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The Celebration of a New Ministry

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The Celebration of a New Ministry

St. Francis Church

March 8, 2009

John 15:9-16

          I remember at my ordination, right here in this church, on the Epiphany, January 6, 2007 at three o’clock in the afternoon…well to be perfectly honest with you there is very little that I remember. I was a nervous wreck.

          Steven Eichler was the preacher that day. He had been such a great help to me in seminary and I noticed, when I was working at South Pittsburg ,he always had terrific sermons. So he was my choice to preach at my ordination.

Of course if you are a nervous wreck as I was, it became very difficult to pay attention to what the preacher was saying. I was too busy worrying about things like what if I trip over my stole or step on the Bishops hat or something like that. What if I say the words wrong? Suppose I spill the wine?

There was one part of the sermon though, that got through all of the worrisome things and I heard that part loud and clear. Steven said, “if Joe is not successful here at St. Francis it will not be his fault…it will be yours.” I wanted that to be our mission statement but thought better of it.

As usual all the worrisome things did not happen and the service went very well. My friends from seminary, my parents Sonya’s family, the good people from All Saints, Morristown and various clergy from around the diocese were here showing support. And here we are again some two years, two months two days and yes two hours later. I am serious, 2years, 2months,2days and 2 hours. Coincidence? I think not!                    Well, okay maybe it is a coincidence.

But just to let you know I have thought about it…2222…. The Son has 2 natures: human and divine. There are 2 Testaments: the Old and New.. 2 types of people: Sheep and Goats. There are 2 ages, this age and the age to come….2222.

Our gospel reading today is very appropriate for this service. That is why it is listed as the first choice in the prayer book. But, I’m not sure when it was chosen, the title of Priest in Charge Under Special Circumstances was invented. I doubt it. But if we really look at it, the terminology sounds extremely appropriate. The gospel says, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit…”

This process of appointment by the bishop seems to be becoming more popular as I see more special circumstances titles, not just in this diocese but all through the Episcopal Church.

The special circumstances vary from situation to situation. Our situation at St. Francis was special, economically as well as socially and culturally. We were at a crossroads. The road we were to choose was not yet determined and we needed to feel our way around the intersection for a while.

Sonya and I had not been here very long when we received a note from a parishioner. It said a lot of things but it implied that this church was here long before we arrived and it would be here long after we were gone. Now it is very unfair for me to say that the intent of the note was the same as the message I received. In fact, I now know that I misinterpreted what the note said and the person who sent it meant nothing of the sort. My Bad.

I only mention this because the relationship between a congregation and the pastor and their family is very fragile at the onset. There is no past history, no build up of trust…no faith in one another. We had to learn each other. We had to decide which of our preconceived notions of each other were true and which ones were not.

I must say that most of my preconceived notions turned out to be unwarranted. It really did not take long for me to realize that I was in the best possible situation, for me, that I could have imagined. Soon after that, we realized that we were in a wonderful situation for our family. Not only has this parish been wonderful, the community of Norris is one of the best places I could imagine living.

Today is a celebration of a new ministry. Albeit a 2 year, 2month, 2day, 2 hour old, new ministry. There is an integral part of this ministry that should not go forgotten in this celebration. Without this integral part there would be no ministry at all. Without this integral part I would not be here today. I would not have become a priest. I would not have gone to seminary. I would not have sought Holy Orders. Before I took my ordination vows I made my marriage vows with Sonya and we became one flesh. We also became one heart and one mind. So this celebration is a celebration of our ministry not my ministry.

When we were at Sewanee, Sonya went to a spouse’s seminar and was told that the parish was not a part of her responsibility. She needed to learn to say no when parishioners asked her to volunteer for things. It was suggested that she sing in the choir and do nothing else. If asked she could say no, I am singing in the choir. When she came home she was all fired up about learning to say no. When we moved to Norris she was all fired up about saying no. She couldn’t wait to tell someone no.

She must have taken that seminar very seriously. The only thing she doesn’t do is sing in the choir. Therefore she has been unable to use that as an excuse to say no. Godly play, Golden rulers, usher, lector, acolyte, chalice bearer, Grace Point board, food bank; etcetera, etcetera. Then she has to listen to me when I come home excited about some new rubric, relic, vestment or liturgy. She calls me a church geek. I have no words that can convey my gratitude to Sonya.

Jesus speaks to the idea that God has loved him and he in turn has loved us. We are to live in that love. That is what makes a successful church. Living in the love of Christ. We have had our differences and we always will. We might disagree with the diocese or the Episcopal Church and will certainly have disagreements with one another. There are no churches that live in complete harmony. Never have been and never will be.

You have heard me say it before and you will hear me say it again. We can disagree all we want as long as we are willing to come to the table together. We can leave our disagreement alone for that brief period even if we go back into them afterward. It’s called communion, it’s called abiding in the love of Christ. It’s called a celebration.

This is what we need to have in mind as we Celebrate a New Ministry. This is not my new ministry. It is our new Ministry. I am of the opinion that we are off to a good start. Much remains to become the parish we are capable of being. We will continue to expand our ministry as we continue our growth as long as we abide in the love of Christ. I look forward to the next 2 years 2months 2days and 2hours… and beyond.

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