On Good Friday, 2011 I decided it was time to quit with Pastoral ministry.
We had come to the end of the “Way of the Cross” service in Glens Falls. Many of the downtown churches participated, starting at the Catholics, ending at the Episcopalians, with the Baptists, Methodists, Salvation Army and Lutherans all along the way.
Volunteers carried a large wooden cross from church to church.
Where the service ended, in the Episcopalian sanctuary, clergy sat up in the chancel, laity in the nave.
That last reflection was about leaving your burdens at the cross. People were given the opportunity to come forward, to write whatever was burdening them, whatever was sapping away their life, on a scrap of paper they had received as they had entered, and to leave their burden at the cross.
As the reflection ended, and as the people came up leaving their scraps of paper, I realized that pastoral ministry had become a burden that was sapping my life. I also realized that I didn’t have a scrap of paper. None of the clergy had paper scraps. Denial, I suppose, that clergy might carry life-sapping burdens.
I went down and got in line anyway. I took off the robe I’d been wearing, and when it came my turn, I left the robe there.
Then I sat down in the nave with the rest of the common folk.
If anyone else realized what I’d done there, nobody said anything.
The next day the Episcopal Rector called to ask me if I wanted my robe. “You left it at Good Friday,” he said. “I thought you’d want to know in case you needed it tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I won’t be needing it any more. If you know of a mission where someone needs one, send it there.”
“Oh,” he said. Then after a long pause, “Ok.”
“Thanks,” I said again. “You helped me finally do something I’ve needed to do for a while now.”
“Oh,” he said again. “Ok. You’re welcome.”
That was it.
A few weeks later I announced my resignation, and finished things out until the end of June.
That year Easter really was a resurrection experience for me.
I remain convinced that Easter really happens whenever I, or anyone, can manage to lay down a life-sapping burden and then begin to live, whether for the first time or the first time in a long time, without picking it back up again.