I told the person, as we sat having our cuppas, that I would not attempt to paint my path to ordination or the journey since with rose coloured hues. In sharing my more recent struggles in ministry, however, I was able to see that I have come to another landmark along the way. You know those points along a hike where you stop, take in the scenery and refresh yourself before embarking on the next chapter.
The last couple of years have been challenging. I have chosen particular paths that have kept me in ministry and the church. These have not been the easy options. Far from it, it would have been easier at times to walk away. On the positive side, I feel I have chosen the path of integrity, freedom and hope. On the other hand, it is also the path of loneliness, challenge and uncertainty.
My battle with the church is not unique. My wondering about the future of the church, it's lethargy in bringing about change, and the vocal Christian groups who speak with judgment 'on my behalf' all leave me feeling a dull sense of despair. The questions that have run around my mind are about being real in ministry, preaching with integrity and what it means to be a Christian in today's world. These questions all come from the heart, but there are another bunch of questions that runs alongside from the mind. How do I do this without upsetting the people in my congregation? What if people leave and we don't have enough money? What if? What if? Should I just stick with the status quo? Do I have the energy to try and be different? These are the questions that, implicitly, many church meetings have taught me to ask.
So, what has brought me to this landmark? I find myself standing on this granite outcrop, relieved to be here on solid ground for a while. I have no idea what lies ahead, how the journey will pan out. But, for now, I know I have the strength to keep going. Why? Because I have met some fellow travellers who have encouraged me; speakers at festivals, colleagues willing to chat on Skype, a supervisor who gives me bread for the next leg, friends who are just there and congregation members who let me know they are still behind me. I cannot continue in my ministry in the church if it is not with integrity. I cannot go on remaining silent about things that are important to me. I cannot keep on pretending that I can make everyone happy.
As my supervisor said to me recently, 'Have you read the stories about Jesus? Sitting on the fence is not following Jesus. And following Jesus is not about keeping friends.' I have been very slow to learn this. This week, my supervisor of eight and a half years let me know that our supervisory relationship would need to end due to health problems. I want to thank him for getting me to this rocky outcrop in the middle of this beautiful, rugged land. The journey continues!