-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I wrote about the time before Fig Tree came into being. Explaining "how" Fig Tree came into existence will be difficult. Some of what happened is organic, and it's challenging to explain organic things. They tend to happen all on their own. Most of it is simply on this blog. Written throughout the years. I will try my best as I begin to bring 9 years together in just a few posts.
On being pushed off a cliff
I had two choices at the end of my tenure in the broken church.
I could pretend nothing was wrong, and just lovingly leave the church (as if that was love.) I was only two weeks post-partum with no job prospects, but I would pretend all of it was exactly what I wanted to do with my life and my family's life! That would have given me a repel line, to come down from my spot and figure out a new position from there.
Or, I could do what I did, which was live into the truth. I was pushed from the cliff with the words, "With what you've gone through, you'll bounce back."
Those words have haunted me. The person who spoke them, gave himself peace of mind, and gave me two terrible worlds. If I bounced back it would become almost justification for the push that left a post-partum minister crumpled in a broken heap. If I didn't bounce back, I'd have to remember he was sleeping well every night because of his words. They were his security blanket, not mine. Every time something went well, those words have mocked me. Every time something failed, those words were a sick reminder that they never meant anything.
Now, 9 years out, I'm finally at a place where they lost their meaning, that if something big happens I neither completely failed, or bounced back. Still, it took 9 years being haunted to exorcize those words.
Since middle school, I've wanted to start a Disciples of Christ church in North West Georgia. I have seen so many drive 40+ minutes to get to a DoC church. I remember it was almost a badge of honor to be the person who had the longest drive. It was a game I usually won. My first Church job was an hour and 15 minute drive. Every DoC church is at least a 35 minute drive for me, but people around me seem content with their half-hour drives. Almost proud.
In reality, those drives were a sign of the Church as a whole being broken. The Church used to be foundational to the community. You knew the people around you. When a Church did missions in the community, it was their community. Now, many churches are full of outsiders, anchored to a community that doesn't belong to 90% of the congregants.
I had a false belief. If a church could be started in the community where people lived, it would be a first step to fix the Church.
That's where I started. It had nothing to do with the internet or online presence. I was just a minister who saw the vacant hole in North West Georgia and wanted to fill it. What I didn't take into account was no one else would be on board, or if they were, there were other issues keeping them from joining.
Nine years ago, many churches were beginning to seriously feel the 80% decline sounded by so many statisticians. Some of these churches were bleeding out congregants. Nine years ago the Church was already in crisis mode.
A church can't go anywhere when in the middle of crisis.
Christians have created a false equivalency with movement. Not all movement is good. True, movement is one of the signs of health, but when something breaks that brokenness needs fixing before movement can resume. Churches in crisis sometimes are so shocked by their own brokenness, they attempt to move anyway, which only breaks themselves more. (Have you ever tried to walk on a newly broken leg? It's not pretty.)
So many of the churches around me were too busy trying to fake health, so they couldn't sponsor or assist me in any way. Everyone talked the big game. Everyone told me I was doing something worthwhile, but when it came to helping me start a church, they all balked up. I was the Little Red Hen, and they were all the animals saying they wanted the fruits but not the work to get to them.
So that's when I decided to start online. This move was done to primarily gain interest among people my age and younger. I knew most of the young Christians who were going off to college were not coming back to church. Today, I realize I was simply pulling from within, which is what many new plants did. Very few new Christians join churches. Often times it's people born into the church, or transfers of membership. This would look like false growth to the medium and large churches that saw an increase of membership with small churches dying away. (Just so you know: It's false growth today as some churches who have digital options find sheep from other flocks.) We are the Body of Christ, which means we have spent the past decade in hypothermia. The blood of the Church went to the largest parts of the Body, leaving the appendages to freeze away. It's only a matter of time before the largest parts of the Body start to die as well.
I began in the most obvious of places, I had a Skype meeting with the minister of the only Disciple's online congregation. She gave me some good basic advice. The best being, look at the camera like it's an actual person, which it is. Someone is watching from the other side, and it's how you make eye contact. That one piece of advice has actually changed how I talk online. I'm not preaching, like I would at the pulpit. Sermons don't translate. I'm having a conversation about God.
I was very broken 9 years ago. I'd done such a good job working on my previous brokenness in Seminary, that I was very aware of what was going on, I just thought being aware meant being okay. In reality, I'll be processing all my brokenness for the rest of my life. With my earlier trauma I can see my coping mechanisms. (i.e. When stressed I create. When forced into a job, and feel trapped, I do the best job I can in my limited space.) With the newer trauma it's more about triggers.
Yes, triggers are real. When the phrase "Are you triggered?" is used as a joke, it negates a very real experience. It's an experience I know. For me, Facebook became my own trigger. I would see happy posts from my former call, or someone would share something about the church, and all those anxieties would roll back. Even my daughter's birthday, the event they used to pick the date they'd ask me to leave, was a reminder. I had to process those wounds, but the denomination had no way to pay me while I processed, and they had just gutted the counselor assistance for ministers and family.
Also, one of the ways I used to deal with woundedness was to announce I was fine. Back when I was younger, my woundedness had been used against me. In my mind, nothing good ever came from naming my own woundedness. I didn't need people seeing a freak, so I kept it all hidden away. No one knew I needed help, because I never said I needed help.
Finally, depression took hold. I'm sure it was a combination of post-partum hormones dropping and the experience at the previous call, but I know it hit. I was never officially diagnosed. I can tell you there's a difference between being sad and being depressed. Depression isn't sadness. It sucks all emotions out of your world. Good, bad, they are all muted. It then heightens things that shouldn't be heightened. Almost like your body is trying to self-correct your sounds become more pronounced. Then, any loud noise becomes dangerous. You want to scream at them just to make them stop. Finally, the world becomes a zero sum game. You see nothing, so the only thing you can fixate on is nothing. Then you realize there is a feeling you can feel: terror.
Many people can't name what they are going through. I could. And I had two kids to care for, and a husband who needed me. Being needed gave me the ability to turn my mind off and just work.
My breakthrough moment happened, when I finally sat my husband down and told him what I had been feeling. I named it. In doing that, I was suddenly opened the door to real healing. Did I need a therapist. Hell yeah! Did I get one? Nope! Did my husband tell me to get one? Hell yeah! We spent our limited funds on the kids, and that's where I wanted them to go. Don't applaud me for that. Just know it happened, and I'm on the other side now.
In July of 2012, Fig Tree launched online.
While watching Celebrity Apprentice, Penn Jillette would say something that has stuck with me all these years later. It wasn't said until 2013 during Celebrity Apprentice All Stars.
He basically said, "We are playing two games. One is the game you literally win (in his case Celebrity Apprentice). The other game is more important. The other game is how people perceive you." The show was setting up Donald Trump not choosing him as the Celebrity Apprentice, but showing he was still winning the more important game.
Understand, and I'll go into it with more detail next week, I've taken those words to heart. I've lost so many "games." Those immediate loses stack up. (Because that's what naturally happens when you attempt things that are new. People don't get what you're doing or it's not a good fit. Or they get what you're doing and it scares them.) Jillette's words have given me context. I call it the "Long Game." Sure, I lost the immediate game, but am I still winning the "long game"? Almost always, the answer is yes. But more on that, next week.