by Michael Kelly
that day’s program, Howard Axelrod, who had suffered an injury which seriously affected his vision. This event led Mr. Axelrod to spend more than a year living in solitude, in an isolated cabin in the woods. I’ve long wished to do something like that (though perhaps for not quite as long!), so I listened with great interest to his story and how that time in solitude transformed him.
To the best of my recollection, Mr. Axelrod had been headed in a certain career direction, but the injury and subsequent period of isolation caused him to re-evaluate everything about himself and to alter the trajectory of his life and career.
After hearing this, I had to chuckle to myself because Mr. Axelrod’s story follows a familiar pattern, which typically goes like this: a person pursues a specific career path, finds success, and then at some point (usually the proverbial “mid-life” point) they experience an epiphany and decide to give up their successful business career in order to head into pastoral ministry, or something of the sort. I chuckled, because I, too, identify with that kind of mid-life change, and the gratification that such a change brings to life.
However, the particulars of my story are very much the opposite of the usual tale. You see, I started my working life as a pastor, and continued on this path for 17 years. But even early on, I realized that I was on a trajectory that I did not want to be on. Like Mr. Axelrod described in the radio interview, I did not like where I was, nor the facade I had to portray, but the positive reinforcement from parishioners, and their appreciation of my work kept me in a life I did not want.
After working as a pastor for a few years, I recognized something was amiss, not only with my choice of vocation, but also with the very narrow theological tradition to which I had committed myself. So I decided to spend some time studying at the ICS, beginning in the fall of 1997. I was at once overwhelmed and excited by my studies, and with the people I met. My time at ICS opened up an entirely new way of apprehending my own faith and my place in the world, and I began to see that I needed to find an authentic way to become an “agent of redemption” without limiting myself to being a pastor.
Alas, life events (and positive feedback) kept me in that vocation for a while longer. But eventually, after years of unhappiness and relatively poor remuneration, I finally reached a point when I decided that enough was enough, and I left ministry for a career in sales. I very quickly realized success, not only financially, but never before have I experienced such professional and personal gratification. My career in business fulfills me in a way that my work as a pastor never did, as ironic as that may sound. I am always thinking about my job, I talk animatedly about my job (something I never did before), I innovate, I help to train new recruits, and I am constantly seeking to become better at all that I do. In truth, I left ministry… to find my true calling.
So, I wrote a letter to the Tapestry program, thinking they might read my letter on air. Instead, they were very intrigued and wanted to interview me, so I obliged!
Editor’s note: Michael Kelly’s interview on Tapestry will air on Sunday, January 17, between 2-3 PM, and can be streamed from the program’s web site thereafter.
Cabin image used under creative commons, used from Wikipedia.