I know a little about how Teresa MacBain feels.
Six years ago, I too was a clergywoman with integrity problems. I had a full-time, well-compensated position as an associate minister at Fountain Street Church. It was a large (600+ ASA), historic, independent downtown congregation. When I began my ministry there in 2002, I was a Christian in the Unitarian Universalist Association.
I met my husband at Fountain Street Church. (At the time, I was a guest preacher, not his pastor.) We were married there. It was not only my job; it was our family’s church home.
But over time, I realized I had unsettling integrity problems. I had serious questions about what I was doing and why:
- Why does this congregation meet for worship on Sunday morning and celebrate Advent, Christmas and Easter, yet profess not necessarily to be a Christian church?
- How can a church authentically draw inspiration from multiple religious traditions?
- What is the source of authority for this congregation?
Eventually, like Teresa MacBain, I realized I had no answers to my most profound questions. As a pastor, I was living a lie.
Like MacBain, I needed to earn an income to meet my family’s needs. Like MacBain, I had absolutely no idea what I would do next for employment. Like MacBain, I decided my integrity was more important than my paycheck. So, like MacBain, I quit my job.
No–wait–I did not quit my job like Teresa MacBain did.
- I did not seek guidance in my departure from an online group with no stake in the lives of the real people involved.
- I did not immediately make an announcement of my repudiation of my faith in a public forum of people who would promptly use my words to serve their own agenda.
- I did not cause trauma and confusion for the people I had agreed to pastor.
I wrote a letter of resignation and presented it to the senior pastor. I included in the letter the two reasons for my resignation: I wanted more time with my young children, and I wanted to find a church which was clear about its Christian identity. He accepted my resignation. We planned a transition, and honored the ministry we had shared.
I tried hard to leave my congregation in a responsible and compassionate manner. I think I succeeded. I still care for the people of Fountain Street Church, and I believe they still care for me.
A year later, the same questions led me to leave my denomination also. I paid my own way to go to the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association annual gathering. I told my friends and colleagues that I had come to say goodbye. I thanked them for being mentors and friends in my spiritual journey. I told them I was grateful for a decade of ministry in the UUA, and I now needed to move to a clearly Christian church. Then I went home and wrote another letter, resigning my full and final fellowship as a Unitarian Universalist minister.
I tried hard to leave my denomination in a responsible and compassionate manner. I think I succeeded. I still care for the people of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and I believe they still care for me.
I found a job directing a non-profit. But I missed ministry. I knew I was meant for the clergy life. I didn’t know if I would ever enter it again. But I am blessed. I have been welcomed into the Episcopal Church and ordained again, this time as a priest in Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. My personal faith matches my public ministry. My integrity issues are gone.
Teresa MacBain and I both quit
ministry positions an entire way of life because we could not find peace of mind any other way. The difference between us, apart from theology, is that the method of her departure betrayed the trust of her congregation and denomination. From her description of that process, it appears that she sent a resignation letter to her Bishop and/or District Superintendent, and considered her duty done. Really? I don’t think so.
In Lake Jackson, Florida, there’s a group of Methodists whose life together will be marked by this story for a while to come. They are still worshipping God and feeding the hungry, but their “Staff” page is missing a “Clergy” role. Those pictures only disappear with no explanation when a clergy departure causes trauma.
The people of Lake Jackson UMC are now answering difficult questions in the grocery store, having painful conversations with their children and teenagers, and spending sleepless nights wondering if they should have done something more to show their pastor the love of Christ. They are doing this through no fault of their own, but because of the manner of Teresa MacBain’s departure.
I left my congregation and denomination the way I did because I trusted God. I trusted in the story of Abraham, who followed God’s call to an unfamiliar, unknown place. I prayed a lot. I tried to follow the commandment to love my neighbor as a witness to the love of Christ.
My departures were hard for me. I tried not to make them hard for the communities that honored me with their trust. If I succeeded, the glory goes to God. I couldn’t have done it on my own–as Teresa MacBain’s story makes evident.
Lake Jackson United Methodist Church, I agree: Faith in God changes everything.
* * * * *
If you were along for this journey, please say “hello” in the comments… particularly if you want to disagree or push back. And if you are a Fountain Streeter, welcome! Have I opened a can of worms with this post, even six years later?
Good to meet you! I’m Nurya…
Welcome!Here, a mother and priest chronicles her attempts at practicing resurrection. This sometimes involves small children and organizations known as "church." Other times it just means telling the truth. Occasionally chickens are mentioned. Click "About" for more...
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