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.
I made the following comment in someone else's journal earlier this week, and I wanted to keep track of it...

Part of the problem is that when Christian institutions, or individual Christians, fail at Christianity (by which I mean not actually following the precepts of Christ), their failures are writ large in history: crusades, pogroms, the Bush II administration. The good that Christianity does tends to be writ small, between people. (Although there are exceptions: the Underground Railroad (and the abolitionist movement in America in general) was often run by Christian organizations. The death squads in El Salvador went after religious figures because they dared stand up for the people.)

Christ does not call his followers to seek power or wealth, but instead humility and servanthood, which usually fail to make headlines or history texts.
pat: (Default)
( Dec. 9th, 2003 10:45 pm)
I nearly got into an argument with a woman from my church tonight. It was regarding the new Bishop of New Hampshire. To say that we disagree on this matter would be an understatement. She is deeply pained by the ordination of a gay man as a bishop in her denomination. It flies in the face of what she understands to be God's commands to his people.

It would be easy to dismiss her as just another bigot -- but she isn't. She would never approve of violence toward gays, I am sure -- nor in fact would she urge the exclusion of gays from church. I know this, because I have heard her say so. And I get the impression that what is happening causes her genuine pain and confusion, and not a little anger.

To dismiss her anger, her pain, and her confusion as being unimportant would be to dismiss her as unimportant. And that would be a mistake and a tragedy. This woman spends an incredible amount of energy working for an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. She raises money, arranges for volunteers, and spends time down there herself. There are children who are healthy and happy today as a direct result of her efforts. She has made a real and substantial difference in the world around her. And she does it without asking for accolades or applause. I have immense respect for her, in no small part because in order to do all of this, she had to take risks, and do things which were new and uncomfortable at first. She went bravely onwards because she recognized that God was calling her. She is genuinely trying to follow in Christ's footsteps.

It is so easy to demonize those with whom we disagree -- especially on matters which touch us closely. It is so easy to overlook the bonds of humanity which tie all of us together. It is so easy to circle the wagons and consign others to hell as being unredeemable.

And in doing so, we make the world a colder and harder place, and risk becoming those whom we despise.

All of us, from the man sitting on Death Row to the baby born yesterday, are made in God's image. That so many of us -- and I certainly include myself in this number -- forget this so frequently is enough to make the angels weep.

I will never agree with my friend from church -- I can't, I simply believe in complete faith that she is wrong. I pray that those who feel the way she does will come to a different understanding of what God requires of us to be worthy of his service. No doubt she does the same.

But I am glad that I know her, and that she is in the world.
pat: (Default)
( Dec. 6th, 2003 09:09 pm)
In the Old Testament, it is "a reading from the Book of ......" unless it is from Psalms, in which case it is "a reading from Psalm ..." or from the book immediately following Proverbs, in which case it is "a reading from the Song of Songs."

In the New Testament, it is "a reading from the Gospel of ...", or "a reading from the letter (or epistle) of Paul to the ....." unless it is Hebrews, in which it is "a reading from the letter to the Hebrews" (since it is now pretty much believed that Paul did not write the letter to the Hebrews.) Or unless it is James, John, Peter or Jude, in which case it is "a reading from the letter of James," or "a reading from the first letter of John." If the reading is from that which is between the Gospels and the Epistles, it is "a reading from the Acts of the Apostles."

Oh, and that book at the end of the NT -- that would be "a reading from the Revelation to John." (note: not the "Book of Revelations".)

Not that anyone here (or in most places) really cares -- I was just thinking about this earlier.
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( Oct. 9th, 2003 04:36 pm)
This my reply to this thread in this post by [ profile] joedecker. I told him I would move the discussion over to my journal. I am posting it mainly because I didn't want to lose my thoughts on this subject.

A discussion of religion versus reason )
I realize I have only been a member of the Episcopal Church for ten years, and have only taken three years (and taught another three years) of Scripture classes, but somehow I missed the passages in the Bible and in the Book Of Common Prayer which state "the ends justify the means."
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( Aug. 4th, 2003 11:31 am)
I have heard several people on my friends list say something to the effect of "It is impossible for someone to 'hate the sin but love the sinner'."

Why I don't necessarily think that's true.... )
You know you've done a good job reading when the priest says to you during the peace, "Hey, the job's yours if you want it next year."

I got to thinking about why I like reading aloud in church and it boils down to -- I do it well. In terms of serving God, I will never be an ordained minister. I have a mediocre grasp of the complexities of theology, I am a fair to poor singer, a decent Scripture teacher, but I read well. It makes me happy to be able to do something liturgical competently. And you might say it is in my family: my father was a lector (reader), my sister is a lector, my husband has been a lector, I am a lector, and my son is a lector.

It always intrigues me how certain passages of Scripture get identified in my head with certain voices. Tonight, when the traditional reading from Romans began, for a second I heard not the voice of a seventy-year old white man, but a thirty-five year old African-American man with a voice as cool and smooth as water flowing down a stream. Romans (and 1 Corinthians 13) will always in my mind "belong" to my friend CW, who upped and moved to Boston in 2001 and whom I still miss.

And Genesis 3 (the story of the fall from grace) will always "belong" to [ profile] carobinson, ever since a Lessons and Carols service three years ago. C, who is a tall Texan, came up and leaned on the podium. The ever-present drawl became just a shade thicker, the speaking cadence a shade slower. "Now, the serpent was the craftiest beast in the garden...." and he was off in full storytelling mode. People laughed at appropriate points in the story (when Adam says "not my fault, she MADE me do it") -- and when you can get a church full of Episcopalians to laugh during the reading (appropriately) you are doing something very right. (The Bible actually has a lot of humor in it -- most people are simply too afraid to laugh for fear of not being reverent. But laughter can be reverent too, in the proper times and places.)

And me? The best readings I've ever done have been readings of the first chapter of Genesis (which is what I read tonight). It is poetry, and it is simply lovely. It gives me great joy.


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