Returning to ministry
The last time I was in any kind of ministry was the autumn of 2011 when I organized the Interfaith Guild of Chaplains, which was affiliated with Occupy Portland and was inspired by the Protest Chaplain group at the Occupy Boston encampment. By 2012, I entered a period of being non-religious, skeptical, and secular for several years mostly because I was busy with political activism and community organizing. I had a community and expanded the social circle, so I did not think at the time I was in need of a church.
After the demise of the Occupy organization in the spring of 2015, I began re-exploring religions. Ultimately, I joined a Unity church in January of 2016.
The Interfaith Guild of Chaplains was, for whatever it was worth, a modest success. During the 39 days of encampment (which was said to be the largest Occupy camp in the world encompassing three city blocks), I managed and coordinated over 20 religious services, including weekly interfaith services, Jewish observances of Sukkot and Havdalah, and Pagan celebration of Samhain. In addition, I was requested by the camp's peace and safety team to provide pastoral support for individuals in distress. With very limited prior professional experiences and training, it was a big feat.
Following the end of the encampment, I organized what I called "Occupy Thanksgiving," an outdoor potluck on Thanksgiving Day. This was well attended by both members of the Occupy community (including visitors from Occupy Wall Street in New York City) and the local houseless population who had nowhere to go. Even two TV stations came to cover this event.
The ministry was largely that of community building in nature, as I saw myself as an interfaith minister.
But my first foray into an ordained ecclesiastical ministry was 2005 when I felt a need for an alternative spiritual community that reaches out to the underserved and under-ministered margins of society. Ultimately I joined a small reformed catholic denomination and was ordained as a local priest (and into the apostolic succession). I attempted to build a congregation in Portland, Oregon, first operating out of a community center and later using a small meeting room in the back of a coffee shop. This was a failure. I was hoping to build a community but I was lacking a message. I was doing everything trying to draw people in -- from potlucks to movie discussion groups -- but those people who came did for the sake of the events and not necessarily to be part of an intentionally religious community.
I tried to be missional, edgy, and non-conventional. I copied everything from Brian McLaren to Jim Wallis to Dorothy Day to Gustavo Gutierrez. But there was a lack of clarity and lack of compelling visions. In the meantime, I created such a controversy within the denomination over the style of my ministries that I was forced to resign from that denomination, only to be invited into another one, and then excommunicated from that one.
By then, I was done with Christianity. I could not with a straight face worship a deity that seemed to be the source of patriarchy, violence, and hatred. By then I had a growing interaction with a certain Goddess-worshiping sect in Great Britain.
In 2010 I decided to go back to school to study feminist theology in a systematic way, but it was primarily out of my academic curiosity. I was not really thinking about becoming a minister again -- but rather, I wanted to be a scholar, a researcher, and be an influencer in a more indirect way to inspire others. During this period, I did become an influencer. Even though I had utterly failed as a church-planter, I wrote prolifically at the time and freely published my writings on blogs. Several individuals, having read my works on Goddess-centered liturgies and ecclesiology, went on to establish their own Goddess congregations -- some of which still are in active existence, with their own priestesses and such.
But personally, I regretted what I started. I did a very sloppy job of constructing liturgies and doctrines -- based on very limited primary source materials -- so everything was pretty much made up out of thin air. But it took a life of its own. These people were looking up to me as some kind of authority. I could not handle this very long.
So by 2012, I pretty much discarded any pretense about ministries or my aspirations thereto. I was no longer really believing in anything. I was as cynical as anyone could ever be. I experimented with the more conventional Neo-Paganism but I quickly lost interest due to the lack of cohesive and consistent cosmology and beliefs.
Now, for those who are following this blog, you know what has been happening in my life during the past couple of months. I had reconciled myself with my Baptist and Pentecostal roots (even though I no longer believe their doctrines) while integrating the newer religious experiences of more recent years -- New Thought and Goddess movements alike.
A few weeks ago, I announced a new project of starting a "people's seminary" where interested individuals can learn the classic theological methods, as well as applied theology in contemporary society, and the importance of theology's contribution to culture-making. This is meant to be non-sectarian and participants may be of any or no faith.
But for the past several days I have been sensing that I have to step up a bit further, to be a minister of some sort.
This is something I am discerning seriously at the moment. I am exploring several options -- a local congregation, a virtual network of community and pastoral care, or a kind of "apostleship" in which I become a teacher and minister to others who, in turn, would start their own communities and ministries.
I do not exactly know how this will look in the near future, but I know the divine directions will take me where I should be.