I wouldn't give up a moment of being a priest...And of being the rector of this church.
That being said, some times the experience of being a priest...And sometimes the experience of being the rector of this church...Is almost too challenging.
The past couple of days have been some of the richest of my tenure here. I wish I could say that it was because of "good news." This is not really the case. The reality of the past few days has been centered for me around some pretty intense and profound pastoral challenges. At one level, I have been struggling with what is happening in Louisiana. I have a friend who is the dean of the Cathedral in New Orleans. I knew he and his wife from my days in Ohio, at seminary and immediately after. David, Karen and their children were/are lucky. They are not in the city right now. David is in Baton Rouge, working with the bishop to reform the diocesan offices in the state capital. Karen has their children in Little Rock, Arkansas. They are safe, but I am aware of just what a crazy life they will be leading for the next couple of years. David was working on some renovation at the cathedral just months ago. Now what? And what of his worshipping community? What is going on there? I also know the rectors/priests of a couple of parishes down in N.O.; and I worry about them. A couple of years ago I attended a major conference in the city. I walked the streets that are now hidden by flood and prowled through by looters. What becomes of them?
Here on the home front things aren't rosy, either. The parish is going to be struggling with the reality of the economic crunch. Fuel oil is going to triple as an expense for us this winter. An already strained budget is going to be stretched even further...And as we go into stewardship season, there is not any one person to go to for help...Nor any one place to look to in the budget to cut. It is in so many ways a make or break moment for the parish. We will learn a lot about ourselves in the coming months. If we are going to continue to grow and evolve and live the life of Christ as it has been imagined for us in this place, then what we do to support that expectation is going to be challenged in some significant ways.
I honestly don't know what sort of parish we will be at the end of 2006. The only thing I do know is that we will not be who we are right now.
Like any crisis, though, I know that opportunity is just waiting to be seized and activated. In martial arts training, the Japanese refer to these moments as "tsuki" or openings. Openings are neutral. They simply exist. What defines you is how you respond to them.
Some of our openings:
a deficit budget
rising fuel prices and a tough winter ahead, economically
distinct and pressing issues in the physical plant
continued repayment of debt incurred from the construction in 2000
To be honest, I see all of these crises as opportunities. The parish, as a whole, has a chance to learn how to see with open eyes what needs to be done...And to realize that the only people to rely on to do it will be their own selves. Solutions and resolutions will arise from what we choose to bring to the table. At the end of the day, what we accomplish...And what we do not accomplish...Will be a hallmark, not just of what we DO; but of who we are.
It is a pretty good set of problems to have. Look at it this way. At least we have a dry, safe, warm place to work, worship and live. There is not eight feet of water in the sanctuary. There are the resources in the community we share to resolve the deficit, do the repairs and continue to grow the program and budget.
It is all possible. These goals are achievable. What is broken can be fixed. What is lost can be restored.
All things are truly possible when the will of the people is invested and vested with the will of God.
We just have to get down to it.