Wow. I just checked in with my own blog and realized that I have not posted in a couple of weeks. I wonder what led to that? Oh, yeah, Christmas.
Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday (Advent 4) was a pip this year. It has only happened to me once before, back in the day. I remember that celebration being odd and stressful. This one was much the same. We had good crowds for morning and evening liturgies, basically holding to the same numbers as last year. I got the sense that fewer people were travelling this year, which is a bit odd. With a congregation trending toward the younger demographics, I expected more folk to be going to family gatherings. It seems that more people were hosting families in the near vicinity. Good for the pews, puts a nice load on them and brings more souls to us for worship. Full pews warm hearts on Christmas Eve, though it can be distracting to arrive 1/2 hour early for a service only to find the place already full! Sometimes in these days I find myself wondering if I will get a seat at the main service!
Moving on from Christmas to New Year's was somewhat of a rest, in that Laura and I went to my sister's place in WV. A pleasant drive out on Tuesday morning, some time with family (Laura, my 'rents, Lib's Husband, and the family dogs). Got a new samurai movie and some cook books from family, along with a great t-shirt from my sis with a funny stick figure in vestments over the caption "I preach" on the front, with "And what do you do?" on the back. My gifts from L were wonderfully home-based: a dart board for the basement and a cardigan--so at last I think I am settling in to "country" life on our little slice of land here in Bucks County--what we sometimes affectionately refer to as "God's .18 acre."
I am still moving through the search for nominees for vestry. At about 50 percent, this has been a frustrating season for me. Some positions were easy to fill, with people literally saying "yes" without hesitation or after a short period of discernment. Some positions languish. On one, I have already asked six people. On two more, I worry that we will not find willing leadership.
I am seldom so transparent about these things at this stage of the game, but I think it will be something that the parish and I will need to have a conversation over in the near and continuing future. As Trinity grows, and we are growing right now, we need to be willing as members of this community to lead it. Sometimes that means being willing to commit to life in the pew on a regular basis, or to volunteering to help with a ministry initiative. Sometimes that means accepting a call to risk self in leadership. Not an easy task, and one of the hardest I think to take on, beyond ordination, in the Church.
I was talking to a former warden of this parish last night and sharing these concerns. He offered up a thought that has stayed with me: when someone takes on leadership in a parish, they face not only the challenge of leading others, but when they realize that this is not a "club officer" role, the dawning sense of being at risk in their own selves comes in to play. Leading in Church means being held up to the same criticism that Jesus himself faced. Read the Gospels. Scribes, pharisees, members of the crowd, even the disciples and members of his own family continue to second-guess him, to challenge him. Finally, he is lifted up. Not exactly a great poster child for "the Church wants you," don't you think? What business do any of us have in thinking that we would want to spend our lives serving such a body?
I took that on with joy over a decade ago when the Church consented to fasten a collar around my neck. I watch my father, the Senior Warden at his church, struggle with people he has known for over thirty years as they challenge him, disappoint and happily surprise him in his role of leadership. I have friends who are bishops, priests, deacons and laity that struggle daily to faithfully lead. How can I help, and help others to, support them in this walk in Christ that too often is seen to lead over fields of broken glass or hot coals?
Simple, model faithful leadership as a rector (more on that later), and remind them and myself that this is all worth it. Because, what we see as we labor is that the Church continues to unfold as the Body of Christ in the world. Despite controversies, schisms, petty and major clashes over politics, theology and personal perspectives the leadership of the Church, at parish, diocesan, national and provincial levels forges hope for a broken world. This is not easy work, but it is the best work.
I have a friend who is a blacksmith, and he has talked to me about the challenge of molding raw iron into useful items. It is both craft and art form. With heat, pressure and impact the hammer and anvil work together with the muscle and heart of the smith to form what is yet to be...some vision that lives right now only in the eye of the smith.
That is the tough part. How do I invite people into work that will give them blisters, heat rash, sore muscles and fatigue? All for the reward of probity and worry on the part of a world that might only just be able to hear the in breaking and slightly unbearable dream of God for us in the almost-yet-to-be?
Simple, you ask, and ask, and ask and ask.
And ask again.
to be continued...