On Monday morning I stumbled across the photo stream of a man who I respected for a while twenty-three years ago. He was my youth minister at Beech Street FBC, back when I was an evangelical born-again. In his stream, he posted old photos of his time there, the years he was at the helm of the youth in his congregation, leading, teaching, preferring. Among the fuzzy-faced kids in those pictures, faces beaming with purpose, camaraderie, inclusion, there were a few of me, standing in the background.
For years I walked in his flock; I hung out with his sheep. They knew me, and I knew them. But even in the middle of things, I still felt like the outsider. As it went, my sister and I were the charitable causes of the church. We couldn’t afford the numerous trips and excursions the group went on, so the youth minister, seeing how fervent we were, made calls and found donors to sponsor our way. It was a good thing to have done. Good for a while. But charity cannot buy company.
After a few years of this, the flavor of my relationship with him changed. It became a relationship based on me asking for help, and he being the provider. He took interest in helping, because it was his mission and calling, but towards the end, when he talked to me, he wasn’t talking to Shawn the fellowship member, he was talking to Shawn the needy. He never sat me down and explained the rules of life, how I needed to step up and earn my keep. Instead, it was the same line of charity until I graduated out of the youth group.
Following my exit from the faith, it took me a while to reflect on this and understand what went on. I wasn’t among his friendly charges in the youth group; I was the obligation. All of my prior perceptions of his interest and genuity flew out the window. He did what he did, and it damaged my respect for him.
I saved a few of the pictures from his stream, most of the ones I’m in. Little low-res reflections to bolster my memories of what I used to be. The wide-eyed, pimply-faced kid from the wrong side of the tracks, surrounded by the well-heeled fresh faces of the kids who, save for a few, didn’t really know me. I’ll file the photos away and move on with my life. Everybody changes.
In some small way, I hope he tries to contact me. Maybe then I’ll tell him as much.