In November of 2014, I decided to discontinue my efforts to be a certified candidate in the United Methodist Church. I’ll never forget that day. It was unseasonably warm, so I worn a white tank top and some black basketball shorts. I looked like I was prepping for a track meet, or at least for a workout that required some running. And in a way, I was. I was preparing to bolt away from something that I worked hard to position myself for, with no idea what would happen next.
I told my pastor that I didn’t want to continue the ordination process.
I told my pastor that I was I was gay, that I wanted to maintain my integrity, and I wanted to live a full life. He listened as I talked and was incredibly generous. He congratulated me for my honesty. He said that he would help me find the best way to continue to work out my call. He wished me well and then we hung up.
And just like that, my life changed.
I had realigned so much in my life to progress toward the goal of ordained ministry. The connections and friends I made in the process where top notch. I’m sure I would have been successful as a young black clergy member. To everyone looking on the outside, I had found my place. I was on my way up.
But I found something else while aiming for the title of reverend.
I found that I was worth the effort to live my best life, and that a title wasn’t worth the sacrifice of my truth. I deserved peace, joy, and freedom to pursue my best life just like every other ministry aspirant.
I spent much of my 20s preparing for service in the church, and I believed that my qualifications often exceeded those who were already candidates who lied, had pre-marital sex, drank, and a whole list of other things that the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline forbids. I didn’t think it was fair that I am denied for the simple fact that my “sin” wasn’t a heteronormative one.
That’s why reading Rev. Cynthia Meyer’s story pulled on my heart in ways that only someone who had to make a similar choice could understand. After a period of discernment, Meyer decided to tell her congregation that she was a lesbian. She lives with her partner.
Rev. Meyer is now waiting for a decision on her standing as a minister in the United Methodist Church.
This quote of hers is what strikes me the most: “The church would be glad to have my services if I would be quiet and stay in the closet, and I think I’ve indicated that I will not do that. So, I recognize that I may have to leave.”
I made a similar decision. In my own discernment process, I had to figure out what mattered most. What did I want my life to look like? I could ride my preaching talents and theological education to a beneficial and lucrative place, or I could live my truth in the way that made me deeply happy.
I realized that what I wanted more than anything was peace and freedom. I had a vision for what I would’ve liked to see in my life. When I let myself dream, fully and freely, I realized that I wanted something that staying in the closet wouldn’t give me.
Whatever ministry or work I do, I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and be pleased with myself and God.
In the not too distant future, I wanted to be able to close my laptop after a long day at the office. I wanted to then get in my vehicle and drive to my nice apartment, condo, or house; it didn’t matter. And once I arrived home, I wanted to greet my partner—and maybe a dog or a kid or both—with a hug.
I realized that I didn’t want to wait for years to obtain this dream of mine. As it stands now, the United Methodist Church’s Book of Disciple states that openly gay people cannot be “certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
I also didn’t want to wait around for my denomination to decide whether or not I was worthy. I didn’t want to wait until a General Conference battle was won before I got the life I wanted, or risk my integrity for however many years it took for the standards to change.
So I left. I left the resources. I left the networks. I left the scholarship money and jobs.
I endured the ridicule of others who thought I was being silly and risking a career solely because of my sexual “proclivities” and the uncertainty of where the next dollar was coming from. Those were rough times. But ultimately, Jesus’ words were a balm.
I did lose a great portion of the world that I stood to gain, at least the world that I knew. But I had full possession of my soul.
Earlier this month, the New York and Baltimore Washington Conferences decided not to consider the sexuality of candidates as they progress through toward ordination. I’m glad to see this day come, but I’m also glad that I made my decision when I did.
I didn’t need to wait for my worthiness to be certified before God or myself.
I hope that my former colleagues get to see the ban obliterated by the end of 2016. As for me, my ministry goals are still up in the air. But apartment hunting with my partner has been fun. The place we’re both interested in isn’t too far from where I teach.
It won’t take long to close my laptop and commute home. And it has a nice dog park.
Photo via flickr user Pieter van Marion