When I was called as rector of St. Mary’s, I committed to stay for at least three years.
Each year since, I’ve intentionally prayed about whether or not I was still called to serve as rector.
I had some opportunities to test that call–three times candidate for bishop, invitations to serve in other rector search processes, a couple of invitations to consider whether or not to serve on the diocesan staff. I’ve even asked God if it’s time to retire.
Each testing of the call was another yes for St. Mary’s.
For twenty one years God has said yes to my call to St. Mary’s. Few rectors receive the gift of a long pastorate.
Last spring I was at the Diocesan Center at a meeting, and I thought about how very grateful I was to be serving at St. Mary’s. I recalled the times I’d wondered about serving on the Diocesan staff, and was thankful that God had kept me in the center of St. Mary’s parish life.
I should have known.
Later that week I was invited to be part of discernment for the position of Missioner for Congregational Vitality. I have to admit. It was lovely to be wanted and to have my gifts affirmed by people I respected. However, almost immediately, it appeared that door closed as the diocese decided to look in some wider circles.
I was thankful to have my call to St. Mary’s be another yes. I was grateful after all of the moves of the past two years because of a twice flooded rectory to settle in and be present with the people I love in a house that feels like a gift everyday.
I couldn’t have been more surprised (really!) when late this summer, returning from my mini-Sabbatical, I was asked to be the Missioner for Congregational Vitality. I hadn’t applied. I hadn’t sought it out. I was simply called.
I went through one of the most difficult months of discernment of my life. I met with my therapist and spiritual director. I sought the counsel and prayer of trusted friends.
I grieved deeply, deeply the thought of leaving the parish I have loved and called home for the past twenty-one years.
Frankly, the thought of moving yet again felt daunting beyond measure.
God and I had a lot of long, heart-wrenching talks.
And then, there it was. The peace where I knew what my next call was.
When I was about ten years old, I heard my first call to ministry. God spoke in my spirit and told me that I was called to be a missionary.
That call has shaped deeply who I was as a lay person and as I am as a priest.
It is not lost on me that God has now called me to actually have that title, more or less, as Missioner for Congregational Vitality.
My heart breaks to leave St. Mary’s.
There were things I thought I was called to do at St. Mary’s that will not be complete–building a labyrinth and leading a capital funds mission to renovate our aging campus. I did not achieve the goal for which I had hoped and prayed–for our whole parish’s commitment to sharing all of the gifts God has given us; there are still friends who live out of a theology of scarcity. We are still revisioning our ministry with children, youth, and young families. As I write this, I am not sure what our discernment will be about same gender marriage.
And then there are the precious, precious people of St. Mary’s. There are no words, only tears.
And yet joy–at a God who continues to surprise.
This weekend I will make public my next call–knowing that my new call gives St. Mary’s a new call, too.
May we all be blessed.
Art pictured in this blog are photos I took on my trip last week to Chrystal Bridges Museum and Bentonville, Arkansas.
In Little Rock, I happened upon an extraordinary exhibit, A Piece of my Soul. It contained quilts created by black women of Arkansas. In a room with walls covered in quilts made from leftover pieces of fabric, I sat on a repurposed church pew and watched a video of black women telling how sewing quilts had been a means to share and transform their lives.
Although the quilt tops were made by individuals, they were finished by groups of women who quilted them in community, continuing their story telling as they completed the quilt.
The women interviewed recounted a time when their people were too poor to buy ready made quilts, and so they used bits of fabric they had on hand to create something beautiful to keep their loved ones warm.
I was particularly moved by these women and their quilts made from what others might discard or thought waste because of a poem I had read that very morning. It was I Will Keep Broken Things by Alice Walker. Among the lines of the poem were these:
I will keep
In my house
A quilt that most held my attention was a pattern called Broken Dishes. It was finished by
Dorothy Lambert White in the 1950’s. Scraps of color as pieces of discarded pottery: the art of the quilt was full of life and joy and order in what could have been chaos and disappointment.
This is what God does. Takes the broken bits and the scraps of our lives. Fits them together with love and forgiveness. Finishes them through the love of community. Creates beauty and comfort. Through it all tells the stories of the deepest parts of our souls.
My best friend and I have taken a trip to celebrate my birthday most years we’ve been friends. The first birthday trip ever was twenty five years ago to Maine and New Brunswick.
New Mexico. Anacortes Island. Alaska to see glaciers. Maui. Isle of Iona. Rockport for whooping cranes. Nova Scotia. Iceland.
One year the birthday road trip to Marfa was rerouted to walk with three year old Judah from this life to the next.
This year we’re returning to a favorite spot in Arkansas.
I’m starting the day walking to have coffee.
Oldering is a very fine thing.
I experienced many firsts on this mini-Sabbatical. Maybe the most surprising was attending a heavy metal concert at Harpa, the extraordinary Reykjavik concert hall.
The last full day in Iceland was spent walking around Reykjavik. It was a glorious sunshiny day.
A knitting basket on the street in front of the local yarn shop inviting passers by to knit a row.
Enjoying the beauty of the city.
Stops for bites at local places. Our Icelandair flight attendant had shared with us her favorite places off the tourist trail.
The culminating experience of the day was a concert at Harpa. The music was a collaboration of the Iceland Symphony, two Icelandic choirs, a children’s choir, and the heavy metal band Skálmöld.
The audience was a mixture of heavy metal lovers, Icelandic locals in their sophisticated dress, and then a few folks like us.Years ago I read a book called Morning Sun on a White Piano. It was about finding the sacramental in everyday moments.
One of the chapters, as I recall, was about listening to music in community. The author talked about all the pieces that had to come together to produce the music, and then the audience’s response in hearing it–this mixture of receiving and giving created a concert.
I’ve never liked heavy metal. The closest I ever came to enjoying it was when my son was a part of a group called Animosity. I went to all sorts of unlikely places to hear him and his friends play.
This concert in Reykjavik was the perfect ending to this trip. Skálmöld’s music is written in the traditional Icelandic lyrical form and the contrast of their harsh style juxtaposed with the symphonic beauty was reflective of the Icelandic landscape. It was a trip to Iceland in a concert.
It was also a witness to what happens when greatly diverse people join and work together–the new and beautiful thing that can happen
There I was. A 66 year old priest from Texas, a grandma, rocking along barely able to contain myself with joy.
It was holy.
I’m back in Iceland on this trip not to Iceland.
The extraordinary beauty of the Faroe Islands and the warmth of the people has left my friend and me with a yearning to return.
Planning to return is the way we’ve traveled for these twenty five years. Circling back to places we’ve loved, we return with our list of things we missed the first time, places we want to experience again, and being open to the surprises we know will happen.
I am thoughtful on this day back in Iceland. This may be a good way to live each day.
Doing again those things that fill our spirit.
Keeping a spiritual list of those things that are essential.
Always being ready and prepared for the surprises.
On Tuesday, in the rain, my friend and I explored the island of Eysturoy. The surprise was a second flock of puffins, hundreds of puffins, in a cove called Mary’s bænk. Mary’s bench.
On this Sabbatical journey, I haven’t been as still and quiet as is my normal practice. I’m not sure why, but I woke up this morning in Iceland with my heart seeking that still place.
So I sat on a spiritual Mary’s bænk. And waited for the surprise of this day. Not likely to be puffins. But who knows?
Yesterday I was surprised by chocolate cake at breakfast. In a place where I ate each morning watching the sheep graze out the window.
What will be the surprises this day in Iceland?
O Tree of Calvary, send your roots deep into my soul. Gather together my frailties —my soiled heart, my sandy instability and my muddy desires —and entwine them with the strong roots of your arboreal love. Amen.
My friend and I stopped to pray mid afternoon at the church in Børn on Vagar from Prayers for All Seasons. As we prayed this prayer, both of us burst into laughter. You see, only a short while earlier I had slipped while hiking and my backside, from my head to my shoes, had been caked in mud.
I’d like to blame it on the puffins, but the reality is that I’m clumsy even when I am carefully using my walking stick.
Today we spent the day exploring Vagar, the island where the airport lives. To get to it, you have to drive through a long tunnel that goes under the ocean to connect Vagar to Streymoy.
It was a day to paint and hike and picnic.
We stopped in Miðvagur to buy cheese and bread for lunch. The store’s wares included yarn and a Tex Mex section.
The views along the drive were amazing.
The highlight of the day was hiking out to see Mullafsossur, a waterfall that drops off a cliff into the ocean.
The bonus was to discover a puffin nesting right beside the path on the way to see the falls.
I had been told how difficult and how rare it was to see puffins. I was told that my best hope was to take a long boat ride and then, at best, puffins would be sighted from afar. Here was one, right next to where I was walking!
As I looked around, I realized the cove was teeming with puffins. They can be recognized even from afar by their orange beaks and helicopter wings.
I was on my way to get closer to a flock of puffins when I slipped on a path. The slip turned into a slide as I slid down the path on my back. I couldn’t stop laughing. I knew how ridiculous it looked. My friend said it was a most impressive slide.
Folks raced to help me up, and it was at that point that I realized that I was caked in mud from top to bottom. Thankfully, there was a water closet within walking distance, and I had long johns and a sweater in the car that I could change into. Walking in the grass cleaned my hiking boots.
Finding a church with a door unlocked for prayers on the way home was yet another unexpected gift of the best kind of maybe day.
One of my favorite parts of being away is having an intentional Sunday Sabbath. It began by lolling in bed reading a mystery before getting up, rather than my usual Sunday practice of starting the day at 5.
After a week of long travel everyday, this was a day to catch up with myself.After a slow breakfast, my friend and I walked to church. This included some steep climbs to Hangar Kirkja. It was a gift finally to find a church door open.
It turned out is was a baptism Sunday. The babies processed in after the sermon with an entourage of what I assume were sponsors as the congregation sang a hymn. The congregation watched from afar as the three babies were christened in an extraordinarily orderly manner. Only the sound of crying babies and the huge smile of Ann, the priest, broke through what was very solemn and serious worship. Different from home, there were no congregational responses other than singing the baptismal party in and out.Of course the service was in Faroese. My true moment of worship was when we sang Take my life and let it be. I sang softly in English surrounded by Faroese voices.The one surprise was the lack of warmth and hospitality. After meeting so many generous, welcoming Faroese, it was jarring for Church to be so cold. Members greeted one another, but not guests.
Ann, the priest, did greet us warmly as we left for the day.
After worship, we walked for lunch and coffee at our favorite local roasters, Brell,
Then it was time to handle our dirty laundry issue. Our hotel did not offer this service, and we had been researching where to wash our clothes. We were on our way to the local camp ground (a strategy that worked in Iceland). Through several twists and turns, we were directed to where the seafarers wash their clothes. With our token card filled at a coffee shop downstairs, we were ready to get clean.
We had a lovely place to wait by the harbor, enjoying an early dinner, knitting, and then rewarding ourselves with Faroese treats and more coffee.
The only glitch was when we discovered that the dryer didn’t work, so we lugged wet laundry home to drape on every bare surface in our tiny room.
If Sabbath is supposed to be about feasting and rest and delight, I was fulfilled. Even doing laundry brought joy and laughter.
This is my fourth full day on the Faroe Islands.
So far we have traveled to six of the islands. Several others had to be viewed from afar because access took way more planning than my Sabbatical brain would hold.
The travel has included driving, walking, and ferries.
We’ve driven through tunnels that went through mountains and under the ocean. Some tunnels were brightly lit and two lanes, and others were dark and one lane wide with lay bys every few meters for passing. Those narrow ones felt like driving through a cave, and I was not fond of them.
We’ve seen more waterfalls than I can count. Maybe more per mile than anywhere on the earth–nature’s own drainage system. Only God would make something so necessary so stunning.
Every town has a church, more often than not with a thatched roof. All but one of the churches were locked, but nearly all had a clean WC outside that was open to all. I could probably think of a sermon about this with images of baptism and hospitality but I’m on sabbatical.
The people we’ve met have been generous and kind. I always apologize for not knowing Faroese. They have been gracious about the opportunity to speak English, and one man even said, “There’s only 50000 of us speaking Faroese. I am glad to practice my English.” It is humbling.
We have experienced the weather of maybe. Rain. Wind. Sun. More gray than sun, so a blue sky feels like an invitation to celebrate. Although the car keeps registering in the 50s, it feels much colder.
Today is Sunday. I’m off to worship soon. I checked in online before breakfast and saw the cloud of witnesses that have been officiating St. Mary’s Facebook Live twice daily worship so I can rest. My heart is full. Thank you. John. Sarah. Lissette. Jennifer. Sherry. Deborah. John.
Thanks to you, I’ll be looking for more rest in the land of maybe.
I love getting on a plane that clearly says where I am going. The Faroese airline is the Atlantic Airways three plane fleet. I rode one of the planes to the Faroe Islands on Wednesday night.
The Faroe Islands are a self-governing nation that is part of the kingdom of Denmark. They lie between Iceland and Great Britain and look like a hybrid of each. Faroe means sheep, and there are more sheep than the 50,000 people who call this eighteen island nation home.
A friend in Texas gave me two Faroese contacts. Katrina, the first one I met, said that the Faroe Islands are the land of maybe. Maybe it will rain. Maybe it will be windy. Maybe the sun will shine.
I love thinking about being in the land of maybe. I am living whatever maybe, and it will be wonderful.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in you, O God, my Savior,
for you have looked with favor on your servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
You have mercy on those who fear you from generation to generation.
You have shown strength with your arm and scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the help of your servant Israel,
for you have remembered your promise of mercy,
The promise made to our forebears,
to Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and their children for ever.
Today is the actual feast day of Mary.
I celebrated with prayers and worship at Hallgrímskirkja which included a gift of extraordinary music by the Schola Cantorum.
Their concert was because it was a summer Wednesday, but I listened for Mary. She showed up in The Song of Simeon, the hymn of praise launched into by a man who had been waiting his whole life to meet the Saviour of the world; he was introduced to the infant Jesus when he was brought to the temple in the arms of his mother, Mary.
To honor Mary, I’ve been looking for blue, the color of hope, and the color she seems to be always wearing in art. Since we have no idea what Mary looked like, her color coding makes her recognizable.
The wall of the hotel is covered in a mural of crosses. Seeing them this morning, the blue ones seemed to praise Mary.
Marian Feast Day Blessings.
A candle was lit and prayers prayed for all of you.