It’s been ten years since I preached my last sermon. Well, according to my counselor, it’s been ten years since I preached my last CHRISTIAN sermon. He thinks I am still very much a preacher and a pastor. I’m playing for the other team, but I’m still playing the game. While I certainly continue to preach the good news of reason, secularism, godlessness and scientific inquiry , I am no longer driven to make converts lest they die in their sins and go to hell. I wish more Americans would heed my preaching, but I know they won’t until there is some sort of crisis of faith. So, I preach, but I no longer concern myself with the outcome. To use parable of the sower, all I can do is sow the seed. Most of the seed will fall on barren ground, but some will fall on fertile ground and up will sprout a person of reason, skepticism, and science.
In the fall of 2003, I resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory Baptist was a dysfunctional, dying Southern Baptist church, the perfect church for Bruce Almighty to work a miracle. When I took the church I told the congregation that I was not a fighter and I would resign if there was any substantial conflict. Twenty three years of pastoring churches had taken the fight out of me. All I wanted to do preach three times a week, visit the sick, marry the young, bury the dead, and help the church grow and mature. Unfortunately, conflict came anyway and true to my word I resigned. Two years later, the church closed its door.
We moved back to Ohio and rented a house in Stryker. We lived in Stryker for about six months. In February of 2004, my sister, who lived in Yuma, offered to move us to Arizona. She thought the weather would be good for me. So, we packed up our household goods and moved 2,000 miles to what many consider the armpit of the southwest. My sister and her doctor husband bought a beautiful house for us to live in and we quickly settled in to our new life in the desert. It was a fun time for us, but the pull of family became such that we moved back to Ohio in late September. We decided to relocate in Newark so we could be near Polly’s parents. It was during this time that Polly’s sister Kathy was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident.
In the spring of 2005, I got the hankering to once again pastor a church. I sent my résumé to several Southern Baptist area missionaries and it wasn’t long before my phone was ringing off the hook. It was a repeat of what I went through in 2003. Once churches knew I was available, I was quickly inundated with inquiries. At this juncture, Polly and I decided that we were no longer willing to pastor a church that couldn’t pay me a fair salary, complete with benefits. This requirement quickly winnowed the field since most of the churches were small and unable or unwilling to pay a pastor a living wage.
I did candidate at two churches, Hedgesville Baptist Church and New Life Southern Baptist Church, both in West Virginia. While both churches were interested in me being their pastor, I decided not to proceed. A month or so later, a pastor friend of mine tried to entice me to start a Christian Union church in Zanesville, Ohio, but I decided no longer wanted to go through the rigors necessary to plant a new church. I came to conclusion that the fire had died and I no longer wanted to pastor a church.
My sermon at Hedgesville Baptist was the last time I stood before a group of people, opened up the Bible, and preached to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. For the three years that followed, Polly and I tried to find church to call home. (See But, Our Church is Different!) We moved from Newark back to NW Ohio so we could live near our children and grandchildren. We diligently continued to seek a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. Alas, our search was in vain. As we became more disenchanted with Christianity, our doubts and questions grew. Long held beliefs were challenged as we attempted to determine what we really believed. In the end, we concluded that the claims of Christianity could no longer withstand rational inquiry and investigation. We attended church, Ney United Methodist Church, for the last time in November of 2008. From that point forward we no longer considered ourselves Christian.
I preached my first sermon at the age of 15 and I was 48 when I preached my last. I entered the ministry as a fire-breathing, sin hating, soulwinning Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. I left the ministry as a Progressive Christian who was sympathetic towards the Red-Letter Christian and Emerging church movements. When I started preaching I subscribed to Christianity Today, The Biblical Evangelist, and the Sword of the Lord. When I stopped preaching I subscribed to Sojourners and Mother Jones. In the late 1970’s, my library consisted of books by John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Harry Ironside, and other fundamentalist writers. 25 years later, the fundamentalist books of my youth had been donated to charity and in their place stood books by Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorthy Day. In between, hundreds of Calvinistic, Mennonite, Baptist, and Reformed tomes came and went, offered up to Christians on EBay. Time and experience had fundamentally changed me. I have no doubt that I would not be the man I am today without experiencing the joys and heartaches of the ministry.
I miss preaching and teaching. I wish I had been younger and in better health when I deconverted. I could have gone back to college and gotten a degree so I could teach at the college level. I think I have the requisite skills necessary to teach at the college level, but without a degree there’s no hope of me teaching. I’d love to teach a World Religions class at the nearby community college. Since that path is no longer open to me, I content myself to write for this blog, hoping that I can, in some small way, be a help to others. Perhaps, my counselor is right: Always a preacher, always a pastor.