Thursday, February 19, 2009

An Open Letter: Fencing in the Playground

I thought this edited version of a response I've written to a Parkview parent may put some of this transition in perspective. As you may already know, I've accepted the position of Pastor of Discipleship for Children and Adults at Belmont United Methodist Church here in Dayton. Changing churches is always a bittersweet time, saying goodbye and then saying hello in the very next breath. It can be fraught with misunderstanding and disappointment as well as excitement and anticipation.

That said, optimistically I believe, I have been a victim of unintended consequences. The fact is, the Church of the Nazarene directly connects monetary compensation with pastoral status from district licensing on. That may not make a whole lot of sense, but what it means is, if I'm not paid, technically the experience side shouldn't count. So, for instance, if Evan were to go back to being volunteer at a church, even after almost 6 years (or more) in full time ministry, he would have to start over on his years of experience in order to be ordained. And technically, according to general church policy, it wouldn't matter how much I worked, without some sort of acknowledged compensation that experience doesn't count for ministry time. I don't know that those consequences of that policy are intended, but I've been enjoying the good will of church leadership ever since I offered to forego my salary way back in Kansas City. Because I have been willing to continue to forego any kind of compensation or salary (granted, so that I could continue to serve in some capacity alongside Evan, and not pushing the issue from the beginning), I have had to have 'special status' as an ordination candidate and eventually elder so that any of my experience would count. I've been burned by this already.

That's not to excuse it, but just give a little bigger picture. And honestly, the fact that I am a woman seems to complicate the issue even further (but that's a whole 'nother can of worms). So, with that being said, I did not decide to leave Parkview simply because I'm not being paid. Obviously, that has contributed to the difficulty of navigating the situation, but it definitely is not THE reason. I want to be clear about that. I'm not bitter or angry. I think the opportunity for us to come to Parkview opened up exactly when we needed it. I still believe that was a huge answer to prayer, considering the (literal) desert we were in. And I think when this opportunity at Belmont opened up, I had to at least see what the possibilities might be. When the door opened for service that proactively sought out a person with my gifts, experience and passions, I chose to step through it.

The last thing is that almost everyone (at least those that have talked directly to me) has been extremely positive and supportive. I have not sensed a mean or ungracious or even ignorant spirit that could have been. Of course, most of those that we've talked to know us and know our hearts, but I don't want to give that impression of the people at Parkview. I doubt most have any inkling of the issues at play.

I know that me not being at the same church with Evan will present some challenges, but that's the difficulty of two people who are married having the same call to full-time ministry. This deserves conversation, not condemnation.

I have likened it already to the assumptions people would make about married professionals such as doctors or lawyers. It would not be uncommon for two physicians or two attorneys to be married. But is there any requirement by law or within culture that maintains these couples must practice their profession together and in one office? Is one's ability or effectiveness to heal or practice law dependent upon the other's presence? Perhaps the situation is different, by nuances, but I believe the basic assumption that co-pastoring or team-ministry should be our only option has no basis.

I think Evan is quite capable at being a children's pastor. :) And I can, perhaps, actually function as the supportive pastor's wife that I'm supposed to be. And he for me (pastor's husband, that is).

I'm thinking that this new arrangement is kind of like putting a fence around the playground. Perhaps boundaries need to be clarified for ministry and for marriage to expand and live in the freedom it's supposed to enjoy. Perhaps what our expectations for our ministry have been and what others assumptions for our ministry would be have just not lined up. This has been an unspoken fear that has in some ways held us back from the radical obedience God calls us to, and maybe we've not had the courage to address it until now. And we just are at a point where both expectations and assumptions are going to need to be reevaluated.

But I don't think that's a bad thing because I think the issues at work here are far bigger than just me and this particular situation. It's good though, however hard it may be going through it, to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Eric + said...

Thanks for the update...

You are both in our prayers.