The summer of 1999, I put my little house on the market, it was snapped up in a matter of hours, the buyer paid cash in full, and I was ready to move to Portland, ready to start my new life in ministry at Wy'east UU Congregation in Portland. I was excited!
And then the news that I had an atrial septal defect, a cardiac birth defect that could shorten my life by 10-15 years, rocked my world. When the Portland cardiologist told me I would need open heart surgery to repair the hole in my heart, I balked. How could this be necessary when I had lived symptom-free at altitude (5280 feet plus in the Denver suburb where I lived) for 34 years? Couldn't I postpone the surgery until after my first year in this wonderful new work?
The doc balked too but consented to let me wait until the following summer, provided I upped my intake of aspirin and paid close attention to my health habits, because a stroke was a definite possibility if a clot broke loose and went to my brain. I could hardly believe this was happening, but I wasn't willing to die before I'd had a chance to be a minister, so I took him seriously and did what he suggested.
The Wy'east board of trustees was supportive, folks in the congregation rallied round, and on July 5, 2000, a surgeon lifted my heart out of my chest, stitched up the significant hole, patched it with a slice of heart muscle he'd pared off on the spot, and closed me back up. I had a rapid recovery and re-entered ministry the next month with a new understanding of what it meant to have a broken and healed heart.
The first couple of years at Wy'east were idyllic; we rented space from a large United Methodist congregation which, coincidentally, was a block away from the home my family had lived in during our Portland years, at 37th and Steele St on the southeast side of town. My dad's little church had been at 39th and Holgate, not far away, and I drove by it every time I went to our Wy'east office.
(Note: Wy'east is the Klickitat Indian name for Mount Hood, Portland's signature mountain.)
But the honeymoon didn't last. I was a rookie and made mistakes; they were still peeved about what they perceived to be unfair treatment by the larger church they'd spun off from; and eventually sparks began to fly. I'd made a five-year commitment to Wy'east, as an Extension minister, but by the middle of the summer of 2002, it was clear that it wasn't going to work.
There were many good folks at Wy'east, many who supported my ministry and loved me. But there was a small group of people who were miffed about my mistakes, my leadership in areas they considered their own purview, and they banded together to try to get me removed, even contacting the UUA to complain. I got some good advice from national and district leaders and tendered my resignation at the beginning of my fourth year there, effective the end of that fiscal year, June 2003. We took the whole year to examine the mistakes we'd made, we achieved a certain peace by the time I left, and I felt we'd done some good work together.
And I learned a lot of lessons I wouldn't have learned had it been all beer and skittles for five years. In fact, I hope that all new ministers could have a similar learning experience; it's not fun, but the lessons I learned have stuck with me and have enriched my ministry in subsequent congregations.
Those lessons will be enumerated in a later post. Stay tuned.