An Immanent Epiphany: Christ Among Us

Immanent- A characteristic of God revealed as God dwelling in space and time with humanity.

A friend of mine shared with me one time that it is not uncommon for God to speak to her in the day to day, as she goes about her tasks at home, like while she’s vacuuming. Such tasks are activities that require little conscious thought to accomplish, freeing the mind to be available for other deeper thoughts that God may choose to bring to mind. When she told me that I realized how often God had done something similar with me……as I made my bed or washed dishes. This morning it happened once again as I pulled the flat sheet up and straightened out the folds and creases.

I had a thought run through my mind without any pondering or prompting. “Why do you think you were pushed aside by some in ministry?” Suddenly an answer was right there, too. And it was resident within a Bible verse I have used for more than a decade as part of my ministry signature on emails:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our very lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

I have been called by God to vocational ministry from a posture of living among those with whom I am in ministry……doing life together…..sometimes in all its messiness. It seems that is what Jesus did. It is what Paul and John and the other disciples did, too. They lived day in and day out among those to whom they were sent… teaching, celebrating, grieving, suffering, etc. Jesus did not choose to exalt himself above others, but instead served them. They became his good and loyal friends…..and his most deceitful betrayers. He loved them anyway. He loves US anyway, even when we are unfaithful and represent him poorly.
I could never quite get my mind around instructions that are given to pastors by The UMC not to become friends with members of their congregations….. but instead to form a tight knit little order of clergy peers and keep everyone else at arm’s length. Don’t let others in. Keep your cards close to your vest.

Logically, the church’s instruction might serve to protect a pastor from hurts, disillusionments, or betrayals. It might be to keep one from getting too comfortable…or powerful…. in one place, too, making it hard for a pastor to move or be moved when called to do so by the episcopacy.

I could not overcome the disconnect in my mind between ministry in an immanent, “present-with” kind of way, like Jesus’ life exemplified, and what I came to see as The UMC’s model of a disembodied clergy class that exists primarily to serve the needs of the institutional church, not the people it serves. I was not willing to surrender the transparency and authenticity that is part and parcel of ministry to the population to which I’ve been called. Some clergy in decision-making positions seemed to suggest I was over-exposed, too “out there” with my beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and conduct, and, by their repeated description, “not self-aware enough” for ministry. I chose not to believe the extent to which such institutionalism was demanded of everyone coming into ministry in The UMC.

My call and ministry was well defined. After the conflict arose with the Board of Ministry it went through a very rocky period in which it seemed that satan tried very hard to take me out of ministry altogether. It seemed to me, also, that it was the call and ministry of my life that was rejected as much as it was me personally. That I found offensive to the women I serve and to Christ himself more than to me personally. I refused to surrender who I am to be what “they” seemed to demand that clergy must be. I am a servant, a deacon, a mission-minded person called to a day to day mission field right where I am that focuses exclusively on the need of the individual I am serving at the moment. For me, ministry is not about the size or status of a church appointment, length of the appointment, salary, “perks”, employee benefits, career path, retirement planning, or anything else. It is about those whom God will send today to be served and how. In that quick bedside epiphany (how appropriate on January 6th, Epiphany Day) God confirmed what I had believed. That the clergy “system” and process within The UMC is so impersonal, disconnected, and covert from the people it serves in its decision-making that it expects those it discontinues to simply walk away with their questions unanswered or force them to be more transparent, as occurs in dealing with appeals and discontinuation votes.

These last few years have not so much damaged my respect for clergy in general, but they have thoroughly confronted any illusions I might have suffered under about clergy being any better than anyone else. But, of course, I knew already in my heart that such exalting of clergy wasn’t the case. I would never have answered God’s call to ordained ministry if I believed it required a person to be better than anyone else or that it made a person better than anyone else.
1/6/18 CBB