The Common Good

Where Do I Fit In?

Sarah Heath. Photo by B. Wilson Photography.
Sarah Heath. Photo by B. Wilson Photography.

It was during diversity training that they asked us to close our eyes and picture the place that we feel most out of place. Sadly the place I pictured was the annual regional gathering of my denomination.

That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing — many people don't completely fit in their denomination or church — the problem for me is that I get this feeling in most church gatherings.

Many people speak about the gathering as a time for community, but I can't get around it: I don't fit in.

My love of culture, fashion, creativity, and trendy music make me nearly an alien (with a few exceptions) in a world that seems almost stuck in an earlier era when contemporary music resembled something from a SNL skit. For the last several years I have felt the pain of not fitting in and the fear that who I am is not OK in the general Christian world.

Community for me is more than elusive; it seems as though it simply doesn't exist. I feel too passionate about my faith for one, and too intellectual and socially concerned for the other. And my exile hasn't occurred through a lack of trying to fit in.
   
I tired to find community in a large nondenominational church. I participated in the church at all possible levels and it was a place for me to be fed and filled. I went on mission trips and even was a barrista in the church's stylish cafe.

There are many people my age at this church. Even as my friends pointed out my "style,” I wouldn't  own the title. But now, as more and more examples of what many call "hipster Christians" have emerged, I am starting to realize that, perhaps in at least some fashion, I have a label.

I hadn't a clue that I was on the forefront (apparently) of a huge trend when I got my first tattoo or when, at age 20 while visiting London, I was daring enough to pierce my nose. While sartorially I may fit in, beneath the surface, surrounded by my likewise trendily tatted and pierced friends, I don't fit. In fact I had to stop attending that church because I was tired of feeling as if whom God has called me to be isn't OK.

Even at the very place I had gone to connect with God, I still felt distant from God's people.

Here's the catch: I am not just your average church attender. I am a young, by all accounts "hip" female pastor. After a couple of years of hard work at a prestigious seminary, I am blessed to be one of the those set apart for ordained ministry. I am, in fact, the preaching pastor at a church in southern California.

For all the openness you might associate with California when it comes to female pastors, notsomuch. I have sat through many Bible studies and small groups and felt like my graduate degree made me the lone voice in the room. The tough part is I don't want to be that “know-it-all intellectual,” so I would sit, sometimes silent, feeling left out. I was pretty sure no one wanted to hear Anslem's or Origen's input on the current topic of discussion, or how the early church once had the same debate.

Tons of folks have painstakingly told me why God couldn’t possibly have called me. Sometimes I take the time to explain to them that there are many scriptures where the traditional translation and interpretation are taken out of context. Or how, for instance, in St. Paul's epistles, the focus of his letter is a specific group of women not all of womankind.

Sometimes I just let it rest, because some people will never see that God works in ways they aren’t prepared for.

The church I serve here in California is amazing. We share a passion for Christ and mission. But all pastors know we must have community outside of the communities we lead. Maybe finding community outside of my "tribe" was the answer? I have always loved differences and finding the road less traveled.

But what about my own "tribe"? Why don’t I find community there?

I am stuck between two worlds — the evangelical world where I am too liberal (by virtue of my vocation and career) and the mainline Christian world where I often feel disappointed by the lack of passion. I don't think it would be as bad if people in both worlds didn't feel the need to question who I am. But they do.

Case in point: Once, a former boyfriend of mine was fired from his position as a worship leader because (of all the horrible things he could do) dating a woman preacher was not something the church was willing to accept.

Even though I am supported by the church that ordained me, when I look around the room at our denominational gatherings, still my heart is lonely.

The question I pose to the Christian world is this: Where do I fit in?

Sarah Heath is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Her passions include music, art, the ocean, and running. Sarah attended Duke Divinity School for Seminary and currently resides in Orange County, Calif., with her dog, Tenor.

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