This week, I have celebrated the opening of the new Resurrection Mission in the Lower Anthracite Region; I’ve celebrated the ministry of the people of St. John’s, Carlisle with their new rector, The Rev. Dr. Adam Kradle; and on Saturday, I will be with the people of Christ Church, Williamsport as they celebrate the beginning of their ministry with The Rev. Veronica Chappell and Lay Pastor, Mr. Kyle Murphy. This has been a week of celebrating beginnings and looking with hope to the future.
New ministry celebrations are often given the nickname of “Installations,” as though the new Rector were a shiny new bit of copper plumbing that the bishop is invited to solder into place…. I discourage the use of this name for the service because, really, it’s not all about the rector- it is about the work that the people and the rector will do, together, in that place. It is less about “installing” a new priest than it is marking that there is a new ministry afoot for them as a new worshiping entity- a people and their pastor. If it is understood this way from the very beginning, then it helps when, a year or so later, the Mutual Ministry Review is conducted and seen,hopefully, as a review of life together, not a performance review of the Rector.
I ordered a new “Register of Church Services” book for the new Resurrection Mission because I want this worshiping community to understand their identity as a new creation, and not a remnant people of two other churches, pushed together, to make something sustainable. I want this book where they will ink the record of their church services to be a literal “fresh start” with clean pages- a springboard for new life, new possibilities and new projects.
But the truth is, that we cannot shake our history and leave it all behind. When forming a new Mission, when moving to a new parish to take one’s place as Rector, or when making any move in our lives, be it a new job, a new community in which to live, a new school or even a new diet or exercise plan, we bring the past with us. Who we are, today, is informed by our past, and who we will be tomorrow has much to do with how we allow the past to influence us in the present moment. (That last sentence sounds like it should be an internet meme, gussied up in a frame with a sunset background.)
The history of our parishes in this diocese is very rich. This summer I spent some time wading through the various diocesan histories that have been written about the work of God and God’s people in this region. The diocese has had at least two heydays in its time- in the mid-late 1800s when many of our buildings were constructed, and, later, in the post-WWII boom in which we experienced another period of growth. The development of the diocese (in its various incarnations as the Diocese of Harrisburg, and the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania) has mirrored the growth of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
2 building hey days noted in peaks in chart above: 1892, 1955
The work of the Church has been strong and, in spite of the general decline that we and all of other mainline churches are experiencing right now, I do not believe that we are done. Far from it.
New beginnings, fresh starts, clean pages in books lend a sense of hope to our enterprises, and, if we are wise, we gather strength from our history and use it to guide us.
Churches that participate in “historicizing exercises” should pay attention to the answers to this question: “When were you at your best? When did you feel the Spirit moving in your parish? When was there an air of excitement in this place?” By looking closely at the answers to these questions, we can pull common factors from them and find ways to invigorate our present situation drawing on the success of the past. Example: “Our church was at its best when we held an ecumenical mission trip to help in post-Katrina New Orleans.” So- what, exactly, was that all about? Offering aid to others, joining across ecumenical lines, shared leadership, immediate assistance, hands-on work, adventure, service, multi-generational work, etc. Another example: “Our church was at its best when we staged a giant bazaar and gave all the money away to support refugees.” Themes in this example? Working together on a big project, giving towards a particular need, achieving a goal, lavish giving.
This appreciative reflection exercise can work on an individual level, as well. Ask, “When have I been at my best? When did I feel strong, engaged, confident, alive? What moments do I remember being most satisfied, most challenged and most rewarded?” Enjoy the memories and the moments, but don’t end there: root around for the themes in those experiences and see if you can’t find some common denominators among them. Have you felt at your best when you’ve been working long and hard, steadily, towards a pinnacle moment? Or have you been at your best when challenged by a spontaneous opportunity and have risen to meet the challenge? Have your best moments been achieved on your own, or in collaborative teamwork? What kind of projects and working and living environments really feed you? And can you find your way to plan some of those in your future?
This may feel a bit like navel gazing. But so be it. A little dose of looking into our past, when engaged creatively, can lead us to a better future.
For a New Beginning
by John O’Donohue
In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.