Learning to Fly Solo

I have approached this church differently from the beginning, not joining as a parishioner (although I will), but telling them from the second Sunday I attended that I needed continuing education just as much as I needed their blessings as my leaders.

I am also now in the choir so that I have a sense of normalcy to my world.

Just as an aside, it was my mother that convinced me I needed to join the choir, and not necessarily internal drive. She didn’t tell me anything in terms of parenting. She just said that it’s hard for her to sit anywhere in a church but the piano bench because that’s the place that feels like home. Her words hit deeply into my smallest place, the one that says, “I feel that way, too.” I don’t play the piano, but it’s hard to sit still in the pews knowing that it’s not really my “place.” If I am not in the choir, I am wishing I was up there, just as much as I tell myself that I don’t. I can do this. I can sit in the back and make notes.

I tell myself that, because it’s true right up until it isn’t. I can maybe attend a church for three services before I realize that I have to join the choir, because singing in the congregation leads people to turn around and say, “you have such a GORGEOUS voice. You should join the choir.” I get embarrassed and I blush and I don’t know what to say. Standing with the other singers is a way to avoid that moment, really, because I don’t stand out. I’m just one of the crowd.

I want it to be the same way in terms of my theology. I want to listen to Matt (senior pastor) and Gloria (associate) until I am ready to take on the large dreams I’ve created for myself. The still, small voice of God is what called me originally. Creating a legacy is what keeps me there. I don’t want to be famous, but I do want that for my church. I want people to know St. James and All Sinners like they know Riverside Church, or Cathedral of Hope, or any one of the churches in the United States that are familiar even to people who don’t live close geographically.

I can hear you asking why.

Because I want to be a church that is capable of giving more, doing more, seeing more in the name of Christ than is currently available. There are pockets, but my mission is about STEALING BACK OUR WORDS. When you hear the word “Christian,” what kind of imagery does that bring up in your mind? Conservative, “pull yourself up from your boot straps even when you don’t have shoes ‘faith'” is fucking bullshit (there goes my Jesus God flipping tables anger again…. sorry). You don’t preach with power over. You preach with power in the middle. Shared hope. Shared faith. Shared ability, the fruits of the spirit in perpetuity. I don’t create all of this by myself. I empower you.

Now is the hour in which I begin my journey, but now is not the hour where I step out on a ledge. I have schoolwork to do, along with clinical rotations in pastoral care. I have to walk with the homeless and feel what it is like before I can step up and say I can help care for the problem. I have talked a lot about “you don’t get to see Jesus. Have some wine.”

Party on, Wayne.

When it’s time to join me, you’ll know.


I am including the text of the first e-mail I sent Matt and Gloria, because I think it is important to record here.


Hey Y’all (you can take the girl out of Texas…),

Just wanted to say how much I am looking forward to being a part of the life of this church. I asked Matt if I could send him some of the stuff I’ve written/preached over the years, so I thought I would include you, Gloria. I am interested in all the possibilities we have the ability to create now that I really feel I have found a *home.*

As a writer and preacher myself, I have no doubt that I will move on to my own church someday, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a home base right now, a church to love that will love me back in all the right ways until I am ready to fly solo. I originally wanted to be ordained an Episcopal priest, but then I realized that I wanted to be able to *write* liturgy rather than turning to page 355.

Thank you so much for your grace and kindness. Many blessings. Many, many blessings, and thanks so much for reading.

Pax,

Leslie

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These are sermons originally preached at Bridgeport United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon:

https://theantileslie.com/2013/04/10/sermon-for-lent-4b/

https://theantileslie.com/2013/05/28/my-very-first-sermon-ever-july-21-2003/

These are things I’ve written for my web site:

https://theantileslie.com/2013/06/22/my-jesus-mar-2006/

https://theantileslie.com/2014/12/13/sermon-for-advent-3b-the-messiah-jesus-really-he-eats-paste/

The Upside of Fear

When fear that life would pass me by became greater than my fear of social interaction, I started to move. Yesterday was a “go big or go home” sort of day. I talked to my pastor about all sorts of things, such as working to earn ordination through the UCC, actually going to seminary, and people I should meet in Silver Spring.

As of this morning, my application to Howard is complete. I am just going to worry about how to pay for it later. I am sure that with the combination of donors, federal aid, grants, etc. I can wade my way through the last year and a half of undergrad and start grad school to get the MDiv I’ve wanted forever, but have never put my money where my mouth was. I chose Howard because it’s cheaper than American. The last thing I want to do is start out my homeless ministry with crippling debt. Being a pastor to homeless people generally doesn’t pay that well, and if it does, you’re doing it wrong.

The application fee was less than $50, and as I submitted my debit card number, I had this huge feeling that this was money I was using to prove that other people didn’t have to believe in me. I believed in myself. To that end, I took Matt’s suggestions and reached out to the names he gave me in Silver Spring already doing what I want to do.

I have a meeting with Jeffrey Thames on Friday morning. Jeffrey runs a homeless ministry in Silver Spring called “Hope Restored,” so my objective is just to show up and absorb all the knowledge I can, and see if he’ll give me a job. I can’t imagine he won’t. It doesn’t matter if it pays anything. That’s not the point. The point is to get experience in what I really want to do, because walking back and forth from my house to the 7-Eleven is only going to yield so much. As of right this moment, I know four homeless people by name. It’s a damn good start if I am choosing to focus on how far I’ve come in the month that I’ve been here. The trick is not to give in to social anxiety anymore.

When I isolate, I keep bad things from happening, but I don’t let in any good, either. I have to be bigger than my fears. I have to keep them at bay. I have to own them, and not let them own me. The upside of fear is that it motivated me to look at my life differently. And in that way, there is no downside at all.