The Bishop’s Ghost

In the last few days I have read several blog posts about the church – church attendance, church culture. This one from the Facebook post of a friend on church attendance. But this one on ghosting by the in the church – Christian Ghosting. – has really stayed on my mind. The blog was originally shared on a Facebook friend’s timeline, too. The long chain of responses expressing hurt and pain were hard to read – harder to ignore.

Ghosting means someone abruptly ends a friendship with little or no explanation and withdraws from a person’s life. I’ve experienced it in many spheres of life. But this ghosting in the church? I’ve seen it.  I am afraid I have done it. I have experienced it.

When I was a United Methodist pastor, we talked often of covenant, collegiality, community. What we don’t talk about it and won’t admit that the ghosting in the church extends to this sacred community of clergy colleagues. It might be where it has its most perfect form.

When I talked with my district superintendent about my decision to leave active ministry, I chose a method of leaving that made the most sense to me and to my family. I submitted the paperwork, And I waited. I heard from the board of pensions because I was due certain benefits on the route I chose. I heard from the benefits officer in my annual conference.

But I never heard from my bishop, the man who is supposed to be my spiritual overseer. I even emailed him to share a bit of my journey to this decision to leave. Nothing. Not a polite “thank you.” Nothing. After 20+ years of living in what I was told was a sacred covenant I didn’t merit a single word. Nor did I hear from the committee on conference relations whose chair was supposed to sign my paperwork. I was supposed to meet with them to talk about my decision and my new status. Nothing here either. No one checked on me or my family to see how we were or if we needed spiritual or other support. Q

I had been – perhaps unintentionally although it’s difficult to think so – ghosted. I became an unperson. It was as if I didn’t exist and never had.

Something funny happened though. As little as I mattered to the institutional structures, it dawned on me that they were as unreal and unimportant to me as I was to them. My bishop, my conference relationship – they quickly became ghost-like, ethereal to me. What I thought was at the core of my identity turned out to be unimportant. I am not talking about my ministry or the real colleagues and friends I made along the way. But the structures and those who preside over them.

Ghosts in stories frighten and trouble us. The bishop’s ghost holds no fear for me. Only sadness. Perhaps that’s how ghosts feel when confronted by other ghosts. But I am learning anew what is real.

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