"Are You Leaving Us?"

Within Methodist ecclesiology, there are bishops that appoint ministers to serve congregations. Methodist denominations--such as the United Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, among others--operate under some version of this ecclesiological practice. I won't bore you with all the details. Additionally, I am not Methodist and have never been a part of that way of doing church so my experiential knowledge is limited. Much of my experience has been in the churches that practice some version of congregational polity and ecclesiology in which the local church decides who their minister(s) will be.

Within that system, the ministers, themselves, have greater agency--agency in the decision to apply, be interviewed and, if offered a position, say "yes" or "no." The congregations have agency as well. In most cases, ministers are at-will employees of a church, meaning there are no end dates in one's contract and ministers can be let go at any time (and for almost any reason that is not discriminatory). If the finances tank, the position can be cut. If the deacon board votes a minister out because they don't like their sermons, it's a wrap. There is no guarantee of employment at any time and should one be let go, there's no bishop to swoop in and save the day by sending the minister to a congregation that has a vacancy. 

The other side of that agency involves the ability for ministers to "move on"--to accept calls at another church or to leave parish ministry altogether. Most ministers do so after much prayer and discernment. It's not easy to leave people you've grown to love--to leave the familiarity of a church, city and community. Sometimes the transition from one place to the next--from one job to the next--is about personal growth or family commitments. Sometimes, a minister is at a church for 7 years before they feel the spirit calling them elsewhere. Sometimes, a minister is at a church for 18 months before a search committee starts begging them to apply to the vacancy at another church. Whatever the case may be, this agency brings anxiety for both the minister and the congregation.

I'm a licensed Baptist minister and (almost) ordained in the United Church of Christ (Lord, get me to the altar on March 15th). In these denominations, I have a certain ounce of flexibility that has allowed me to direct my destiny (in a way). Thus, in the churches I've served (1 non-denominational, 1 UCC, 1 Baptist), I always get confronted with this question:

Are you leaving us?

Now, if you know anything about my life and call (Read more here), you'd understand that if you'd asked me 5 years ago if I'd be living and working in North Carolina, I would've burst into laughter until tears came out of my eyes. I couldn't have imagined--in January 2015--that I'd be living here and doing this--that I'd have broken up with New York City and begun another love/hate relationship with the deep and warped South. I couldn't have predicted this if I tried. Therefore, asking me how long I'm staying at my call or if I'll still be here in 5 years is hilariously ridiculous. I literally have no idea! God has shown me over and over again that saying "Yes" to the holy mystery means being okay with not knowing the end.

I was out of the office one day in November and somebody asked my supervisor if I was leaving the church. lol I thought, "What will happen when I go on vacation for a week?" 😂 I posted a picture of me preaching at a church in Oakland last Sunday (February 2nd) and someone Facebook messaged me asking if I was still working at my current church (I guess the posts indicating my relationship with other spaces had them wondering if I'd left). 

Beloveds, I live a FULL life that involves me preaching and teaching elsewhere from time to time. I produce music in other cities. I eat well and post about it. I drink well and post about it.  I visit friends, family and a significant person in other cities. I wouldn't have it any other way. I travel. I share this strange gift that God has given me with people outside of the invisible barriers of my church's campus. That's my ministry tooI know this may be culturally incongruent for many of you and what you may perceive a minister or ministry to be. In the context of my upbringing--both in New York City and New Orleans--ministers "preached out" all the time. Ministers shared with other congregations all the time. Some called it "evangelism;" others called it "spreading the Good News." Whatever it was, it was normal for us and we celebrated the sharing of our own with others. It wasn't always a sign of their departure but a sign of their commitment to bringing the kin-dom together.

Anyway, I believe that if one is in conversation with God, the holy mystery offers points of clarity that lets you know when your work at a place is done. Some people linger too long. Others--because of ego--leave prematurely. I do my best to maintain open communication so that I'll be able to act accordingly. Moreover, why are folks so concerned about us leaving? Do they think their church isn't good enough to retain passionate ministers? Do they want to hoard good talent? What trauma have they experienced that they are transferring onto us? Why must their separation anxiety be spewed on us? 

These are all questions that come up when people ask "Are You Leaving Us?" 

The answer is simply "I Don't Know." As much as I'd like to know, I don't. I'll never know. And I'm okay with that. I've decided not to take on other people's anxiety about my tenure at a particular place. It's really all in God's hands now. 

Be well.