Last night, a number of folks gathered for a training event/dry run of our Step UP! suppers. Sure, it was pizza and soda in a parish hall with no A/C on a muggy night...but there was grace enough abounding. Our stewardship chair, Otho Kerr, had been able to snag the Episcopal Church's national stewardship officer, Terry Parsons, for a rare parish visit...and she brought both a knowledge base and a spirit to the evening that ratcheted up Otho and his ministry's hard work to a degree I have not seen in parish ministry in a long time. Building on the hard work of the past couple of years, Trinity seems poised to begin a new era of stewardship...and I am truly excited by what is bubbling up from the many households committed to this journey in Christ.
Terry started us off with some basic leadership skills in leading a church meeting into a theologically sound and pastorally sensitive space. She provoked us with questions meant to draw out what we loved about Trinity, our joys and experiences of support and challenge over the past year that lead us to give thanks for this remarkable community and then she asked us what we thought might build up those experiences even more. What was shared were stories of outreach and pastoral surprises. People offered up some wonderful stories about how they were touched, supported and challenged by Trinity's mission and ministries throughout the past year and a half...from families being helped, to generational divides being overcome, from funerals to baptisms to weddings, from celebrations to service trips.
What a grace.
Terry was also surprised, pleased and provoked herself. She was getting ready to lead a clergy retreat in a couple of days, and one of the main themes was getting our slightly stodgy ranks to gear up with technology for a new millennium's work in Christ. She heard we had a wi-fi hotspot in the parish hall and thought that was awesome. Something to challenge those clergy with!
Otho's presentation was excellent...after all of that reflection on what is growing, vital and grace-filled at Trinity, we heard him talk about where we have been with regard to stewardship...and where we hope to go.
The next couple of weeks, we will see every household invited to one of these Step UP! dinners. I am truly looking forward to seeing both the experience permeate the parish...and toward the feedback we will receive as we continue to move forward in Christ.
After all, as Terry reminded us, good stewardship begins with offering up the first fruits of our labors and the gifts we have received from God...but it is in the delivery of those gifts to the work of the kingdom by which we distinguish ourselves.
And besides, the pizza was excellent!
On the other side of the spectrum, and indicative of how fast and completely the spectrum of emotional response can swing in the life of the clergy family, Laura and I will be going to Christ Church in Reading, PA today in order to support a friend and colleague as she prepares to lay her mother to rest in Christ. I am aware that both the laughter and the tears that will be shed and offered up later today do in fact relate directly to the experiences we all had last night...but it is still a long journey to take. From pizza to prayers, only a few hours...but the balance of human life is being summed up in the passing of these hours.
At the end of the day, Cali's mom is at the end of a long, hard journey-even as she begins a new one in the light of God's redeeming love. The grace of it was that she was able to traverse that sacred ground supported by family, friends and Church. Those final steps are a testament to the journey in faith that we are all taking, each in our own turn.
A community of faith goes beyond the petty budget battles and the worries about what changes threaten the stasis and equilibrium of our lives. The true, deep grace of life in community is that we are presented with a network of caring people who are invested in us for the simple reason that we share in the Body and Blood, in the baptism, of Christ. Living and dying, happy and sad, graced with scarcity or abundance in life...the community, if we allow it, will be there.
As it was last night, so will it be this afternoon...and as it will be in the days to come. Or, in the words of the great acclamation from the liturgy:
"Remembering now [Christ's] work of redemption, and offering this sacrifice of thanksgiving, We celebrate his death and resurrection, as we await the day of his coming" (Rite II, Prayer C)
That prayer never ends.