I could travel over oceans Cross the deserts, climb the mountains Just to share Your story Bring You glory and win souls for You
And I could sing like an angel Songs so humble and so thankful Full of drama and emotion So the world would know Your truth
I could give away my money And my clothes and my food To restore those people who are poor And lost and down and out
Oh, I could succeed at all these things Find favor with peasants and kings But if I do not love, I am nothing
-Ginny Owens (I Am Nothing) Based on 1 Cor 13
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Five years ago, almost to the day, I would give the most difficult sermon of my ministerial career. It's not an unknown story. God, I wish it was. I wish broken churches would immediately find healing, so they could continue helping others in an already broken world. Five years ago, I learned the depth of the pain the church is living with. Five years ago, almost to to the day, I was asked to resign from a small rural church.
Now, if you are any average Jill or Joe you might think I had it coming. In truth, I did. I spent the first half of the call with a broken ankle, and wasn't allowed to drive. My secretary would pick me up so I could make visits to the hospital and to visit home bound residents. The second half of my call was spent pregnant, and she was a difficult pregnancy. I even made a secret trip to the hospital during the General Assembly in Nashville because something wasn't right. I spent my off days writing sermons, because they didn't offer maternity and I wasn't going to ask for it. (I was a foolish girl.) In fact, one elder suggested I should save my vacation so I would have something when she arrived.
Yeah, I had it coming. The writing was on the wall. When I went for the interview I made three things clear. I wanted to make sure the previous female minister left on good terms, because I didn't want my first full time call to be in a church where they had a negative view of female ministry. I made it clear that I was technology oriented, and explained how I used it up to that point. I wanted to be hired in a church that felt called to take on new ministers. I should have realized that congregants lie when they are desperate. I should have seen the writing on the wall. I didn't, and five years ago, almost to the day, I stood by myself in the parking lot, weeping.
Why was I weeping? I was preaching, even though the Elders thought I should just quit. They were told by higher powers if I didn't preach it would look like I was part of something terrible that would deserve immediate expulsion and having my standing taken away. They knew I hadn't done anything really. In fact, the conversation was simply, "It's a bad fit." So, there I was in the parking lot, preparing myself, when my Kindle did something it had never done, and hadn't done since. It began playing the above song on it's own, without anyone touching it.
That's when I lost it. The message hit me almost immediately. Yeah, the sermon was going to be really difficult to give. It didn't matter that it was written months before, and already sitting on the pulpit. I had to speak to people who wanted me gone, and people who were deeply hurt by the people who wanted me gone. I was about to willingly step into the furnace and allow myself to be burned alive. Yet, as long as I had love, I had something. Nothing I was losing that day was worth anything. I still had God. God was still my employer. The church was simply the accountant.
This morning I was prepared to post something completely different. I was filled with anxiety and frustrations for things completely unrelated to my call as minister. Then the song came up in my feed, as a reminder of five years ago. It was a reminder of why I'm here. I'm a woman, called by God to lead her people. I'm not here for money. I'm not here for fame or glory. I am here because of love, the one love given by God through Jesus Christ. I'm here because I don't want broken ministers and congregants. I'm here because God is my employer, and I am willing to walk through fire to fulfill this call.