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It's time to go now

By Trisha Elliott

I am riding the train wearing a young-but-take-me-seriously, professional-but-hip denim suit on my way to a job interview. I'm leaving my pastoral charge in three weeks and I haven't got a job. We bought a house a couple of weeks ago. After we signed the paperwork, I called mom and dad who were vacationing in Jamaica. "Can I borrow your car while you're away? We just bought a house." Silence. "What about a job, Trish? Don't you need a job? What if you can't find one where you want to live?" "I'll get a job, mom." "But you've only applied for one." "I know. Can I borrow the car?"

Arrogance hasn't given me the guts to put all of my eggs in this basket. I had a middle-of-the-night dream. I heard a voice. Well, not so much a voice, but words. "It's time for you to go now." I sat up in bed. "Time to go where?" No response. I didn't know what the words meant at first. Over a couple of months it dawned on me. It was time to make the personal and professional move that I hadn't planned to make for a couple more years. My husband agreed. But to what? Where?

I didn't have the answers when I sat down to write the letter of resignation.

A "change in pastoral relations" seemed so sterile. How do you tell someone that you want a divorce? I took the classic "It's- not-you-it's-me" way out. "I've got young children now," I wrote.

"Last Christmas one of them asked me a question I couldn't answer:

`Why can't we ever be there for family Christmas?' I've got a financial future to be concerned about. We need to buy a house. I've helped you lay a foundation for the future, but you need someone else to build on it. I'm not the minister for you anymore. We were good together though." Anyway, that was the gist of what I wrote.

When it came time to actually read the letter, I was a mess. I had rehearsed the reading all the way to the ministry and personnel committee meeting. "Put on your funeral face," I told myself. "Put your mind somewhere else." I pinched my thigh under the table. Nothing worked. My heart got stuck in the moment. After I had sobbed about two-thirds of the way through, the committee mercifully told me that I didn't have to read anymore. They knew what I was going to say.

But that Sunday I would have to say it to a hundred or so people in my two-point charge, not once but twice. Worship service. Goodbye. Worship service. Goodbye. The chair of my M&P committee called. "My wife will read the letter for you" he said. "It's going to be a tough day." She did. It was. After the second service, I read the letter myself. It didn't go much better than it did at the meeting.

Since then my ministry has been about goodbye. Even when they didn't say it, their eyes did. "You're leaving us." Still they've been gracious. "Do what's best for your family. You have so much talent, so much to offer, so much to share with others. Speak more. Write more. Something will come up." They have been such a blessing. Still are. I miss them and I haven't even left.

Last week I called a counsellor through the church's Employee Assistance Program. I told her about Mike and I quitting our jobs without having others, about buying the house, about the voice I heard that prompted me to take the risks -- the one I'm now doubting.

I knew how irrational it all sounded. My inner self wondered, "Is this counsellor a Christian who knows that God leads, that God calls?

If not, she must really think I'm nuts. I don't really need a counsellor. I need a priest. Oh well, she'll do." I carried on, confessing. "I can't eat. I can't sleep. I yelled at Aidan for spilling his juice. I cringe when Mike touches me. I stood in the spaghetti sauce aisle staring at cans for 15 minutes. Four cheese or garlic? I couldn't decide. I'm wondering if I'm crazy and I think I might be depressed."

"You aren't crazy," she assured. "You sound pretty rational. But I can't diagnose. I can refer you. Do you think that you're depressed?" she asked. I thought about it.

"No, just excited, stressed, sad. Very sad. I'll get over it."

"They aren't your friends." That's what we were taught. "There is your professional life and your personal one. There are boundaries." Is this leaving so hard because I've let too many cross over?

There's Tracey. One afternoon I called her. "Mike's away. I haven't slept in two nights. Isaac has a fever. I don't have enough energy to change his diaper. I know he's sick. I wouldn't ask if I wasn't desperate. I just need two hours of sleep." There's Scotty. ("Scott," he corrects.) I remember a time at an amusement park when he asked, "Are you ready?" as Mike and I, sandwiched together in a sling, dangled from a rope 170 feet above the ground.

"Do it," I said. He pulled the rip cord. We free-fell 100 km an hour.

I screamed until my throat hurt. There's Regina. I told her what I was too professional to tell anyone and just unprofessional enough to tell her. "I think that God might be calling me out of full-time congregational ministry. I'm wondering if I'm being called to tell stories." There's Gord. From the hospital bed I heard Mike's voice crack. "Trish won't be able to preach on Sunday. She's had a miscarriage."

There are so many who have crossed over. The line is so fluid, the categories not as containable as they say they are. Sure there are the meetings, the teaching, the preaching, the pastoral care. But there are all those other things too: the movies, the family nights, the casseroles, the camp-outs.

I've been planning the de-covenanting service. What symbols will I give back? The shepherd's crook. The Bible. The chalice. The baptismal pitcher. Those are the easy ones. What about the paper chain links, the catcher's glove and the traced hands? I'm undecided.

To some I'll say, "If you are down my way, drop by for a coffee." To others I'll say, "Let's have a beer sometime." I won't talk Church, at least not about ours, theirs. I will resist the temptation to inquire or comment. I might have to say, "I'm not your minister." I will tread carefully. The separation isn't easy. I've already started to pack the dressers, but the diplomas still hang on my office wall. Leaving is hard. Really hard. A hollowness is growing where my ministry is dying.

A few congregation members, parishioners -- friends -- offered to pray for me during the interview. A couple called to ask if I would like them to write letters of reference. I put them with the others I sheepishly requested. I carry all of them with me.

The train seems to be slowing down now. I need to take a deep breath. I've got to put on the interview face that matches the suit. I've got to sound positive, smart, light, together. I've got to get this job, God willing. The train has stopped. It's time for me to go now. I'm sorry. Really, I am. Goodbye.

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The author is baptized at Central United in Calgary. (Photo courtesy of Al Coe)

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