THE 15TH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST-AUGUST 21, 2016
A year ago I accepted an appointment to Vancouver School of Theology (VST) as Director of Anglican Formation, a position which seems to suit me and which I love.
Initially, it looked like the arrangement – of working 1/3 time there and 2/3 time here — had the potential to be a new lease on life for me and for St John’s as well, with creative interaction between the two realms. It was ideal for me, as it allowed me to remain in this parish which I have loved leading and serving.
It also carried the exciting possibility of bringing another person into the ministry picture at St John’s. After nearly a year, though, we had some supply help, but no one emerged to fill that 1/3 space that my being at VST created. I began to be aware that you can say you’re 2/3 all you like, but 100% of the work and expectations of the Rector were still present, despite my efforts to delegate and draw back. Those expectations and assumptions are only natural when people have been so accustomed to one pattern. The problem is that I have at least 1/3 less time to do all that, and to meet all the expectations.
I spoke to people at the Synod office several weeks ago about whether there was someone out there who might provide ministry on a 1/3 basis but there seemed to be no one at all on the horizon.
Despite all that, until very recently I saw myself continuing indefinitely as St John’s – to retirement age and beyond. It has been a place that I have enjoyed, I have had good support, we have a great clergy team, we have dedicated leaders, and there is a lot of promising new life emerging. However, as time progressed, I was slowly becoming aware that with two full days a week dedicated to VST, I was not going to be able to provide for St John’s what this parish needs and deserves as it goes forward (and it needs to go forward). I just do not have enough time to plan programming, or to offer adequate pastoral attention, and many weeks have been characterized by not having enough time to get things done either here or at VST, so having to make time by not taking time off, working at strange hours of the night, and essentially working seven days of some weeks. It’s not a pattern that can continue for long.
Questions like : When are you done? When is it time? When do you need to move on so someone else can carry things forward? – are not easy questions to answer, and when you are happy in a place, they are questions you would rather avoid.
For a while, I remained pretty much oblivious, but it was becoming clear to others at least that it was unrealistic (maybe even selfish) to think I should continue. However, I was not ready to accept that yet.
However, perhaps influenced by health issues earlier in the year, it did start to occur to me that maybe I was done. 8 years is a long time. By now you have heard most of what I have to say; some no doubt have grown tired of me long since. I have never believed that stagnating or just treading water were helpful models of ministry.
During a recent conversation with Richard Topping, Principal at VST, it became clear that my work there is appreciated to the degree that they would take me on at least half time if possible. That changed the dynamics of my situation even further and I was presented with another choice.
Further conversations with the Bishop and the Executive Archdeacon helped me realize that my time has come to leave St John’s, to clear the space for another person to offer their leadership, their gifts, their insights, their compassion, to bring new energy and direction, full time, to help you move forward in becoming what you are called and meant to be.
A missionary to Chile who was a guest speaker in my last parish left me with a meaningful insight. When asked about what it means to be a missionary, he said we clergy are all missionaries – that we are always interim, and temporary. We have a purpose, a mission, to accomplish and then we have to go. Discerning when that moment has arrived is never easy, as I mentioned, and the fact that I took so long to come to this decision, and to accept it, is an indication of the degree to which I care about this parish. But accepting the fact that it is time to go is also an indication of the degree to which I care for this parish.
I am reminded of a sign I used to have hanging in my office: “You are not totally, personally, irrevocably responsible for everything. That’s my job! Love, God!”
The Bishop and Executive Archdeacon helped me think this through and reflected with me about an appropriate parish in which to continue my priestly ministry on a half-time basis. This past Wednesday, I had an interview which was to begin the process of exploring. I thought it would probably take months to come about. But after a very good meeting with the folks at the very first parish I spoke with, they were on the phone to the Bishop the following morning, and she was on the phone to me not long after. The whole process took only several days – I remain slightly stunned!
As a result, I will, as the wardens indicated, be going to Christ the Redeemer in Cloverdale (in Surrey), some time later in the Fall – the dates are a little fuzzy due to previous commitments, but either late October or early November.
I am feeling excited about the prospect, but I have not even begun to deal with my feelings about leaving St John’s. This isn’t the first time I have had to make the decision to move on. I know there will be a variety of feelings, from sadness to disappointment to fear to anxiety to anger. But I hope we will choose to engage and enjoy this time of transition; as I move on, we can celebrate certain things, laugh about a lot of things, and share memories of significant moments. I go away from here carrying many good memories along with the 30 pounds I gained during my 8 years here.
Clergy are in fact something of a model in terms of responding to God’s call and going where they believe they are supposed to be – early on, most of us realize you can’t argue with God, as the prophet Jeremiah found out.
Somewhat coincidentally, today’s readings provide direction, wisdom and reassurance as we begin this phase of transition:
The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of how important it is to remain open to God’s call, even when things seem inconvenient and overwhelming to the point of impossible. This passage reminds us never to underestimate our own significance – our own place in a larger picture — our own chapter in a bigger story – even when we may not be confident in our own value or gifts or abilities.
The alternate reading today from Isaiah (which I worked into the Confession) urges us to get past our own interests, reminding us that religion is never just about ourselves – that if we can get away from merely serving our own interests, God will take us to new and amazing places: “I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth … The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs” (from Isaiah 58).
Except in God, in all things there is a beginning and there is an end. The Letter to Hebrews teaches us that we seek and celebrate and serve the God who shakes things up, the One for whom everything is temporal, provisional, interim and conditional, the One who leads us beyond the forms into the substance, beyond the appearances and into the reality of the life that generates and animates the universe. The real life of God is something ineffable – difficult to comprehend – and not just a matter of connections with certain specific objects, places or ways of doing things.
And today’s Gospel, of the woman who was healed after suffering 18 years, encourages us to believe in the power of Christ to heal and restore, and to remain open to possibilities even though things don’t happen according to our own sense of timing. Jesus was the bearer of new life and transformed many who allowed him to touch them. It is an important reminder to keep our hearts open, to allow them to be accessible rather than hardened and closed, even though to keep your heart open leaves you susceptible to being hurt. The way of Jesus transforms the way of suffering – gives it new meaning and dignity – and incorporates it into the bigger picture of his life, death and resurrection, the kingdom of God and life in the Spirit.
You can be profoundly changed by an encounter with someone that lasts only seconds – over eight years, we have certainly shaped and changed each other in substantial ways. I am not the same person I was when I arrived; you are not the same people you were.
For eight years I have spoken of St John’s in terms of “we”, and now it is hard to begin to use the second person pronoun “you,” as the distancing and departing begins. As I begin the process of separating from you I am conscious that we are all part of a larger Communion – a ministry that is not isolated to one parish. In the Spirit, we remain one. So it is very appropriate that we speak of this in the context of the Eucharist, that one place where we know the healing life of Christ is present, the one place that unites us all.
Let us bless each other and give thanks to God and patiently work toward the future of this great Communion, especially as it is manifested in the parish of St John the Apostle, in which I have been privileged to play a part over the past eight years.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+