This essay is a product of the Collegeville Institute’s Emerging Writers Mentorship Program, a 9-month program for writers who address matters of faith in their work. Each participant has the opportunity to publish their work at Bearings Online. Click here to read essays from past Emerging Writers Program cohorts.
Society would have us believe the only avenue by which one can do effective Ministry is through the traditional practice of pastoring. While I will no longer be leading this ministry, that does not mean ministry stops for me. For some of us, our call isn’t to open the doors, stand behind our pulpits, and wait for the people to find us and come to us. For some of us, it behooves us to make the effort to go to the people, meet them where they are, and find ways to provide for them the care, support, and guidance they need on the front lines of their situations.
This decision wasn’t made lightly.
I became HOME’s pastor almost by chance. It was a deathbed request made by my pastor and dear friend, Pierre D. Cox, roughly a month before he died of cancer. He felt, and I agreed, that the best person suited to play the role of Joshua—the one selected by God to succeed Moses after his death—was me. The request came in a phone call, late one night, during his last hospital stay. We hadn’t seen each other or engaged in one of our regular marathon phone calls in months due to the coronavirus pandemic. I believed it necessary for him to rest and conserve his energy. When we did talk, I always kept the conversations short. Recovery, I believed, was possible. The idea that he was near death never entered my thoughts.
When he called that night, somewhere, deep down inside I knew this call was the first of several goodbye conversations for him. I took the call in my home office. The only light in the room came from my desktop computer. I inserted my corded earbuds, leaned on the desk, and answered.
We made small talk for a bit, but I could tell there was something more on his mind. He had waited until he was alone in his hospital room. “You are the only someone any of them will allow to pastor them,” he said eventually.
But I never wanted to be a pastor.
Growing up in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I watched from a distance the trials and tribulations of the pastors called to lead our family church. As I got older and became connected to other pastors, including Pierre, I watched up close the highs and lows of the experience—from worrying about finances and membership numbers to struggling with self-imposed imposter syndrome. Being privy to the realities of pastoring a church became part of the reason it wasn’t something I ever sought.
But part of me always knew my call to ministry would one day include and involve pastoring a church on the local level. I was conditioned to believe that sometimes God calls us to things we don’t want because it’s God’s plan—plain and simple. Believing that, I surrendered to what I considered to be inevitable, never considering there are other ways to do effective ministry beyond leading a church.
Founded in the spring of 2013, HOME was a small, non-denominational ministry, based in College Park, Georgia. We sought to find ways to impact the community beyond just Sunday morning worship, including volunteering, clothing and school supply drives, and other events. Before Pierre’s cancer diagnosis, we had as many as 25 members on the roster. By the time he passed, we were maybe half that many. We were small, close-knit, familial, and scrappy. And for a moment in time, I pastored the people.
I take pride in that.
For most, the pastor, or the role of pastor, represents not only God’s anointed—God’s mouthpiece and representative here on earth—but also one of the go-to leaders of the community (especially in the Black community), an upright citizen, the voice of reason, and one of the loudest advocates for change. If it weren’t for the pastor, many would be lost. If it weren’t for the pastor, many relationships would be broken. If it weren’t for the pastor, many communities would be desolate. Much of this is why it is hard for most people – especially in the Black community—to imagine anyone not wanting to pastor. And if they do serve in the role, they find it hard to fathom someone “suddenly” walking away from it.
I do not know any other way to explain it. I did not hate the experience. Not in the least bit. Besides moments of anxiety and uncertainty, especially as it pertained to taking over a church in the midst of a pandemic, pastoring HOME came naturally to me. Quitting was never a thought or an option. I was fully prepared to lead HOME, potentially, for the rest of my life.
But then my father, Hollis O. Simon, Sr., died at 88, roughly 14 months after Pierre. Under normal circumstances, I may have been fine with the loss of my father and continuing in active ministry. Maybe. But losing my father not long after losing Pierre, as well as an aunt before them, came too close for me to properly grieve the losses. I didn’t have proper time.
I’ve spent a large portion of my life bending to the needs of others. This was especially true in the years following my father’s stroke in 2016. Every decision I made, from where I lived to where I worked, included what I considered my responsibility to be accessible to my parents when needed. As Pierre’s cancer fight progressed, I did the same for him and his spouse. It is what is most familiar to me. But when my dad died, I thought about all the things I hadn’t done because of what others would think or what would happen to them if I wasn’t available. I thought about all the ways I constantly put myself on hold—my wants, needs, curiosities, passions, and even care. I also thought about how if I continued to lead HOME, those sacrifices would continue.
My father lived his life fully—flaws and all. When he died, I reflected on my own life and the things I hadn’t done. It became important to put myself first for a change. I also knew that stepping away could potentially hurt a group of people who had already lost one leader. I wrestled with my decision for a few months, but eventually settled within myself that what was best for me was to step down after 16 months as HOME’s senior pastor.
Looking back, I have settled on the belief that my term as their pastor was intended to be temporary. I served in the role they needed for the time they needed me. In this current season of my life and ministry, God wants something different from me. What that entails, I have not yet discerned.
I am figuring it out.
In the meantime, I am completing a Doctor of Ministry in pastoral theology and grief while enjoying reconnecting with myself through better self-care. I am discerning what God is calling me to—next!