Monday, July 24, 2006

The Art of Listening

These next few months are a signal season of transition.

We have some very big work ahead of us as a parish: yesterday the vestry met to consider the calling of an clergy associate, and to commit to discernment over the next set of appointments to vestry as five of its members prepare to cycle into new ministry opportunities; the summer is ending (sad, but with only five weeks left, our faces need to turn toward the fall program kick-start), and that means seasonal actions begin--stewardship heats up with our fall pledge drive, and finance begins discernment over next year's budget narrative. So, we pray and talk about money, about vocation and about change in the leadership matrix of the parish for the next two to three months. On top of that, we also begin a new program year! Keeps me busy, I assure you.

This past week, I met with several people who are helping me, and the vestry, to look at ways we listen, work and pray together. Long term, we hope to begin to shift the culture of leadership from a "departmental" and administrative role to something that is based more on a foundation of spiritual discernment, communication and guidance for parish ministry groups and their wider constituencies. This evolution is going to take time, and it might sound esoteric to many, but shifting the way we look at ourselves as leaders, and how the people of God view their leaders, is an essential step in our being able to understand life as a "bigger" parish--allowing people to embrace, I hope, something beyond our current self-understanding.

This might sound ambitious on my or the wardens part; but it is really about the care, nurture and survival of healthy lay leadership for Trinity. In our current format and within our current culture, I get the sense that being a lay leader in this place is one, or both, of two things: eternal and sapping. When you have said "yes" to serving in this place in the past, you committed to being a leader in the parish for as long as you, or the ministries you serve, last. A terrible concept. A vestry/chair person with tenure? So, how does THAT feel? Are you running for the door yet?

I truly hope to change that idea, and to do it through listening and speaking/praying to something beyond the use 'em up model. What would it feel like to have a person cycling off vestry wishing they could serve longer?

So, we began last night with a meditation on 2 Kings2:1-5, where the prophet Elisha demands of Elijah and God a double share of the prophetic spirit. I asked the vestry to describe their reaction to this reading, couching it in terms of responding to Elisha's audacious attitude. What does it take to demand of God the tools we think we need to do the work of the Spirit? What does it say about us when we step up to the bar and say, "Give me what I need to do what I am called upon to do?" Is that being cheeky? Presumptuous? Arrogant?

Or are we finding new ways to be honest, courageous and in the best sense of the word, cunning?

Trinity has had a hard summer. Lots of crisis and death and sadness. It has also touched base and foundation with an awareness that in the midst of that loss we are reminded of being in community. Having someone beside you who knows your past, shares your present and is committed to your future is an invaluable gift, one that brings the greatest of blessings. As L and I prepare for some vacation time, I pray that Trinity will be ready to open a new chapter of that common life as we enter a new program year. It certainly feels like that is happening. Amen.

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