“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.”
These two Bible verses are among my very favorites. I find that, to the extent that I can live my life according to these verses, I can count on living in that blessed state of knowing that I am exactly where God wants me to be; doing what God would have me to do today.
It’s not always easy. In my experience, sometimes God’s direction has been so subtle that I wasn’t sure it was God’s direction, until my decision had been made and a subsequent “Aha!” moment allowed me to see, in retrospect, that God had, indeed, brought me to that place or moment in my journey. Other times, I have felt certain that God was directing my path. I just couldn’t tell you how I knew that. I just knew in that “other way of knowing.”
Conventional wisdom says that “you can’t go home again.” That is not the case for me, at this point in my life and ministry; and I am profoundly grateful for that. God has directed my path back home in more ways than one.
Geographically, I have returned to my “home of choice.” I spent 19 years in Durham, before moving away for the last five years. I raised my sons here. I came out – first to myself and then to others – here. I went through the hell of being terrified of going to Hell because of this truth I faced about myself here. I was re-educated, theologically, here; and made the life-transforming choice of relationship over religion – authentic relationship with God over religious conformity. The first church I joined, besides the one in which I was raised, was Imani MCC; where I preached my first sermon, as an “unofficial” minister.
During subsequent years spent at St. John’s MCC, in Raleigh, the spiritual healing that was begun at Imani progressed to the point where I acknowledged and embraced the call to ministry from which I’d been running since my teens. In late 2007, I accepted the call to my first pastorate, at MCC-New Haven (CT); and moved there in January 2008. By the end of 2011, I knew I was being directed to resign that pastorate. I honestly had no idea what God had in store for me, in terms of future ministry. In my discomfort with not knowing, I tried to figure it out. I came up with a couple of ideas, but couldn’t “land” on any of them. The “Aha!” that I needed to confirm those ideas as leadings of the Spirit just wouldn’t come.
What did come – and stayed in my mind – was the thought that I was headed back to North Carolina. I couldn’t make any sense of that at all. At the end of 2011, all of the North Carolina MCC’s had settled pastors, as far as I knew. Why were BJ (my partner) and I both so convinced that God was going to send us back to NC? Was the call to plant a new church? For a while, I thought so; because that was the only way I could see for me to be what God called me to be – a pastor – in NC. But the “Aha!” wouldn’t come to confirm that idea either. I had to face it – God had distinctly led me to give up the pastorate in New Haven, but was not talking about what was up for me next. I was anxious to know; but I would have to wait until God chose to reveal it.
The waiting was a mixed bag of intense emotional ups and downs. I’m sure there’s material for future blogs in those 15 months. For now, I’ll fast forward to the day that I woke up with the thought in my mind, “Call Rev. Elder Lillie Brock.” A friend had suggested that I do that weeks earlier, but I hadn’t yet. That day, I woke up knowing it was time. When I called, it turned out that earlier that very same day, my friend, Rev. Phil Matthews, had informed Rev. Lillie that he was feeling Spirit-led to resign his pastorate of Imani. And, just like that, it all made sense.
The church in which I was raised – which gave me the foundation on which I stand to this day – was called “Faith Tabernacle.” Now I am the Interim Pastor of the first church to which God led me from there – Imani – the Swahili word for “faith.” Don’t even try to convince me that is a coincidence!
I am home – geographically, vocationally, and spiritually, and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t know exactly what lies ahead in this new chapter, but my plan is to keep following the advice that has never let me down; the advice that brought me home: ”Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.”
My prayer is that the paths of others, who are meant to be a part of Imani’s next chapter, will be directed here as well. I pray especially for those who feel alienated from God and/or from church. You can come home again, too. We’ll be here for you when you’re ready.
Grace and Peace,