There is a wisdom that comes from living through a congregational trauma that destroys the foundations of your sense of call. I have collected bits and fragments of goodness and continue to rebuild my sense of 'call'. I continue to chaff at the idea of being the 'shooting pastor', of having my identity tied to the shooting in Kirkwood and the work I have done because of it. I have learned much and now I want to offer (gently) some of the wisdom I have learned from crawling through the darkness of a vocational trauma.
Thou art with me
There were days when I yelled “BULLSHIT!” to the promise that God was 'with me' as I crawled around in the darkest parts of my soul. But I realize now that God was with me. All of my 'best friends' not just in ministry but in life, entered my life as a direct result of the shooting. My best friend is the pastor from Florida who showed up in my office that day after the shooting in Kirkwood. Another friend is the woman who I met at the discernment class for being a part of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's National Response Team. She too had experienced a trauma in the congregation she served near Chicago. Two more friends are the people I deployed to Tucson with. All of these people are now my friends and none of them would be in my life if it were not for the shooting in Kirkwood.
Peace be with you
I teach 'Vocational Resilience' to MDiv students at Eden Seminary. One of the assignments is to write out a 'trauma autobiography'. I have read, with horror, about the experiences of others. And, because I have tasted the bitterness of my own tears, I can offer those students 'peace', an invitation to wholeness. Jesus continually offered 'peace' to his disciples. As a result of my sitting with the reality of my own vocational brokenness, I can now sit with the brokenness of others and see 'vocation' emerge from the shards. The students are often worried they are 'too messed up' to go into ministry. Inside I chuckle and thank God because I wouldn't want to be pastored by anyone who hasn't wrestled in the dark.
My cup overflows
I have come to realize that it is the small cup that overflows first. Prior to the shooting my vocation was driven by grand desires to build the church and change the world. Now, my vocational agenda is much smaller: preach a nice sermon, be present to those in front of me, be attentive to the leading of the Spirit, etc. While the congregation I serve has done 'big things' since the shooting (for example, we installed a new pipe organ in 2014), I am learning to be at peace by intentionally diminishing my need to accomplish tremendous vocational goals. While the Spirit may use me to build the church and change the world, I will let that be the Spirit's work and worry. After a much needed sabbatical to Scotland last summer, I came home with two personal invitations: to live closer to the ground and to live a smaller life. While I'm still not sure what either invitation means, I can tell you I no longer feel guilty when I leave Kirkwood to stand in the White River in NW Arkansas and catch a trout on a Japanese fiberglass fly rod I built with a fly I tied. It is standing in the water that my soul is restored and I become aware that goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
This is the final post in a six-part series addressing the vocational trauma that ministers can experience in the aftermath of disaster. You can read the other posts here:
Chall Shattered - Part 1
This Changes Everything - Part 2
Surviving Brokenness – Part 3
The Art of the Mosaic – Part 4
Appreciating Beauty – Part 5