11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4: 11-16
Well this is my second Annual meeting Rector’s Address- I know some of you were worried that I would not make it this far! But here I am and I am not planning to go anywhere! Simi, I and the kids love our wonderful church community! And we are adjusting to the rhythms, the beauty and joy found in our Westerly community!
So now that I have been here for a year and a half! I think the honey-moon should be over! Now don’t get me wrong! I don’t feel that it has ended, but serving as a priest in the Episcopal Church for over 18 years, I have come to understand that after about a year the honeymoon ends. And this is a good thing because once the honeymoon ends that’s when the work of love really begins! We are not worried about impressing each other, but rather we realize that we are committed to each other. We understand our strengths and weaknesses and we work together as a team toward our goals.
In this past year and half I have been walking with you as your priest and friend. We have engaged in some very ambitious projects: Restoring our church Tower, hiring an Assistant to the Rector, a Coordinator of Communication, a Director of Youth and Children’s ministry and an additional part time Church Secretary. We have also engaged in small scale capital improvements and even made some liturgical changes at our services. Together we have journeyed through heartbreaking funerals, joyful weddings and powerful baptisms! And lets not forget those wonderful and sacred conversations we have had in my office or in a hospital room, or over coffee or lunch at Mia’s Prime time restaurant, the Bridge restaurant, the Cooked Goose—restaurant , the Grey Goose. Darn it!! I have eaten at a lot of restaurants with you! The fact is, we have been getting to know each other. And if you and I haven’t met. Lets meet. Call Jeanne our parish administrator to set up an appointment! I look forward to getting to know you better!
Over my time, here at our church I have come to understand that our Church is an exciting place! Filled with exciting people who are excited about our faith! I hope you can sense God’s spirit in our midst!
Yes God’s powerful spirit is working in our church! We are a people on the move- on a journey to the Kingdom of God! But what does that mean for us?
I think the passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians can help us in this regard. Let me tell you about Ephesus. In the first century Ephesus was the 4th largest city in the Roman Empire and capital of the province of Asia. Located on the Aegean coast at the mouth of a small river, it served as the Western terminus of a long caravan route from the East by way of Palestine and Syria. It was a city that was known for its religious practices. In fact, there was a shrine to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, this temple was at the time was considered to be one of the great wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus was also major center for the promotion of emperor worship. In the early 50's Paul had founded the church in the city and had ministered there longer than anywhere else in his life. It wasn’t only Paul who ministered at the Church, there was also John the beloved disciple. The Gospel of John, was said to have been written in Ephesus. There is even a tradition that Mary the mother of Jesus, stayed in Ephesus until her final days. This church was named first among the 7 churches in the Revelation of John, showing its importance in the ancient Christian community. It was an important city for the Roman Empire and a spiritual center for the church universal.
Paul’s letter is written to a community that he cares for deeply. And it is a gifted community, made up of talented individuals. And it is a community that is embedded in a larger, diverse and bustling metropolis. Sure, there were advantages in Ephesus but there were also challenges. For instance, the community was subject to many different teachers and traditions and went through many transitions. And because of this they were subject to many doctrines that seemed to divide the community rather than unite them. And though they were talented those talents caused separation, because some were thought of as a ‘more special’ because of their gifts.
Somehow this great church lost its vision, and Paul’s letter reminds them of their calling given at their baptism. He tells them that they were together abody- in which Christ is the head. And they were called together by Christ so that all people would one day learn of God’s grace. And as a body they were to grow! Grow deeper in their relationship to God and one another! To even grow in spreading the good news to the world!
Over this past time together, I see great similarities between the church in Ephesus and our church. Like the Ephesians we have had wonderful spiritual models and teachers who have nurtured our faith. We are also a community filled with talented people. Each of you gifted in wonderful ways. But over the last few years, due to the many transitions in our community our goal has been to just survive. And survive we have, due to the hard work of our Church Staff, our committees, Vestry members, retired clergy and due to tireless work of our Wardens!
But now, we are in a different place in our history. We are called not just to make it to the next day! I believe that it is time for us to follow the example of St. Paul when he wrote to the Ephesians. I believe it is a time to set a forward vision for our church. I have spoken about this with my staff, with our present Wardens and with our nominated Wardens for this year. And we all agree that our forward vision would be “To grow”- to grow in four ways
1) To Grow in our spirituality
2) To Grow in Fellowship
3) To Grow in Stewardship
4) To Grow in our Service to world
This vision provides a direction for us but the real work is yet to come. Over the next three months our church will engage in a listening and goal setting process led by our Vestry. Our congregation will attend and share their thoughts on which goals would help us to grow in spirituality, fellowship, stewardship and service to others! And these goals will bring us into the future. In other words our congregation will dream about what our church can be and what we can do to help change the world for the better!
Here’s how it will begin. In February, we will have our parishioners sign up for groups made up of 10-12 people and those groups will meet for conversations ledVestry facilitators about what goals excite us The Vestry members will take notes. We will follow the same process in March because we might need a second look to be creative. In April the Vestry will have a Vestry retreat to prioritize the goals for each area of our vision. The results will be presented to our church. At the end of the day, we will have our Vision, goals and priorities for the next 3-5 years – all of which would have come from you. And along the way we will monitor for success and for learning opportunities, course correcting along the way.
Samuel Miller in his book, Life of the Soul, pp. 136-7 said it wonderfully when he wrote:
“A man’s birth is not ended with the first gasp of his breath and the first cry of his lungs. He is born for innumerable births. He is forever pushing his way into new worlds. Through countless experiences, by high ecstasies and deep sorrows he plunges to new heights and depths within himself. Through the old symbols and the new insights he sees fresh an alluring vistas. Grief and love lead him far beyond himself. Prophets and poets shout across the ages and call out his soul. Beauty unseals his eyes and reverence leads to him mystery and tenderness. The strange designs of circumstance and purpose, the impact of this world and all the wonders, the dark movings of the inner abyss in himself, all these are avenues of births beyond number.” (Samuel Miller, Life of the Soul, pp. 136-7).
Miller helps us to see that growth is really a birthing experience as we commit ourselves to a new way. Through our dedication we will experience resurrection hope in our church!
Yes! Friends the honeymoon is over!!! But the work of love is just beginning! Through this work we will find God blessing us on the way as “grow up into him who is the head, into Christ!”