-Rev Melissa Fain-
I had so many important moments in seminary. These were moments that have shaped my ministry and focused me on my call. To just pick one would be foolish. Yet, I can pick a specific moment that has recently attacked me in ways that has guided me in the present. It is a moment that keeps me anchored and lets me go.
I was taking Disciples of Christ polity. It was at Columbia Theological Seminary because Candler School of Theology didn't teach it. The only professor offering the class in Georgia was and is Dr. Jerry Gladson. Across the hall was the office of Dr. Walter Brueggemann. I remember musing about how close yet how far I was from him. (His writing has since formed many of my theological groundings.)
There was a night we watched this retelling of the story of Alexander Campbell. It was kinda Soap Opera(ish), on an old, worn out, VHS tape. I tried to find a digital copy so I could link it, but there are no remnants of it's existence online. It was the actor playing Campbell, holding his coin. It was a coin earned so he could partake of the sacred elements of Communion. I watched as he stared at this man on the street, so hungry for food, but unable to come in the church because he lacked the coin. Campbell walked in for communion, tossed the coin in the plate, and walked back out without the elements. The act of Campbell tossing the coin without communion held weight for me.
Who was going to know? He didn't yell it in the sanctuary before he walked out. He didn't threaten his departure. There was no reason. He knew what he was going to do. He didn't want anyone to talk him out of it, so why make the announcement? It was the strength of his conviction. Not knowing what was coming, but absolutely knowing it wasn't in that coin.
In October made a private announcement of my intentions regarding the Disciples of Christ. I bitterly wept as I realized the truth. I couldn't stay. I made it official by writing a colleague and letting him know first. I followed it up by telling a private group. I was scared. I was devastated. I asked myself the question most people ask when they break up: What had the Disciples of Christ given me or Fig Tree over the past decade?
What was the denomination taking away? Everything.
This all came crashing back to me only a month later.
Related side note: I'm easy to neglect. People see me, and I give the impression that I've got my stuff together. I get it. When I see a problem, I can make magic happen with paper clips and rubber bands. I can see potential where most only see trash. When the world is flooding I get ignored because I can tread water when others are drowning. Only water treading works for just so long, and even I run out of trash to turn to treasure. That moment always comes, and the people around me always lament the exact same lament: "We shouldn't have ignored you. We should have stepped up and worked with you." I figured if this time I screamed out, "Hey, I need help," they'd finally stop neglecting me. I thought if I was vocal about not being able to do it alone I wouldn't be doing it alone this time, but, hey, I'm just easy to neglect.
In November the Regional Minister was told my family was dealing with some big things. I won't go into details, but know we are almost on the other side of it today. She reacted by calling me. If the region had fostered a relationship with me, it would have been a comforting call, but after being neglected for eight years it was a reminder of what I never had. More than that, she offered me a "coin." (She didn't know that's what she was doing, but God moments are often hidden to the voices speaking them.) She told me I could get help from the Pension Fund if I were a minister in good standing.
There it was. I hadn't mailed in my annual standing form, but if I did, I could have a place within the system, and find comfort. She even suggested there could possibly be a church that would need digital ministry. Comfort and joy! Just, stay in the system. When we hung up it was so clear this was my Campbell moment. Give up the "coin" for those outside the church, or accept the "coin" and take "communion." I oh so quietly gave up the coin, and never called the Pension Fund, and never filled out my standing paperwork for 2020. Her call took away my deep sadness.
So I don't bury the lede, I'm leaving the Disciples of Christ, and Fig Tree is coming with me.
Yes, we're stepping away from a denomination, but not a tradition. I'm still a Restorationist. I still believe we're saving something beautiful and right, something that deserves to be shared and restored.
I feel in the deepest part of my gut I am being called out. I've never resisted when called. I will go anywhere I've been called, even into the darkness. I have now followed that call through the darkness and survived. How could I possibly settle down in that sweet meadow when so many are chewing on rocks in the wilderness? I know that isolated feeling. I know their pain. There is no sweet comfort anywhere while that persists.
Come with me too.
Let me be crystal clear. I would rather let my call shrivel up and die with the others who are spiritually dying than go back into the system. At least then they know they're not dying alone. There is no calling me back. It's just... if you come with me we're not going to die, but finally live.
I've done the dangerous part. I took the first step. Anyone who comes with me will not be alone. Spiritual power comes in community. I will say, coming with me comes with a consequence. It will change you. It will give you sight. You will understand what I've come to understand. You cannot simply return from that. That's why it's a request. I won't force you to see the truth. I will say staying won't stop that feeling, that aching.
I won't promise it'll be easy, because God knows it hasn't been for me. This is uncharted territory. I need spiritual cartographers to chart the maps we will be writing, and trailblazers & scouts who have the knowledge of the land to know the path ahead. I need help.
That's it. I've done my part. I went where God asked me and called out. If no one answers it's no longer on me. I'm at peace. I'm free. Join me.