I have relatively recently finished my first year as Rector of Saint Philip’s. To say that it has been a busy one is an understatement. We have called a new music director, communications director, assistant rector, and two curates in that time. We have restructured financials, tried a new stewardship program, made adjustments to liturgy, added the daily office and daily mass to our rotation, welcomed a massive art installation that has transformed our space, we re-configured Holy Week, we created a new website, and much more that I have forgotten that seemed the most important thing in the world that day (I am sure). The urgent has squeezed the important and the important has pressured the necessary.
This is a warm congregation. It is a thoughtful, engaging, and faithful congregation. It is the epitome of a place that is formed by tradition but not bound by traditionalism. They have born with many changes that a new rectorship always brings. Other than a hiccup now and then (such as when we introduced a new bulletin format) there has been generous patience with change and adjustment.
In the midst of so much change so much more has remained the same. We have buried treasured friends. We have married couples new to the Church. We have baptized, fed, and taught. We have consoled, healed, and cried. We have done so much that so many have done over the centuries and millennia that has made churches the Church.
I am struck not by how much is different in the past year but by how much is the same. People come to me with the same longings, fears, hopes, dreams, heartaches, and inchoate yearnings that I have heard in my office and in the confessional for years now. One bleeds into another. This is not to say that each individual’s need or offering is the same but to say that each so mirrors another’s that we find our hope and consolation in the gathered Body. We find in our brother’s sorrow our own and in our sister’s joy the same as we have celebrated.
Today we transferred the Feast of Saint Luke to Sunday (a heretical practice to many of my sisters and brothers in ministry). We do this so that many can engage the lives and lessons of the saints in a place where the practice of festal masses on the proper days has not been a long nor deep custom.
The Epistle today was one of my favorites – and our preachers did not only rightly by the text but splendidly. The piece of the text that draws me in the most though is this line, “Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”
I love this passage because of the names and the utter quotidian details recorded. How many times do we get caught up in the grand schemes, the sweeping narratives, and the theological debates while forgetting entirely that Mrs. Wambly’s lost jacket is as important to the narrative of the Church as is righteous exactitude over Transubstantiation? That is no exaggeration. Each and every story of the faithful is a gift of God to the people of God. We only know that what once was lost is now found because the lost and found told the story of a Good Shepherd who cared enough to patiently wait as the lost and lonely one truculently, and by fits and starts, made his or her way home to the One.
The cloak and the books and the parchments – and Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, and Tychicus are all essential details in the sweeping arc of salvation history. They matter because each of us matters – this is what it means to have a savior born in a stable, taking our form, lifting us to his stature, imbuing us with his voice, and equipping us for Resurrection ministry. I watch lectors and preachers and lecturers and pastoral care-givers and more with a sense that they give voice to the sometimes lonely hope that there is more – that there is more of Christ waiting to be heard and seen and known in the stories we might ignore and in the homely biographies that get lost in the shuffle of the hagiographies of saints and angels.
The Church heals us with the story of Christ and we heal the Church with the stories of our salvation. It is too easy for the capital-C Church to lose its way amidst the changes and chances of centuries and it is too easy for each of us to get lost in the shuffle of the day-by-day grind of the life of our churches while losing sight of the thing that has shaped us since before the foundations of the world.
Recently a parishioner of ours, Fr Gene Connely, died. He went to God remembered by many. He left a candle-stand for the parish that is used daily. His story matters. Another parishioner died not long ago with no one to mourn – with no one who felt the strength to face the tragedy of his death – his story matters. Another died with the praise of God on his lips – his story matters. Another died last year and legendary tales of her hospitality and loving-kindness are told daily – her story matters.
If every church is built of stones then we know that the living stones of the Church are the stories of each member who goes on to his or her reward sure of nothing but the loving call of a savior whom we know only story by story, by word, by deed, and by example. May God continue to enliven the Church with the living witness of saints and sinners who give life and breath to the theology, debate, and decisions that seem so decisive one day and so lost in the shuffle the next.