Okay, that’s a clickbait title, I admit it. Coming into full communion with the Catholic church is about anything but losing my religion, about anything but losing the covenants and practices and communal ties that bind me to God’s embodied love.
And yet. This week held a beautiful, supportive, holy conversation with a friend and mentor from the SC Annual Conference about the logistics of resigning my ordination. This doesn’t feel wrong. But there are twinges of grief that accompany it. It feels a lot like a graduation, or the first weeks after having a baby: the right transition is happening, but there’s a heightened sense of what’s being left behind. What it costs.
It turns out that I will send my certificate of ordination in the United Methodist church, along with a letter, to the Conference, and that will be all she wrote.
I’m a little worried I won’t be able to find my ordination certificate – IT’S TOTALLY SOMEWHERE IN THE GARAGE. (I think, anyway.) But the paper didn’t ever feel that important to me. What felt important: holding the cup and bread aloft while the Spirit descended. Pouring water on a baby’s head while invoking the name of the Trinity and speaking words of blessing from the deepest places in my soul. Wrapping my stole around the clasped hands of a couple as they made marriage vows to one another.
Why are you doing this? caring people have asked. You are a pastor. You have the heart and gifts of a pastor. There is no place for you to live your vocation in the Catholic church.
I’ve been hesitant to talk about this transition, hesitant to bring this part of my life into a more public space before it had time to take root, before I had time to understand what kind of fruit it was going to produce. But the resignation of my ordination makes it feel like the time has come.
[A quick word about structure – I’m going to approach this in several posts. It’s too complicated to do it justice in one or two. So if you want to make sure you hear the whole story, you may want to subscribe to my blog – you can do that through the sidebar on this page: http://www.elisebarrett.com/blog/.]
What I want to do today is to start with a sort of “negative theology” approach – negative theology is the idea that the best way we can talk about God truthfully is to first say all the things God is not. So I want to start by saying all the things this transition is not for me.
It is not a rejection of the ordination of women.
It is not a separation from my United Methodist sisters and brothers, either among the clergy or in the church; neither is it a proclamation that all United Methodists need to become Catholic STAT.
It does not represent a transformation in my understanding of social issues.
It is not an intellectual conversion – in other words, I didn’t first become intellectually convinced that Catholicism provides the “most logical” or “most-making-sense” or “rightest” approach to theology and church. There are folks for whom that has been the path, but it is not mine.
It is, finally, not an abandoning of my “pastoral” vocation. I want to explain that a bit. Because obviously, I will no longer be able to celebrate the sacraments, either the two recognized by the Methodist communion, or the seven named by the Catholic communion.
I can still preach, though. And teach. And offer spiritual direction. And pray, and read scripture, and lead parts of worship – most of the parts in some worshiping communities. I’m helping “order the life of the church,” even – not in a local congregation, but in the sense that the contract work I’m doing is addressing a systemic and burdensome barrier to the flourishing of persons who are called to paid pastoral ministry, and therefore to the flourishing of their local churches. I’m doing many of these things in official and unofficial, traditional and nontraditional ways, right now, as a Catholic.
The word “pastor” is a helpful one for me, because it’s related to shepherding. And I’ve become more and more convinced that we’re all called to “shepherding” ministry of one variety or another. Furthermore, it’s so often the small, unglamorous, unrewarded pastoral work we do that has the greatest capacity to change lives, in the slow-growing-gardening ways we’re taught God likes to work through us. Example: a little lamb-child just came over to sit on my lap, just for a moment of reassurance before going back to playing. God’s entrusted me with overseeing the growth and development of three such lambs – no small privilege. And there are so many wiser pastor-sheep all around me, offering me similar guidance and sustenance.
[This is – let me be very clear – not a defense of ordaining only men. I get partially the logic of the celibacy thing – honestly, I do – when it’s framed as a call to “radical availability.” One cannot be both “radically available” to a congregation and a family of small children and a spouse, no matter one’s gender, without truncating said availability in one direction or another. But I’m not currently dealing with the theology of ordination. Of course, I have the luxury of not dealing with it, because I don’t sense a call to the priesthood. I recognize that, and it’s why I don’t want to have a seat at the table where such things are being discussed, at least not for now.]
Parts of this are complicated, y’all, and I don’t have all the answers.
I simply want to affirm that for me, for this season, for this life, my call to ministry is taking a different shape, but it is not evaporating, nor is it being stifled.
And the fact that that is true, the fact that this transition has been life-giving in every possible way has everything to do with the reason I did come into the Catholic church: very simply, God showed up and called me in.
…but that, my loves, is a story for another day. 🙂