August 22, 2011
Paranormal PastoringBy Rev. Sherrie James
When the editor of Ghostvillage.com, Deonnna Kelli Sayed, asked me to write an article about how I came to be an exorcist and one of the few mainline Christian pastors who speaks at conferences and ministers within the paranormal community, I was delighted -- momentarily. The reality was this abbreviated version of my spiritual journey was longer than expected and called for much more reflective thought than I ever anticipated. It also proved to be unexpectedly cathartic. This is Part I of my story.
PART 1 OF 2:
When I was turning 13 years old, three significant things dovetailed in my life. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I realized that I loved to write. Lastly, I discovered my interest in the supernatural.
As a teenager, I began my process of understanding the supernatural as simply another aspect of our world that falls under God's ultimate domain. I continually devoured anything that I could find about the supernatural and ESP. I saw no opposition between believing in Christianity and believing in the existence of the supernatural, especially in terms of parapsychology. The Bible told stories of demons, angels and even ghosts as well as of people who predicted the future. I believed that the negative and darker aspects of the supernatural were nothing that God could not handle. Those early and simple spiritual understandings would remain as life-long keystones for exorcisms and for my ministry within the para-community.
Two other relevant things happened during my teenage years. One was that our family visited the USS North Carolina. When I was down in the ship, I felt my first cold, sort of electric tingle sensation that some people experience when a ghost is present. I was so frightened by what I felt, but had no idea why. When I finally felt that sensation again years later, I immediately knew what it was. (I eventually started to call this particular sensation a Spiritual Energy Tingle or SET because I felt that unique para-sensation needed a name.)
The second thing that I actually "felt" for the first time was the presence of tangible evil.
My friend and I had left my house one night and were walking around the neighborhood. Talking about boys and teenage things, we turned down this neighborhood street that I traversed regularly. We had walked a little ways when our conversation suddenly paused without reason. Without ever saying a word to each other, our steps slowed until we stopped. I just 'knew' if we walked any further that something horrific would happen. I then sensed something absolutely EVIL. Still without speaking, we both turned at the same moment and we ran as fast as we could back to my house. When we finally were safely inside, I turned to her and cried, "What WAS that?!" She responded, "I don't know!"
Skip ahead to my 20s. I joined the Episcopal Church and the next major step toward becoming a minister in the paranormal community occurred. Whenever possible, I heard an Episcopal priest by the name of Father Al Durance speak. He taught about healing and I learned about 'deliverance' ministries, where a person is delivered from demons. In a most dignified and non-dramatic way, I watched him call forth demons out of people who desired it or to pray for the healing of those who were sick, including mentally and emotionally.
Still, I was skeptical. Often, a noticeable physical response occurred with the person being delivered, but seldom in a scary or extremely vocal way. Was this all just in the person's mind? Were these exorcisms/deliverances perhaps purely psychosomatic? My conclusion was, "Probably!" Then I pondered if that really mattered. I reasoned that these people were being helped and were being delivered of what possessed them, if only from the imagined demons of his or her own mind, which potentially could be as harmful as actual demons.
With that said, I also am convinced that in other instances, a demonic entity - an individual and living life force -- was truly present. Some exorcisms or deliverances that I witnessed had a different 'feel' to them. Without really realizing what was happening, I was beginning to learn to discern the presence of actual demons.
I also was being highly influenced by Father Al's particular way of dealing with the negative. I heard him speak about his more intense exorcisms. Still, he made it seem like it was no big thing because it was viewed simply as something God called one to do and then empowered the person for that ministry. Being an exorcist was no more impressive to God than doing any other form of ministry.
I became a member of St. Luke, the Physician, a group of clergy and non-clergy who felt called to serve God using their charismatic gifts of healing and discernment. I did not stay a member long, but what I was required to do to become a member aided my future ministry greatly. I had to study each of Jesus' interactions in the Bible that had to do with healings and demonic encounters. I had to answer a series of detail-oriented questions that made one truly think about and dissect those Scriptures to fully comprehend the encounter.
After years of doing inner-healings, occasional exorcisms and youth ministries, I felt called to full-time ministry and discovered all that entailed. I went back to college and obtained my undergrad degree with a double major in Religion and in Writing. I attended seminary at Duke, where I was good-naturedly teased and called a mystic by some of my fellow seminarians. I remember my surprise and confusion when I first began to realize that most seminarians had no experience with the more spiritually actualized side of Christianity. Discovering that my charismatic experiences apparently were not the norm inspired me to be more tolerant of where others were on their faith journeys. The other major realization for me during seminary was discovering that my theology was more Methodist than Episcopalian, and I eventually switched denominations.
After I graduated from Duke, I spent a year doing a Clinical Pastoral Education/CPE residency at a Wilmington hospital, where I explored my desire to become a psychiatric chaplain. I had to learn how to be religiously politically correct to patients of all faiths or to those who held no beliefs. That training and those diverse religious interactions would help me in the future to better relate to those of differing beliefs, especially within the para-community.
Instead of becoming a full-time chaplain, however, I became a full0time parish minister. I continued to read about the supernatural and parapsychology, and to express my more charismatic gifts on the rare occasion with people I trusted, but I mostly focused on other pastoral duties and mandates. During my seven years of parish ministry, I learned that being a 'mystic' type of minister still was not encouraged any more than it had been in seminary. I tried to play by their rules and live by their expectations but I now realize they seldom resonated with whom I truly was or was called to be. I eventually became so disillusioned with the United Methodist Church's leadership and their actions that I voluntarily giving up my ministerial standing.
About three months after leaving the Methodist Church, I saw my first episode of Ghost Hunters. I was aghast. I thought it was spiritually dangerous to try to interact with ghosts and that these ghost hunters were potentially influencing people to go explore things that people had no business becoming involved with without knowing what they were doing. I mean, did those idiots just not understand how dangerous the supernatural -- they called it the paranormal --- could be?!
I kept watching each week. I was spiritually a mess. I was depressed and so angry at my former denomination. I was so spiritually broken and so disillusioned with organized religion. I never left God or questioned Jesus' love, but I felt like I did not belong anywhere. I never felt 'uncalled' to ministry. I even still considered myself to be a pastor because that was who God had called me to be. I was just without a congregation and without a denomination. I was religiously adrift and I needed time to heal. Something about the show drew me despite my misgivings.
In a strange twist, Ghost Hunters helped to remind me of who I had been spiritually. Somehow, watching Ghost Hunters reminded me of my happier spiritual days when I was involved with the more charismatic and intentionally metaphysically interactive side of ministry. The show reminded me of Father Al, of praying with people for healing, and the feeling of God working through me. It reminded me that people still were experiencing the demonic and that there still were those who needed help in dealing with the supernatural, ah, make that the paranormal.
Without telling anyone my past history as a minister, I began attending a Christian /Disciples of Christ Church in New Bern, North Carolina. I loved the fact that this church had Holy Communion every Sunday, which reminded me of my days as an Episcopalian. Mostly though, each Sunday that church offered me a place of solace and anonymity for my broken soul to heal.
I went on a few 'ghost hunts' by myself, which I know better than to do now. I bought my first piece of ghost hunting equipment. I had a demonic encounter, and that was an interesting reminder of the potential danger of what I was doing, but it also made me feel spiritually alive because I had to count on God for my protection. Strangely, I still felt more 'safe' encountering the demonic than I did attending church, but I was beginning to spiritually heal.
I moved back to my hometown. Eventually, I found work, not in ministry but in another helping field. I continued to watch Ghost Hunters. I also found another Christian Church/Disciples of Christ to attend.
Still unsure if it was a good idea, I joined my first ghost hunting group. It was strange situation. I was probably more experienced and better educated than almost anyone else about the demonic, spirituality and parapsychology, but I was a novice when it came to investigating. The members of that team were a mixed bunch. Eventually, the group split and five of us formed a new group.
I gathered my courage and told the church where I was attending that I was a former pastor. I was beginning to understand a bit about the denomination's general history of tolerance for allowing varying spiritual beliefs, which was refreshing. The church members accepted me for who I was. While our church was looking for a new minister, I preached some and led worship during much of Advent. That helped confirm to me that I still felt called to be a pastor in the pulpit. Many months later and after much prayer, I became a full member of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ denomination.
I attended my first paranormal conference, PSI:CON, at Lake Lure, NC, in 2009. (Still remains the best con I have ever attended! Joe Wright, it is time to put on another one!) There I met and drooled over Barrry FitzGerald, who I would later interview for two articles and who I still consider to be one of the nicest celebrities in the paranormal. I also met and investigated with some wonderful people who would become good friends, the members of NCHAGS. That con also was where I first felt a real ministerial call toward becoming a pastor to the paranormal community.
In Part II, Rev. Sherrie will continue to share her personal story about exorcisms and about how she came to minister and speak in the paranormal community.
The Rev. Sherrie James works in the paranormal and religious communities to help bridge the gap between religion and the paranormal. She writes and she speaks at conferences and on the radio to help educate about the spiritual and ethical aspects of paranormalogy and about negative hauntings. As part of her ministry, Rev. Sherrie acts as a paranormal crisis intervention specialist, and occasionally as an exorcist, as she assists clients and their families who are experiencing especially challenging or negative haunts. For more information, please go to her website, or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.