Saturday, September 08, 2007

A New Vision

For the past couple of months, I have been in dialogue with the wardens and my Rector's Advisory Committee about my personal vision for the parish. How am I going to address the deeper questions of leadership in Christian Discipleship that this parish is beginning to bite into and where do I want to attempt to get the vestry, the ministries and the population of this community to go? What do I want them to do? How do I want them to do it?

Now, before you get nervous and worry about my narcissistic tendencies...or begin to complain about some delusion of grandeur "who does he think he is, that he should be the one to come up with the vision for the whole parish?"...take a breath and walk with me for a while.

This issue has been before me for months, if not years. The role of the rector is one of immense responsibility in that I am called upon to articulate both a personal vision of the Kingdom of God for this parish...and assist in the community discovering its own awareness of a corporate call to follow God's will for us. NOT EASY.

First, there is the reality of distraction. I have been distracted quite a bit in the parish. Sometimes by money and fiscal issues. Sometimes by polity-driven stuff. Sometimes by pastoral concerns and quite often by the standard political and personal intrigues of parish life. Second, it takes time to get to know a place and a people. On the surface, Churches pretty much look alike. We might differ in worship, theology and politics...but for the most part we all labor to be a good strong community that praises God, seeks to serve neighbors as Christ enjoins us and attempt along that way to form faithful life practices that build up instead of tear down our bodies, our relationships and our selves. Still, parishes are like fingerprints...ubiquitous and unique at the same time, and they only yield up wisdom and knowledge when they are pondered in detail.

Now, after almost three years here, I am beginning to feel like I have begun to know Trinity, both as how it sees itself and as it might become. This is a remarkable parish, full of life, of people and of energy. Some of that energy can be raw at times. Compressed as we have become of late by the sheer press of people joining the Body, frictions do arise. Conflict is part of who we are, as is hardship, change and transition...and we all struggle to come to accord in it, with it and with each other as our responses vary from person to person and from point to point. What worked last week does not work this week...and what didn't work last week suddenly seems to be the recipe for success. This is Trinity. We are growing and changing, sometimes faster than our imaginations can compass, and that creates stress and worry.

It also creates opportunity. We are learning as a parish to embrace new ways of caring for each other and are being challenged to retool for what is about to be.

I am remembering the experience of packing for Boy Scout summer camp, years ago. The Scout motto is, "Be Prepared" and so we did everything we could to make sure we would have what we needed in our packs and baggage "just in case." The reality of life is that you can't pack for everything. Times and situations change. It has taken me years to learn that being prepared was not: 1) packing everything and the kitchen sink until you are paralyzed trying to second-guess "lady chance;" and 2) that "being prepared" means "being flexible." Travel light, with as little as you can imagine...combine as many tools into one multi-use item and pack for the season...and trust your neighbors along your projected path for support.

I am finally getting what Jesus was talking about when he enjoined those first apostolic missioners to travel light and not pack for every eventuality. We all, at some point, have to be willing to trust the road. We also have to be willing to allow the world to be itself. Rain, sleet, snow, or clear sky...we are in it and there is no other place to be, or thing to do, or person to be with than to be here, now and in fellowship with each other. So, where does personal vision slot into the corporate one coming down the pike?

Well, I am beginning to understand that it is my job as preacher, pastor and leader to listen...and then speak.

I have been listening for years now, and I think it is time to speak.

What is Trinity? What have I found in my tenure here? What are our strengths, our weaknesses and where might God be calling us in this world to be active in proclaiming the Kingdom's advent?

Simple: Hospitality and Mission. That is what Trinity embodies. People who come to us talk about the welcome they receive...both in service and in sacrament...and those who stay are passionately committed to extending that experience to more as they enter this way station on the road to discipleship. But, hospitality without something deeper that sends us back out of our own front doors with a need to serve is dead. Therein lies the call to mission. Do we act upon what we proclaim? This goes beyond simple good deeds for the poor at home or abroad. Real mission is being willing to take a personal experience of community from one place to another--to be an apostle of the kingdom, carrying the good news from one place to another. Trinity does that again and again...our parish is deeply committed to Mission Philadelphia, Tabasamu, the Seamen's Church, Aid for Friends, Peacemeal, Guatemala, Hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast and more...and NOT just because they are good deeds, but because the Christ we encounter here at 6587 Upper York Road beckons to us out there. Mission is not just service, but a deeper and more profound expression and response to hospitality.

What that means for Trinity? Holism and holiness of life. For too long, we have listed in this voyage over compartmental understandings of what it means to "be church." Time for us all to get on the proverbial bus and understand that each perspective has a role to play...and that Christ expects a great deal from us. Pledges, gifts and Fundraisers enable programs, ministries and missions. EVERY LITTLE THING DONE around this parish, from forging fiscal policy to ironing communion linens contributes to the whole. We are writing the story of the Body of Christ RIGHT NOW.

So...my vision for this parish? Simple: "We Welcome ALL in Christ." We welcome all people. We welcome all challenges. We welcome all sadness and joy. We welcome all opportunity. We welcome the stranger and the friend. We welcome pain and loss and conflict. We welcome success and abundance. All, in Christ...and all, for Christ.

I had an experience in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) that at the time it occurred somewhat marked me...but it has now in hindsight become a formative experience of the first order. On the oncology floor I was assigned to, there was a retired NYC policeman fighting leukemia. This guy was really sick. I saw him twice that summer, about four weeks apart, due to his chemo cycles. The first time he and I talked, he was struggling. His weight and his counts were down and he felt terrible. The second time I saw him, he was nearly in remission. His weight was up (thanks to his wife's homemade Brooklyn "gravy") and he was feeling better. This was what he said to me (and you will have to imagine his accent): "Rookie-Padre (he called me that), I finally think I got that hymn figured out...that one them shaker-Quakers sing..." "Seek ye first?" "Yeah, that one...you know, when they say seek, knock and all that? Then they say 'and all these things will be added unto you.' I think I finally understand that they really mean 'all these things.' They mean joy and pain...health and sick...all these things. My leukemia is as much a gift from God as my grandkids. And I guess that's that....what say?" He left me wondering, would I be willing to see "all these things" as gift from a living God, good and bad, as being for my benefit and grace? Years later, I am learning to say, "Yes." Perhaps, more appropriately, "Be it unto me, according to God's will."

I say he's still right, both in my life and in the life of this parish. Trinity has been knocking, and God has been answering, for years. Thing is, we forget from time to time that "all these things" really do flow from God. Some bring pain, some pleasure...but always they bring growth and change.

When "We Welcome All in Christ," we aren't just saving a seat for the visitor so they can slide in and join us in sublime contemplation of the beauty of fellowship, sanctuary and grace that we experience here daily...we are also and profoundly opening ourselves up to be touched by them and the presence of the living God the they bring with them...we are opening ourselves to be formed and reformed in each new chapter of this adventure of life...and we are, with God's help, called upon to offer up our spot at the last as a godly heritage to the ones who follow-even as we received from those who were before.

Kind of puts new color into the idea of dying...or being born...or even just being alive. So, let's try this on...."We Welcome All in Christ." Simple words...what say?

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