Well, the days grow short. Soon, I will board a plane that will take me from hearth and home to an Episcopal retreat center somewhere outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a professional/personal development conference that by its design is focused on helping me come to terms with my life/ministry to this point, to help me assess where I am right now and to begin to assist Laura and me in planning for the future.
I am nervous, and I wish that the conference were not so quite far away. I get so little time off anyway, that travel without spouse and pets feels like a tearing away and that is something I would like less of in life.
I am also beginning to chew on where all this Solebury experience might be taking us. Clearly, as in all calls to ministry, there is an inevitable "growing edge" that God has dreamed up in order to invite me and folks I am bound to pastorally more deeply into the mind and heart of the Creator. Still, growing pains do hurt. In every experience, I always come to several "dark nights" of the soul. Will I be able to lead these people through to what is next? What new wonders does our wilderness sojourn hold for us as we blunder through exile into the land of promise? What will we find when we get there? Perhaps the greatest sin for any priest--will I be able to cross the Jordan when we get there?
Remember, and look back in your own life: every truly great work begun brings an end and a transformation. We have to be willing to die to that old self in order to live again in the new and inbreaking world of what God intends for us. Just like turning a page in a book to begin a new chapter, there is a blank space we have to be willing to cross. Over and over again.
We had an interesting strategic planning meeting last night. Most of the conversation still revolves around the question of "how do we come to terms with who we are?" Things are changing rapidly. It is tough to keep up and maintain a sense of continuity in the midst of that. Most of our frustrations center around "we have not done it this way before..." But really, we have never been this big before. Debbie, the parish administrator, tells me that we have just crested over 330 households. These are all the people, from those who show up on a nearly daily basis to those who are considered for the most part as "peripheral" members. Some are lifelong citizens of the parish, and others have only arrived in recent weeks. All of them challenge us for a sense of vision, direction and identity. Who/what is Trinity and where are we going and how are we going to get there?
That is a tough question to ask and one that is even tougher to answer. I realized last night that even as we come to terms with being a "resource" parish in terms of size, as opposed to "program" or "pastoral," that I have a LOT of learning to do alongside the congregation. We are all in a new place... We are evolving...And the growth spurts will continue to disorient our original sense of being as we strive to come to terms with the becoming selves God is coaxing us into being.
It will mean, for most of us, being willing to be caught out in error--both in perception and in action. We can't always get it right, can't always presume that what has worked in the past will work for us just because it is precedent. Even relationships that were taken for granted need to be renegotiated. It is a fluid environment. God does some of her best work in that world...But humans get nervous. It is an old seaman's adage/prayer: "Dear Lord, the sea is so wide and my boat is so small." Truth. But, worrying over the height of the waves does us no good. This is the universe we are in, so now we will strive to thrive in it.
For me, that means asking some simple questions: What is Trinity's vision? How does Trinity interpret God's vision for us? What will Trinity look like 5-10 years from now? How do we create practices that will take us there?
Reid, the chair of strategic planning, came back into my office and expressed something that I have been racking my brain on for months: he remarked that he had been trying to see what the transition/tipping point was going to be for us as a parish. When were we going to notice the settling in to this new model of being? After talking for a bit I offered this: I don't think we can anticipate it. If I learned anything about growing up (as I continue to grow up), then it is the fact that it is only after the fact, with hindsight, that we see the transformation from one state of being to another. While it is happening, we feel stress, anxiety, depression and we worry we might not survive. After, we look back down the mountain and realize from a better perspective just how far we have traveled.
When I was a teenager, I found a book by Bill Mauldin on my dad's bookshelf. He was a WWII reporter and cartoonist who created the famous dogfaced soldiers "Willie and Joe." In one of those cartoons, the two soldiers are sitting on their jeep on a mountaintop while on a distant peak there is a waft of smoke and a sense of "someone over there." The soldiers wear surprised expressions--"Holy smoke, we wuz jus' there and they was jus' here!" What an epitome of parish life...We spend enormous amounts of energy moving from place to place pulling off event after event...
And we still get surprised when the morning fog clears and shows us new vistas.
Talk about growing pains.