Greetings on behalf of the Bishop
You have been regularly in my prayers since I first learned of Bob’s retirement late last year.
During this time of transition and discernment – assure you of my support and that of the diocesan staff. (Jennifer has me on speed dial)
Changes in our lives – anxiety producing – personally whether a move, retirement, losing a job, finding a job, returning to school, getting married, having a baby, or caring for aging parents, changes create both fear and excitement
In the church – a change in clergy leadership, a change in the size of a congregation (either up or down), or a change in the resources of a parish – create fear, excitement, opportunity.
The change is situational; it just happens.
But the transition is more emotional – the transition is how we deal with the change, how we process it, react to it, and prepare for a new beginning.
Here’s a way to think about it as good Episcopalians – think catechism
What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
The outward and visible signs of change are that Fr. Schiesler has retired and is no longer present, and that somewhere God has another rector in mind who will show-up, and at least metaphorically, will start moving the furniture around as you embark on a new journey together.
Visible stuff happens
The inward and spiritual grace is the transition that will happen as you move through this time which organizational developers call the neutral zone, but in church talk we can call it the wilderness journey. It is the chaos time in which old forms dissolve and new forms emerge and take shape. Where we listen to the grumblings and rumbles and wonder what’s going on here? What are we losing and what might we gain? What attitudes and values do we hold? What new opportunities do we see before us? And how do we talk about these things?!
I gotta tell ya crazy things happen in times of transition. CRAZY THINGS. Somebody will think it’s a good idea to paint the parish hall magenta, and someone else will want to borrow or withdraw money from the endowment to build a youth center with a coffee bar and cinema, and someone else will wistfully ask for the 1928 prayer books back in the pews. People will get angry, sad, frightened, anxious and confused. Crazy stuff. And when you hear crazy stuff, listen, listen closely for the longing and hopes that are underneath the crazy stuff. You don’t need to react, you don’t need to admonish or put down, or say you’re crazy.
But you can say, why is that important to you? How might that help our mission? You can acknowledge the emotions of others without taking responsibility for them. And you can recognize that it’s all normal in times of change. You can also recognize that it will be almost impossible for the wardens and vestry to micro-manage a parish system as large and complex as St. Mark’s. So, trust your capable staff to do their jobs, be patient with your leadership, and offer your support.
Perhaps the best antidote to the normal fear and anxiety of transition times is expressed in this morning’s epistle of John:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
The love that John speaks of is not an idea, but a relationship. It is the love that abides in the relationship amongst the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is the love between God and creation, and it is the love between and among ourselves and the community around us. In fact, John says, those who love God must love their brothers and sisters. Here is a commandment and it speaks to our mission of reaching out in the name of God’s love, and if we stay focused on that mission that anxiety and fear of transition and change will be dispelled and even put to flight.
Today’s gospel further calls us into mission. Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the last supper – giving them their marching orders, and speaks of branches abiding in the vine, which is another way of speaking of community, mission, and love. When I took a Master Gardener class several years ago my notes on small fruit culture said, “Prune to train to trellis, and to produce abundant fruit remove old canes and prune out all but the most vigorous and healthy canes.”
So, what might need to be pruned, trained, and reordered to strengthen the mission and provide fruit for an abundant harvest here at St. Mark’s? Another way of asking that question might be, How does the church help people live whole, healthy lives, and make connections with those whom they encounter everyday?
For those who abide in the vine, Jesus says, “Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
I love going to the opera, and one of my favorites is Rossini’s La Cenerentola or Cinderella. In it Alidoro, who is an advisor to the prince sings:
Let your imagination soar, and your life will be changed. :││
During this time of transition dare to dream/imagine and ask God for whatever you wish
Look at possibilities
What are you hoping for?
Look at the journey together and not just the destination
Pay attention to your story –individually and as a parish. Those stories will describe reality for you and evoke God’s spirit in the patterns and connections you begin to see.
And as discernment emerges and becomes clear don’t ask – How much will that cost? But rather, How can we get that done?
A lot of my reading recently, and my experience of the church at the broader level tells me that the Church is changing significantly, not just the parish in time of change in clergy leadership, or the diocese, or the Episcopal Church, but the larger ecumenical church is in a time of great transition and change. There will be pruning, but more importantly there is abiding, the staying with it over the long haul, and remaining connected to God who creates and is always doing something new, and who promises to be with us. So continue to be faithful disciples, look for Jesus in each other, and trust that he will be with you, as he says, even to the end of the ages.