Dear St. John’s,
It’s been just over a month since I began as your Priest-in-Charge. Thank you for the warm welcome. The local artwork which you gave me has found a home by my kitchen window. The parish has found a home in my heart as you have persevered through technical challenges and cold mornings to come together online and outdoors. There have been many moments of joy in the ministry so far: heartfelt one-to-one conversations, hearing old familiar hymns in person after many months without music, and walking through Walpole with many of you on the CropWalk. The grief and hardship of the pandemic have also been ever present. Our one-to-one connections have happened through masks. We have listened to hymns together but not been able to sing. At every in-person gathering of the church I’m also aware of the absence of those who cannot physically risk attending.
In the midst of these joys and challenges, a parishioner asked me recently, “So, what does leadership look like for you here?” It’s an excellent question. Knowing that others likely have the same question I wanted to put a few thoughts in writing for the whole parish. A clergy mentor offered me a phrase for thinking about the phases of beginning as a priest in a parish: learn, love, lead. For these first few months I’m focused on learning about this parish – the skills, gifts, and callings of individuals, as well as the history and identity of the parish. Out of these exchange I hope will grow the trust and love necessary for discerning together, “Who are we right now?” “Who is our neighbor now?” and “What difference do we believe God is calling us to make now?”
“Learn, love, lead” is all-purpose guidance for clergy beginning in a parish, but of course this time is unlike any other time. In light of the pandemic I have been meeting regularly with a worship task force to shift to outdoor worship. Now, as the cold sets in, we are exploring with the vestry and the diocese about worshiping indoors or resuming Zoom worship. Whatever decision is made it will involve input from the parish, consultation with the diocese, and discussion with the vestry. Along with worship, we must also learn to do annual convention, stewardship, the Christmas fair, and other rituals of this season in a new way.
The upcoming election also colors our start together. We can only guess at the outcome of the election and the fallout, but as Bishop Rob recently said, “It feels like a tinderbox.” The moment raises important questions for us about what faith in Jesus requires as citizens. How do we fulfill our baptismal vows to resist evil and to strive for justice and peace among all people? What does it mean to be political without being partisan? How can we collaborate with other churches in this work?
A final factor influencing my leadership at St. John’s is my call to be the Priest-in-Charge. A rector serves a parish for an indefinite amount of time. As Priest-in-Charge I have been called to serve the parish for two years. After that, in mutual discernment with the vestry, I could be a candidate for rector. In these two years my job is to help the parish examine its history and spiritual identity, enable new leadership, connect with the diocese, and ready the parish to welcome a rector (whether that’s me or someone else).
A colleague recommended an article recently entitled, “Transition is the new normal.” That title rings true for me for our beginning together. What will guide us through all the transition in the parish and the nation when even our worship varies with the season? Is it our baptismal vows? A parish mission statement? Prayer? Right now I’m finding comfort in the “cloud of witnesses”- both the local, living saints of this parish and those of our tradition whose lives are commemorated in A Great Cloud of Witnesses. On this day the Episcopal Church commemorates Francis of Assisi. Below is a prayer attributed to him. We can’t know what lies ahead, but may we can remind ourselves that a cloud of witnesses walks with us.
Yours in Christ,
A Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life