Good morning! I’d like to take a few minutes this morning to reflect on the transition period we’ve just come through while we searched for a new rector, and why this year our pledges are more important than ever.
We’ve spent the past two years taking a look at where we’ve been, where we are, and where we see ourselves going. Together, we developed a vision for our future that served as our North Star, as we discerned the person we would call as our next rector.
For those of you who participated in our parish round table discussions last year, you’ll remember that a lot of hope and excitement went in to creating that vision. Now we need to come together again to contribute our time, talent, and treasure to make that vision a reality.
Serving as chair of the rector search committee has been incredibly rewarding for me. One of the most important things I’ve learned, is that this is not just my church, it’s our church. And it’s given me an insight into our parish beyond just the five years I’ve been a member.
The hardest part of the search process for me personally was knowing that finding a new rector meant saying goodbye to Mother Shelley. It’s heart wrenching to think about her leaving. At the same time, though, I trust the process that got us here, and I know the search committee and vestry would agree that we absolutely felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit in finding our new rector. I’m really excited to get to know Mother Liz, and I believe she’s going to be a wonderful leader for us.
So, for me, this transition has been bittersweet. But I’ve found some tools that help me get my bearings when I feel uncertain. First, I’ve been praying. A lot. And I have three touchstones that help me stay focused on our goal:
The first touchstone is scripture, particularly the Exodus story, which has been my spiritual road map throughout this process. Today, for example, we might reflect on the Israelites as they have come to the end of their journey in the wilderness. They lose one leader, Moses, and gain another, Joshua, and they’re about to embark on a whole new era as God’s chosen people. Lots of big changes, but God is always with them. And what greater comfort and inspiration could we have than the words from Leviticus we just heard read: “You shall be holy … for I your God am holy.”
My second touchstone is the long history of this parish. I think about the many generations before us who have offered up prayers in this place, and I imagine the generations of prayers yet to come.
Third, I remember that we are co-creators with God, that we therefore have a responsibility to fulfill, and that the present and future work of this church is so much bigger than my limited idea of what’s possible. I try to keep a God-sized vision of what God is calling us to do.
When you’re searching for a new rector, one of the obvious questions to ask is, “How will you grow our church?” Having talked with a whole bunch of priests over the past six months, I can tell you they have a lot of great ideas. But they all know they can’t do it alone. A Presbyterian pastor named J. Barrett Lee beautifully describes the kind of teamwork it takes. (No, we were not interviewing Presbyterians for the job of rector. This was a blog post I stumbled upon.) Lee writes:
There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow. She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them. She can plant seeds and water them. It’s up to God to make them grow.
It’s up to God … and it’s up to us.
This interim period has been an incredibly fruitful time for our parish – a time of searching, discerning, trying new things, and taking bold new steps into our future. Our pledge numbers are up. We’ve got some great new members who’ve joined us. The rectory project is underway. And, after years of cajoling by our own Sirkka Kyle, we even managed to install a couple of benches in the front garden, and keep the church open during the week. Miracles do happen!
Hold on to that feeling of excitement and creative vision as you write out your pledge card this year.
So now, our time of transition is coming to an end. But the truth is, if we’re really living fully into the promise of God’s kingdom, if we’re truly co-creators with God, then we’re in transition. I, for one, am praying that our “transition mindset” doesn’t fade away once our official interim period ends, and that Ascension has all the resources we need to live into our shared vision for our future.
Meredith Ward is President of Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York, a gallery specializing in American art from the 19th century to the present. Prior to opening her gallery in 2004, Meredith was Executive Vice President of Richard York Gallery. She received a B.A. from Tufts University and a M.A. in Art History from Columbia University. She is on the board of the Art Dealers Association of America and is Vice President of The Private Art Dealers Association.