Religious leaders can be towers of strength and beacons of faith. But they are human and not immune to the personal crises — including crises of faith — that many experience from time to time. This week’s clergy discuss how a challenging period changed their approach to ministry.
The Rev. Lindsay Lunnum
Rector, Zion Episcopal Church, Douglaston
I used to pride myself on being cool in a crisis. When I was younger, I yearned to be at the center of disasters and mayhem because it made me feel important. I would know in the moment what I needed to do.
Now I am the parent of a child with special needs, and I'm in crisis on an almost daily basis. This experience has made me both painfully and joyfully aware that I am not in control of the universe. Before autism entered my life, I had the illusion that I had more power to control situations.
As an educated, middle-class, white, neurotypical American, it was easy to trust in my own capabilities; but parenting my son completely dissolved that notion. There is no parenting manual, no class, no expert doctor, who can teach me how to calm my son in the middle of a meltdown. In those moments of crisis, I am acutely aware that I am not God.
The fact that I am not God is both a terrible truth and a wondrous miracle. It is in crisis that I am most painfully and joyfully aware that I am not in charge. It is a struggle to witness someone struggle, but joyful because when I realize I can’t save the day, I invite God to do it for me. In the moments when I let God be God, I am set free to be me.
Regional imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, with mosques in Amityville; Hollis, Queens; and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
It was 9/11/01. I was studying in high school when we all heard the bitter and horrific news that my birthplace had been attacked by terrorists; thousands of my fellow New Yorkers had been martyred.
The crisis became even more horrifying when all I could hear and see from every news channel and even the village gossiper was that this was an attack by Islam. Because I was the only Muslim in the school, my father feared the reaction of others. But what we experienced next turned crisis into hope. People came to our mosque and asked why the gates had been closed while giving reassurances that they were aware of our peaceful teachings. This reaction sparked an interest that led me to eventually become an imam, a goal and dream to continue sharing the peaceful teachings of Islam while commending the American spirit of tolerance and inclusion.
The prophet Muhammad was faced with immense instability for his pursuit of peace and happiness of faith. Whether it was the attack on his daughter causing her unborn child to be martyred, or the three-year boycott that eventually took the life of his wife and uncle, at every crisis, personal and otherwise, he showed patience and resilience in the face of negativity and danger.
If we desire lasting peace, everyone should stand by our community's motto of “Love for all, hatred for none.” Far too many suffer from a lack of basic necessities while we here in America enjoy the unveiling of the newest iPhone. To be human is to love God and his children. May we all realize our responsibility in achieving peace; for lasting peace warrants empathy of great proportions.
The Rev. Wendy C. Modeste
Pastor, United Methodist Church of Bay Shore
It was my personal faith crisis that brought me to a place that was intended to crush me; instead, it benefited me. No, the pain, humiliation, and persecution were not good at the time. It was a very difficult time in ministry for me before coming to my current appointment, where I found what every pastor desires in ministry — the genuine support of leaders and congregants. Over the past three years, I’ve experienced not only the compassion and love of God but the genuine support of serving in ministry with one of the greatest congregations, one with professional, committed and dedicated leaders. “It was good that I have been afflicted; that I might learn God’s statutes.” (Psalms 119:71) Had God not allowed me the experience of affliction, my knowledge of God would be superficial. Through the tears and heartaches, I’ve learned from God’s word how to fully trust God.
Leading our members to believe that God will provide the financial means of restoring our church was a move of pure faith. What seemed an impossible task, to repair and paint our 1867 fellowship hall and 1893 sanctuary, has personally transformed me and members of the congregation. Together with the board of trustees, we’ve put our faith in God. It is through the crisis situations that we lean on God. Within five short months, a bank account that had started with $2,800 has nearly $200,000. The earlier affliction was not pleasant, but the experience left me wiser, stronger and closer to God.