Update

Friends, I’ve quit the ordination process. I know this announcement seems abrupt. I’m sharing some of what I wrote to the bishop about my decision and I hope that helps clarify things (his response has been very supportive).

*************
“Hi Greg,

I’m writing to let you know that I’m quitting the ordination process. I know this news is sudden and probably unexpected. It’s not a decision I’ve made in a state of crisis, nor is it based on anything I’ve kept bottled up for a long time. It’s a realization that was catalyzed by external stuff (mainly by the way I’ve felt called to shift my priorities in this historic moment of action for racial justice). But it’s a decision that’s grounded in deeper, on-going questions I’ve brought to prayer and spiritual direction, and I’ve had a lot of clarity on those fronts recently.

I’m not called to obedience in the institutional church. I have absolutely no desire to be under Holy Orders. I’m not interested in wearing a collar and I’m even less interested the leash that comes with it. If it ever came down to conflicting orders between you and the long-time agitators who’ve raised me in faith, I wouldn’t think twice. I genuinely like and respect you but you’re nowhere near the top of my chain of command.

I physically dislike being up on the altar. Preaching once in a while is fine but all I want to do once I finish a sermon is run back out to the pews. I don’t mind serving as a lay eucharistic minister every now and then but I’d never want to do it weekly: I need to be fed regularly in order to be my best self. Twice during this discernment process I did the Gospel reading (illicitly, I know, I apologize), and I realized I don’t even enjoy that. I really thought I would! I was wrong.

I’ve been extraordinarily well-supported through most of this. I loved doing my field ed at St. Luke’s~San Lucas. I couldn’t have asked for a better placement. Part of what took me so long in coming to this realization is that I was having a really good time with the people surrounding me. In particular, worshipping with the 1pm San Lucas folks radically transformed my understanding of the role of the laity. Along with God, they really do run their own show– Jaime is strictly the sacraments guy. Aside from that highly specialized role, they don’t wait for him or anyone else to tell them what to do. They are all already leaders, and they know it, and it’s beautiful.

Inside the church, I just want to copycat them. I want more lay people laying claim to their own power and fully exercising it. My understanding of institutional leadership is that it has to driven by the bottom in order to be most relevant. In being set apart from the laity, my leadership would lose relevance. I’m not the kind of leader who gets more done by virtue of having greater access to institutional power. I’m the kind of leader who gets more done by virtue of having greater access to deep relationships with the base.

I met with Janet Campbell yesterday (she was appointed as my new Commission On Ministry liaison when Mary Shehane rotated off). When I told her this, she said a true and useful thing: ‘Some of us are called to lonely battles. Some aren’t.’ I’m not. The clergy I trust most– folks like my partner Shelly, or Sarah Monroe, or Susanne Watson-Epting– really do strike me as having the ability to grow in authority from a lonely place. I don’t understand that because I’m not wired that way, but I see them doing good work through that lens, so I know it’s real. It’s a real and particular calling. It’s also not mine. At all.

No, you and the church did not run me off. If anything, that anonymous November letter full of outraged pearl-clutching respectability politics only kept me in the process longer. I still interpret it as a sign I’ve been doing something right. It takes more than that to scare me away.

I appreciate the offer to put this process on hold. I’ve thought about that. It’s not right for where I’m headed. I already wear a collar (or maybe more accurately, a second wedding ring) that keeps me tethered to the network of poor and working leaders across the world who are organizing to win the kingdom here and now. I don’t think this body is inherently at odds with the body of The Episcopal Church. But when it comes to loyalties, mine aren’t changing. A couple weeks ago I was out in Portland at one of the Ferguson solidarity marches when the police lobbed 3-4 stun grenades into our crowd that included elders and children. I realized afterwards: there hadn’t been a single collar among us at that moment. For a little while, this made me extremely angry. But eventually I couldn’t bring myself to spend anymore time worrying about folks who hadn’t shown up. And the next time I turned out, I made sure to bring protective gear– dust masks, safety goggles– to hand out to the people who did show up. My loyalty and my ministry are to the people who show up. My obedience is to the people who have spent their entire lives showing up. The fact that a couple of those people are Episcopalians is wonderful, it’s icing on the cake.

I would be very glad to keep working with the deacons in some capacity. I’ve written to the archdeacon about that and I’ll certainly be in touch with you for whatever else I might need. Please know you can do the same with me.

Thank you again and blessings,
Aaron”

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About aaron

Catechist at Chaplains on the Harbor.
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