When I was a child I used to suffer from homesickness a great deal. After a day or two of wherever I was, I pined for home. I felt a similar feeling when a family member was absent. I would get brother-sick when my brother Justin was away at Boy Scout’s camp, dad-sick when my father would travel to teach in other cities. And mom-sick, oh would I get mom-sick. My mother traveled a great deal for her job and for sport. After a day of her absence I would start crying. A few days later I would stop eating. I remember once when she was in California for a week my dad called her and said, “You’re going to have to come soon or she is going to die. We can’t get her to eat anything.” Homesickness, or my close orientation to my family, was not something I quickly grew out of either. I was the drum major of my High School marching band, a source of great honor and pride. But on the second day of Band Camp, I would call my mother in tears saying, “I’m ready to come home.”
My mom would reply every year, “I anticipated this call. I thought at least you could make it until day four. You’re the leader of the Band Tiffany, you can’t come home right now.”
One day, my mother sat me down said, “While the rest of the family has attended college in Ohio, I want to send you away to school. My fear for you is that you will go to school here and never see how big the world is outside of this city, outside of your home.”
And so we turned down offers to colleges in Ohio and at the ripe young age of 18, I headed to Atlanta bound with a call to ministry, a bible, and a miniskirt and sought to make a life for myself away from home. Committing myself in devotion to God and in service to the Church led me throughout the World. I have lived and ministered in many cities, preached and taught in places all over the country and all over the world. I have come to know, as my mother assured me, the world is indeed a big place and I have found that God is everywhere.
While I have found God leading my path every step of the way, and have made community wherever I have landed, every minister will tell you that the journey of ministry can be quite a lonely road. I believe that Jesus acted very intentionally when he sent his disciples out two by two so that they could lean on each other and comfort each other in times of fatigue and duress. Ministers need that. They need people to fill them up after giving all they have to a broken world. They need people who can see and love them without the “pastor persona.”
They need family.
There are not a lot of good models for healthy professional ministry. Due to the scarcity of pastoral positions available in general, and the confining nature of being a woman in ministry in particular, there are not a lot of spaces to state out loud what we need. The expectation is to give and give and give until we burn out or until we die in the pulpit around 72- in both instances being used up to the point that we are no longer healthy to ourselves or useful to the Church.
I defy this model.
I intend to serve God for the rest of my years and to serve God in a way that allows me to thrive and not perish. That begins with stating out loud what I need:
I need people who I can lean on in times of fatigue and duress.
I need a people who can fill me up after giving all that I have to a broken world.
I need people who can love me apart from my work in the Church.
I need my family.
I need to go home.
So after much prayer and discernment, I have decided to step down from my position at South Tryon Community Church and will be returning to Columbus, Ohio to spend time with my family. I have several opportunities to serve in Ohio but I have not yet chosen which community I will be serving. I have resisted choosing a community at random just so that I can say I have my next steps planned out.
I would like to thank the Western North Carolina Conference, my mentor James Howell and the Myers Park family for their support in my work and for their support as I took time to discern my calling.
Finally, I would like to thank my beautiful and cherished South Tryon Community Church. I strolled up with a call to ministry, a bible, and a miniskirt and they loved me, supported me, and allowed me to lead them from the first day to the last day. They have been my family. They have been my home. And I am grateful.
The Reverend Tiffany Thomas
South Tryon Community Church