Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Endings and Beginnings

Yesterday we laid Elisabeth Catlin Fergusson to rest in the upper cemetery. Quite a sad day for many. For a woman in her late 80's, her path in recent years had been a hard one. She had struggled with declining health for quite a while. I had never seen her out of a wheel chair, or without oxygen. A member of this parish for over 50 years! She is one of several that represent a living link of Trinity, now, to its past. Her passing means that one more chapter of our life is closing, even while another opens. This morning, as I was driving my wife in to this morning's centering prayer, we cut through the cemetery. Since January, I have laid three to rest up in that area where the "Church Triumphant" rests in Christ. John, Flossie and now Betty. I will miss them all. Betty's passing was a tough one. I baptized and married off her grand-daughter just last year. She had made the wedding. I saw her at Easter services. She sang her favorite hymns from her chair. I nearly forgot to bring her communion...And when I went back to retrieve her wafer and some wine, she actually attempted to rise up to stand while she took it!

Betty was a true woman of her age: a society girl who rose to the call to serve in WWII as a Red Cross volunteer. She traveled the world, was a faithful member of this parish and a beloved friend of many. She will be missed.

After the funeral, I had to tear in to a day's worth of work with only a few hours before the first strategic planning meeting of my tenure as rector. Not an easy process. We are restarting something that in the best of all world we should never have set down. Still, with all that went on in the past year, from leadership transitions to the financial crisis, from startups to startovers, we have had perhaps, maybe, ten minutes to think strategically. Most of the response from leadership, including my own, has been tactical. We are responding. Honestly, and in the opinion of most in the room, that seems to be Trinity's "way of being." For the better part of the last decade, we have been in crisis mode. That can create an adrenalin junkie out of even the most even tempered of people. We are conditioned to that sense of response.

Still, we have a good foundation. The first phase of the strategic plan has some good bones. We have some cogent short term goals that go somewhat beyond "O My God, we have to FIX it!" Still, once the evening was done, we had only three short term projects to explore and no long term issues to address. That will come with time. I have confidence in the ministry and the process. The best part of the evening came when the question arose..."But, in the end, WHO ARE WE? We used to know. Things have changed. It is going to take some time to figure out just who we are, again."

It is a beginning. Most things are, come to think of it...Even endings.

I was impressed with that fact in the morning. At FreshStart, we welcomed the Rev. Sharline Fulton. She led us in some spiritual exercises that helped me to clear my mind from some of the fog of the last few weeks. We started off with a poem by Walter Bruggeman. He is a biblical scholar, and I was unaware of this collection of meditative, poetic responses to text that he had written. Here is the one offered yesterday that slowed me down a bit:

The Din Undoes Us

Our lives are are occupied territory...
occupied by a cacaphony of voices,
and the din undoes us.
In the daytime we have no time to listen,
beset as we are by anxiety and goals
and assignments and work,
and in the night the voices are so confusing
we can hardly sort out what could possibly be your voice
from the voice of our mothers and our fathers
and our best friends and our pet projects,
because they all sound so much like you.
We are the people over whom the word shema has been written.
We are listeners, but we do not listen well.
So we bid you, by the time the sun goes down today
or by the time the sun comes up tomorrow,
by night or by day,
that woul will speak in ways that we can hear
out beyond ourselves.
It is your speech to us that carries us where we have never been
and it is your speech to us that is our only hope.
So give us ears. Amen.

That struck me throughout the day: As I rushed back from Ardmore to Solebury, from meeting to funeral. As we laid Betty to rest. (I realized that not so much speak the words at a funeral as instead we listen to the silences grow between words spoken. That is true mourning. The silence observed.) Finally, sitting with Strategic Planning to begin anew. And anew, we pray that same poem. The first step is listening...Deeply.


  1. Gotta’ tell you, Marshall - Reading this has filled me with more hope than I've had in a long time. I - and I know that I'm only one voice - truly need for you to slow down and listen to the silence that is mourning. In addition to Betty Ferguson, we have a past that we need to lay to rest, with respect, so that we can move on. I’m thinking that Carol Shepard was really on to something when she invited us to acknowledge our leaving the gym in a major way so that we would not forget the passage. It was only Sugan Road and it may as well have been the Red Sea…

    Following on the thoughts of Monday night, if we are a transitional church – (and isn’t every living entity transitional?) I can’t say loudly enough that we need to know from whence we came. What was it that drew all of us here – you included? If “Gen Xers” think they're here because their children need to be spiritually schooled, they underestimate their children. They will figure out the truth - it has to be more than a little meaningful to their parents for them to get "IT". And it is more than a little meaningful!

    Please excuse me but all of this seems to be so simple - we are here because we are on a "spirit filled" quest to live out the Gospel - and Trinity 'FEELS GOOD' -and we want more! I feel strongly that our job - as those who 'glow' - is to invite - and seduce everyone into where they belong among us, in such a way that they’re in and glad!

    Thanks for sharing – see you on Sunday!

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