I turned in my local pastor license this week. For those of you who don’t know, this license was what allowed me to work as a pastor a United Methodist Church, perform the Sacraments, and otherwise keep the possibility of returning to the professional clergy open for the future. (I started pursuing this process when I was sixteen, so closing the door on this held pretty weighty symbolic significance.)
For those of you who are interested, here’s what I wrote my supervising committee when I turned in my license.
Dear Members of the Tri-State DCOM,
Part of this is due to my deep concerns about the way that we structure our lives together as United Methodists. I hold largely unresolvable concerns about the way we select denominational leaders and discern about our shared life together, the spiritually imperialistic ways we have taught our churches to focus primarily on institutional survival, and the way that our systems often make the people who are part of them far less kind, joyful, and generous than they might be otherwise. More personally, I also no longer believe in the authority of our denomination to ordain nor that professional pastoral ministry is a faithful way for most American churches to organize their lives together.
However, more importantly than this is the journey that God has taken me on since our church plant closed in Haverhill in 2014. I’ve come to realize that I am frequently the worst version of myself when I’m functioning in a pastoral role, that my personal over-identification with professional ministry has led to some of my worst decisions and deepest hard-heartedness, and that my ministry has often not born the fruits of the spirit within me that I would identify with true vocation. In short, for me, stepping into my calling to follow Jesus also means stepping out of a calling to be a religious professional.
I write this letter in deep gratitude to all of you. I have been blessed with many mentors, faithful district superintendents, and compassionate DCOM’s throughout my journey. You all have given me the freedom to be able to work out God’s call in my life with greater joy and passion than I would have been able to otherwise. For me, that indeed has been a great gift.
Thank you all for your prayers and support. May God bless each of you in the season that is to come.
We are all in the process of becoming! Follow your heart Ben. The spirit is there to support you through this transition and gently coax you into your next identity. Peace–you will be terrific, no matter where you are led.
Ben, I for one am inspired by the way you are living according to your strongly held beliefs. It’s not always the easy thing or most practical, but with so much hypocrisy within churches today, your realness is refreshing. I hope you know that as hard as it was for you in Haverhill, and despite how it ended, I don’t think you’ll ever know how many lives you deeply touched and how much your influence lives on in many ways. I’m glad you are finding what works for you.
Bold move…proud of you! I feel like this letter is just the beginning of some awesome publications on your part. Keep calling out the BS, I am very much looking forward to it…
Many blessings on your journey Ben. I feel that I too cannot reconcile whatever call or duty I feel to the people with whatever has been going on with the UMC.
I wish that you find a way to actively pursue your calling in whatever way you discern to be true for you.
I’ve finally pulled myself out of Green Street after 20 years of Membership because of the incompatibility with family life – I cannot be an active member and a mom of young children there. It feels like I’ve amputated a part of myself by doing this – thus your letter and decision resonates with me.
I guess I shouldn’t be shocked by your renunciation of local pastorshio, but nonetheless am. Not sure what it means for your relationship with your podcasts (if anything).
That being said, I am always humbled by your discernment, prayer and ultimately your actions, and the courage to act out your true beliefs. As always, you (and Melissa) make me challenge my own thoughts on many things and make me think differently; some easy to digest, others a constant internal struggle with God, church and life in general.
I continue to relish the time we all shared in the Vine, being pushed out of comfort zones and constantly asking ourselves “what (the hell) are we doing?” (knowing all the time trying to follow Jesus).
I love my church friends from traditional church but can never go back to that way of church thinking (protecting/prioritizing the building and institution) as I continue to search for the spiritual fulfillment and attempt to follow Jesus.
Anyway, thanks for being you and Merry Christmas. Best, Keith
Hey Keith – No change re: the podcast, thankfully – my sponsorship was renewed for another year, so onwards we go! Thanks a lot – I think, in some very good ways, my journey to this point was formed by much of what I experienced at the Vine – and by my friendship with you, in particular. It’s really true – once you experience something like that, it’s hard to go back!
Thank you for sharing . My husband left the church in the 70’s and many other pastors did, too, and the church didn’t know what to do with them — or with their wives! May God continue to lead you.
Wow Ben! Just read this. You are an amazing and inspirational person. Your courage to listen to the spiritual guides in your heart truly helps us all in our quest for understanding. Thank you
Ben, you are and always will be in my mind a faithful and courageous spiritual guide regardless of denominational status. May your continuing journey be blessed.
Will never forget you and the Vine in Haverhill Mass