Monday, December 3, 2018

Bad Teaching in the UMC

I almost shared this recording publicly at the time I received it, but was convinced not to by those who said it would be a violation of the clergy covenant. I regret listening to those people. I think that we have been reluctant to call out bad teaching in the UMC in the name of collegiality. Since I am no longer a United Methodist elder, I am going to be calling out those in the UMC who are demeaning the gospel. This is the first of those posts. I would rather have been a positive voice instead of a negative, prophetic one. But that does not seem to be my calling. 

I have had this recording for quite some time. The student who made the recording was in my New Testament II Class in the Weekend Extension School for part-time local pastors run by the North Texas Conference. This student was ready to quit after the class with Jack Soper, but I convinced him to stay and take my class. I think this student eventually left the UMC but I have no doubt that he is serving the Kingdom in some fashion in another church. 

When I heard this recording, I shared it with others who had positions of authority and could have kept Soper from teaching. The response I got was that this was "under the umbrella" of United Methodist teaching. So Soper continues to teach and I was dropped from the lineup. Other pastors I share this with agreed with me that this is not in line with the teaching of the UMC and essentially denies original sin, the incarnation of Christ, the resurrection, and the atonement. 

If this is true, then, laypeople of the United Methodist Church, you need to decide if this is what you want your pastors to be taught. Do you think this is appropriate teaching? Is this how you want your pastor to preach? If not, you should question your pastor on how he/she understands the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. 

I and others would argue that it matters what we believe. We would argue that "orthodoxy" is not about a strict set of rules to be followed, but a life-giving way of "right worship" of God. For a wonderful take on this listen to one of the episodes of Plain Truth: A Holy Spirited Podcast on "Why does it matter what we believe, with Dr. Justus Hunter. 

The recording is here, and the following is a transcript.

Transcript of Recording of New Testament Class

J is Jack Soper. D is the student who recorded the class. S is other students in the class.
Red italics are my comments.

J: So are you ready to go on to something else?

D: Not really no

J: No? Ok.

D: Well, I understand about, you know, with Christ initiating the new covenant with what he was doing that night – I guess it was in the Upper Room, right? – the last supper . . .

J: We call it that, yeah.

D: We call it that. I’ve heard you say twice now, and I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are?

J: Oh my goodness, this is Bishop McKee. He is our resident Bishop around here.

D: And I think I heard you second that . . . (unintelligible) my question is, I think I’ve heard both of you say, you know, with Christ doing that, that he was not paying for our sins, and I agree with that. That was initiating the new covenant there. But the next day was he not paying for our sins on the cross?

J: I don’t think so, and I’ve got a whole thing here on original sin, and I’ve got a whole thing on sacrifice that we need to go over. Because we also have to see the evolution of this concept called sacrifice and how that functioned in Judaism and is so essential to the Hebrew bible, and then how that in this context, which was very, very Jewish how that functioned. And atonement, and atonement sacrifice – you have to deal with all of that, and you have to deal with that whole concept of original sin that originated in the year 418 with Augustine.

D:  We talked about that last time. But just . . .

J:  we talked about what

D: I’m just looking here at the closest disciples, Peter being one of them and if you just do a quick search on this you find out that Peter talks about “For Christ also suffered once for the sins, our sins.” John talks about it – that Christ was offered up as a propitiation for our sin –

J: that’s right

D: ok, so that’s Peter and John, two disciples that were very close to Christ; Paul talks about it all throughout Romans, and so here we are 2000 years later and we are saying these guys are wrong.

J: Well, I’m going to reinterpret what those guys said and I’m going to talk about it in a different way.

D: No we’re coming to a different conclusion than what they came to, correct?

J: Well I don’t know, no, no. I’m going to understand that conclusion differently, that’s what I’m going to do. Because, because, let me just do a basic thing with this and then we’ll get into the detail and look at it in detail in an evolutionary way. I can say that “Christ died for my sins.” I can say that,

D: We say that whenever we do communion

J: but I don’t mean it the way that it’s typically understood through the concept of substitutionary atonement. Substitutionary atonement is very clear; it says that our sins are so bad – and we’ll see this in the evolutionary process of understanding of sacrifice, too – that my sins are so bad, it took that much of a sacrifice, it took a human sacrifice, it took the sacrifice of a child – and more specifically it took the sacrifice of a male child of God, all right? What’s gonna get it done? That’s gonna get it done. I don’t see the experience in ministry, the event of Christ as unfolding that way. Rather I see Christ as being the embodiment of God’s love and this whole principle that we talked about with regard to being the voice of justice, being the source and the deliverer of hesed, steadfast love, being halaka, walking ethically – all of that confronted a political system that was based on violence and fear. And what Jesus did is he said, “No we don’t have to live that way because the God I worship, the God who I embody is the God of justice and the God of love.” He was so unrelenting in proclaiming that message that even death would not stop him. And that message is that which lifts us out of our experience of fear and sin and death. And so he was unrelenting in his proclamation of that message and that’s our salvation, that’s our salvation.

A very limited view of atonement, particularly substitutionary atonement. He also seems to deny the fact that it was God on the cross in the person of Jesus Christ; that the cross was a matter of God’s self-giving love, not the “human sacrifice of a male child of God.”

D: That’s what we put our faith in?

J: And that which lifts me out of my sinfulness is the grace and the unconditional love of God; that’s what lifts me out of that morass. (to the Bishop) Take care, thanks so much. Good to see you, Bishop.
You see those are the distinctions. I think what happened along the way, and I’m not going to be able to document this, but a good church history book will document that. I’ve read it, but I can’t, I can’t do that. But what we will see is that the church – and let me just be real base about it -  the church controlled people with that concept, and particularly in the 5th century and the end of the 4th century, the church was about controlling people. And Augustine – the way he talked about human beings – he talked about human beings as being utterly tainted, depraved.

D: Total depravity,

J: Total depravity

D: And John Wesley agreed with that.

J: John Wesley did agree with that, that’s right. And I disagree with John Wesley.

Note that Soper does not consider the concept of total depravity as being tainted in all areas of our life. He not only disagrees with Wesley, but with current Methodist doctrine. For a good explanation of this see Timothy Tennent's blog on Prevenient Grace. 

D: And John Calvin and Martin Luther and all the big guys.

J: no, no, let’s not be . . .

D: And the majority of the scriptures as well, “There is no one who seeks God, no one who is righteous, no not one” We are all sinners, let’s talk about this.

J: I know that, I’m not questioning that – that we are all sinners, I’m questioning what is the mechanism by which we are freed from that, liberated from that? What’s the mechanism? And it is Christ, it is Christ, but it’s not because we had an angry God and that sin had to be paid off in order for God to be appeased. You see that’s not the God that I understand through scripture.

Once again, the only notion of atonement that Soper considers is a version of substitutionary atonement where an angry God is appeased. While the student appears to believe this, there is another way to understand substitutionary atonement that does not depend on appeasing an angry God. Soper makes no attempt to convey that.

D: Well, I come to a different conclusion reading the same scripture.

J: OK, I respect that, I respect that, but what I’m wanting to lobby for is a different way of understanding that. I don’t question at all our sinfulness. I understand that. We are human and human beings make choices that are inappropriate to what God would want. And that’s a violation of the covenant community, you see? It violates the covenant. So how is there healing? How is there wholeness? How is there restoration? Of that covenant relationship? Well, it’s through grace and love. And what did Jesus teach over and over in an unrelenting fashion in a society that would kill him for it? And that’s what he did. That’s what he did. He would die before he would quit proclaiming that truth. And so, he did die, and so therefore he is my savior. He is my savior. Because he taught me, he taught me what I had to know.

D: So your salvation is based on the education that was provided to you through the words of Jesus Christ?

Despite his denial, that is exactly what Soper is saying.

J: He embodied that . . .

D.  . . . right

J: . . . and now I embody him. And that’s the spiritual aspect of that.

Soper appears to be saying that he embodies Christ in the same way that Christ “embodied” God. Note that he is reluctant to use the word “incarnated,” though he eventually says it.

D: So that’s the reason . . .

J: He “incarnated” that, yeah. So it’s not just teaching, it’s not like he was a moral teacher. He was the embodiment of that. And he would not die. Nothing would silence that. Nothing would eliminate that.
D: The scripture record is that Christ says that he came to die, right?

J: And . . . if you did what he did, you too would know that you would die.

D: Right.

J: How could anyone in that, in that setting know otherwise? It’s inevitable. But that’s, you see, that was his sacred covenant – to make sure . . .to do whatever he had to do. One of the, one of the ways John Dominic Crossan talks about this, he talks about how John the Baptist functioned in a different way than Jesus. John the Baptist’s function, one of the terms he uses is, “he functioned as a monopoly, whereas Jesus functioned as a franchise.” And what he meant by that is that if it’s a monopoly, then you eliminate John the Baptist and it stops, everything stops. If it’s a franchise, “you can do it, you can do it, you can it,” and that’s what he did. Just read through Matthew and that’s what you see – the disciples, “you can do it, you can do it, you can do it.” And he would die, but the truth would not. And the inspiration wouldn’t, and the divine power wouldn’t. It would continue, and it has continued. That’s what we do. You see, you understand, I know there’s a difference there and a tension there.

“He would die, but the truth would not.” This is a direct refutation of the resurrection. In fact, nowhere in this lecture does Soper talk about the resurrection.

D: The total depravity thing, you know, um, basically you believe that people are not fundamentally flawed or bad?

J: They’re human, that’s what I believe.

D: Not totally depraved?

J: No! No! Come on, no, I mean, all right, all right, so I just spent time with Rachel. Rachel is 2 years old.

D: Right.

J: And that baby girl when she’s in my arms, I’ve got perfection in my arms. I’ve got perfection.

D: Been a long time since you’ve raised a 2-year-old, isn’t it?

J: I know where you’re going . . .

D: I’ve got one right now . . .

J: I’ve been there, too. But as far as I’m concerned, no, I, you, we take a baby in our arms, right? We’re gonna baptize that baby? And we’re holding perfection, we’re holding perfection. There’s . . . oh by the way, child, you are depraved, you are totally depraved.

D: Well, here’s the thing . . .

J: . . . It’s not where I can go . . .

D: . . . Bad theology leads to bad things, does it not? We just talked about this gal over here, her whole family, her parents destroyed because of really bad theology. I look at the success of America, um, the United States of America, and I think, they started off with some good understanding about human nature, which is we’re not going to have a dictatorship here, we’re going to have 3 branches of government for checks and balances. And I think it’s because they understood human nature. And my fear is with when we come along and say that all people are good, then that can lead to setting up a form of government that would have a dictatorship.

J: And I think just the opposite. And what I think is that the more we can help people feel good, you know these kids that you’re talking about? The more we can help them understand their innate goodness, the more we can help bring that out. So, in fact, the goodness is not something that we have to create by our behavior, the goodness is our created essence and nature and it’s for us to peel away whatever it is that prevents that from coming to the surface.

S: I’m preaching on Revelation 5 tomorrow, it talks about going before the multitude and there was nobody worthy except the Lion of Judah, of the line of Jesse. And John started to weep, cuz nobody was worthy. The one who became worthy was the slain Lamb, that was the only one who was worthy. How does that fit with this whole equation? I’d just kinda like . . .

J: I don’t know.

S: To me there’s a, John was grieving because nobody was worthy.

J: So how do we get to the place where those that you are relating to in ministry, how do we help them understand their salvation? How do you do that? How do you do that? If the starting point is that all are depraved?

D: Nooo, I would say that’s not the starting point!

J: Well what is then? I’m sorry I misunderstood you.

D: I never did say that was the starting point. I just said that’s a basic tenet of, you talk about the nature of humans, the nature of God, the nature of humanity, what I hear you saying is that the nature of humanity is good, while I’ve heard and understood and studied, is that, well, the Christian faith says that the nature of humanity is fallen, ok? And has to be restored.

J: (Sigh) What does “fallen” mean? I guess I have to ask. What does it mean to be fallen?

D: Well, I  . . .

J: Does it mean to be imperfect? I would say yes, to that, certainly. Or does it mean, as Augustine would say, and that’s totally depraved? Maybe we are closer than we think . . .

D: I think we should look at what depraved meant back in, you know, the 4th, 5th century versus what we think of it today as. Maybe total depravity might be a bad word to use in our common lexicon today.

J: I think I know what Augustine meant – that we’re filth, just absolute nothing. There‘s nothing good. So you’re not saying that? Flawed human, when I think about being human I don’t think about being God. I’m not saying perfect by any means. Not even remotely so.

D: What did Christ say in the Sermon on the Mount? How did he end it? What was his benediction on the Sermon on the Mount?

S: “Be perfect as I am perfect”.

D: Yeah.

J: All right, but wait a minute, let’s understand what that means too. Let’s understand what that means. Are we saying the same that Wesley . . . Wesley said go on to perfection, right? Does that mean perfect behavior? Or does it mean perfecting our relationship with God?

S: Made perfect by God, by the Holy Spirit.

J: That’s the consequence, though. So being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, right? Means being in a right relationship with God and others, you see?

D: Yeah.

J: Well, consequently, with others. Is that again and again I want to go back to that – that that’s a consequence to perfecting our relationship with God - the consequence of that is behavioral. The starting place, so when Wesley talked about going on to perfection, he wasn’t talking about, oh you don’t make any mistakes, you don’t do anything wrong, he wasn’t talking about that; he was talking about being in a right relationship with God. And that takes work. That’s something that has to be maintained. It’s not once and for all, something happens and it’s done. That’s something that we work at every single day. And every single day we have to do that in order to maintain that right relationship. I don’t know what it means to be in a perfect relationship with God. But the more I advance toward that, the more my behavior is going to be indicative of that.

D: Well, from the language used, I guess, by Wesley, is that we move from imputed righteousness to imparted righteousness, right?

J: Uh-huh.

D: The imputed righteousness was the righteousness of Christ . . .

J: Yeah, that . . .

D: . . . imputed to me, right?

J: Right.

D: . . . into my heart.

J: Right. And as a consequence . . .

D: The consequence of that . . .

J:  . . . is sanctifying grace, right?

D: Yes!

J: We are saying the same thing. And without that, without that, I’m not much. And it’s for me. But I don’t call it depravity. You see, I just cannot go there, where that’s depravity and I’m just ridden with guilt and you know, I’m just so horrible. That’s where I have a problem.

S: But the unworthiness . . .

J: Unworthy – I’m not, I’m never worthy, of grace, never worthy. You see, you see if I were worthy I would be in that camp saying I have to behave, behave, behave. Then I would be worthy. But anybody says I couldn’t take communion on a Sunday, I just don’t feel like I deserve it. I’d say, “Well nobody deserves it, I don’t ever deserve it” It’s not about being worthy. It’s about receiving the gift that is offered. And the consequence of that is behavior that is indicative of that which I have received. You see? So if we defined original sin as being human, that we are human and not God, I’m with it. But what seems to have happened by way of the church is to define original sin as being depravity, total depravity. And that’s a phrase Wesley used.

D: Original sin . . . (quotes from the Articles) And you reject that?

J: Well, I, biblically I reject that. Biblically. Because of what that book, what that means, what that means. How do you . . . the way I have to interpret that is that that baby that I’m holding in my arms . . .

D: Yes! And that’s really tough, and I agree with you. That is so freakin’ tough to do. When you’re holding your 2-year-old son and you’re looking at that and thinking, Holy crap, I’ve given birth to the spawn of Satan. I mean, that’s what that’s saying. And that’s a very hard thing to . . .

J: For me it’s impossible. Because I am so aware of the nature of God who created that “crap” – you see where that makes it impossible for me? Because I read the first chapter of Genesis. And the first chapter of Genesis says that we’re created in the image of God and that means we are made of the substance of God. There is sacredness about every human being.

“We are made of the substance of God.” That is a statement that we should find troubling!

D: . . . .(Unintelligible) cause chapter 2 we fall! Right?

J: I have fallen.

D: Yes.

J: You have fallen.

D: Absolutely.

J: In other words, we’re human . . . and when that child that is perfect develops, then that child is going to make decisions that are far from what we would want them to make or God would want them to make. And that’s where this function of grace plays into it. All right.

[Random chatter.]

J: We’re not going to go anymore into that one. I have something here on original sin. . . .I don’t know. . .Let’s do this next time. We’ll do sacrifice and original sin and play that out. All right? Because I think these are interesting concepts that we have here with regard to the concept of sacrifice as it plays into this dynamic of atoning, substitutionary atonement and see how that plays out. And it has a history in the church that is, um, is really significant. And I think it’s too important to overlook or to rush through.

D: So substitutionary atonement is not the theory of the atonement? There’s not a, in this book or any book out there, that says, this is the official church position on the theory of atonement. Would you classify your theory more on the moral governance theory, or . . .  Abelard’s theory? What, which one do you resonate most with?

J: Of atonement?

D: Of atonement, yes.

J: I think it’s on the biblical concept of atonement and that’s the provision of grace that allows for the healing of the relationship we have with God. And that grace is made available to us unconditionally. But the ingredient of all importance is accepting it, justification by faith alone. For Paul, faith and acceptance are synonymous terms. And so that’s it. And how did we get to that? Through Christ. And that’s . . .

D: I agree with you there. My issue is, through Christ’s work on the cross, is where I would continue that . . .

J: and to you that means “being a sacrificial object”?

D: Yes.

J: And that’s substitutionary atonement.

D: absolutely, that’s the one I buy into the most.

J: And I don’t at all, not at all.

In the end, Soper attempts to make his language fit as much as possible with language that the student is more comfortable with, except for substitutionary atonement. He allows that humans are not perfect, but wants to say that they are of the “same substance” as God. He believes that Jesus was killed because he taught about God’s love, but he doesn’t want to say that Jesus is God incarnate. He has some very nebulous ideas about how Jesus embodying the teaching of God tells us something about God’s love, but is not very clear on how that works or what that means.

My Story

Warning - this is a long post.
I was called into ministry as a 2nd (or maybe 3rd) career person. I have a degree in Molecular Biology from Vanderbilt University and had worked as a laboratory technician prior to entering seminary.  Actually, I had also worked as a Registered Rep at a stock brokerage firm and briefly in retail and real estate as well; so I had tried a few things.  The job I loved the best was that of Mom; I had two delightful daughters when I received my call and really didn’t understand why God would want me.

I have been heavily involved with my church since I was a tiny child. Some of my earliest memories are of running up and down the steps of First Dallas, hanging out in the nursery during choir, hugging Ernie Martin at the door, and peering through the balcony rails at Dr. (later Bishop) Goodrich as he was preaching. My family had moved to University Park UMC when I was 6 years old, so that is where I was confirmed. UPUMC believed that as full members, youth should serve on committees, so I was appointed to the Missions Committee. I felt that they took me quite seriously and I helped out with mission fairs and other activities under the mentorship of Hendrix Townsley (a retired missionary from India) and Bill Matthews (who had recently come back from Fiji).

I went to youth group at UPUMC even though I didn’t really feel like I fit. Almost all the other kids were in Park Cities schools and I was in Dallas schools and later at The Hockaday School. I struggled to fit in, but just kept going so that eventually, I was a part of the group simply because I had stuck with it long enough.  My main friends at youth group were those that I brought with me, the other misfits, and the youth leaders.

I desperately needed my church and my faith when my younger sister died of chicken pox when she was 5 and I was 15. This was a formative event in my life. I remember the day Nancy died we were all at the hospital. My parents were surrounded by their friends from church, but all my friends were in school. The hospital chaplain came and sat with me. I don’t think he said much, but I will never forget how he was the presence of Christ to me that day. That was where I learned how to be with people in times of death and grief.

I continued to serve in the church on the Missions Committee and to help with Children’s Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.  For the most part I think we had reasonably good leadership in the youth group – David Grant in his pre-Harvard days and Milton Gutierrez – but it was the 70’s. One program I remember was on “values.” We had a scenario – too many of us in a lifeboat – and we had to decide what we should do and how we would make the decision. Another program was on sexuality – I distinctly remember my youth pastor (Milton) saying that he thought premarital sex was OK if the two people were committed. I remember this because I was pretty shocked!

Even during college, I participated in church, first in Houston at St. Paul UMC when I attended Rice University and then in Nashville at Broadway UMC across from Vanderbilt University. I wasn’t too fond of the Wesley foundation at Vandy; I thought the chaplain was way too liberal for my taste.

Although I was a pre-med student and a Molecular Biology major, I continued to ask questions about God. The summer before my senior year, I talked with the Perkins recruiter – an old family friend – about entering seminary. At the time, though I can look back and see that God was calling me, I thought of my interest in terms of wanting to learn Greek and Hebrew so that I could read the Bible for myself. As a science student, I was both amazed by the wonder of creation and appalled by the “science” of creationism. It was important to me to learn to read the bible in a way that worked for both my faith side and my science side.

I did not apply to Perkins that year – I had fallen in love and was determined to live in the same town as my boyfriend/eventual fiancĂ©/husband. However, I did take courses my senior year that allowed me to apply to Perkins on down the line; courses I would not have needed for my Molecular Biology degree. My sweetie went to Baylor Medical School in Houston and I followed, getting a job in a Pathology laboratory as a lab assistant.

We joined a church and became involved in a Sunday School class, so that remained a constant part of my life. However, my time in Houston as a lab assistant was probably the first time that I had been around non-believers on such a constant basis. Weirdly enough, many of those non-believers, everyone from my fellow lab assistants to my boss, seemed to want to talk about God with me.

After about a year in the lab I had had enough and decided to try something new. I went to work for a brokerage firm, once again for a firmly atheist boss (actually, she was the former mistress of one of the most powerful men in Houston). After a year at the first brokerage firm I went to another and my cubbyhole was right next to the desk of the receptionist, a single mom of an infant. We talked quite a bit—once again conversations about God—and I eventually led her to Christ. She did not join my church but found one that was welcoming to her and her son. Eventually she found a lovely man and married him, and I hope lived happily ever after!

After Chris finished medical school, he took an internship in Dallas at Timberlawn Psychiatric Hospital. We moved to Mesquite and I began working with my father in real estate. We joined FUMC Dallas and became involved in the Genesis Sunday School class where we all started having babies.

I still had a feeling of call to service in the church so when the word was put out that teachers were needed for the 7th and 8th grade class, I signed up.  For the most part I don’t remember much of that time, but I vividly remember the day the curriculum covered the sacrificial system in Leviticus. The kids started asking questions about the sacrifices and I had no idea what to tell them. This led to a desire to learn more deeply about the bible. I had done several bible studies through the years but had never taken a comprehensive study.

In 1987, I enrolled in the first ever Disciple Bible Study class at FUMC Dallas.  I loved that class.  I was the youngest person in the class and gave birth to my second child during that time. In fact, the whole class stood up as sponsors with the family at her baptism. However, at the end of the year, when we shared our gifts, no one could determine mine!  The most they could say was that I seemed more like a “Mary” than a “Martha” because of my love of learning. Later though, I went to our Minister of Education (Jo Biggerstaff) and had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: “Jo, I would like to help teach the Disciple class next year.”
Jo: “Great! You can teach the Sunday night class.”
Me: “No, no, Jo!  I want to help teach.”
Jo: “Great! You can teach the Sunday night class.”
Me: “But I don’t know enough to teach.”
Jo: “Great! You can teach  . . . “
You get the idea.

I taught the Sunday night class and at the end of this second go ‘round, I felt called into ministry – I thought into educational ministry.  I visited Perkins, talked with Dick Murray, and by the time I filled out my application, I checked the little box in from of “MDiv” instead of “MRE.”  I was not fond of public speaking, having always been fairly shy, so the thought of preaching scared me silly. I had no way to pay for seminary, but I decided to trust God on that one.  I also had two children (almost 2 and 4) who needed childcare, so I trusted God on that as well.  I entered Perkins in the Fall of 1989 at the age of 30.  Just a few weeks before class began, I still had no idea how to pay tuition but the Norrell Class at FUMC Dallas came through with a full scholarship. My trust in God seemed well justified!

For those of you who know the UMC system, you know that seminary is just a part of the process. At the same time as I was applying to seminary, I was talking with my pastor, the SPRC, the District Superintendent; all the persons that I needed to talk with in order to enter the process from the Church’s side of things.  I distinctly remember Hal Brady telling me something to the effect that if you weren’t called, you should not be a pastor, but if you were called you couldn’t do anything else. How right he was! What an amazing experience it was to go before the entire congregation of FUMC Dallas and ask for their support!  The vote was not unanimous, but nearly so – 3 people voted ‘no,’ evidently because they did not approve of women as pastors (at least that is what I was told).

I loved Perkins and wanted to get into ministry as soon as possible, so I went to work part-time for my mentor Jo Biggerstaff as her education assistant at FUMC Dallas.  I was responsible for the Senior Adult Ministry, which, I must say, is my least favorite area of ministry.  However, at the time, I was just happy to be working at a church.  I was a typically enthusiastic beginner and probably irritated those who had been around awhile. In fact, this was not too long after the whole Walker Railey debacle and a number of the staff members had served under him. This may account for one somewhat cynical piece of advice I was given: “Don’t bother coming up with new ideas and don’t rock the boat!”

After 2 years at Perkins, I decided that I was ready for a Student Pastor assignment and went to my DS to ask for one. (I had worked my way through Exploring Candidate, Declared Candidate, and finally to Approved Candidate.  I was assigned a Mentor – Kathleen Baskin, the golden girl of the conference – and was working through the Candidate book.)  The DS of the Sherman-McKinney District had a 4-point charge available and I was so excited to finally be a pastor!  I did find it a bit disconcerting that after only 2 weeks of licensing school I could do everything at my charge that an ordained person could do. I also remember sleeping in my car (while pregnant) when I went to licensing school at Lake Texoma (now Prothro Center) because there were mice in the mattresses.

While I had no idea what I was doing initially, I enjoyed my 4 little churches.  They taught me much about being a pastor and about how to preach.  I was following a whiz kid woman pastor who had won awards of all kinds for her work at the charge, so I was pretty intimidated. That first day that I stood in front of the congregation, I couldn’t figure out quite where to stand – logistics were not taught at Perkins. I also couldn’t remember the first two words of either the Apostle’s Creed or the Lord’s Prayer – you know how it is, someone else had always started them and I (like the rest of the congregation) would join in by the 2nd or 3rd word.  One of the highlights of being at the Windom Charge: I began a long and close association with Lay Speakers. Every week I had a Lay Speaker preaching at the two churches where I was not visiting, so I got to know most of the Lay Speakers in the Sherman-McKinney District. I continued to be deeply supportive of this ministry throughout my career.

I began at the Windom Charge in June of 1991 and in July became pregnant with my third child!  That was an interesting school year.  Between morning sickness Fall semester and having a baby Spring semester, I had to cut back on the number of courses that I took, though not on my pastoring.  Although I lived 90 miles from my charge, I was determined that they would not suffer just because I was pregnant.  Every week my father would drive me and my children up to Fannin County where I served the Windom/Dodd City/Hail/Lannius charge.  I did miss one week after giving birth, but two weeks after my son was born, I preached four Easter services – one at each church. I don’t know if I was crazy or committed, but I was definitely determined.  Also that Spring, following the system that was then in place in the North Texas Conference, I applied for ordination as a deacon, having finished half of my seminary education.  Here is where my story takes some odd turns.

I was eight months pregnant when I interviewed with the North Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.  At the time we interviewed with the entire Board.  I think this took place at Spring Valley UMC, because Don Renshaw was the chair of the Committee.  I remember being asked questions about whether or not I would itinerate and whether or not I could manage at a rural charge where there were no amenities such as movie theaters and symphonies.  (Like I had the time and money for movies and symphonies??) I thought this was a little odd, but I said I would go where sent.  The Board was very complementary about my paperwork and at the end of my interview I was told that I had “passed” the interview, but that the Board was not sure how many the Bishop would be ordaining.  I later received a letter from the Board informing me that I had indeed passed but that Bishop Blake would only be ordaining those who were finished with seminary that year and already had a place of service.  It wasn’t really up to Bishop Blake to decide and I was not happy with this turn of events. However, it seems that the NTC had too many elders and that the projections were that there would not be any places for us for a number of years, maybe as many as 5-10. There were a few people ordained deacon that year - for some reason they got special dispensation. But most of us who interviewed but were not ordained were put into what was called “The Pool” (I think there were about 22 of us) with the understanding that we would be ordained in order as spots became available. 

This was 1992, and, if you will remember, that is the year that General Conference changed the rules. Commissioning replaced the two-fold ordination (first deacon, then elder) and deacons were now something different altogether.  A seminary degree was now required for commissioning, so no one could apply and be interviewed until at least the last year of seminary.  Also, the probationary period was lengthened to three years from two.  So, basically, the Bishop of the NTC put this into effect for us before General Conference, even though it had not yet been voted on.  What happened to those of us in the “Pool?” So glad you asked. Supposedly we were “grandfathered” in.  The promise was that we would not have to reapply for ordination; we just had to finish seminary. I even have a letter from Don Renshaw making that promise. The problem is that we were still being told that there was no room for us and we were being encouraged to seek membership in other conferences. That worked for many in the pool, but I was pretty much stuck in the Dallas area with a husband, three kids and a mortgage. 

Since I was told that it would be years before I could be ordained, I decided to go on and enter the PhD program at SMU in Hebrew bible.  Actually, at the time, they did not have a Hebrew Bible PhD available. However, there were 4-5 students that loved Hebrew, had taken multiple semesters of Hebrew past the three semesters normally offered (some of it not for credit) and desperately wanted to study with Dr. Bill Power.  So, the faculty reinstituted the Hebrew Bible course of study and I was one of the first two students to enter the program in the Fall of 1992.  Mind you, I was still a Student Local Pastor at the 4-point charge in Fannin County at the time I entered the program, because I still wanted to be a pastor, not a professor.  I just wanted very much to learn as much about the Bible as possible, thinking that such knowledge would be useful for a pastor. Silly me.  However, in my continuing interviews with the DCOM, I was told repeatedly not to expect any special treatment because I had a PhD; I was told that academic types generally did not do well in the church, and that I was foolish to be pursuing the PhD.  They also had trouble figuring out what to do with me as a “Pool” person.  So, every encounter I had with the District Committee was stressful and painful.  I don’t think I even had a mentor for most of this time, because I was through with the official process and yet in this in-between state.

Being committed to pastoral ministry and wanting to continue with my MDiv, I began a two-year concurrent internship at Greenland Hills UMC during my second year in the PhD program.  The concurrent internship was designed for students who wanted to take a reduced load of classes during the internship.

My internship had its own issues. In the first intern group to which I was assigned, I was the only woman. As we went around the room sharing stories, all the men told stories about how their wives had moved in order to enable them to go to seminary or were home taking care of things while they were at seminary. They all seemed to have a great deal of spousal support and were able to concentrate on classes and their pastoral duties. I, on the other hand, had a wonderful spouse, but he was not able to help me care for our children or help pay for seminary. The most he could do was keep us with a roof over our heads and food on the table. I was responsible for working out all the details of attending seminary while raising my kids.  I left that first day of Internship group quite depressed and was shuttled around to several other groups before landing in one that worked for me and my schedule.

All of us in the concurrent internship program were taking some classes at the same time, but the classes I was taking were PhD classes. Everyone else was a part-time MDiv student; I was a fulltime PhD student while doing my internship.  This is not supposed to be possible – being in two programs at the same time – and I caused problems for the registrar’s office at SMU. Every semester they had to enter my hours and my tuition by hand so that I would not get charged full SMU hourly tuition for my intern hours.  I was supposed to work 20-hours a week at the church, but we all know that no church job is truly only 20 hours a week. I got paid for about 10 hours, while working probably 30-40 hours a week at the church. I took the PhD classes, cared for my three children, and supplemented my income with tutoring.  Did I mention I was committed to local church ministry?

At the end of my first year of concurrent internship, I received a letter from Carol Woods and Pat Beghtel-Mahle informing me that the “Pool” was being closed because everyone else had either been ordained or had gone to another conference and that when I got serious about local church ministry I was welcome to apply. 

Let’s be honest – I was furious!  First, I had been told that there was no room for me, then I had been told that a PhD was foolish, then I was kicked out of the pool because I wasn’t serious enough about pastoral ministry.  Why did these people think I was doing a concurrent internship along with PhD classes if I was not serious about local church ministry?? For my health?

The concurrent internship went downhill from there. The church where I was serving was deeply dysfunctional and several of the leadership were working hard to undermine the pastor and force him to leave.   My Senior pastor changed after the first year and I also had to ask a whole new set of folks to be on my committee because of all the conflict in the church.  My intern faculty supervisor became ill with cancer, so we were given a new supervisor. The person we ended up with was a certified nut case.  She spent much of our group time sharing her own feelings about the divorce she was going through.  She almost failed me because I was a day or two late with my final paper, but then at the end of the year she left without even bothering to write our final reports. I will always be grateful to Bert Affleck for making sure we had what we needed for our files to be complete.

At first, I was happy about my new senior pastor. Kathleen Baskin had been my supervising pastor at the very beginning of my process. But she had a somewhat different attitude now. Kathleen was beloved by all, but she was quite difficult to work for. Although I was only part-time and also going to class and trying to care for my family, I remember one week when she chastised me for not attending a Trustees work day on a Saturday when I had already put in 30-40 hours at the church that week. At the time she was single and seemed unable to comprehend that I had a life outside of church.

To be fair, I also had some issues with Kathleen. I was somewhat upset that she had not stood up for me in the Board of Ordained Ministry when the issue of dropping me from the pool had arisen. Kathleen was also far more liberal theologically than I was. This caused some problems between us. She was even then pushing the Reconciling agenda, though when I asked her about it she lied to me saying “That’s not my issue.” I found out a month or two later that she had been one of the first signers of the Reconciling document at the previous General Conference. Not her issue indeed!

At the end of my internship (in 1995), I still had 24 MDiv hours to complete and the dissertation to write.  I worked on the dissertation full tilt, but by the Fall of 1995 not only did I not have a job, but my husband’s job was ending.  Having seen that this was going to be the case, even before I finished the internship I began to investigate the possibility of being appointed as a Full-time Local Pastor so that we would have a place to live and some kind of income.  Not one of the District Superintendents in the North Texas Conference had a place for me.  All the places were being occupied by retired elders, who had first claim. And I still couldn’t be ordained because I had not finished the MDiv.

At this point several things happened.  I had no money to continue the MDiv program, but I was at the school frequently working on the dissertation, so I was there when the Southwest Texas Conference Bishop and Cabinet made their yearly journey to Perkins to interview the students.  I signed up to interview with them and was blessed to spend some time with Janice Riggle-Huie, who was a DS at the time.  She listened to my story and told me that the PhD would count as my terminal degree for ordination if I had a letter from Nashville.  I wrote Nashville and they determined that I only needed 12 more course hours in the MDiv program to finish out the requirements, if I finished the PhD.  That was incentive!  I had hope for the first time that I might be able to complete the process toward ordination.  In addition, the SWTX Conference seemed to think that a PhD in Hebrew Bible was a positive thing for a pastor. Who knew?!

Also that fall, the beginning of December, I received a call from Ed Blythe, a DS in Arkansas.  About half of my internship group had been in the Arkansas conference and one of them had given my name to Ed.  He had a church opening up in January; the pastor had run for office and been elected.  Ed said he needed an interim pastor and asked if I would be interested.  My husband and I drove up the next weekend (my car broke down on the way, but that is a whole other story) and I was seated at the Horatio Charge in Southwestern Arkansas.  I gathered my three children (ages 10, 8 and 3) and went up there for 5 months. It was definitely a healing time. Ed was a wonderful DS, calling after my first Sunday to make sure all was going well and generally being a pastor to the pastor.  I remembered why I had been called in the first place and had a wonderful time with the folks of Horatio and Winthrop. Little Winthrop had about 20 children that worshiped with us, so I was a happy camper. Unlike the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, the good folk of Horatio and Winthrop didn’t seem to think that my academic work and a love of the bible were a detriment to being a pastor.  My husband had to stay behind in our house in Mesquite while looking for a job but was able to join us most weekends.

During that time, I also wrote the paperwork for and was interviewed by both the Southwest Texas Conference and the Arkansas Conference for ordination.  I was accepted by both but decided to go with Southwest Texas since I thought it more likely that my computer geek husband would be better able to find a job in Southwest Texas than in Arkansas.   I was ordained as a “transitional deacon” by the Southwest Texas conference that Spring (1996) under the 1992 Discipline.  I was offered an appointment down in the valley, but by that time my husband had a job in the Dallas area, so I was appointed to school to finish my dissertation. 

When we came back from Arkansas we initially returned to Greenland Hills. My husband became involved in the church for the first time since the Walker Railey days and even was put on the internship committee for the current intern. However, when that Intern preached a sermon that reprimanded the Bishops of the UMC for not ordaining practicing homosexuals, my husband was deeply disturbed. On the Sunday before Easter Kathleen preached a sermon where she lifted up a lesbian couple in the church as a sign of God’s kingdom and he had had enough. He left Greenland Hills and the choir that he had come to love because he could no longer accept Kathleen as his pastor. He wrote her a letter, but never received any response. I stayed through Easter, but then we both left to find another congregation where we could worship. Even then it was becoming difficult to find a church where the pastor was not liberal and where traditional marriage was upheld. I know because before we joined a church we would interview the pastor and ask their views. It took several interviews to find the church where we finally landed.

I did finish my dissertation in 2000 and received my PhD in Religious Studies with a concentration in Hebrew Bible. Along the way, I did some teaching and took some of those other 12 hours that I needed.  Also in the spring of 2000 I received a call from Ed Blythe, the same DS that had called me to come to Arkansas. He was now retired, living in the metroplex and supply preaching at a small church in Denton County.  He asked if I would be interested in being a part-time pastor at Oak Grove (he was good friends with the DS, so he could arrange it) and I was once again a pastor in the North Texas Conference.  This meant that I was now working full time because I was teaching at Perkins as well, but the dear folks of the NTC Board of Ordained Ministry didn’t think that was good enough to let me start the probationary process, so I was still on hold.  I did transfer back in to the NTC, since it was clear at this point that my husband’s work was going to be in this area. 

Oak Grove grew under my leadership to the point where they could support a fulltime pastor (I essentially created my own appointment) so I was finally able to enter the probationary process in 2002.  Now if you are counting, that meant that there were 9 years between ordination as a deacon (under the 1992 Discipline) and ordination as an elder, which was the limit.  By the time I went before the Board once again (this was the fourth ordination interview I had had and the fourth set of paperwork that I had done), I really had nothing to lose. I couldn’t be continued, so it was either accept me or all that time was wasted.  Thankfully I passed.  When I was ordained as an elder in 2005 and accepted into full membership in the North Texas Annual Conference, I had been in the process for 17 years.   I was 47 years old.  I had been a young clergyperson when I started, or would have been if I had been ordained on schedule.  I had graded the papers of some of the people on the Board of Ordained Ministry that were sitting in judgment on me.  I was delayed and delayed because there was no room for young clergypersons, but now, I thought, I am on my way.  How foolish I was.

Ordination was a high point in my life. Bishop Rhymes Moncure washed our feet during the ceremony. For me, the face of Jesus will always be black because of that holy man. He also gave an altar call at the end of the service and there must have been 100+ people come forward. The altar call was spontaneous and the faces of the Cabinet members as Bishop Moncure told them that they would pray with those who came forward was priceless.

I stayed at Oak Grove after ordination because I was determined that it would grow more.  I could see that the 380 corridor was ripe for a new UM Church, and lived out here, but as it turned out, Oak Grove was not interested in being anything but the “Church in the Wildwood” at the time.  They grew to a certain point but were unable or unwilling to go past that. We started several new ministries with young people – cub scouts, a young couples class that grew out of a parenting class that I taught, and a Mother’s Day Out program.  I was invited to attend the first New Church Start initiative training, and eagerly accepted because I wanted more than anything to start a new church.  I wrote up a ministry proposal for starting a new ministry along the 380 Corridor while continuing to pastor Oak Grove. I was willing to work 100 hours a week if I had to to grow the kingdom.  I basically begged. I had bought a new home in the new development at Providence Village and had walked the streets of Providence, Savanna and other new neighborhoods getting to know people and becoming involved with the community.

But it was not to be. I suppose the North Texas Conference thought I was too old at that point. They came out and talked to us a time or two, but never followed up on starting that new ministry. I negotiated with the descendant of the founder of Oak Grove who donated 10 acres of land, but sadly that was never used for ministry. It was not until several years later when the conference appointed a (young) man to start a new church on the 380 Corridor. That start was not particularly successful as it turned out. Maybe because, unlike me, he did not know the area or the people.

After Oak Grove I was appointed to Bowie.  I remember people giving me condolences on being appointed to that church because of its reputation.  Several of the previous pastors had had quite a bit of trouble there. However, I had a wonderful time in Bowie.  Even though I was in my late 40’s, I attracted young families to the church and while I was there the average age of the congregation dropped significantly. 

Unfortunately, most of that time was spent away from my husband because of his job.  I worried about being separated, but I had promised to go where I was sent, and my husband reminded me of that, so I took the appointment.  Honestly, I probably would have gone to Alaska for Rhymes Moncure! I was also told by my DS that if I spent some time in smaller churches (paid my dues, as it were) I would gain the experience to be appointed to larger churches. 

I didn’t really see Bowie as a “stepping stone.”  I saw Bowie as an opportunity to do ministry and, hopefully, left the church stronger than when I found it.  I had to fire and hire a new secretary (who I think is still there) as well as hiring a new organist and a youth pastor. The youth pastor was black, so we thought about getting t-shirts that said, “Yeah, We’re that church!” The Baptists in town tried diligently to convince our youth that they were going to hell because they hadn’t been baptized properly and they had a woman pastor, but our youth were smart enough not to believe it. We went on a mission trip for the first time, started a cub scout pack, and started a young couples class that once again grew out of the parenting class I taught. I became involved in the schools, the Rotary Club, and the Bowie Mission—one of the best run food pantries I have ever seen, whatever the size of the town.

I went to Bowie in 2006; in December of 2008 I received a call to be an associate at a church in Dallas.  Although it was difficult to leave Bowie, financially it was a good move because it allowed us to move back into our home (that we had been supporting) and I got a little bit of salary increase.  I also thought it would be good experience to be in a larger church.

What I didn’t know about Spring Valley at the time was that they couldn’t afford to keep an associate.  That became clear pretty quickly and by the next December, they had concluded that they did not need me and could not afford me.  At that point, I was available for appointment any time after January 2010 and the DS was informed of that. 

Although I had to have an appointment, I watched a lot of folks appointed to positions that I could have handled. Looking back, I suspect my Senior Pastor, Mark Vowell, spoke negatively about me to the cabinet.  This is based in part on how he treated me, but also on how I heard him talk about others. He was continually disparaging members of the staff as well as members of the congregation. I think he saw me as competition, because he did everything he could to undermine my ministry even though I did everything I could to encourage his. I think he basically brought me in to fire the Preschool Director and the Children’s Minister because he wasn’t willing to do it himself. However, the new Preschool director that I hired is still in ministry at that church, though in a different position.  
I finally was told by my DS that I would probably go to Tom Bean, a church that had been a local pastor church – essentially the cabinet was making a spot for me because they had to, but clearly had little confidence in my abilities.  This church was even smaller than Oak Grove had been.  I asked for a reconsideration and eventually wound up at Leonard.  I don’t think it was because the cabinet thought it was a better spot, but because it happened to be open and was marginally larger.  Thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit, I was able to have a fruitful ministry at Leonard, bringing in a number of new people.  But I also had to contend with some toxic folks. About 10% of the people left because a was a woman and because I sought to make us legal in our financial practices. After about a year, the former pastor—who had stayed in town and married one of the church members—started his own church after withdrawing from the UMC.  Willie made sure to recruit members that gave the most and actively worked against my ministry, for instance, telling those in the hospital not to call me because I wouldn’t visit.

Once again, I had to deal with staff that were not doing their jobs and that were engaged in deeply unhealthy behavior. The secretary that the previous pastor had hired was also the music director and pianist. She would wander in to the office at whatever time she wanted in the mornings and was reluctant to do many of the tasks she was assigned. Unfortunately, she was also at the center of just about every unhealthy triangle in the church. She believed that she could hold us hostage because she was also the music person and didn’t think we could find anyone else. It took a year of documentation, but we were finally able to say to her that we no longer needed her services as secretary. She also quit as music person the week before Mother’s Day. However, I had contacts and was able to find an amazing music person who came in and re-energized our music program as well as our worship. Brent Kern is one of the most wonderful musicians I have ever met and his love for the Lord exceeds his musicianship. I feel privileged to have been able to work with him.

The Leonard church was much, much healthier when I left than when I came.  We replaced those who had left with new and younger people who had a heart for ministry and who gave sacrificially. Leonard had already had a tradition of a strong prayer ministry and ability to make disciples in Sunday School—something that doesn’t happen in too many churches. They also understood that the whole congregation was responsible for discipling the children and youth, even though we had a separate children’s ministry and youth group. One of my best memories is of the youth coming into the sanctuary and being beckoned by the elders to come sit with them.

Of course, at Leonard I had to live apart from my husband once again and take minimum salary.  (In fact, the only time I have not had minimum salary was my 18 months at Spring Valley where I had about $5000 over minimum.) I left because I had been preaching that we should be the church in the world instead of asking the world to come to us and I realized I was preaching to myself as well as the congregation.

I took a sabbatical to spend time with college age kids. I had read the books and listened to the “experts” talk about ministry with young adults, but I wanted to see for myself. I enrolled in music classes at Collin College. My goal was to be a fellow student—to walk alongside the young adults instead of being an authority figure. I wanted to develop a ministry with the community college crowd, but I felt like I needed to get to know them first. After a year, I wrote up a ministry proposal that many of the students as well as several church members seemed to think was quite a good idea. But, of course, that proposal fell on deaf ears. Instead, the conference decided it needed a reconciling ministry led by an LGBT advocate at UTD.

When my husband died unexpectedly in March 2014, I converted the sabbatical to a leave of absence. I needed time to grieve and time to see if I could continue ministry without my partner. Chris had not been the kind of ministry partner that taught Sunday School or went to all the events (though he did sing in the choir), but he believed strongly that I was serving the Kingdom. His way of serving the Kingdom was to financially support me and allow me to do the ministry I was called to. Unfortunately, in order to do this, he spent years in jobs that drained him and sucked the life out of him. I will always be grateful that his last job was Southwest Airlines. This was a company that truly cared about its employees and where he finally had a good work experience.

I continued to attend Collin College and, in some ways, felt like I was more in ministry than I had been in the local church. Eventually, however, I felt that God was calling me back into pastoral ministry. Since I was no longer bound to Texas, I decided to interview with the Greater Northwest conferences to get closer to my grandchildren in Seattle. I also thought it might be easier to pastor in a place that did not hold so many memories of my husband. I had met a layperson from Washington at the WCA gathering in Chicago. She had told me that the bishop of the Greater Northwest area was willing to work with evangelical pastors. The interview process with those conferences (Pacific Northwest—basically Washington—and Oregon/Idaho conferences) was a good one. They asked the right questions and said the right things about ministry. I did find odd one interview: One of the DS’s asked me if I was comfortable talking about Jesus from the pulpit. I told her “yes,” that I wasn’t sure what else one would talk about. When I got up to the area, I realized that question made sense. The “UMC” in the west is a different church from the “UMC” in Texas. I was up front about my traditionalist leanings when I went and we all agreed to try and make it work. However, when the Bishop appointed an LGBTQ Advocate to the conference office in February of 2018, I was concerned. I heard him speak at the Oregon/Idaho Annual Conference and knew my concern was justified. This gay Presbyterian pastor (married to a man) told us he was keeping his “Queer eye” on us and would be making sure that everyone got on board with the agenda. That is when I realized I could not pastor in this conference anymore. I came back to Texas.

So that is the story of my career in ministry. I am now 60 years old.  After waiting so many years for the folks ahead of me to retire because I was too young, I am now considered too old to do ministry and I have watched young men being appointed to large churches.  After being at minimum salary for almost my entire career (except for 18 months) I have seen those young men (and women, for that matter) earning double and sometimes triple what I can make.  After living apart from my husband for about 4 years out of the last 6 years of my ministry, I saw people who have never been willing to truly itinerate because of spouse’s jobs being continuously appointed to convenient churches.  I concluded that I would never be appointed anywhere but small, rural churches at minimum salary, though at this point even that would be helpful. I have proved that I can communicate with and minister to farmers, firefighters, schoolteachers, hairdressers, etc. despite the PhD, but I couldn’t even get appointed to a county seat church where I might make enough money to support my family. 

At every church—except for the one in Portland—I have brought in younger people and put them into positions of leadership. I have baptized adults – made new disciples of Jesus Christ.  I have trained leaders and I have hired new staff that have lasted long term in the churches. I have left the churches healthier than when I came.  I have mentored newer pastors, both formally and informally and have championed small churches using the connectional system to increase our strength instead of depending on the conference to do everything for us.  I have become involved in the communities surrounding my churches and been pastor to the whole town, despite being a woman in conservative places. In short, I have done all the things that the conference has said that it wants us to do to be considered someone who has a “vital ministry.” But none of it has made any difference to the North Texas Conference.

I also have offered to use my hard-earned knowledge for the benefit of the conference as well but haven’t been taken up on that offer either. I do teach in the Perkins Course of Study (probably because NTC people are not the ones running it) but have only taught a few times in the Extension School, though I am far more qualified than most of those who teach there.
It is clear to me that my orthodox theology and support of traditional marriage – a position that I was vocal about even in seminary – has been a hindrance in terms of my “career.” It is clear that the Bishop and Cabinet of the North Texas Conference have a low opinion of my ability to do ministry despite evidence to the contrary. It is clear that in general, unless one has either a powerful pastor as a mentor and guide through the system or a bishop/DS/pastor as a parent, then one is at a disadvantage.

If I had been ordained when I first went before the Board of Ordained Ministry – and passed – I would have 26 years of service by now and would be able to retire. However, since I was not ordained until 1996 and had to do a number of years part-time, I do not have the 20 years of official service that is required. I have very little pension, having been at minimum salary for most of my time in ministry, but I need to use some of it. It would seem that I am now an incredibly overqualified unskilled laborer. So, getting a job has been difficult. My daughter suggested that I use my “contacts” from the churches I have served over the years to help me find a job, but most of my contacts are farmers, first responders, teachers, or the homeless. Not terribly helpful in the job market. She then suggested that I find a wealthier church to attend!

All of this leads me to where I am today – tired of it all and ready to leave. If we didn’t have a connectional system it wouldn’t be so bad, but I can’t be in covenant with people that essentially believe in a different God from the one I serve. This includes the Bishop of the North Texas Conference, who will not take a stand on issues that I believe are important.

Several years ago, when I first wrote this story I said that I did not regret answering God’s call into ministry. I am not so sure now. I definitely regret every moment I spent away from my husband. I regret ever having any faith in the hierarchy and believing that the Holy Spirit would guide them. I received almost no care from the Conference when my husband died and that told me as much as anything where I stood. I regret not starting a church when I was younger. And I regret bringing people into the UMC because I no longer believe that God’s Spirit rests on this denomination. I hope that God will continue to use me in some way in ministry, but that is really up to God. In the meantime, I will continue to be as faithful as I know how to be.

Martha Myre