This has been a set of tumultuous weeks amongst tumultuous weeks.
Alongside the regular routines and crises/graces of the parish's life in Christ, there have been moments of stress and epiphany that have kept me wondering at how great God is, that "all things" are continually given to us.
Two weeks ago, my new assistant rector moved into her new apartment in New Hope. Actually, and more accurately, she moved her stuff in. Her presence won't really be felt in the community until next week. She had a great deal to take care of in her transition from seminary to parish, and from being a deacon to being a priest to the wider Church.
That moving in entailed, as it too often does, some logistical worrying over "the stuff that does not fit." Two bookcases and a couch had to find their way up here to the Rectory, so L and I took the moment to offer up dinner to Mariclair, her mother and a friend.
That is where things began to twist out of our mortal and predisposed intent...and took on a more universal beckoning to live peacefully in the wider chaos of life. To put it bluntly, on the way to dinner in New Hope, L and I had a deer quite literally jump onto the car. The damage to the deer seemed considerable, but God-willing it was survivable. She did run off in the end, and the policeman summoned to the accident and I could not find her in the underbrush (no picture available-but imagine an Episcopal priest in suit pants and clerical shirt beating the bushes with a peace officer with the intent to put down a mortally wounded deer...tragic with comic undertones-and I snagged a chigger bite or two out of the ordeal). In the words of "thank God for insurance and that no one was hurt" we went on to have a good meal-Mariclair having her first regional taste of a cheesesteak hoagie. Amen.
From there, we moved on to Mission Philadelphia and the grace that is that time of life in the parish. I had to deal in the early morning with the insurance company, but was able to win enough of the day free to be able to head down on the Wednesday for the community picnic and for some all-too-brief time working with our youth.
I was given a moment of grace as I drove down through Overbrook (in the OTHER car this time) and went on a hunt for the group. As the blocks and turns right and left stacked up, I found myself driving past lot after lot that has been claimed/reclaimed by the people of the Urban Tree Connection, Trinity Church and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Mission Philly's efforts are more subtle than Philadelphia's famous murals, but the impact is just as deep with regard to community pride and identity. Each time I passed a garden, pass through or reclaimed lot, I found myself saying "Thank God," over and over again. Like staring deeply at the back of your hand, and finding something novel to wonder at (try it, you will notice something that you hadn't before), I saw grace and love at work.
That vision was borne out in the work of the youth after the picnic. In a short hour or two, one of the first gardens built years ago was cleaned up and refreshed. Hedges and undergrowth were trimmed up and cleared out, trash was collected and flat upon flat of annuals were planted...and everybody worked for the greater good. Now, before you feel that this is some Utopian dream come true, realize that it is more than just good work being done in the name of God. People are learning all the time in witness to those gardens. They are learning to NOT see a vacant lot as something lost, but as a blank canvas with potential for new life. They are learning to trust people from outside who want to come in to help. The youth are learning to work hard, and to innovate with plans fall through. In the same way that doe on the way to dinner invited us to embrace being in the moment and to be willing to give up the plan in front of us for the gift of reality, those youth are learning to embody true discipleship in Christ through their service to a community-as a group that was there before they arrived and will-God willing-be present long after their graduation to other ministries and lifepaths.
I am chewing on that as we journey through all of the transitions that Trinity faces now and for the coming months. Very little that has been our assumed and presumed reality in relationships between parish and staff will remain after the completion of Kyle's and Caroline's tenures on staff and their transition back to regular membership in the congregation. New paths will be formed as Mariclair enters into priestly service to this parish, and as we prepare for a period of reflection and discernment, and a search process, for the person(s) who will succeed Kyle. There is optimism and anxiety, hope and fear, joy and sadness, excitement and grief...and all these will need to be embraced and addressed in turn, in person and in groups in order to us to discover the new present God is calling us to embrace.
It would be easy to think past the work immediately ahead...but take a lesson from that moment in the car I had when I was driving by those gardens in search of the inimitable Nissan van that Kyle drives hither and yon...those gardens exist only because year after year the people who support and participate in Mission Philly have worked to create, and sustain, those places in turn.
There is something about that image: God "working in us more than we can ask or imagine;" that gives me no small degree of personal hope. We are on our way...