gives vision, God makes provision. I do not have to beg to undertake what is God’s will for me. The pastor offered to send a ride from his church 90 minutes away to pick me up and return me home afterward. While generous on the surface, it was woefully inadequate at addressing the central issues at hand.
The one thing the Holy Spirit indwelling believers does is liberate them to live the abundant life Christ promised. We are free to act—or not—without obligation. I sat down yesterday to complete my sermon preparation while allowing the transportation issue to resolve itself without burdening me. My body began to exhibit manifold signs of distress. Finally, my lower back muscles clamped like a steel vise to the point I could not walk comfortably. There was no way I would be able to stand the next morning to deliver the message, let alone make the three-hour roundtrip drive.
The body does indeed keep the score as Bessel van der Kolk’s aptly named book postulates. The universe spoke and my body heard, although I had a mind to ignore them. Why cast my pearls before an unrepentant body? Jesus said And whoever does not receive you nor listen to your words, as you leave that house or city, shake the dust off your feet.
While I have no hard feelings, what I do hold against churches is their insincerity of acknowledging my gifts and graces while trying to place me in a spiritual straightjacket. That’s what it feels like to clip my wings in the space consecrated for the assembly of the people of the resurrection. I Thessalonians 5:19 says do not quench the spirit. That is exactly what Christendom requires for me to be a member. “Go about your life and forget the most defining, purposeful, and powerful aspect of it” they imply. Well, that proposition is unacceptable to me. In the meantime, I will go about living authentically in the world in a manner the church does not welcome.