-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Much of what has brought us here today was built with "before", "during", and "yet to be." Each of these played a vital role in the existence of Fig Tree Christian, and towards the mission of finding God already in the digital wilderness.
My Pastoral Calling to this kind of ministry
I used to wear my trauma like a badge because I knew my trauma had shaped me. Many of the choices I made as an older child, and young adult were exclusively because of the trauma. Today, I try not to highlight that part of me often. I have too much work to do to sit down and regale the world around a campfire. I also know how many unknowingly treat trauma victims and survivors as an oddity. People gather, listen, pick apart, dissect, and leave. They become grateful the person they examined and pulled apart was not them, and they go about their lives. I learned this kind of sharing doesn't help others like me, and it doesn't help me. If you wonder why victims and survivors are less likely to share their personal stories, that's why.
Still, we are here today because of moments that happened before Fig Tree was even a sparkle in my eye.
I was a child of divorce. Back in the 80's it was believed women were the better caretakers than the men. Therefore, custody was handed to my mother.
There's something I always say and write. "Brokenness breaks- always." I know this because I lived it. My mom was broken. From her brokenness, she broke my sister and myself. She married an abusive drunk. For those two years we were neglected, and abused through neglect. We were locked in places, and had to sneak food to eat. I am not mad at my mom. Broken people, while broken, don't realize they are breaking others.
When my dad finally won custody, we found ourselves with my Grandma, my dad's mom.
Divorce sucks. It has long reaching fingers that jab at strange times. There was this belief that my mom's side of the family was treating me better than my sister. My Dad's side of the family reacted poorly, choosing to treat my sister with more love and care than myself. It was torture.
I can remember vividly an event, where my dad left us at the apartment, because he needed to help my aunt with something at my grandma's house. The boy across the hall rang the doorbell, asking if he could talk to me. When I opened the door a little, he pulled me out, shut the door, and pushed me against the door. He began grinding against me. I screamed for my sister to open the door, when she finally did it took both of us to close the door behind us, as the boy was using his body weight to try to push himself in. Then, he went from window to window to look at us.
I called my grandma's house to get my dad to come home. My aunt picked up the phone. I begged her to get dad. She told me he was busy. I told her what happened. Her response is burned in my memory as deep as the boy is now forever seared. "You are being selfish. Don't call back." She hung up.
Dad was not told what happened to me. He wouldn't find out until he got home that night. (Just so we're clear, Dad would have come home if his sister had taken a moment to tell him what was going on. He saved us in many ways.)
That night solidified that I couldn't push into my biological family for support, so I turned to the only family I had left: The church. I adopted myself into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) My entire world revolved around church. I joined any group that would have a child. I sang in the choir. I evangelized for the youth. I asked to participate in worship. I found my voice. I began to piece myself back together. While the world around me burned, the church was an oasis.
Early work in the church:
At first I only volunteered. I would help with the food pantry. I would come at strange times and volunteer for a project. I lived at the church, so any event would bring me with it. I did not miss Sunday worship, and as soon as I could drive I was sometimes the only one in the family who showed up.
Eventually, I aged out of youth group, and I had to start thinking about what I was going to do. I was feeling the call to ministry. At the time I thought it was music ministry, because music was the only real voice I had. I decided to work for the church. Camp Staff was suggested as a good start, so I sent my resume to the only Disciples of Christ camping program with Camp Staff within a 4 hour radius: Christmount. They had just finished hiring, but if I wanted to be kitchen staff, I could stay with the staff and come on board.
The following two years I was on Camp Staff. Then the Youth/Choir director at Loganville Christian Church, followed by the Youth Director at Brookhaven Christian Church. I lived breathed and ate church. It was my everything.
I went to seminary at Candler School of Theology, and became the Seminary Intern at First Christian Church of Atlanta, in Tucker.
Seminary is an important step in a ministerial calling. Of course I can buy any book written by any theologian, but I wouldn't know how to use it. Seminary taught me how to navigate through historical and Biblical understanding. Before seminary, I didn't know. I wasn't aware of the codewords, or the secret hand signals. I kid some, but it's important for ministers to understand the reasoning of theological traditions inside and outside their own. My early adult self dropped into random churches thinking that would be enough. Back then, visiting other denominations was like a test of faith. I would proudly state, "I'm a Disciple because I've been to 8 churches outside the denomination and I feel I'm still a Disciple." While the visiting was good, it was the seminary classes that explained what was going on in them that really rocked me.
I also was able to process my brokenness, and realize how my brokenness was further abused or mocked. The key being, brokenness is not something that is dealt with in the church. A broken system or person is proof that God is not a giant wishing machine. It's also proof that Christianity doesn't magically become easy because you said some words and were dunked in water in front of people. Through seminary, I learned the entire nation had become so afraid of loss and grief, that they were ostracizing anyone who proved loss and grief existed.
It was the first time I could see why Christians were personally happy with me talking about overcoming trauma, but went away when it came to processing grief. I was an oxymoron to their theological world: A suffering Christian.
Seminary was also personally good for me in another way as a person and as a minister. It was a refining fire where I became better because I learned I was not okay. In become better, I became someone who was better prepared for ministry.
In the midst of this transition I met my husband, and had my first child.
My husband is not a theologian, or in any kind of ministry job. Looking back, I realize I would have never found my spouse within my denomination because I had made them my family. I love my husband and my son. They came into my life when I was still naïve. Who I was when my son was born vs who I am now is drastically different. More about that next week.