Saturday, January 15, 2011

Words of Wisdom for Would-be Presbyters

I’m writing this on the plane flying home from Atlanta where we just finished a VERY packed 48 hour planning meeting. It was a “site visit” for the coming-up-in-March church-wide consultation on the process of implementing General Convention 2009 Resolution C056 and its call for the collection and development of resources for the blessing of same gender unions.

I continue to be so very excited, gratified and honored to be part of such an extraordinary opportunity to engage so intentionally in these wide ranging theological, liturgical and pastoral reflections – in consultation with the House of Bishops – with the wider church. So there’ll be lots more about all that to come. [Keep an eye on the SCLM blog in the meantime.]

But – speaking of the “wider church” – this flight seemed like a good time to make good on my intention to follow up with some reflection on my week-before-last invitation to leaders from around the Episcopal Church to send “words of wisdom for new presbyters” as part of the pre-ordination retreat I had been asked to facilitate here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. [I blogged a bit about it at the time.]

I had no idea what I’d get … what we’d get. I wondered if any of the really busy, faithful, fabulous people I sent that after-8 p.m.-on-a-Tuesday-night email would either have or take time to respond.

But respond they did! In all twenty-eight emails from a decidedly unscientific cross-section of folks in my Outlook Contact List. Parish priests and seminary deans. Activists and academics; clergy and laity. Bishops and Deputies. A priest who’s been retired for 20 years and one who’s been ordained for 6.

One sent a sentence:
"Love them" first, last and always.

Another sent two:
God is immensely good, all the time, whether we are at our best or not.
We have the privilege of pointing to God's goodness in the work that we do, and not be thought fools for doing so!

One sent “bullet points” to consider:
Transparency leads to authenticity
• Anxious leadership causes flaps but non-anxious leadership moves people ahead
• We learn more from our mistakes than our successes so take appropriate risks

Another sent a question to ask:
Ask yourself: Am I living my vocation, my ministry, my job, my relationships, my life in such a way it would make no sense did God not exist?

Others sent poems, quotes from novels, and … well: why don’t you see for yourself? Here’s just a sampling of the wisdom for new presbyters – culled from the wisdom offered in those email offerings from the church they have now been ordained to serve.

In reading through them again this evening … on this plane somewhere between DFW and BUR … and I’m impressed, amazed and inspired all over again at the grace-filled power of these words offered by these many faithful servants to ordinands they mostly do not know, likely will never meet and with whom they have no connection. Except of course that “tie that binds” we sing about and those “lives closely linked with ours” we pray about.

So read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly digest. And give thanks – with me – for them. For their work, for their witness and for their words. AND for the church we serve together – for the Good News of God in Christ Jesus we offer in our varied and wonderful ways.
Words of Wisdom for New Presbyters: (bits and pieces from a great cloud of witnesses!)
Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both: The challenge is to "interpret newspapers from your Bible." And when you tell your congregation your interpretation, keep it simple. And have fun!

I would encourage all those about to be ordained to sacramental ministry always to remember to engage with each and every body with as much reverence as we are taught to treat the bread and wine on the table at which it is our privilege to preside.

Take the time to learn Robert's Rules of Order. People in power have long used them to hang onto their power. We who desire to enact the words of the Magnificat would be well advised to 'read, mark, learn and inwardly digest and then USE Robert's Rules.

Love the people you serve. Notice them. They carry gifts and experiences that will take your breath away. Even the difficult ones are often difficult because they walk through their lives damaged and burdened by things no one would ever guess. But you don't have to guess -- they'll let you in if you give them cause to trust you. The degree to which people let us in to their lives, show us their wounds and their griefs and concerns, is (literally) awesome -- wondrous and terrifying. It's a breath-taking gift they offer us and a stunning responsibility.

There are basically two rules for ministry:
1. You cannot do everything.
2. You cannot change number 1.

Remember who you are. Remember Who God is. Wake up every morning "in love with the unexpected visitations of the Spirit." And when you cease to weep with your people who are grieving, you know it is time to retire.

Ordination is never a reason or an excuse to cease to exercise our prophetic voices. The prophetic voice of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has always carried consequences with it. If we are not willing to take on the responsibilities and the consequences for exercising that prophetic voice, then we should question whether we have really been called to be ordained as a minister of that Gospel. Laying hands for ordination should not result in the removal of the spine.

“Even the colors of the world can switch headquarters and meanings on you and in minutes. The right answer one second is such a wrong answer the very next one.”

"Be watchful not to put the church before God's mission. Remember, it's not about the church but rather God's restoring, reconciling love for all people in Jesus Christ. There is nothing the evil one wants more than for us who are ordained to be so worried about the church that we neglect God's mission in the world."

A Poem for Priests in These Difficult Times - Author unknown

The day you were called
to break bread for a living,
was the day you were called
to be broken.
The days you spend bending over bread
are spent
around a mystery of fraction.
If you are indeed, broken,
you need to gather up each other’s fragments,
and remember how,
through you,
God feeds so many
with so little.

And finally:

Fear not. Embrace the joy of this weekend and then roll up your sleeves. The kingdom of God needs you.

And let the people say, AMEN!


Caminante said...

That poem is one of my favourites... and I will add what you have about remember you can't do everything and remember you can't change that.

Ann said...

Thanks for sharing this Susan


You're welcome. It was a great project and a great cloud of witnesses!