Today, January 10, is the first day that my plan to retire from my position at St. John's has been general knowledge. A letter went out last week that most people already received and I talked about it at all three services--just an initial and general comment, really. My last day will be April 30, so there is time to have longer, more serious conversations. After over 20 years there will be a lot of good-byes to say. And since someone leaving is like a death, I imagine we will all go through some of Elizabeth Kubla Ross' 'stages of death': denial, bargaining, anger, depression and hopefully, acceptance.
I've already experienced in others most of those stages. Some people who knew, before the letter went out, had the first reaction: "you don't mean it...." Others asked if there was anything they, or the church, could do to change my mind. Some spoke a bit harshly with me--words like 'abandoning us' and 'betraying us' were actually spoken. And many are simply sad--already in depression. A few have wished me well and told me they are happy for me. Thing is, people jump back and forth during a long illness--which, in a way--is what now until the end of April will be! My hope is to help the parish--and myself--come to acceptance in the end so my parting can be as wondrous and important as my time with St. John's has been. That's part of what I'll be trying to develop a discipline about by writing down the days.
I also want to reflect on my time here--I have grieving to do and things to let go of before I can leave cleanly. I usually work through things better in writing than in other ways, so this journal of the last few months of my ministry and presence here will help me do that.
I might start looking at 'the church' with a critical eye. One of the things I want to do when I have more time that will begin in May, is to write about 'the church' as an institution and a community. It is meant to be the latter but spends more time and energy of being the former, in my opinion at any rate. So I might drift into that once and a while.
And, really, is will be a time for me to say good-bye to some of the best years of my life. I was 42 when I arrived and didn't have a gray hair on my head though my beard had turned gray years before. Now I'm going to be a white haired guy of 63 when I leave. That's a lot of water under the bridge and a lot of wafers across the rail. It's also a lot of dying and being born and getting married and being sick and moving away and struggling and rejoicing. It is quite remarkable how little a priest 'does' like work. Most of my ministry is 'being there'. Woody Allen once said, "just showing up is 90% of life." In ministry 'just showing up' may be even more than that!
I've had discussions with other priests--and a couple of bishops--about my belief that ordination is ontological, not functional. There are 'functions' I can perform under the particular and peculiar polity of the Episcopal Church. But they aren't hard and soon become like 'muscle memory'. But I truly believe (as truly as I believe anything...we'll run into my odd theories about 'belief' at some point) that 'being a priest' is simply that--'being...."
I have a seminary classmate--probably many of them--who wear clerical collars. I don't and haven't for years--but that's just me. If I did wear a collar the last place I'd wear one is on an airplane--it attracts crazy people like a magnet and even the sanest of us is a little crazy at 38,000 feet trapped in a large, efficient sardine can. Once my friend talked to a man all the way from LA to Chicago. As they were circling O'Hare, the seatmate said to my friend, "what do you do for a living?" My friend looked down at his black shirt and Anglican collar and said, somewhat confused, "Why...I'm a priest...." And the man replied, "I know who you are, I want to know what you do...."
My friend asked me what I would have said. Truth is, what I would have said is something like, "who I AM is what I do...." Let him chew on that while he waits for his baggage.
I'm sure that will come up again in these musings under a Castor oil tree that will no longer be with us on May 1--my life and time at St. John's.
Hope you'll come along for the journey....
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