“Almighty God, giver of every good gift; look graciously on your church, and so guide the minds and hearts of those who shall choose a rector for this parish, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Those are the words we pray every time we gather around the table at St. Timothy’s. This prayer for the selection of a rector occurs following the Collect for the Day in the order of proceedings and then we go to the readings appointed for the day as we ‘listen and respond to God’s word.’
As I write this the first Sunday after Epiphany 2012, it is hard to imagine that it has been eighteen months since we learned that Steve Strane, our rector for 22 years was retiring. Such announcements are always the source of anxiety and trepidation. The rules of the church are rather inflexible in such matters for good or ill and as we faced the loss of our long time rector, his ‘trusty sidekick’ Kathy Trapani faced a Hobson’s choice of her own. She could step into the role of Interim Rector and continue to serve our parish family during this interim period and then exit as a new rector was called. Or she could apply to be Rector to replace Steven but that would require her to resign now in order to be a candidate. Such a deal!
So what happened?
I believe God does not ask us to shoulder burdens He knows we cannot bear. God has been with us at each step of this interim process and because of His Grace we have learned more about our faith, our values as a community, and our vision for the future of our faith community than we thought possible.
We learned that as much as we loved Steven Strane and were sorry to see him retire, that he gave us something we hardly recognized in his midst but THE GIFT has helped sustain us in his absence and empower us in the future. THE GIFT was a style of collegiality and his humble, welcoming, loving manner that made each person feel at home when they walked in the door the first time, and called by name the next time and every time they came to the table. THE GIFT was the lesson to love one another as Jesus loved us.
We learned that as much as we loved Kathy and would be sorry to see her leave us, we could celebrate each day we were together doing God’s work in the vineyard of St. Timothy’s and giving thanks for the many blessings that our time together has brought. This turned from a maudlin lament about Kathy’s eventual departure into a joyful celebration at Kathy’s love for us—so intentional—that our interim period has been seamless, healthy, happy and Holy! God loves us SO MUCH that he sent Kathy to be our guide and scout through the wilderness. We never doubted her steel and competence. We never felt abandoned or adrift. We never doubted her leadership nor wondered where she was leading us. The trusty sidekick has become our shepherd and while our time in the fold is transitional it is no less joyous and we are no less grateful for this holy time together.
We learned that in God’s great economy if Kathy had not stepped up to be our interim rector we would not have had the opportunity to call Kurt Levensaler to be Associate Priest. In Kurt God has sent us a breath of fresh air, a voice of new ideas, a new style, a fresh start that is essential to our transition and to our future. God has given us the great gift of practicing the joyous act of welcoming new clergy that we will face in our near future. Kurt is our bridge from the joyous place we have been through the joyous wonder of our transitional wilderness to our joyous future with a new rector.
We know God loves us so much that He has given us the Grace of a steady, healthy, optimistic advent in our search process. That grace and our confidence in the search committee and vestry to tend the process and keep it moving deliberately forward until they discern whom God is calling to be our new rector and reveals that call to them.
We believe and so we have faith in the process, in our transitional clergy and lay leaders.
We believe and so we celebrate the strengths of our community of faith and we believe that God wants us to keep working in our share of his vineyard using the resources, judgment and love for one another that he gave us—its grace, pure and perfect grace that surrounds us and fills us with joy and anticipation.
We believe and so with we give thanks for THE GIFT for even with the passage of time it still reminds us of the unconditional love that lives into Jesus call to us, for modeling for us how to turn that gift into work in the vineyard, and for preparing us for the future.
And then there is this,
In the Gospel reading appointed for this day from Mark 1:4-11:
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
We know God is with us in the advent of our search process and at a time of His choosing he will reveal to our search committee the one he has chosen to be our next rector. In the meanwhile, He has prepared us for his plan for our future by giving us THE GIFT of good shepherds to teach us, to love us and to prepare us for this time ahead. He has given us the gift of time to reflect and the opportunity to grow, to change and prepare ourselves for the time ahead.
We know that in hearing the news of that call of a new rector we are receiving the Holy Spirit anew–a gift of pure and perfect grace.