The Feast of Pentecost
Leave-taking from the parish
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
The Feast of Pentecost, when we honor the gift of the Holy Spirit, has had a timely way of weaving itself into my life. On this day in 1964, when I was 13 years old, I was confirmed. On this day in 1982, when I was 31 years old, I was ordained a priest. And on this day in 2013, now that I am 62 years old, I part company with you.
The Holy Spirit is with us at all times, of course, but when we invoke it on special days - like baptisms, weddings, ordinations, and today - I believe that the Spirit responds, and becomes particularly active. When we bring open hearts and a faithful intention to these moments, something stirs within us, among us.
I have felt this movement vividly over the past weeks, as I have been preparing for this day. The Spirit has been stirring me as I have taken leave of one group after another, as I emptied out my office, as I have read your stories of what we’ve shared in the many cards and letters you’ve given me, and especially on Friday night as you overwhelmed me with that unbelievable party. I’m still stunned.
My heart is stirred with gratitude for the generous love and support you have always shown me and my family, as I bounce from memory to memory, from things we have accomplished together to births and deaths and precious small moments of intimate connection when time has stood still. I am privileged to have been allowed into those times.
I am stirred to wonder about my future - how will what I have done find new expression as I move into a dramatically different life? But I’m also wondering the same about you. How will the Spirit take what you have experienced over the last 30 years and more, and guide you to new expressions of who you are?
Recently I’ve had many conversations with many of you that have gone something like this: “Brian, thank you for bringing this or that into our community.” Then I say “But I didn’t do it alone. We did these things because of who we are.” Then you say “Yes, but it wouldn’t have happened without you.”
Well, this can go back and forth forever, like the chicken and the egg, but I get the last word! So today I’d like to point out some qualities that are now imbedded in the DNA of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church - in you, that is - and wonder about where they might take you next.
First, you are diverse. Some of you are confident in your faith, some are happily seeking, and others are deeply skeptical inquirers who don’t know what you believe. You are straight, gay, lesbian, transgendered, adopted, single, married, partnered, and of many races, ethnicities, and ages. You know that this is God’s church, God’s altar, and every child of God belongs.
Over the years your diversity has embraced a Jewish congregation, a Coptic Orthodox church, an Urban Indian congregation, Zen Buddhist teachers, Hindu chant, and now, Lutheran and UCC pastors on staff. You worship like meditative monks at 7:30, informal family at 9, tasteful traditionalists at 11:15, and bicultural compadres at 5pm.
Second, you are survivors - no, make that “a people who thrive in adversity.” You not only endured 16 years of an adversarial, punitive bishop; you used that time as an opportunity to stand up and come into your own, reaffirming the most important things. You came through an arsonist’s fire, pulling together and becoming stronger than before. You were the only Episcopal congregation in this country who undertook a capital campaign and major construction project during the worst economy since the Great Depression. You’ve got a lot of nerve.
Third, you are builders. 62 years ago, you created a new mission on a dirt road and alfalfa fields in the wilds of the North Valley. Recently, you created a new mission of your own in the Village of Corrales, now a parish of its own. You started up a Contemplative Center, with prayer groups, conferences, and retreats. You were among the founders of St. Martin’s Hospitality Center for the Homeless. You created a unique form of liturgical music at 9:00 that takes the best of contemporary ensemble playing and delivers it with heart and soul. And you built this house of worship and the Ministry Complex next door.
Fourth, you are leaders. In your 63 years, you have nurtured 23 people - 10 of them women - towards ordination. 2 became bishops, 2 became the bishop’s Canon to the Ordinary, and 1 was the 1st native New Mexico Hispanic priest of the diocese. And right now, 3 more are up and coming. You’ve always known what a deacon is, and always had at least one, doing what deacons are uniquely called to do. Dozens of Lay leaders initiate and run ministry groups with authority, some of whom have been here less than 6 months. Having once been pariahs, a number of you are now taking over the diocese!
Finally, and most importantly, you are seekers. This can be quantified through the array of spiritual programs and groups and retreats and pilgrimages you generate, more than any other parish I’m aware of. But this dimension is far more than anything that can be quantified.
People walk in here and know it is a holy place, a place suffused in prayer. Your worship is deep, immediate, and real. It is normal here to have several trained spiritual directors who are companions to dozens of seekers, and to utilize a Discernment Guild that is already central to the spiritual work you have in transition. You may not know how unusual all of this is, ironically, in the church.
Now clearly, it has taken many people, a whole village, to develop these qualities. One person cannot, and has not, done it alone. And these qualities will go forward with you into your next chapter. You can’t help but be yourself. And you will attract a leader who is attuned to these qualities, who will partner with you to express them in new ways.
So my message today is this: in the transition ahead, rely upon these qualities to see you through. God has given you these gifts, and you already know full well how to use them. So use them in the next year or two of transition.
As a diverse community, bring in all the variety of voices and experiences to hear the Spirit. You have wisdom and strength in diversity. Trust it. When disagreement and problems arise, don’t worry, and don’t be in a hurry to resolve it. Those tensions are a part of what happens when diverse points of view come together, and because of them, an unforeseen, better path will open before you.
As survivors and thrivers, enjoy the relative chaos. Like sailors during a storm, lash yourselves to the mast and laugh at the wind and the rain. You’ll come through just fine.
As builders, create a good transition. There will be plenty of time later to make plans with a new Rector for your future, so for now, be present to what is before you, and craft a good transition. Be creative, patient, and true to yourselves.
As leaders, don’t wait for someone else to determine what will happen next, or when or how it will happen. Be leaders to yourselves, and together with God and your bishop, shape your own becoming.
And as seekers, entrust it all to God. The Spirit has always been in your hearts, in your midst, in all that you do. God will not fail you, but will, in fact, guide you exactly where you need to go.
You need only to be like a canoeist, gliding down the river, through rapids and doldrums, danger and peace, but always attentive, awake, occasionally making adjustments in direction or pausing on the banks to consider the next move. The water, the Spirit, will do the rest. You don’t need to force your way downriver.
At this fork in the river, we part company, each of us about to round a bend that will take us into territories that neither of us can yet see. We’re both a little nervous, but I hope that like me, you are also excited. And I hope that you are willing to trust in God’s Spirit, who stirs the depths this festival day, in order to empower and guide us into new life.