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Claiming My Title


Claiming My Title

Jarell Wilson

by Jarell Wilson

I am a pastor.

It’s a label I try and run from. When asked in bars or on planes what I did, I would respond, “I’m a community organizer” or something like that anything to avoid a label that carries so much gravitas and so much baggage. But looking at my life and reflecting on what I believe I’m called to do, only “pastor” adequately reflects who I am. Even in my law school applications, all I could do was preach to the admissions committees.

On December 23rd, 2018 I was checked into a hospital for people struggling with mental health issues. I didn’t go voluntarily at all, I went to the emergency room escorted by my pastor and a concerned lay person. I thought I would be a quick stop, the doctors and nurses would realize I’m fine, keep me for a few hours and then let me leave, but instead they transferred me from the emergency room to another hospital where I stayed for six days.

Of course by the 6th day the nurses and staff were tired of me asking prying questions and trying to minister to them and my fellow patients.

“Where are you preaching?”

The question felt intrusive, because I was scared they’d want to come if I told them. “I don’t know”, I answered which was true, I had no idea where Media, PA is so I had no idea how to locate its First UMC. We laughed it off and then spilt all the tea about our struggles with men and the church and the overlapping issues found in our complicated Queer Christian lives. This was the wellspring to draw from, laughing with Queer folks who know what its like to fight from crumbs from the church’s table while working for the church. I was afraid to let my friends see me preach, and I’m glad they didn’t press me, because if they were there, I wouldn’t have have felt free to let my written sermon go, I would have leaned into fear rather than faith.

If I’m being honest, I was worried that my medications for depression would limit my ability to preach. So far they’ve limited my sleep, limited my emotions, including happiness, and they made me gain 11 pounds. However, it seems like the Spirit can still work through me, even if I don’t feel the Spirit as strong as I used to. The sermon was completely the Spirit, I didn’t write it all, what I wrote wasn’t right in the moment, so God gave me a new one. And it was what the congregation needed.

Everything just fit: the music, the prayers, the mediation, the children’s time sermonette - the new sermon. They all fit like puzzle pieces. Which made me think, what if these weird pills were actually helping me hear from the Spirit more clearly? What if this was meant to be a part of my sermon writing all along?

I don’t know a lot, the more degrees I get the more I realize how much I don’t know. But I do know that God has been faithful no matter where I find myself, God’s Love has been a constant source of strength and joy. She’s always placed people in my life who make it more bearable. Friends from across the globe have kept me in prayer, they’ve kept me fed, they’ve shown up in the middle of the night to offer hugs and listening ears. I don’t know it all, but I know that God has been using people to answer my prayers, I can’t wait to be someone else’s answered prayer. How I long to be in that number, how I long to be a saint ready to march when I’m called on.

I think part of the larger question I’ve been dancing around is how does my depression affect the way I minister? Does it limit me in some capacity that I’m unaware of? Does it stop me from discerning what is and isn’t from God? Is my faith more prone to psychosis than the faith of a neurotypical pastor?

When I was younger, I used to gather my neighborhood friends and read from Scripture and try and persuade my friends to “get saved”. Here in Waco I found out I still attract people who want to get drunk and reflect on the spiritual. I still have a flock in the places I run from God to hide under fig leaves of my own making. When I’m hiding in the Southside of Chicago, in East Austin, in South Waco, even in a psych hospital. I keep finding folks to pastor, whether I’m looking for them or not. It’s not a burden, it’s a calling.

I recently tried to run away from pastoring by going to law school, and unfortunately for my ego I didn’t get into any school, but I think it’s for the best. I would have worn myself out trying to out perform everyone around me, I’m super competitive and would love the struggle. I find that academia is where I feel most comfortable, but I don’t think I’m meant to be a lifelong academic.

In my quest for a new career, other pastoral work keeps calling to me. I love the work, I love digging a little bit deeper into people’s lives to see what the Holy Spirit is up to. I love helping people find joy. I love sitting with people in sadness, laughing with them in times of joy. And I’m finding that even the massive amount of Queer folk I know that go to church are still looking for pastoral guidance. I love Queer Christians and I know that God is calling me to serve this community, I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I trust that the God that keeps calling me to serve them will open the doors that will allow me to.

I recently parted ways with my last congregation, since then I’ve been living in Waco, TX, a place that’s like another home for me. I know people here, I’m comfortable here, but it’s not a resting place, it feels like a way station, something new is on the horizon, I can feel it building, calling me to be true to who I am.

I’m a pastor, and I’m done running from the label.

Posted with permission. Original found here.