1 John 5:1-9
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. 7 There are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. 9 If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son.
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. 
PRIEST IN CHARGE'S ADDRESS TO THE PARISH--2018 ANNUAL MEETING
6 May 2018
Before I begin my remarks on our first six months together I want to let you know that you have been blessed with patient, wise, and grounded spiritual leadership in your vestry, wardens and officers. I am honored and humbled to have been called to walk this journey with them and with all y’all.
This morning you’ll notice that I’m preaching from a prepared text. I do not do so often. For the sake of those who are not able to be here and in order that we be able to discuss what I have to share this morning I feel it is important to be precise in what I have to say. I invite you all to take a copy of this if you like, check it out on the website or the link on the Facebook Page if you would like to reflect on where what I have to say. I will make sure that those unable to be with us today have access to what I have to say here.
If there is anything that we can take away from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse and High Priestly Prayer in John’s Gospel, it is the mantra that those gathered in Jesus’ name are called to love one another.
If the readings from John’s writings, both the letters and the Gospel, from the last few weeks have any kind of common theme it is about the call to love. Legend has it that near the end of his life, the full content of John’s preaching was the charge to love one another.
In these first months I have noticed that you folks at St. Mark’s not only do a good job of loving one another, but that you also genuinely like one another.
For those of you who have been through the long interim without a priest and held firm, who chose to abide in the community into which you have been drawn, this is not unexpected. The bonds of folks who have shared challenges and desert experiences on the spiritual journey are often more durable than those who have not faced tough times together.
The question naturally arises as we move forward: Now what?
In conversations with the wardens, vestry and the diocese as we entered into our agreement for me to come we were looking at a two to three year timeline do some re-visioning, reflecting, reforming and renewal work.
The length of time that we would have to do this work depended on two things:
As we began our planning for 2018 and began the work of budgeting and planning for the coming year we were grateful and pleased that pledges increased from about $64K to about $84K. This is remarkable and a testament to the faith of the parish.
Unfortunately, given the costs of the model that we have, ¾ time clergy, other personnel costs, building maintenance, insurance, Diocesan contribution, utilities and the like, our projected deficit was greater than we originally projected.
The bottom line, as we communicated to the congregation in February, is that IF NOTHING CHANGES we will exhaust the Wray Fund sometime in early 2019. During conversations with the vestry, officers, wardens and other leaders of the congregation it has become clear that we need engage a process of discernment on what our options are moving forward and how we can most faithfully respond to the challenges before us.
As I have reflected on our current reality and the challenges we face, one image has bubbled up for me repeatedly. That image is one of a group of people who are engaged in the ancient spiritual practice of pilgrimage.
Perhaps the very first pilgrim we encounter in scripture is Abram of Ur in the Chaldees. The LORD appears to Abram and makes a number of bold claims on Abram’s future and establishes his heritage as the first pilgrim, called to follow YHWH, the God of all Creation to leave his home based on a nebulous call from a previously unknown deity, “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
This makes Abram the forerunner of noted pilgrims in scripture and the tradition of the Church:
In recent years the Church as rediscovered the importance of and richness of pilgrimage as a core practice of the faith.
One thing can be said about pilgrimage as it applies to God’s people both individually and collectively, namely that the journey is almost always at least as important as the destination. Venturing into the unknown is central to the practice of pilgrimage. What we encounter on the way to what we understand the destination to be provides the necessary texture and richness to the practice itself.
Some pilgrim journeys are chosen, think of visiting someplace like Jerusalem, Assisi, Rome, Ireland or other noted shrines in our Christian history.
Others are chosen for us. Think of the Exodus from Egypt. The exile into Babylon and Persia in the Old Testament, Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt or Jesus being “driven into the wilderness” by the Spirit (according to Mark’s Gospel.) Perhaps the pilgrimage of how we respond to the realities we are facing financially and in terms of human resources are a pilgrimage that we are being driven into.
Whether chosen or chosen for us, God’s presence on the pilgrims way is a given. Scripture supports this belief, that God ‘showing up’ on the pilgrim journey is more a matter of our commitment to looking for and being aware of God’s presence than it is of God’s choice to accompany us.
In the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says to the disciples,
“16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Always, means always and all the way.
The example of the Exodus from Egypt and that wilderness experience for the Chosen People has much to teach us, not the least of which is the importance of a unity that can only come from a commitment to love one another on the journey. If the readings from John’s Gospel and letters in these past weeks has made anything clear, it is the primacy of mutual love and respect among the followers of The Way, as being disciples of Jesus was called in Mark’s Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. One of the core values of God’s leadership and Moses’ guidance in this journey was unity. To say they didn’t always get this right would be a gross understatement.
Remember it took them forty years of wandering to travel the distance that would normally have taken only a matter of weeks if there would have travelled in a straight line and didn’t repeatedly long to return to the familiar, even if the familiar was slavery rather than freedom. This truth makes the practice of reflection and the sharing our reflections so important in times of transition.
Every Christian community, whether they recognize it or not, is made up of pilgrims. With that in mind, St. Mark’s is at a critical point on its pilgrim journey and I suspect that the vestry, wardens and other leaders of the parish would agree with me.
With this pilgrimage, as with any other Christian journey, God is the leader and we all have insights that can help guide us along the way. First of all I want to make it clear that I am not the leader of this pilgrimage. At best I’m a guide and I’m not the only one with wisdom, perspective and insight to bring to bear on the path ahead of us.
I’ve been reading a book by Christopher Heuertz called “Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community” that has been very helpful as I have studied, prayed, worshiped and tried to do the work of helping guide our pilgrim progress these past six months. One of the chapters in the book most pertinent to where we find ourselves at St. Mark’s is the chapter he writes on Transition.
Heuertz says that transition is a part of any individual or organizational life cycle. He also says that given its inevitability, how we handle it contributes significantly to whether we experience any given transition as positive or negative in retrospect. At the heart of handling transition well is that, “creating safe space for a redefinition of self and a rediscovery of vocation in the midst of transition is necessary for everyone involved.” (Heuertz, “Unexpected Gifts” p. 82)
Critical to the safety of the space we need to navigate our way through the waters ahead is being responsible for telling our own stories with integrity. We are also called to only tell those stories that are ours to tell. This means speaking only for ourselves and not claiming the experience of another through the practice of listening with an eye toward how we will respond rather than for the content and context of the experiences of one another. Simply put there is no room for ‘the blame game’ in the journey that we are on. As Heuertz says, “blaming tends to rewrite the past.” (Ibid. p. 81)
Some important truths are in play as we move together in faith.
Having said all of this you are well within bounds to ask, “So what does all of this mean for us practically and presently?”
I’ll try and give faithful answers based on the prayer, study of scripture, sharing of stories and hopes and dreams that we have shared in vestry and leadership meetings.
Generally speaking we have two kinds of work to do.
Here’s a brief example that I hope demonstrates the difference between the two.
Let’s say (God forbid and for the sake of argument) that an earthquake makes our building uninhabitable for next Sunday.
The technical question might be: Where will we worship next Sunday? This question is one that we can address quickly and make arrangements for out of our existing relationships and resources.
The adaptive question might be: What are we going to do about the building in general? This question is a big one and has lots of moving parts and, for me, would be one that I would have to pray over, consult with the Diocese and our neighbor and have deeper conversations with folks who have more expertise and access to resources than any of us have at our disposal.
The vestry and leadership has identified one important technical question that has an adaptive component.
Let’s start with the second first. The big question before us is how do we create the kind of safe space I mentioned above? We are clear that it is something that cannot be done quickly and yet is urgent to begin on. We have seen how the energy and spirit of the parish is raised in times of common worship. We have agreed that common worship and shared prayer and work is key to tapping into the movement of the Holy Spirit. To that end we believe that it is vital for us to move to a single service as part of the process of prayerfully discerning what happens to the witness, mission and ministry of St. Mark’s.
What we need initial discernment on is what that will look like. Are you all still with me?
The short term adaptive work then is, “How do we best consider the options we have to transition to a single Sunday service?”
To address this question we are inviting everyone to any one or all of three opportunities to gather and share concerns, ideas, and considerations to be aware of as we make this move. To be clear, we are going to a single service and we need the input of as many of the parish as possible into how we will do that. At each of these sessions we will allow folks to share their ideas as to timing and content of the worship, formation and fellowship components of what Sunday mornings might look like. We want to come up with an initial plan to begin on June 17th.
The first of these meetings will be following Thursday night’s 7 pm Ascension Day service. There will be further opportunities to share thoughts, hopes and dreams following each service on The Feast of Pentecost May 20th after each service
Once we have put together how Sunday worship, formation and fellowship will look we hope that we can use this initial process as a template for how we deal with the larger, more complex adaptive question of “What is next for St. Mark’s given our current dwindling resources?” and “Are we being called to a different way of being church?” or any number of other options that may arise as we share our fears, hopes, and dreams.
I realize that this may be very much like trying to drink water from a fire hose right now. We, as vestry and leaders, realize that this may very well seem overwhelming. Take a deep breath and know that we realize there will be a lot of thoughts, feelings and emotions as you read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this news. We have all been there ourselves and are all committed to walking together into the future. Remember that Jesus has promised to go ahead of us to prepare a place for us. I’m eager, a bit scared and not a little bit curious as to what the Holy Spirit has in store for us.
Whether it is in John’s writings or the wonderfully lyric 13th chapter of the first letter to a struggling church in Corinth or in 1 Peter where we are told “8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.,” we are told that our most abiding and important task is to love one another along this pilgrim journey.
Many of you, no doubt, have noticed the blessing I typically use at the end of each Eucharist which begins:
Go in peace, remember the poor, visit the sick, pray for prisoners, gather in the outcasts and MOST OF ALL LOVE ONE ANOTHER
I firmly believe that if we keep our love for God and for one another at the forefront of all that we do, especially WHEN not IF we make mistakes in this process we will have done what is good and pleasing in the sight of God and we, like Jesus, will hear the voice of God saying, “These are my children, my Beloved and in them I am well pleased.”
As we embark on this journey together let us pray the Prayer Attributed to St. Francis on Page 833 of the Book of Common Prayer
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. AMEN. (Book of Common Prayer p. 833)
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Jn 5:1–9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 15:9–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ge 12:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 28:16–20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Pe 4:8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.