A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 4B: Psalm 111, Mark 1:21-28 and the Rector's Report for the Annual Meeting
Our Psalm this morning reminds us that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Of course fear here does not mean to be “afraid,” it actually means to be in awe of, to honor, respect, value and follow God. William Bridges, in his book, “Managing Transitions,” offers a perspective on the state in which we, as a congregation, and the entire state of religious institutions in the United States, currently live as we try to follow God in an ever changing world. He writes, “…. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.” The beginning of wisdom, we might say, is understanding what it means to follow God in this day and age. Or as the Gospel of Mark points us, we can wonder “where is God in all of this?” and more specifically today our reading asks us: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy One of God?"
Bridges, and other folk who study parish dynamic, acknowledge that a change in who is Rector, the external component, is obvious. Dan Appleyard left, Bob Hart came and left, and I was called and came. But the internal transition continues. Bridges writes that “Inwardly the psychological transition happen(s) much more slowly,(for) as fast as the situation changed outwardly, we will struggle for a time in a state that is neither the old nor the new. It’s time of emotional wilderness, a time when it isn’t clear who we are or what is real.” (pg. 5) So, we begin to understand that following God in this time means a bit of wandering through a time that will feel like the wilderness.
Some may be grieving the loss of previous clergy that have served here. Many of you are excited that the search for a rector is over, you are ready to get going with whatever hopes and dreams you have in mind. This is the nature of this type of transition, of this wilderness time - it is a time of simultaneous dreaming of what can be and grieving what was.
I am going through my own internal transition. I have relocated to a new town three hundred miles from my kids, I have to find new doctors and dentists, new friends and colleagues, a new spiritual director and a new favorite place for pizza or breakfast.
The typical transition time, when a congregation calls a new rector, is about 18 months. Or in other words, we will be adjusting and adapting emotionally and psychologically to one another, while building relationship, for about 18 months until we settle into a relatively comfortable pattern. I have been here almost nine months, so we are about half way through this transition time.
During these first nine months I have observed this parish and how we function. I have intentionally tried to keep as much the same as possible. Truth be told, I feel a very organic, natural connection between the way this parish functions and my leadership style.
That said, some things have been done differently. Sometimes that is because no one could remember how something was done. Some things have happened simply because there was a request from a parishioner to do something, and enough energy around the idea, that we did it. And some change happened simply because I am neither Dan nor Bob. But regardless, my effort has been primarily focused on learning how this parish functions and becoming a part of the system. I have done this by meeting with groups and individuals, listening to what people have to say about themselves and their role in the parish. I have tried to be attentive to where the energy is and what excites people. I have made note of what people are frustrated with and where the energy feels depleted.
This year the Vestry and I will move into a more intentional time of observation, reflection, and action.
As a Vestry we will engage the Charrette work in our annual retreat this February. T., and others from the Charrette group work, will join us for a portion of the retreat so we can hear their observations and learn more about the outcome and goals that developed from the Charrette work. We have engaged the guidance of Jim Gettel, a parish consultant, who spoke at the Celebration Dinner. Jim will guide the vestry through this period of reflection, assessment, and direction. This work will take some time, longer than this one retreat. I have read through all of the annual reports from 1999 to 2010, I know that it is important that the Vestry develop an action plan so that our work moves from the theoretical to practical. It is also important that the parish be apprised, as relevant, to our work.
I have formed a team, comprised of J. and P., who are working with me on a “Legal Review.” We are reading through our By-Laws, policies, procedures, and letters of agreements. This will help me understand both the big picture organizationally and the details of policies and procedures we have implemented. We are checking to ensure that there is consistency in writing and in practice of what we have said and what we do. And lastly the review is to ensure that our practices are in line with Diocesan Canons and General Convention Canons.
Combined, between the review and the work with Jim Gettel, the Vestry hopes to have greater clarity of its leadership role as a whole and as individual members. Having read thirteen years’ worth of annual reports I understand that articulating and implementing leadership roles is an ongoing process in this parish. It is an ongoing process in every parish because vestry members change each year. Changes in leadership require of us, from time to time, to re-articulate roles and responsibilities of leadership and create the means by which each leader is accountable to oneself, one’s committee, and the parish.
In preparation for the retreat - the vestry, and those nominated for vestry, - has been asked to read the book, “A Door Set Open” by Peter Steinke. This book,(and I recommend it to everyone here), articulates the transition that our society is in today and how that transition impacts the church. Steinke writes, “Today’s rapidly changing world is pressing the church to respond to a shift of paradigm.” Steinke reminds us that all religious institutions, particularly Christianity, are going through an internal transition in response to a vastly changing world. Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass, among others, are calling this time in Christian History, “The New Reformation.” What this means is we have a great opportunity to tap into God’s creative energy. This time of transition offers the potential for a new religious awakening, a new resurrection! Both for Christianity as a whole and for Christ Church specifically.
It is important in our discernment that we pay attention to what has changed, what is changing, and continue our transition to some new opportunities. Let’s be mindful that the change in priest is not the end of the transition – rather it offers us the opportunity to continue the internal transition, a process of which will bring greater health and growth. We are on a larger journey that will draw us closer to God and one another in faith, hope and love.
I am really excited to be on this journey with you. Christ Church is a fabulous community, energetic, engaged, thoughtful, creative, fun, exciting, - I love being here with you – and feel truly blessed - and that’s because each of you bring your gifts and talents, your heart and your compassion, and share them abundantly. Our Psalm reminds us that God is engaged in our lives and in this transition time, God will provide for all of our needs. And so, with the confidence that God has our back, let us step forward in faith. I look forward to the year ahead.