I often tell people I am confounded by linear time. It is true: I can't remember what year or what month and sometimes what decade things happen. When we go to Oak Island, NC, as we've been doing the last few years, Bern remembers which houses we stayed in which years! I vaguely remember the houses, but not the years--not on a bet.
Anyhow, I made the mistake this afternoon of looking at a calendar and I realized I only have 14 more Sundays at St. John's before I retire. That just doesn't sound right--it's over 3 months away so why aren't there more Sundays left? Besides, I've been the Rector of St. John's for about 1066 Sundays so far. How can it be only 14 left?
It's like that old question--if you had one day to live, what would you do?
If I have only 14 Sundays left to preach--hard as that seems and realizing I'll probably not preach them all since I usually invite others to preach a time or two during Lent--what do I want to say?
I of course, like Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin, want to sing some 'sustaining songs' over the next months. I want to assure everyone that 'everything will be alright' after I'm gone and I want to believe that for myself.
Lots of people say to me these days something like "what are we going to do without you?" I have good answers for that. The parish is going to find new life and new commitment as they look at themselve free of me. The parish is going to have a great adventure searching for a new Rector and listening to themselves and each other about how wondrous that might be after all these years. The parish is going to experience a burst of freedom and possibility once they get to the phase of 'acceptance' of my leaving and be able to 'define' themselves without the many boundaries and definitions I have imposed along the way. And some day in the not too distant future (this from someone who is confounded by linear time!) they will welcome a new visitor into their midst who they will love and support and be loved and supported back they way we've done it for two decades.
The real question is this: "What am I going to do without them?"
My life for 20 of its best and most productive years has been formed and shaped by the multitude of people who are part of the Body of Christ known as St. John's. I spend more time with the staff of the parish--especially H and S and A and lately F--than I do with my wife and much, much more than I do with my children and friends from beyond the parish. And I count as 'friends' many, many of the people in and around the parish. They'll just be missing one person...I'll be missing them all.
(There is a dispute in the Church about whether or not a priest should befriend members of his/her parish. Many choose and most believe a priest should not to be related to members of the parish on the level of friendship. The though is that it will confuse the 'pastoral' relationship and cloud the lines of authority. I have taken the road less traveled. I am a friend to many of the people I serve. Over the years seminarians have often asked me if I realized the danger of that and I have told them, honestly, that I believe the people I serve and lead--and that, in and of itself is a wierd enough relationship--know how to 'be my friend' and yet let me 'be their priest'. And to a great degree, it has worked for me and I pray for them. So I will be, in a real way, losing most of my friends when I leave St. John's. It makes me catch my breath to realize that. Only 14 Sundays to make sure they know how profoundly I love them....)
Human love and friendship, it seems to me, is a metaphor and a paradigm for the relationship we all should seek with God. Those connections people make in a parish church echo the connection to God that is the point to the whole thing. Friendship is a holy thing, it seems to me.
So, perhaps the best thing I can do over these last weeks and months is simply appreciate and acknowledge how dear the people of St. John's have become to me. Many of them know me so well that it would be impossible for me to 'pretend' with them about much of anything. They've pretty much figured me out. It will ever so strange going into a different community where I don't have those connections and to try to find friendship there....
Did I say 14 Sundays? It must be more than that, surely....
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