Oh, Yes I Did!: Don’t Be A Priest
Drew Downs caught my attention a couple of years ago with his words on faith. At first, I was simply astonished by the revelation a priest was actually a person who might be interested in reflecting on life and faith outside of church. I took guilty pleasure in peering in, as if I were still ten years old and still trying to stick my nose where it didn’t belong.
It wasn’t too long before I began enjoying his posts for their insight instead of for the feeling I was being granted a view into some secret place. Even as one whose faith is undefined, I am moved by the thought and feeling behind Drew’s reflections, whether they are about faith, parenting, or more general musings. The world feels smaller in a good way thanks to him, and a little less lonely. I’m honored to share his words here.
Don’t Be A Priest
Unless you are really sure, and I mean really, really sure, don’t be a priest or a pastor.
There is probably something wrong with the idea that I, an Episcopal priest, don’t recommend people seek ordination.
Really, it has nothing to do with job security or the experience I’m about to share. It has to do with certainty. It has to do with knowing for sure, not just in your brain, but in your heart and your gut, that this is what needs to happen.
Because the truth is, your certainty probably isn’t even enough.
In my tradition, we have many different opportunities for the church to test your call. We have bishops, commissions, leaders, mentors, seminary professors and deans, and then, at the end, the standing committee of our diocese. You’ll spend years of your life wading through red tape and answering the same few questions told a hundred different ways.
Then one day, you’ll give an answer someone doesn’t like. And you’ll get stuck. It will happen. [If it doesn't, I am worried for you.]
For me, it was at the very end of my process. I was asked about my call to ministry. I was asked how I came to believe it. What I felt called to do with it. This is not a surprising question. I certainly expected to face it. And so I responded.
The bishop stepped in, sent me out of the room, and looked to salvage my entire process. Years of work, three years of study, four different congregations invested in my training and praying for me. All on the brink of collapse.
Because I didn’t play the game. I was rational. Honest.
Everything was vanishing before my eyes. I was about to graduate from seminary with no support and no place to go. So I had to throw all my chips into one basket: the bishop’s compromise. A trip to a ministry counselor for evaluation.
The fact that I’m a priest should clue you into what happened next. A good visit with the counselor, support from the committee, then ordination by the bishop. I did it.
The truth is strange, though.
My return visit to the standing committee (the people who had rejected me the first time) was completely different except for one thing: my answers. They asked me the same questions and I gave pretty much the same responses. They just didn’t recognize them. Not because they had forgotten them or that I had been transformed or some black-hole event sucked the memory from their minds. It was different because I stopped worrying about what they thought. They could choose not to ordain me, but they couldn’t take my call to ministry from me. I was more confident and true to myself than ever.
I wasn’t really different. But I was better. And I did it.
You know, with some help.
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