Tuesday, October 24, 2017

tasting grace with colleagues in ministry...

Once upon a time, during a casual pastoral visit with a retired clergy person, he said, "You have a great staff right now - and a great sense of momentum. Honor it, man, and cherish it because this only happens once, maybe twice, in a lifetime." As I look backwards over nearly 40 years of ministry in the church, I know I have been blessed because I experienced an extended taste of God's grace with my different colleagues at least four different times. 

The first took place in Cleveland with a consortium of lay leaders. We made a commitment to one another to gather every two weeks for Eucharist and study. We also pledged to listen to the Spirit moving within and among us to select our leadership team. No filling slots, no overt parish politics, please; just prayer and honest conversation. This created an environment where neighborhood ministry flourished along with new music and a commitment to bring a measure of hope to the public schools.  I give thanks to God for Fran Apltauer and Kristie Greene for those sacred days. 

When life took us to the desert Southwest, there were two incarnations that felt holy to me. Bringing Sean Schulze on as music director - a gifted musician 
from South Africa - kicked up our worship groove. And for the two years that Amy O'Brien served our children, youth and young families, we had a dynamic team that was faithful, creative and way too much fun. Especially given the gifts and wisdom my dear colleague, Debbie Anderson, brought into the mix. When Sean and Amy moved on, Debbie deepened her commitment to lay empower-ment - and we added Thomas Azar to the music staff. Then we REALLY cooked in the music realm as Linda Schloss, Kim Elliot, Eric Johnson, don E Merson, Ina Merson and Dianne De Mott joined forces and gave birth to Stranger (our band.)

I would also celebrate an extended sacred run in Pittsfield, too as my colleagues David, Becky and Carlton joined forces with another gifted musical team that included Jon, Eva, Elizabeth, Sue, Brian, David and Andy. Janet's on-going devotion to our children added to the blessings. It was a joy doing ministry when this team was vibrant.

With all blessings, however, there is a time to revel in them and a time when they end: to everything there is a season. I grieve when those sacred times pass, but honor this holy rhythm knowing that I was fortunate enough to encounter them not merely once or twice, but four distinctive times. Jean Vanier reminds me that there is no ideal when it comes to a living community.

The ideal doesn't exist. The personal equilibrium and the harmony people dream of come only after years and years of struggle, and then only as flashes of grace and peace. Peace is the fruit of love and service to others. I'd like to tell the people in communities, "Stop looking for peace. Give yourselves where you are. Stop looking at yourselves, look instead at your brothers and sisters in need. Ask how you can better love your brothers and sisters. Then you will find peace.

Indeed, there is no ideal - but I've tasted something close and give thanks to God for the feast!

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