PRIEST IN CHARGE
ANNUAL REPORT FOR 2020
Dear Friends in Christ, Jan 2021
Hindsight is 2020 and 2020 is now in hindsight. We are glad to see it go. But the grief we have experienced or put off experiencing in order to get through some difficult days may shake us hard in the year to come. Could we as a country have better prevented these losses? Did we ignore our neighbors or let our own despair go untreated? Did we develop bad habits that will hamper us going forward? Will we blame each other or ourselves in ways that are corrosive instead of enlightening? Have we asked what we have done or left undone and asked for forgiveness?
And going forward: What do we love? Where does it hurt? What do we long for? This is a year to wrestle with these questions as we come back together and chart our course for the future. Who are we called to be? This is an opportunity to become more deeply connected and vulnerable to each other especially in the aftermath of a time of great division. Because our divisions will not destroy us if we stand for something else. Saying we follow Jesus does not seem clear enough anymore. Those words can be twisted to mean so many different things. So what do you stand on? What will we stand on going forward? What can we stand on with both feet without equivocation? This is the way to strengthen our connections to our church and our church’s connection to the world, both of which have been forcefully challenged in this past year. So, who are we called to be? What is essential to you? To us as CHT? And most importantly perhaps, why do we believe that we ARE essential?
I wonder if our faith in the 21st year of the 21st century could be expressed as a way that follows the example and the tradition of Jesus by pursuing truth and love through hope. A hope that doesn’t give up. A hope that doesn’t die. This is a definition that matters to me; because of the persistence of that hope, because of the insistence on that love and also because of the dangerous, life-giving power of that word truth. All year I’ve been wrestling with the meaning of this one word. How to preach it and be clear what I stand for and what I stand against without shunning anyone. One approach is to back off: to say that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is relative and therefore un-preachable. But this does not seem adequate to our moment in history or to our savior or the Gospel, although truth be told, there are words in the Bible that can be twisted any which way. This week however I read that describing the world as post-truth is conceding that the world is pre-fascism. If we truly believe that truth is beyond our reach, we will become ever more susceptible to provisional answers thrust upon us by the most authoritarian or attractive or compelling salesman. Or we will become rigid traditionalists intent on returning to a past that is not repeatable. But we have a better method for pursuing truth, don’t we? It’s a path and a practice that pursues truth and love through hope. This is the good news. In fact it has always been the good news. The only always forever good news.
I believe with my whole heart that the future of the church depends on the depth of the questions we wrestle with and are willing, however tentatively, to articulate to each other. When we share our hearts and minds with vulnerability and mutual respect, we will grow closer and stronger as one body of many parts and many charisms. And we will prevail. And we will become more able to articulate and live into what we decide our faith really means and witness to it in the public square.
So, what words would you use to translate your faith into words for not-yet-Christian seekers looking for meaning and commitment in the post pandemic world? And perhaps more important, how might you translate it into simple words for your own use? For me, in 2021, it is actively pursuing truth and love through hope. And witnessing to this with my life. Please help me God.
Now …because hindsight IS indeed 2020, I’d like to share with you my letter from the annual report last year. I thought it was so good I had to share it again. (LOL…we Christians are never supposed to say we actually think we did something well. Let’s get over that. This year has been so hard, let’s learn to acknowledge when something is good, especially in ourselves, before we lose that opportunity forever.) The most uncanny thing about the letter though is that it is still so relevant, even in these unprecedented Covid times, times that were beyond our wildest dreams a year ago. It still holds. Please skim it, see if you agree with my assessment and I’ll meet you again at the bottom of the page.
Dear Friends in Christ, Jan 2020
I have been here 4 months and it feels simultaneously new and strange, and almost like home. While this may seem to make no sense (!), it is a lot like much of my life in God and with God: both familiar and mysterious; close, intimate, and intractably odd. This, I think, is a good thing. It lets me know the relationship is real and alive and open to surprises. After all, stuff that makes perfect sense gets boring after a while. Believing we are all connected to an invisible reality of transcendent love, now that never gets old.
Loving the people here at CHT was a no brainer for me. (I mean, just LOOK at you!) But I have also been so pleasantly surprised by your openness, both to each other and to me and Mary Anne. There is a foundation of good will and trust here that is rare in any organization. So, cherish it and each other and we can only grow deeper and stronger together.
So, it continues. I am finally learning what my 35 keys are for and where to look to find new batteries (ask Valerie) and where the light switch in the flower sanctuary is (ask Valerie). I am deeply grateful to Mary Anne for showing me all the liturgical ropes and for making sure (even at the last minute) that my stole is the right color. And for much, much more. Thank you, Mary Anne. And Pam is good, not only with numbers but with giving out laughs and chocolate, so all is well in the back office.
When I look toward the future, my hope is that we will find ourselves drawing closer together by finding ways to share our faith in more personal ways. Can we articulate why we are precious to each other and what the church means to us and to Middletown? This desire fuels my work both to get to know you and to witness to you in my preaching, but it also inspires my work to reach out to other clergy and non-profits in town. I believe the church is shaped in part by how we see the church. Therefore the church can be as wide and deep and resilient as we say it is; or rather as we are willing to stand up and testify to, by our words and our actions.
Who do we want to be? Who do you want to be? How can we support and challenge each other?
Here are some of my questions:
Could church be nurturing as well as prophetic? Could church be fun as well as challenging? Can we find renewed strength and confidence by being more vulnerable with each other?
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
And share them.
SO BACK TO THE FUTURE 2021
Isn’t it strange to think of ourselves meeting in the chapel a year ago, silly with laughter, as I remember it, when I thoughtlessly and indecorously flung my leg over the back of a chair to join in the panel, no idea yet of what this year would hold and with no clue of what we would be called on to survive?
Not knowing yet that we would indeed struggle and yes, survive but also suffer great losses and have to give up much of what was dear to us, much that we at the time took for granted. Now, we’d like nothing better than wake up and discover this year was all a bad dream, to have our friends back and to just be back in church and yet our losses are real, we need to grieve them and these times continue to call us to reevaluate our priorities and strengthen our commitment to care for each other. How have we done? How will we go forward?
I wish I had found a way to reach out to every single one of you to see how you are doing and am deeply grateful for the advent of covenant groups that allowed us to reach out to each other. You can still join or start one. I am grateful to my many partners in ministry: to Luke, our summer intern for getting us rolling with digital worship, to Ted, our minister for Spirituality, to Marie, head of our safety committee, my wonderful wardens and vestry, and to Reverend Mo and the people of St John’s for joining their talents with ours in worship. But mostly I am grateful to you for trusting in me as I learn to lead this wonderful parish.
There are so many questions. When the dust clears and the vaccine is out, what will we see? Will some groups of people be left out? Will vaccine distribution be fair? Will we even care as long as we get our own? These are tough questions if we are honest with ourselves. Survival instincts can bring out the worst in us, in me anyway, but when I acknowledge my anxiety and fear, I find reserves of empathy underneath. And that’s when I know who I am again and feel reconnected to the world and to Christ.
And what about the smaller life-sized questions? Will more of us continue to work from home? Retire early? Will small businesses come back or will Middletown’s downtown be permanently changed? How might we respond? Rumor is it that more clergy are retiring. What does that mean for the wider church in CT where there is already a clergy shortage?
And parish-sized questions: How does it feel having a Christ-centered ballet company housed in our building? Does it fit our mission? Collectively we have received 3 grants this year: one for $13,000 for a part-time sexton, $2,000 for upgrades to streaming equipment and we are applying for another grant towards roof repairs. Ekklesia is applying for a grant for a portable outdoor stage that we could use for performances and worship. We have kept pledging up (thank you thank you thank you) and given generously to causes in the community. So we can rest assured that even in the midst of feeling largely powerless, we have made a tangible difference.
So…again… who DO we want to be as CHT: as this particular Episcopal Christian organization in this very particular location? Who are we called to be in 2021 as we return to the world on a Main Street that will surely be changed? What are our gifts as yet under-developed that the world needs now?
I dearly hope our covenant groups are nurturing your faith as they are mine so that we will have the inner resources to be more deeply engaged with these questions and ultimately become prophetic leaders in this congregation and in CT. That’s who I think we are called to be: a vibrant center of faith and action on Main Street in Middletown.
|In Lent, we will continue our after-church book study of the Universal Christ and contemplative prayer. Led by Revs. Mary and Ted. (Feb 7, Feb 21, Feb 28, Mar 7, Mar 14, Mar 21) Lent it Go! We will have a joint zoom service with St John’s with distribution of ashes on Feb 17, Ash Wednesday. We look forward to a celebratory service in our cars in partnership with Trinity Portland and ST. John’s. We look forward to resuming outdoor worship when that is viable and will continue to monitor when we can safely return inside.|
It is my hope that you will find one of the topics we open up for discussion today (Spirituality and Pastoral care, Social and Racial Justice and community engagement, CHT and the Arts worthy of your time and talent. Help lead us by raising your voice.
In truth, in love, in hope, in Christ,