Tag Archive for ministry

Discernment 2016 Review: What now?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is [Divine] purpose that prevails.” – Proverbs 19:21

I had a major discernment process regarding my ministry that started with an email I’d sent to my primary ministry mentor in June 2016. She responded, asking me five questions which I answered in a series of blog posts:

  1. Are you actually Christopagan, “just” pagan, multi-faith with something else, or “just” Christian?
  2. If you do feel you still actually are Christopagan, is Jesus calling you to be a priest for Him (aka have you asked Him yourself, or do you need to have one of us horse (channel) Him so you can ask)?
  3. And if He [Jesus] is calling you to be a priest for Him, do you feel that that calling requires some sort of official human recognition?
  4. Are there any other trads, denominations, or groups that are poking you in the spirituals that maybe you should go and explore before you decide on ordination in the [Progressive Christian Alliance]?
  5. What type of ministry are you being really called to, and do you really need anything other than your Circle of Cerridwen ordination for it?

So, what have I learned from this process?

Well, I’ve learned that I definitely feel called to ministry. The way certain gods and spirits and dæmons call to me (and that’s a whole other blog series in the works) I think confirms that I’m called to something.

I learned that I do indeed feel that I am a Christo-Pagan, and not simply a Pagan, and that I consider the United Church of Christ (UCC) to be my Christian home. I had been toying with the idea of ordination with the Progressive Christian Alliance (PCA) because unlike the UCC, the PCA doesn’t require a Master of Divinity (MDiv) for ordination. But the more I think about this, I feel like I’m going about this the wrong way. Not because I was trying to fast-track my ordination by choosing an ordaining body that would ordain me sooner, but because I want to be a part of the UCC. And while I could have dual standing with both the PCA and UCC, there’s something that doesn’t quite feel right about that.

But also, the more I delve into the world of Christianity the more I feel that while I certainly am Christian laity that maybe I shouldn’t be Christian clergy. In spite of being involved in Christianity since my birth, I’m always finding new things about it. And a lot of what I’m finding lately disturbs me. So much of modern Christianity seems utterly disconnected from the what appears to be the message of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, both canon and gnostic. This seemed to happen a lot in an online discussion group devoted to the Progressive Christian Alliance.

I’ve seen the Golden Rule and the Second half of the Great Commandment applied selectively. One person had even gone so far as to describe treating other with the same respect he wanted to be shown as “onerous.” Respect for Other faith traditions is granted … to an extent. Some members of the group flat-out refused to grant respect to some traditions, even when presented with evidence of the good work those Others have done.

I never wanted to be one of Those Christians who becomes so disillusioned with the faith that I leave it. While I’m not at the point where I feel like I’ll be leaving Christianity entirely, I am at the point where I am renouncing my call to ordained Christian ministry.

This is right and proper. Am I content with “merely” being laity? I’d be lying if I said, “Yes.” I feel envy as I see the social media updates from those whom I used to attend seminary with as they finish their programs and prepare for their public ministries. I want to be with them: studying, working, ministering. But, there are a great many ways to minister.

In my coven, the word “priest” is more than a title. It’s also used as a verb. And can most certainly performing priesting without being Christian clergy.

Discernment question 5: What type of ministry are you being really called to, and do you really need anything other than your Circle of Cerridwen ordination for it?

Wednesday, 1 February 2017 (in response to this post)

Now, that is the $64,000.00 question.

I think of the ways in which I’ve benefitted from the ministry of others: leading worship, teaching/preaching, spiritual direction, chaplaincy, campus ministry, pastoral care. I feel like I’ve benefitted so much from the various ministers, priests, and witches who’ve done these things for me that I want to turn around and do the same for others.

Of all those ministries, chaplaincy is the one I’m currently least qualified for. I know that takes special training, and that’s usually above and beyond a Master of Divinity (MDiv). That said, I did serve as the chaplain for an adult spirituality retreat in Summer 2015. From what I understand, the same thing about special training could be said for spiritual direction, though I’ve heard varying opinions on this.

Clergy spouse/partner/family support is a ministry that seems to have a need. While I’m no longer a clergy spouse, I was for a time. So, that’s one type of (Christian) ministry I feel called to.

I know that I’d also like to do something to foster better inter-faith cooperation, specifically between Paganism and Christianity. I know I’m only one of many who want this work to happen, and there are certainly others who are probably much more qualified for this ministry than I.

It’s February 2017. And it seems like life for marginalized persons is falling apart right now here in the United States. I’m finding calls for emotional and spiritual support, both among those protesting and those living in genuine fear. Holding space and providing the requested spiritual encouragement are things I can do, and people have told me that the visible presence of clergy persons can sometime prevent the escalation of violence at protests, that police are less likely to be heavy-handed (at least while clergy are watching).

But, are these things (clergy spouse support, ministry to the marginalized, protest chaplain) things that I can only do as a Christian minister? No. I could also do those as a Wiccan priest for those Wiccans who might want such things.

So, I don’t know how well I’ve answered this question. Some of these things I feel called to do don’t require Christian ordination, even to do them in a Christian setting. Others, however, might require ordination.

Maybe a better question isn’t so much what am I called to do, but what am I capable of?

Discernment question 3: And if He [Jesus] is calling you to be a priest for Him, do you feel that that calling requires some sort of official human recognition?

Wednesday, 21 December 2016 (in response to this post)

After the Second Samhain my coven hosted, I feel that I am correct in that Jesus is calling me to be a priest for him in addition to my Wiccan priesting. But, why would priesting for Jesus need official human recognition?

Well, one reason for official human recognition is that one is taken more seriously in matters of ministry. Being a lay minister is considered a noble thing, but basically considered to be little more than a member of the laity with a deep commitment to GOD. Sure, one can be a lay chaplain, but trying to get a job as such seems extremely difficult if not impossible.

Another reason is pulpit supply. It seems churches are hesitant to ask lay ministers to preach, doubly so when those lay ministers are queer, transgender/gender-expansive, or both. Or when lay ministers are permitted to preach, they aren’t necessarily compensated financially for their work. And while I can indeed take the title of Reverend (both ordained by both the Circle of Cerridwen (Open Source Alexandrian Wicca) and the Universal Life Church), being a Reverend in a Christian tradition would make it possible to be considered a more viable candidate for things such as pulpit supply or leading workshops.

Should one charge money to serve a faith community? The Open Source Alexandrian Tradition doesn’t charge money for initiation or instruction or priesting. It’s not what we do. In fact, most Pagan groups I can think of don’t take money for these things. That said, it’s not unheard of to compensate a priest, priestess, or witch if they have to travel to perform their duties. But basically, Pagan priesting isn’t a way to make a living. So, the idea of being able to generate income with pulpit supply might be a bit off. I’d love to be able to make a living serving as a minister. But, what exactly is meant by the phrase “to make a living”?

For my part, “to make a living” means to be able to meet all my living expenses. Currently, I rent a room in an apartment. I would like to eventually be able to afford my own studio or 1-bedroom apartment. But also, I’m not ruling out the possibility of living in (or starting) an intentional community. In a capitalist society, capital is necessary for survival. I don’t seek riches; just what I need to live my life and leave my loved ones without having to worry about any outstanding debts I might have when I die. If priesting will not give me the necessary income to do that, then I will continue to work as I currently do, and attend to my ministry “after hours.”

My experience with religious people in general is that they seem to want some sort of vetting of their leaders. I’ve seen this in Pagan faith communities as well. “What’s your tradition,” some might ask. “Who initiated you, and who initiated them?” In some ways, it’s like the preoccupation with “valid apostolic succession.” It might be that it’s the faithful doing due diligence to be sure the leader is qualified to lead, but it could also be a way of saying, “You are not worthy.” Human recognition is a tricky thing, but religion is a human thing. And it seems that in Christian settings, the laity really wants to know where their clergy came from.

#TDoR2016 at Grace North Church

What follows is I wrote for the Transgender Day of Remembrance liturgy at Grace North Church in Berkeley, CA.

_____________

Sermon:

I began by
making an inverted sign of the cross. Gesturing with my right hand to
the floor before me I intoned, “In the Names of the Fallen,”
touch my forehead, “and of the Forgotten,” moving my hand down
and to the left then with a slashing movement to my right, “and of
the Cast Aside, we witness.”

♫ “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do
unto me.” ♫

Forty-one years later, I still remember the first line and tune of
that hymn, a hymn I learned in first grade at St. Thomas the Apostle
Catholic School in San Francisco. And while the Sermon on the Mount
or the Sermon on the Plain aren’t among today’s readings, the
“least of [GOD’s] people” is something that is frequently on my
mind.

Today is the twentieth of November: the International Transgender
Day of Remembrance. A day when trans people and our allies around the
world gather to mourn our Beloved Dead, murdered because they were
like me: trans. We are among the least of GOD’s people in this world.

“But it shouldn’t have to be that way!” some allies will cry
out. They are so loving that in their hearts they don’t understand
the horrors that are our day-to-day lives. “Why can’t people see
that we’re all the same?” They will point to something like what
appears in our selection from Gallatians (3:23-29): that there are—or
at least there shouldn’t be—divisions among Jesus’ people.
There is no male and female in the Body of Christ, and the wider
church is the Body of Christ here on Earth. Our reading from Acts of
the Apostles (8:26-40) tells that even a foreign Eunuch was offered
acceptance into the church. This is significant because the Eunuch
was not of the so-called chosen people, and was neither male nor
female.

There is no doubt in my soul that this idea is true at a mystical
level: we are all the same in the eyes of GOD, however we might
define the word “god.” And yet, Jesus didn’t minister to everyone
in the same ways. To the privileged of his time he offered
admonishments, and to the marginalized of his time, he offered not
only a message of mystical hope but also gave practical, real-world
aid. He healed them, he fed them, he protected them from societal
persecution.

And when the righteous of Jesus’ time had him arrested and
sentenced to death for his social justice ministry, he prayed for
them to be forgiven. The righteous taunted him, daring him to save
himself, and still he did nothing (Luke 23:33-43). Yet, when one of
the condemned—an admitted criminal—asked Jesus to remember him,
Christ assured this condemned man of his place in heaven.

Jesus’ ministry was an uneven one, and his church is called to
the same type of thing. All are welcome at this communion table. Yet
the basket here under it isn’t for the rich to be fed, but for
those in need. All are welcome at this communion table, but the
second collection taken not so long ago was to help Nikira with her
ministry to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline, not to help construct
it. The leaves of the tree of life might indeed be for the healing of
all peoples, but those leaves aren’t applied equally and they
shouldn’t be. Some need more, some need less. This is true whether
we’re talking about physical healing, emotional healing, or spiritual
healing.

As I started the first draft of this sermon on Samhain, the Wiccan
day of the dead, I came across the following post on the Tumblr blog
Agnostic Mysticism
:

when god made the world, she shattered into billions of
fragments, each one with a vague memory of what it had been, each
with a desire to fulfill the purpose that made it. but each fragment
can do so little it goes unnoticed, a brief flicker of change, then
nothing. and so the work goes undone, the purpose unfulfilled

That’s what ministry to the trans communities can feel like.
That’s what ministry as a trans person can feel like: that what is
done seems so small, so meaningless. It’s like the “cold and broken
Hallelujahs” that Leonard Cohen wrote about. While we know that
being part of the Body of Christ means that fear and death and sin
have been conquered, we who are trans live with the fear of sin and
death even as we praise God. While we know that we are all one in the
Body of Christ, we who are trans know there are many who force
distinctions and divisions upon us, and we still praise God. We
praise God when we go to bed at night because we’ve literally
survived another day. And yet, and yet: our praise and gratitude
seems so hollow when we read in the news of another trans murder, or
suicide, or another child facing torment at school, or another
legislator passing laws forbidding us from using public restrooms.
Our prayers seem for naught, and our work seems so small.

Not all forms of activism and ministry might be easily noticeable.
It might seem as futile as standing on the beach and trying to hold
back the tide. And yet, even there, the water does not flow through
one’s body. No. It must flow around. Just standing there disrupts
the flow, even if in an extremely small way. But that way will matter
to something. And even the seemingly smallest gestures of social
justice ministry cause disruption to the privileged and offer respite
marginalized.

Today’s non-biblical reading, the Consolation of Paneros, comes
from a larger work called “You Will Not Be Missed,” so titled
because part of it is from the point of view of those who despise and
torment trans persons. There are times when we think we won’t be
missed. It certainly is something we trans persons are told by those
who harass us. No one will care. No one will mourn you. “God hates
fags,” and trans persons are folded into that term by the hateful.
And yet, it’s also something that trans persons and our loved ones
will say to trans persons: you won’t be missed. Why? In an effort
to tell us to harden our hearts to the hate we are forced to endure,
to toughen us up. The death toll compiled by most TDoR activists
focuses on the murdered. Almost never the suicides are included. And
yet, they should be even as it means the numbers will be much higher.
You see, the suicides are still murdered by the hateful. It’s just
cowardly murder as the hateful don’t want to face the consequences
of actually killing others, so they make life miserable for trans
persons, goading us to destroy ourselves. “Fags die, god laughs,”
they’ll tell us.

We will not be missed—because we will survive! This is the
message behind the Consolation of Paneros: it is answer to the
statement that will won’t be missed. We will let love grow in our
hearts even as we harden them against the hate, keeping the hate out
and letting love flow freely. I will resist the hate in this world,
and I will spread the love that I can. Even if it that love touches
only a few, it will touch some. And maybe they will reach out with
love, and so on.

Faith communities such as this can be havens for the trans
communities. Even as there is a backlash against religion in general
and Christianity in particular among trans persons, there is a thirst
for the connection and community that can be found among people of
faith. It is one of the reasons I am pursuing ministry, such as it
is. Someone has to do something, and I am someone. Some church has to
do something, and this is some church.

Keep the faith. Keep doing the work. Keep standing with us as we
fight the good fight.

Let us pray.

GOD, our lives end on a daily basis and we are thankful to have
survived. We pray, even when the flame of faith seems to have gone
cold and the words praise fall to pieces. But you are there with us.
Help us to know your presence. Help those who help us to keep the
faith. And help those who would be our destroyers understand that
whatsoever they do to the least of Jesus’ people, they do unto him.

In the Names of GOD, amen.

_____________

Litany of Remembering

  • One: Peace be upon the murdered; may the hate that destroyed them be
    vanquished here on this earth.
  • All: God, into your hands we commend their spirits.
  • One: Peace be upon the suicides; may we fix society in their names.
  • All: God, into your hands we commend their spirits.
  • One: Jesus, you are the firstborn of the dead. Into your arms, we
    offer our Beloved Dead even as we pray that the murders and suicides
    come to an end.
  • All: Amen.

Litany of Healing

  • One: Blessed are the survivors; may they know love and peace.
  • All: Bring your cold and broken Hallelujahs.
  • One: Blessed are the closeted; may they know some measure of safety.
  • All: Bring your cold and broken Hallelujahs.
  • One: Blessed are those who are Out; may they feel God’s love and
    strength even in their most troubled hours.
  • All: Bring your cold and broken Hallelujahs.
  • One: The leaves on the tree of life are for the healing of all
    peoples. Let that healing touch the Living and Dead, providing peace
    and power wherever needed.
  • All: Amen.

Discernment question 1: Are you actually Christopagan, “just” pagan, multi-faith with something else, or “just” Christian?

Monday, 21 November 2016 (in response to this post)

I can honestly say that I’m not “just” Christian. That I can answer right away and with certainty. So, I can say that I am a Christo-Pagan if by “Christo” one means a person whose religious practice includes doing my best to adhere to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the one also known as Christ, and if by “Pagan” one means a person who worships or is devoted to other, non-Abrahamic gods.

I am a devotee of Antinoüs, the deified lover of Emperor Hadrian. Additionally, I’m cultivating a relationship with the Tetrad++, a six-being group deity that transcends gender. I’ve had experiences with the Morrighan, though I’m uncertain if it’s right for me to say at this point that I’m a devotee of hers or that she is my matron.

My formal Pagan practice is Wiccan in format. That said, I’m also a practitioner of chaos magick. So, there are times when my worship is highly unritualized and seemingly casual. Forms of prayer that I’ve seen used by the Ekklesía Antínoou also move me. So though I’m an ordained Wiccan priest, it could be argued that I’m somewhat of an eclectic Pagan.

Then, there’s the seemingly most significant challenge to my status as a Christian: the fact that I’m a borderline Satanist (my second-born scoffs at the qualifier “borderline”). I have had many positive and beneficial interactions with The Adversary, so much so that I don’t see him as adversarial toward me. I’m certainly an adversarial theologian. In fact, I had developed such a reputation at my former seminary for being an adversarial theologian that when I told one of my cohort that I had borrowed The Satanic Bible from the seminary library he asked in all seriousness, “Oh! Are you reading it devotionally?”

But, back to identifying as Christian. Do I believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Yes, but I believe all people are the beloved children of God. That said, I don’t believe in substitutionary atonement, that in three hours on a cross Jesus somehow atoned for all the sins of humanity. And I know I’m not alone among Christians, even among Christian clergy, who reject this particular belief. So, that alone doesn’t interfere with my call to Christian ministry. For me, it’s more Jesus’ teachings about love and kindness and mercy and justice (especially social justice) that are important. I’m not concerned for my immortal soul. I’m much more concerned about suffering here in this life. I want to help alleviate the suffering of others, if I can.

And, there’s nothing that says the only way I can help alleviate that suffering through Christian ministry. That said, I have encountered other trans and queer persons who want to be a part of Christian community. Why shouldn’t I be a priest for Christ so that I help can bring Christian ministry into my own marginalized communities?