A Shepherd Without Sheep
I’m taking some time this week to reflect and pray about the move I took a few months ago, following the decision Teresa and I made together almost a year ago, to leave my position as Pastor of Church in Bethesda, our spiritual friends and family for eight and a half years. (And so you know, this post will be longer than 500 words, my latest exercise to practice brevity and be more concise.)
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Church in Bethesda and I’ve written some things about my entrance into the Episcopal Church, one the strongest factors that led to my resignation. And for the first time in a long time, I’m back in the role of being a member of a congregation without any leadership or teaching responsibilities.
Yes, I’m pursuing ministry options within the Episcopal Church, and I hope to serve our new Church family. I’ll even go ahead and say that I hope and pray that I am able to serve the Episcopal Church and our world as an Episcopal Priest, but it’s all up in the air for a while longer. For now I find myself outside of a role that I have served in for a long time, one I am realizing that I have internalized and made who I am as much as what I do: Shepherd.
As a Pastor, a Shepherd, my role was to come along side other members of our community and dig into scripture, experience life’s best and worst, and to faithfully make sense of it all together. I prayed for and with others. I served others and with others. I weekly spoke and wrote about scripture, God and faith. I creatively pursued ways within community to faithfully hear and follow God’s Spirit and footprints across our dusty globe. I painted. I played my djembe. I solemnized weddings and I officiated funerals.
Talking of shepherds and sheep might sound a bit off-putting to you, as if we’re talking about being a leader with a bunch of followers. The reality is that a good shepherd is as often following the sheep as leading them. (I often saw this when we lived in East Africa.) A good shepherd is serving the sheep and working to meet their needs more often than the sheep might be serving the the needs of the shepherd. Of course, we’ve all known an egotistical church shepherd who wields a wicked stick, but that is not an image of a scriptural pastor nor the example of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.
These most recent reflections are not necessarily about the people we left behind at Church in Bethesda, good people we miss and love dearly. I’m not really writing about them, but about life after them. I’ve become a shepherd without any sheep. I don’t have a group of people for whom I have committed to follow, lead and serve as pastor and shepherd. We do have a congregation, and it’s filled with wonderful folks. I’ve been able to preach a few times on Sunday nights, and Teresa and I have been asked to teach a teen class on Sunday mornings in the Fall. But these are more in the doing part of me as shepherd than the being part.
That being part is what I’m missing. It’s the prayerfully dreaming and the vision casting of ways to enact our faith, within our community and in the world. It’s the circle of deep care around a group of people in which I share and breathe. It’s making art for them and making art together, and the prayerful preparation before the making of that art. One thing that is really getting to me is having messages well up inside of me, and no venue to share. It’s having dreams and images in my heart and no canvas on which to begin making them reality. It’s the realization that it’s much more difficult to be patient in this liminal space than I expected.
My reflections are multifaceted, but I wanted to capture a few ideas while they are still crystallizing in my mind.
1) I’m still feeling very blessed and happy in the Episcopal Church. Our experience at St. John’s Episcopal Church has been wonderful and we’re happy to be there. And my recent joy at Missional Voices is still fresh. We have a beautiful, diverse faith family in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and I’m happy it’s our home.
2) I need to take my impatience and feelings of loss and channel them into prayer and devotion. The thing about liminal spaces is that with growing anxiety and impatience, depression and hopelessness are too often the natural course. It’s all too easy to lose touch with faith and forms, practices that instill hope and reinforce conviction. Choices must often be made and remade as life’s journey moves into new territory.
3) I need a community in which I am a sheep and a shepherd, wherein I lead and follow and grow and share with some other souls. This is probably going to be alongside our membership and participation at St. John’s, but never instead of St. John’s. I shouldn’t be just waiting for what is coming next in my religious life and vocation; it’s a good time to start dreaming and realizing what comes next.
As promised, I doubled the usual length of a blog post… sorry about that, guys. But if one of these three reflections sounds like something you’d like to explore with me, then let’s get coffee and talk. Let’s get together and talk about faith without judgment, diversity without anger, peace without war and love for our enemies… lots of good Jesus stuff. God is good. God is good all the time.