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.