I have a birthday tomorrow and birthdays always drive me to reflect on my life. My reflections this year are about all the different churches in which I’ve been a part. I grew up Methodist, directed a small church choir at a Disciples of Christ Church, and ended up joining a huge Presbyterian Church (Village Presbyterian) in Kansas City. (6000+ members)
I joined this church because I had played violin there for numerous music programs and I liked the church’s social justice stance on issues. In fact this is where I became involved in the Peacemaking program and other Presbyterian social justice programs. I look back on this now with wonder. How did I ever survive in a church that big? I even was what is called “under care” there when I studied to be a minister. This means the church supports and encourages you as you go through the ordination process.
My first call was at a church in Atlanta in an upper middle class, white neighborhood. I was only there for three years before my automobile accident. Three years is not very long but I was searching for another call when I sustained my brain injury. I knew my accident was serious because I had to learn how to eat, walk, use my hands, keep my balance and do cognitive things like read, all over again. However it wasn’t even in my realm of possibility that I would never serve a church again. I figured I just needed more time.
So I first dived into volunteering at the Open Door Community which is a residential Christian community sort of like a Catholic Worker House that served folks who are living homeless as well as those in prison. That didn’t work so I tried volunteering at a local Hospice. That didn’t work so I walked into the Chaplains office at a retirement community and asked if they could use a volunteer. The lead Chaplain had time to give me a tour and said he could use me. He is a very busy man and I don’t know how I lucked out meeting him that day, but I did. Finally, something that worked!
This is so often how it is with brain injury survivors. It’s a “trial and error” (see post 8/19/11) sort of thing for we often don’t fit into our prescribed world anymore. In fact, all people with disabilities don’t fit into this world and it can be a very lonely place. I am awed by the strenghth and perseverance of folks who have disabilities. The world is not made for us so we have to carve out a place.
So while volunteering there, I served on a couple of Presbytery committees as well as a couple of committees at the church I was attending (Oakhurst Presbyterian, a multi racial congregation). I was involved in several projects that came up and led worship, at times even preaching at various places. Quite frequently my brain would just do what I call “shut down.” This meant I couldn’t focus or do anything at all but rest. So I often spent days laying on the sofa with no stimulation around me at all. I always bounced back and returned to my schedule again. Back and forth this went.
It was starting to wear on me and I began to realize that I would never serve a church again as a minister. About that time, my husband Michael took a job in Asheville, N.C. which meant moving. For anyone who has sustained a brain injury a change in surroundings is very, very difficult. We don’t do well with unexpected or unknown environments. I decided the best thing for me to do was to stop all involvement in everything and just become familiar with Asheville
I’d heard about Circle of Mercy congregation when I was in Atlanta so I decided to become part of this progressive church even though it wasn’t Presbyterian. It meets on Sunday evenings so I could still attend a Presbyterian Church in the morning. Since I purposely wasn’t going to get involved at either place and planned to just attend church, going to two wasn’t a burden. Much of my energy went to figuring out my new city, new schedule and finding volunteer work. Again, I tried volunteering at two different nursing homes and doing some volunteer clowning but discovered this didn’t work for me so I had to try something else.
After a while I did join a committee at Grace and became more involved there but it was limited. I also became part of the Pastoral Care Team at Circle of Mercy. Being involved in both churches peaked my interest in ideas surrounding ordination, sacraments, justice ministry and worship services since the two churches have differing views in all these areas. It’s pushing me to think about what I believe and not what a church tells me to believe. However, both churches are very open and I don’t feel pressure from either one to believe a certain way. For this I am grateful.
Someone with a brain injury needs to do repetitive and steady things. I have tried this but I was bored to tears. My neurologist sympathized with my feelings and supports my idea of trying to be involved in more ministerial type things. When I use the word “ministerial” I mean using the parts of me that I used when I was a pastor – not trying to actualy be one. However, I must set limits and this is very hard for me. This idea isn’t going to work and I’m going to be stressed out like I was in Atlanta if I don’t set these limits.
I’m not a pastor of either church and I don’t want to be. However, I can’t help regretting this greatly. I liked being a pastor! I must say, it is nice not having all the responsibilities and pressures of one. I don’t have to worry about what I say etc. since I’m not getting paid by anyone. I’m sort of a “freelance pastor” a little like when I was a freelance violinist/violist all those years ago!
When I look back, I see how far I’ve come. I still worry about what people think about me but I’m getting to the point where I don’t care. I know what I’m doing and if someone wants to talk to me about this, they can. If they don’t, then it is their problem and not mine. (This is much easier to write than to actualy believe!)