Yesterday, H., St. John's Parish Administrator, told me she had finally realized that when I leave "every thing will change..."
No shit, Cheyenne! I realize that too--for the parish and for me. Everything will change.
The Episcopal Church has always participated in a group illusion that it doesn't matter, really, who the priest is...the parish is larger than the priest. In a sense that is true. My most profound prayer is that the parish will be stronger and better after I leave. But, in my experience, 'who the Rector IS' is astonishingly important. For one thing, the Rector is, by canon law, 'the boss' is areas of staff, program and worship. That leaves an imprint on the life and fabric of the congregation that in many ways defines the church. It doesn't mean a new Rector can't begin, from day one to replace that imprint--but it is there to replace.
Actually, parishes are like geological strata. Layer after layer is laid on top of the ones before. There are still people here from the Dr. Lewis layer. Dr. Lewis died 7 years before I was born, but he was here for 40 years and left a deep print in the nature of the parish. It was Dr. Lewis who--with far-sighted wisdom--made St. John's a parish deeply committed to 'outreach'. He brought the Red Cross and the Visiting Nurses Association to Waterbury. He provided space to teach English to wave after wave of European immigrants. He housed the WPA workers in the old parish house. And that outline of his devotion to outreach ministry has endured through my day. Others have tinkered with the outlines of the imprint, but have had the good sense not to try to eliminate it.
Then there are layers of people who became part of the church during the residency of other Rectors. The biggest one was Mike Kendall who was associate and then rector here during the late 60's until 1978. Another outreach priest who had a profound effect on people as a pastor and a friend. There was a long time member, God bless her soul, who used to tell people, in front of me, "Mike Kendall was my favorite rector...."
Mike was once standing outside the church with me looking at our sign. On the sign are service times and those universal symbols for male/female/handicapped bathrooms. "That's great," he said, "what a ministry."
Just today, on a light pole near the church I found a pencil drawn sign that said 'bathrooms' with an arrow pointing to st. John's.
The staff jokes a lot about our 'bathroom ministry'--which isn't pleasant but vital to those friends of ours who are outside and either homeless or far from home who need a bathroom. A recent seminarian gave a sermon about the holiness of cleaning feces off the wall. Some felt that was a little too vivid, but it is true. I have become adept at unplugging toilets in my time at St. John's and am better off for that. We are a church with a strong appreciation of Incarnation--the body has many functions and we are one of the few places in the center of the city where folks can find 'rest and relief'.
Several years ago I saw a young man walk past the church office window unzipping his pants. When I didn't hear the door open I went to see and found him peeing beside the church house door.
"Don't do that," I told him, "come in and use the bathroom...."
"I'm homeless," he said, about as angry as I would be if I were homeless, "I bet you have a bathroom in your house."
"I have three," I said, "and would like more but this isn't a conversation about the inequities of society, it's about how you are welcome to come in and pee...."
I've thought for a long time that the three professions that should be paid the most are Day Care Workers, Garbage Collectors and Nursing Home Aides. People who care for our children should be almost deities in our midst. People who take away the incredible amount of waste we make should be honored. And those who clean up our messes when we are old should sit in seats of honor.
It's all about waste and bodily functions when you get right down to it. Why shouldn't those jobs pay 6 figures? And why shouldn't cleaning feces off the wall be holy?
More later. Love you.
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