Leaving Ordination: Anniversary

Ten years in Jail, as a Chaplain.  Fourteen years in Christian Ministry, then Released

Ten years in Jail (as an Interfaith Chaplain)

Ten years as a Parish Associate

Ten years as a Parish Associate

Ten years as a Street Chaplain

Ten years as a Street Chaplain

Twelve years ago this November I left my ordination on the altar and walked out.  No, it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but close.  I asked to read my (reverse) statement of faith on the floor of Presbytery, that illustrious body of clergy and church reps of the “decently and in order” Presbyterian Church.  In front of a hundred or more at Westminster Woods near Occidental, CA, in the exact spot where fourteen years earlier I had read my statement of faith and had been accepted in the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, I “let go,” “renounced,” tore up (figuratively) my Ordination as a Christian Minister.  Some were stunned.  Some saddened.  Most yawned.  And then I walked out, to have a “celebration” dinner with some close friends and a few “heretic” colleagues.

I’ve never regretted that decision or act.  As far as I can tell, no one in the Church ever really missed me.  Since that day twelve years ago, several former colleagues have invited me to speak in their churches a couple times.  With my Universal Life credential I still perform a marriage now and then.  Some of my best and dearest friends remain in the Church (or another religious tradition).  We get along just fine, though they know I am a Non-Believer.

Here are a few lines from that statement (printed in its entirety in my book, Life After Faith).  I may say some of this slightly different today, but essentially I would stand by the carefully chosen words I spoke that day:

“Fourteen years ago this month I was accepted for ordination here in these woods, under these majestic trees, with the scent of the wilderness. . .there was something wild in the air, and I was about to wind down a trail of adventure with–as I thought–the full support of colleagues in the church that I was raised in.”

“I came to develop a personal spiritual walk that is wider than any one tradition could be.  ‘Interfaith’ (or simply ‘compassionate’) comes closer to defining me than any label.  Practicing interfaith, compassionate chaplaincy has been my seminary of the streets.”

“I have appreciated the few, the very few, who have stood with me. . .Sadly, I have felt something even stronger from my church family.  I have felt distanced and disrespected at times by colleagues and congregants.  I have experienced a marginalization parallel to those I have been pastor to in [my ministry].”

“My life with the church I was raised in has come to an end.  Today I publically call attention to the main reasons why I am leaving my Presbyterian denomination and ordination behind.”

“I am no longer a Christian by the Church’s definition.”

“I am convinced that Jesus would not be welcomed in any churches who use his name.”

“I do not accept the historic creeds of the Church as having any bearing on my life or the life of most in our world.”

“I find many words, decisions and actions of the national and local church not merely troubling, but meaningless, irrelevant and even oppressive.”

“Like many who are mentally ill, [the Church] speaks only with itself.”

“My spiritual community is found in many and varied places, with people of different or no faiths, or in God’s natural temple on the sacred Mother Earth.”

“With this statement I formally request that the Presbytery accept my resignation from membership and dissolve any and all responsibilities between Presbytery and me.”

“In truth of conscience,

Chris”

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