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A big bird’s eye view

Retrospective: A path from the center comes full circle

Posted by Ron George on November 3, 2009

Psalm 138, by Mark LawrenceIn journalism, the hardest words to write are the first 30. Every news writer knows what it means to say, “I don’t know where to begin.”

Well, this isn’t journalism, but still I don’t know where to begin. At the beginning? Who has time? The end? That wouldn’t make any sense. So I guess it’ll just have to be somewhere in the recent middle — say, late 1995.

I began to dream then. A recent conversion experience at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Corpus Christi, had persuaded me that a tarnished vocation to ordained ministry could be refurbished, if not by restoration to the priesthood then by dedication to employing my education and skills as a layman. I would let myself be reeducated and reformed by the church. I would seek a path of ministry that would, somehow, redeem the squandering of my ordination.

It seemed like a “God thing” at the time. I moved to College Station in 1999. I completed a three-year course for lay spiritual directors in the Diocese of Texas then embarked upon a doctor of ministry degree, hoping I might lay a foundation for ministry to deposed clergy, a ministry of spiritual direction, primarily of listening in safe space to people like me. Doors seemed flung open, and God seemed to have given me the grace to walk through them. The Diocese of Texas agreed to be the pastoral setting for a final doctoral project that reached out to clergy in crisis; and best of all, I was appointed lay pastor of a small congregation in Madisonville. I was their pastor for four wonderful years before returning to All Saints’ in 2006.

I completed my doctoral work at All Saints’, although not with my original final project. That seems to have been a God thing, too, a kind of mid-course correction, or maybe I just didn’t pass the test. It seemed to point to my not being ready to deal with clergy in crisis. Perhaps I was still too emotional after all these years, still too caught up in my own stuff. In any case, I see, now, that it was grandiose and delusional to seek to retrieve my vocation to pastoral ministry. What happened in the Diocese of Texas — all those open doors — seems now to have been an anomaly. It’s likely that most dioceses would have declined the egotistical yearnings of a deposed priest. Now, as I look back, the dream seems ridiculous.

Well, perhaps not totally ridiculous. I have been blessed with learning, spiritual growth and in providing pastoral care. The people of Holy Innocents, Madisonville, were receptive and loving; and, for the most part, so have been the people of All Saints’. Still, the story of the past 14 years seems to have come full circle — and it seems to have come to an end. It boils down to my being neither lay nor clergy. Where I had once hoped this meant I might become an effective hybrid, I have discovered, sadly, that it means I am neither; nothing, literally, but a man with a squandered vocation.

I once lived in hope I could bring hope to clergy in crisis. I once lived in hope that I might become an instrument of peace in calling the church to be actively engaged in this kind of ministry, a ministry embraced, at least in concept, by every bishop I’ve ever talked to about it. I once believed these past years of grace and growth, reflection and knowledge would result in a hopeful message for clergy struggling with displacement and suffering spiritual dis-ease in their relationship with God and the church. I once believed the church could be led to a way of ministry to deposed clergy that wasn’t rooted in anger and fear but in compassion for all and an unflinching commitment to speak the truth in love. The values are true enough, and in my view the problem is real enough, but it’s clear I am not called to be part of the solution. Perhaps someone else will be. God seems to have reined me in. At least I’ve found my way home.

I wouldn’t change much of what’s happened over the past 14 years, but right now, the future is somewhat formless and void. God makes things out of nothing, though, so perhaps God will yet make something out of me, something other than a priest, something other than an overqualified, egotistical layman.

A psalm comes to mind as prayer: “The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O Lord, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands.”

Amen to that.


6 Responses to “Retrospective: A path from the center comes full circle”

  1. Ed said

    Ron – My experience has been that God calls the unqualified and somehow qualifies us. I see this as a sturdy theme throughout the Old Testament, and extending to God’s supreme qualifying of a bastard child who became my savior and yours.

  2. dr. fred said

    Your vocation is far from squandered. Everything is preparation, dear friend. We cry because we don’t get what we want, and rail because we don’t want what we get. There is great meaning and purpose in all of your endeavors. What your struggles are for will somehow help to restore balance. How, we may not recognize as we see through the glass darkly, but when the time comes….
    Meanwhile, look for purpose in the experience, strength and hope you have gathered. Your story may be a mystery to you, but it is most certainly a gift to the universe. Use it the best way you can and trust the results to God. And take heart, because success is never the goal, but faithfulness.

  3. Bob Horner said

    Reading your journey again, tho somehow i missed this recent version, saddens me as think of your gifts not being better utilized in the larger church in some broader way way..and appreciate your candor/sharing this .i stll have such live memories of our time in the FIND program and try to use the skills/giftsfaithfully.
    Several thots pop into mind…suggest you connect to the “Daily office”website, created by Josh in Indianapolis and look at all the parts of it..its a gift to all who partake..think how you be used in this way???

    Secondly, I met a unique guy named Dave Wigmore in Austin who you may relate to in some way..allof a suddden I’m drwaing a blank with details so I’ll regroup and send more on himwhen my little grey cells rejuvenate..anyhow, prayers for your keeponkeepingon in your good works..GODS IN CHARGE..DB

  4. Catherine said

    You had such a positive influence on me so, so long ago, and I’m sure you never had a clue. Actually, that’s an understatement. Your involvement in my life helped me to get a glimpse of my own wholeness at a time when, internally, I felt anything but whole. This post makes me weep. The Church has been a place of salvation for me over and over again—from my own failings and the failings of others. And yet, it angers me that as the Church we continue to fail others so miserably. I pray—no, know—that out of this painful void God will create something new in you. Thanks for putting this back up. With gratitude and much, much affection. C

  5. Ralph said

    “In the beginning was the word”, what a shame the church (small c) has corrupted it to read “s”word and used it as a tool in its too-often self-righteous quest for truth. Or should that read power and control? What part of “let those without sin cast the first stone” don’t they understand? Peace

  6. Jan said

    My heart aches. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing.

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