On Monday of this past week, I made a major decision. I’ve been part of an online forum for more than 13 years. The forum went through several formats and locations over those years; it was even discussed in a New York Times Best Seller – Grand Obsession, written by fellow forum member Perri Knize. During its history, it actually split into three “sister forums,” but the one I typically participated in was “The New Coffee Room” (yes, there was once and “old” Coffee Room). This was an amazing group of people from around the world. They were very diverse, and most of them were extremely accomplished. All were very intelligent. We were also all very opinionated, and the group – which originally consisted of piano enthusiasts, but we ended up talking about seemingly anything but pianos – had incredible, wonderful discussions about all sorts of topics. And we didn’t just chat online. There were many meetings in person, at get-togethers around the country, and even internationally – I enjoyed a great evening out with a fellow forum member, an oncology surgeon from Tel Aviv, while I was visiting Israel/Palestine this past January. I once even ran off to Central America with a woman I met on the forum (it sounds so much sexier when I put it that way; we actually traveled to Honduras together to work at Montana de Luz for a week). This was an amazing forum, and was a big part of my life for a long time. Unfortunately, the group started to decline in membership, and the conversations flattened out and become nastier and completely predictable. As hard as it was so finally admit it, the forum had lost its appeal to me, despite the fact that I still care deeply for many of its members. But on Monday, I finally pulled the plug on my participation there and said my final goodbye. Sigh.
The next day, Tuesday, I celebrated, or at least observed, my 53rd birthday. I didn’t really do anything special for it, and I wasn’t able to see the girls in person – one due to sheer distance; the other just due to schedule conflict – but I got to talk with both of them, which was nice. A few days later, I got a neat card from the elder daughter, who lives in New York. She currently lives in Queens, but she used to live in a shoebox apartment with two other roommates in Greenwich Village while she was doing an internship a year or so ago. The place was on Christopher street. Four doors down from their entry in one direction was the famous Stonewall Inn; one door away in the opposite direction was The Greenwich Letterpress, a cool, funky little card and stationery shop that prints its own cards for all occasions. She and I both liked the place, so now when she sends me cards, it’s always a “bitchin’ card,” as she puts it, from the shop. Thanks, honey.
But by far, Wednesday was the real show-stopper of the week. That evening, the Session (the governing body in a Presbyterian church) of the small congregation I’ve been pastoring for the past six years met and voted to “dissolve our pastoral relationship,” a slightly more polite way of saying they were firing me – not having anything to do with my actual pastoring, of which they’re highly complimentary, but everything to do with the fact that they just don’t have the money to pay me. So I’ve been cut loose, effective September 30th. The congregation has known since last November that I’m in the call process, seeking another pastorate on a full-time basis now that I’ve completed seminary and all other ordination requirements. So the leaving itself isn’t a huge thing. But them deciding to pull the plug on me right now, taking away half of my already very meager income and the healthcare benefits for me and my family, when I’m at this point in the process and virtually unhireable for piecework or obtaining replacement healthcare coverage, is devastating. If someone actually looked at the calendar and wanted to pick the absolute worst possible time to make such a decision, to do it at the point where it would create the most harm to me, they’d have been hard pressed to have picked a better time. So I pray that God will open up some pathway for me, and sooner rather than later. Seriously, God, faster please.
On the plus side, the remainder of the week I had several good lunches and other outings with pastoral associates and friends, trying to cheer me up or at least let me vent. This morning, Sunday, was pretty tough, though. During this morning’s church service, immediately following the sermon (which you can read below), the Session announced its decision to let me go to the rest of the congregation. I just stood there, staring straight ahead from the pulpit at a big stained glass window at the rear of the church while the Session members fielded some questions from the people. One member registered her dissatisfaction, giving the Session what-for, and saying that she wasn’t going to sit there and listen to any more of it, and she got up and walked out. This was not an easy morning.