“The place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner
As we enter this next year of our spiritual journey, the theme for this year will be Chapter 22, Page 175 – Forward in Faith as focus for the journey ahead. We enter our 175th year of ministry for St. Thomas’s in 2017, and I enter my 9th year of serving with you as priest in mutual ministry, together. It will also be my last year of serving with you as well. As I was called as your 21st rector to St. Thomas’s, you will begin a journey in the years ahead in calling the 22nd rector for your future, and theirs. My bags are not packed and ready to go! There are still details to work out personally and commitments to bring to fruition or continued forward movement for the parish. While I am looking forward, the truth of St. Paul’s words ground me in the present of every day —“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-13
The image of the tree immediately called to me as that of this parish community. We have deep roots in the community of Newark and the university, and our branches have spread wide and high over 175 years. While we now enjoy being those fresh branches growing from the ends of those sturdier ones that have come before us, it is now our time to grow stronger and be the source of life and growth for future branches to grow higher and broader. To do this whole heartedly, I will be asking you in question form what Frederick Buechner writes above – what is YOUR deep gladness … what is OUR world’s deep hunger … how will you serve this need with your gifts? In our eight years together, I have been my leadership in mutual ministry through calling, encouraging, supporting, and working alongside our servant leaders of the Vestry and others in our parish life, such as Deacon Cecily and the campus ministry program, Belinda Young-Payne and our Children’s Formation ministry, Bob Rys and Teri Quinn Gray for our Confirmation ministry, the renewed C.R.E.W. youth ministry and their leadership, and many others. We have established the framework of servant ministry with S.W.E.E.P.S that can be a sturdy starting framework for what lies ahead in God’s call in our day to day living and serving. Yet the S.W.E.E.P.S. frame only gives shape to what is held inside. What gives spirit to the frame will be the life you give in serving our parish, our community, our world for God in Christ Jesus.
So I have chosen to unpack what that living in the Spirit might look like by following the well-tested prescription of living the spiritual life, found in St. Paul’s words to the Galatians – “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” [5:22-23] In the subsequent Clergy Corner postings I will focus on one of the “fruits of the Spirit” in words theological and examples practical from the life of people just like you in our parish, as well as those from our community, our diocese, and beyond.
Along with Buechner, Fr. Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, and lots of other writer companions in my life as a priest these 24 years, Barbara Brown Taylor’s reflection on her call to ministry has been my “go to” over these years …
“… A priest is someone willing to stand between a God and a people who are longing for one another’s love, turning back and forth between them with no hope of tending either as well as each deserves. To be a priest is to serve a God who never stops calling people to do more justice and love more mercy, and simultaneously to serve people who nine times out of ten are just looking for a safe place to rest. To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be yet to care for them the way they are … to suspect that there is always something more urgent that you should be doing, no matter what you are doing, and to make peace with the fact that the work will never get done … to wonder sometimes if you are missing the boat altogether, by deferring pleasure in what God has made until you have fixed it up so that it will please God more … E. B. White once wrote, ‘I can’t decide whether to enjoy the world or improve the world; that makes it difficult to plan the day.’” Leaving Church, p. 44
What is your deep gladness? What is our world’s deep hunger? How will WE, together, serve these needs with our gifts of the Spirit for our living, loving God? Let us work together, with our Creating, Redeeming, and Sanctifying God, into the fullness of Chapter 22, Page 175 – Forward in Faith.
With gratefulness always, your servant in Christ