Monday, October 08, 2007

A Marvelous, Ordinary Sunday

Several of you know that my parish welcomed a new rector yesterday, and have asked me to give you my reactions. Here they are.

I had a delightful day at church yesterday. My parish welcomed the Reverend Shariya Molegoda [late of St. James, Cambridge] as our new rector, after a long, long 26-month interim period.

No, we didn't have a difficult interim period. Yes, we intended it to be very long, as our last resident rector had been here 34 years, and we knew we needed quite a while to transition

Although I wasn't on the search committee, I have served on the vestry through this transition period, and I was pleased as pleased could be with the call.

Our parish just loves to party and "make a big deal" of things. But Shariya+ asked that there be no big party. She said she wanted to keep the focus on liturgy and worship – not on her. I have a sense that's going to be a hallmark of her ministry here. We honored her wish.

However, she led the Adult Forum, talking about who she is and what has brought her here. She was born and raised in Sri Lanka, a lifelong (and generations-long) Anglican. I can't now convey the "spirit" of this Adult Forum gathering, but it was impressive to me. She could have been a monastic, but chose a parochial vocation instead. As she spoke, and as she answered questions, something comes through loud and clear about her quietness and contemplation. I also was moved by her willingness to speak of her faith in ways that I don't often hear Episcopalians speak. Thoughtful, joyful, and deep. It was challenging and en-couraging to me.

During the Adult Forum session, one parishioner asked her a rather pointed question about her preaching style – whether it would just be a series of anecdotes, or would come "from the Word." Shariya's answer caught me up short. She described how she goes about preparing a sermon, reading the scriptures, praying and meditating on them, then concluded: "The sermon is the end product of one person's prayer, which is then offered to the community." Then, I think, she said something about hoping it would resonate with us and become our prayer also. I grew up in a tradition where sermons were a "preaching-at." This is a very different approach, and one I embrace. I look forward to her further offerings.

And her sermon on this first Sunday in our parish? It was dense, thoughtful, and not for the faint of heart or spirit. I think we are "back in business" as the "thinking Christian's place to be." The search committee members who visited her former parish were right: Her sermon will give me fodder for thought throughout the week.

Throughout my parish's transition period, I've heard members of our parish yearning [yes, yearning!] for more spiritual depth. I am hopeful that Shariya+ may be the person who can take us there.

I think we may have called a rector who will call our parish to deeper personal spirituality and greater outreach to the community.

The Spirit's Whimsy

During the Adult Forum, someone asked a question, to which Shariya+ responded about what happens when we truly open our church doors. She took the response in one direction, but it occurred to me that when we really open our doors, we never know who or what may come in through them.

I served as a Eucharistic Minister yesterday, so I was sitting in the chancel during the service.

Wouldn't you just know it? Midway through the sermon, a homeless man came in, sauntered right down the center aisle all the way to the front, and seated himself in the transept. [That kind of stuff just does not happen here. We're not in an urban parish, but in a small town of ca. 40,000 population.] Was it providential? I'm pleased to say that my friend Marc moved up and sat with this guy, and had a good exchange. The man told Marc he just needed a place to be quiet for a time. And as we said our liturgy and sang our hymns, I think we provided that quiet, hospitable-but-not-pushy place. At least I hope we did.

That has been my experience of the Episcopal Church. We proclaim that we welcome everyone. What we don't often articulate is that we welcome everyone to come in and have a seat, but we also believe that the liturgy, the Word, the sacraments, the teaching will change people. It certainly changed me!

The Big Issues

It was very, very good for me to be at church yesterday. You all know I have been very frustrated by the House of Bishops statement -- and my bishop's letter. They ticked me off big-time. But yesterday I was reminded how much I love my parish and my fellow parishioners. [Thank you for the reminder, Hilary.] We go on being the Church, no matter what any bishop might say. In my parish: that's where I grow and find sustenance. Let the primates and bishops play their games. I will go on working to be conformed to the image of Christ. The bishops and archbishops have their work to do; I have mine.

I am tired of parsing and studying the statement of bishops and primates and self-anointed experts. I want to get back to the basics. I want to get back to the words of Jesus Christ and what he called us to do. Jake and Harry have provided an important ministry, in helping me to move beyond my anger and negative energy. But I am also newly energized about this renaissance in my own parish.

Thanks be to God!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a terrific report. I am glad for you, and your parish.

10/09/2007 10:36 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

This is so good to hear! I'm happy for you and your parish. But you've also given me hope for my parish--our priest of 16+ years left two weeks ago, and we'll get our interim priest the first week in November. Thank you for telling about your positive transitions.

10/10/2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger June Butler said...

Lisa, your new rector sounds like a wonderful choice. I loved her response to the sermon question.

We have had homeless visitors a couple of times at week-day services, and our town is about half the size of yours. One of our men joined us around the altar for the Eucharist and recited the prayers from the BCP from memory.

10/12/2007 12:08 PM  
Blogger PseudoPiskie said...

Please email me, Lisa.

10/16/2007 2:49 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yes, Jan, the interim period really can be a positive time. That certainly is how our parish experienced it.

What a marvelous story, Grandmere!

10/20/2007 9:01 PM  

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