Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I am SO not a minister anymore

... since so many of you have been asking. I was officially disfellowshipped from the UUMA (Unitarian Universalists Ministers Association) a couple months ago. In typical UUA style, I received a letter that explained I had already been disfellowshipped, since I had not responded to any of their inquiries. (Did I actually receive any such inquiries? No.)

The letter was signed by the same person who, when I once explained that I was not available to commute coast to coast on a regular basis because I had a nursing baby, responded with a horrified, "How long are you planning to do that?" My explanation that I wasn't willing to separate our child from either parent for long stretches of time--regardless of nursing status--seemed to fall on mystified ears.

I framed the letter and hung it next to my certificate of fellowship and my seminary graduation diploma. They all represent important and cherished chapters of my history.

The reasons why I am no longer in ministry are long and complex. It's hard to do them justice in a blog post. Nonetheless, here's the Reader's Digest version:

1. Unitarian Universalists: by and large wonderful people, they are also terrible employers. Our half-assed, ultimately-benefits-no-one version of congregational polity makes for a lot of lost paychecks, inconsistent benefits, and blown contracts. The seminary classmates who don't have horror stories for me of this ilk... are the ones I haven't caught up with lately. Not that my own brief experiences were good. "What do you mean you want dental?"

2. I have found that the quality of energy and care needed for good ministry draws from the exact same pool as the energy and care needed for parenting a small child. I'd much rather put mine into my four-year-old than a group of adults (with a penchant for acting like four-year-olds).

3. I went into ministry in part to live my spiritual journey in an open and intentional way. In recent years I've found that living my own journey out loud is contradictory to the expectations placed upon ministers, which, despite a lot of liberal hype, are really fairly traditional. I got a little tired of deleting the most liberal (and authentic) pieces of my sermons. "Hmmm, better not talk about THAT if I want to be asked back..."

4. Board meetings. Both literally, and as the epitome of the rule-based, justice focused, institutional culture. As my journey has led me deeper into unschooling, consensuality, and relational ethics, I find myself an increasingly poor fit to institutional leadership. I resist the authority conferred upon leaders based not on their personal qualities, but their title. The role of Minister is not a mantle that sits comfortably on my shoulders--that ironic old black robe is anathema to me.

5. When I entered seminary, I wanted to write. I loved to write. I was tremendously excited about the idea of writing a piece nearly every week, having an audience for it, and actually getting paid. Guess what? I'm a freelance writer now. I'm getting paid to write--and sometimes to write what I actually think. While I'm at home with my family.

I still love UUs (and to a lesser extent, UUism). I hope to retain and build church relationships--just not as a minister. I'm eternally grateful that I went to seminary and got as far as I did. And I'm eternally grateful that I quit. Life. It's funny.

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