TheRev is leaving.

The rector of my church is leaving to take a post with a church in Ashburn, Virginia. To readers of Going Jesus, this is no news. Sara's been writing about this the last couple of weeks -- unlike me, and most of the rest of the people at the church, denial has not been an option for her. She has dealt with his leaving every day since he announced he was going.

It's the right thing, though. Kevin needs dragons to slay, worlds to build. He had that here.... twelve years ago. Not now, not for the past few years. It was just a matter of time, really. God did not create Kevin Phillips to be the rector of a well-established, settled, prosperous church. Kevin was born to a planter, a builder.

Tonight, at the beginning of the packed farewell service, I closed my eyes and went back to the beginning: fifty people in this ugly building with mustard colored walls and almost no children. The building is still there, the outside as ugly as ever (as Sara says, "Nobody comes here for the architecture'), although the interior has been redesigned through the years from hideous to merely unremarkable -- the mustard walls are white, now. But the people... There were 300 people there tonight. I would estimate that 2/3 of them were current parishioners, and there were tons of parishioners who were not there. We have gone from having two services with a total of seventy to eighty congregants on a Sunday to four services with a total of over three hundred.* We have gone from having a handful of children in Sunday school, to a hundred. (Yes, we are a family heavy parish, now that you mention it.)

I remember sitting in Kevin's office and him saying "I will take this church back to being a mission** if I have to." He was willing to do anything to make the church grow. I still remember when he first talked to the Disciples Bible Study group about these small groups of parishioners he wanted to set up, for people to pray together and do bible study, and that these would be where the real pastoral care of the church would take place. We would learn to take care of each other, he said, rather than relying on the church for that. And we all looked at him and said "Good luck with that, mate." We have seventeen covenant groups now, in which people pray together and study together and care for each other. And we have exported the ideas to other churches in our diocese, along with, in some cases, our "Look Book Took" bible studies. (Kevin's name -- he's a lovely man, but occasionally ungrammatical as all hell. I hate the name of them so much I always abbreviate it as LBT.)

It's hard, losing friends to God's calling. Cristopher was ordained a priest this week -- he's been gone over four years, and is happily ensconced in a parish in Texas. Kate left a year after Cristopher to go up the road to Berkeley, but she's in Diocese of California now. She should be about to graduate. Julie's gone to New York. She just started so she has three years to go, but she's gone for good -- once they leave for seminary, they're gone. And yes, there is email, and whatnot, but its not the same as seeing someone every Sunday -- How your kids are growing! What's business like? How is your partner's health? Is she better?

And yet, you know that they have to go. They are called. They really are "on a mission from God," as Elwood Blues would put it. And so you wave goodbye, and sigh, and pray for them and their families.

And now, Kevin's going. And so tonight I hugged TheRev goodbye (and his wife Holly, whom I'll miss as much as I will him). I promised to come and visit his new church some time and heckle him during the sermon.

Godspeed, Kevin.

And watch out, NoVa, you have no idea what in God's name is about to hit you.

* Given that a certain number of people are going to miss church every Sunday, the actual number of parishioners is probably a bit over 350.

**a mission is a congregation that is not an independent church but is under control of the diocese. Taking an established church back to mission status is a Very Big Deal indeed. At the time, Kevin explained to me what the advantages were to being a mission -- and there were several, and they were significant -- but I have forgotten what they were.


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