Discerning & Praying Our Way Forward
Last Sunday at our Annual Meeting we elected new lay leadership to our vestry and to the diocesan council; two bodies of prayer and discernment who lead the church, in partnership with your clergy, wonderful staff and our bishops and diocesan staff, in its mission and work here on the ground to serve Christ in and through one another. We also thanked the outgoing lay leaders from our vestry and other Trinity ministries, who have served and prayed throughout the challenges of the past 3 years. We are deeply grateful for their faithfulness in an environment none of us could have anticipated. Their creativity, flexibility, willingness to try new things, invest in new approaches and new technology to stay connected, and deep commitment to Trinity’s life together even in the midst of a health pandemic have made all the difference as we move forward into a new season with hope.
This is the way the church works: new leadership brings new life, new ideas, new perspectives. Each vestry builds upon the foundation of the one before, and the faith community thrives when people step up in these leadership roles to take their place–their turn–to focus on behalf of all of us on our mission to serve Christ in the world. AND each year it is new… leaders who come with their own hopes, commitment and trepidation, joining in the process we spend in retreat getting to know one another and becoming the new vestry together! It is a wonderful example of our faith in action…new life every year, as the vestry is transformed by the newly elected folks who join. EVERY year we are made new, as Christ promises: “Behold, I am making all things new.”
What is this work though? What do we charge our vestry to do on our behalf? The “not so simple” answer is that it is the work of Discernment and Prayer, in community. We ask these leaders to discern the way forward, in prayerful community, listening to the congregation, even as they work on and deepen their own relationship with God. It is a big ask and a meaningful and sacrificial offering. Please do express your appreciation and your hopes and ideas to the new vestry members, and pray for them.
I found myself looking at two photos this week that may help to illustrate for all of us how important this work is. The photos are from my sabbatical time, and I think they illustrate the challenges facing us as we move forward into a new season of ministry together. I have been your rector for five years and was blessed and re-energized by the recent sabbatical. We have come through Covid together, buried many of our beloved friends, and have confirmed our commitment to prioritize outreach to those in need and faith formation for all ages. The JOY campaign in the midst of a worldwide pandemic was completed, and the fruits of that work, those funds, and your commitment are evident each week now as Rev. Julia leads youth engagement, our dedicated church school and nursery continues, and we launch the “All In, First Sundays at Trinity” to emphasize how important it is for ALL OF US to worship God together with opportunities for young people to lead us as lectors, ushers, and other liturgical roles.
And the photos above, taken on my sabbatical, show two realities we face as a community. I invite you to pray over these images and to share your wisdom and reflections with me, Rev. Christopher, and our new vestry.
First, some railroad tracks on the High Line in New York City. The High Line is a public park adapted as an urban walking space using an old elevated railroad route. The designers helpfully left some evidence of the old tracks, but allowed new vegetation to grow up in the midst of the old path. I find this image really helpful for us as a church. Some of us are life-long Episcopalians, and many of us people from other faith traditions (or none) who have been called to the Episcopal Church, and who understand and value “the tracks.” It can be startling to see a new tree or flower (hymn, or prayer, or musical setting) growing in the middle of the track we loved and counted on!!! But the High Line is a wonderful example of how old can become new, life giving, and hopeful, and comforting too. As we move forward, in the reality of the decline of Main Line denominations (sounds like a railroad reference, right?); how might we adapt, accept, and nurture new plants, new trees, new life, right on top of the old tracks we trusted? That is the beauty and power of the High Line message: the old is not eliminated, but the new is welcomed too. What could that mean for Trinity as we move forward in today’s realities? How can we maintain wonderful traditions but be open to planting new things, creating new beauty, welcoming some unexpected trees into our midst, our worship, our fellowship?
The second photo depicts two people, properly prepared, well-equipped with wetsuits and surfboards surveying the waves. They show up in a spirit of discernment. Do they venture in? Are they up for the challenge of these particular waves on this particular day? Again, this image resonates for me about the challenges of our church today. There are waves, there is fog; we, at Trinity Concord, have most of what we need (incredible resources, great staff, willing leaders), but are we ready and clear about when and how to venture forth into today’s waves? What does our discernment look like? What are we hoping for as we move forward together post-pandemic? How willing are we to listen to younger voices, people less familiar with our tradition, busy families, newcomers who show up in faith at Trinity, the long time faithful among us? Full disclosure–I took this picture of my son and his partner on a very cold foggy morning in Pacific Grove, California, in October. They did end up going into the water that morning. What I noted in that moment was that it was a leap of faith…a decision to try, even though the water was cold, the waves were not predictable, the sunrise was going to be hidden by fog, and the outcome of that surf adventure was not guaranteed!!! This is where we are, my friends. We love our Trinity Church. We want to continue in faith and community. And we are facing uncertain times, not because we are not faithful, but because the world is in flux, traditional religion is waning with the next generations, we cannot assume that "business as usual" will be life-giving to those who are seeking meaning and spiritual food.
Like the early church, we are outliers, followers of Jesus. How can we best utilize our current resources? How do we assess the waves of change and hope that are before us each morning? What are we brave enough to try, even when it is foggy and the outcome is unknown? What do we need in order to trust in God who gives us all life?
I am committed to this community and am excited about the new challenges as we go forward, trusting that God is with us. We worship the One who knows all things, holds all things, heals all things. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me, to Rev. Christopher, to David Weiss, your new Sr. Warden, or to any of the people who have stepped up to be on the vestry in this new season. Trinity Church is alive and well! May we discern and pray together, listening for how God is calling us now!
Love and prayers,