I’ve been reading The Two Aunties blog for several weeks now. Sarah and Kay are a married trans couple living in the southeast who have continued to be active in their small Episcopal church through transition and beyond. This morning Sarah wrote about her experience in worship yesterday:
As the only transgender person of our small church, I was greatly saddened at this morning’s service. We are a small church in number, but as the service started only 4 people were in the seats; not counting the altar party and those who were sitting in the choir.
Many of us can relate to the kind of discouragement a person feels on a Sunday like that. But imagine how much worse it would be if you thought it was all your fault. Sarah continues:
I have developed a strong bond with my church and to most of the people who attend, and when attendance is down I am too quick to . . . think those who I expect to show up wanted to stay away because of me. My strong love for my church was one of the last road blocks, if you like, which held me back in revealing my being trans. The one reason that I waited so long, was my fear that by revealing my true self, that would cause people to react by point fingers at me if the church were to crumble where it stood. Being the person who causes a church’s demise was the last thing I wanted on my head.
Reading Sarah’s fears brought me back to my early years in ministry. I was pastoring a small Baptist congregation overseas that had been teetering on the edge of collapse for some time before they called me, and I felt myself to be in many ways the last, best hope for renewal for this once thriving church. I evaluated every decision I made, every sermon I preached, every pastoral action I undertook by the attendance at our worship services. When lots of people showed up, I felt affirmed. When only a few came, I doubted. And on those dark days when my family and I were the only ones there, I despaired.
Then one day I realized that my own choices had much less to do with the size of our congregation than I had previously believed. I can’t pinpoint what led me to that realization, but I’m sure it was connected to learning the following:
- People make their own choices about where and when to worship.
- I am not responsible for those choices.
- I am responsible for my own choices.
- My responsibility for my choices is to God, not to the congregation.
- To carry out my ministry with integrity, I must resist the temptation to take responsibility for the choices of others.
Sarah, you are not responsible for what has happened to your beloved church. If some have left the church because of your presence there, they did so because they chose to. You are not responsible for their choices; they are. You are responsible only for your own choice to live with integrity among the people of God you have loved. And you are not responsible to them; you are responsible to God.
There is a myth among Christians that living with integrity will always lead to prosperity. Even a cursory reading of Scripture, I think, dispells that myth. Frequently, individuals and congregations who stand firm for what is right do not prosper. Sometimes they face strong resistance. Sometimes that resistance even comes from within. “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.” “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”