Annual Parish Meeting Sunday
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Today we hold our Parish Meeting, as we do every year. But this year is different. The Vestry you elect today will have the primary responsibility for carrying this parish through significant transitions in the next few years. And our finances and ministries that are reported on today are necessarily in a draft form - you’ll need to be flexible about them as new circumstances might call for different responses.
So some things are going to be different. And as you look ahead to changes and uncertainty, you might be asking yourself “What can I count on? Will what I value so much about this faith community remain?” Perhaps you fear what a priest friend of mine likes to say cynically, in order to bring his colleagues back down to earth when they’re riding high in a congregation that’s currently a howling success: “Remember; every parish is potentially one Rector away from oblivion.”
That’s not true here. And the reason I say that is that there is a secure and healthy foundation that endures beyond any one Rector. On this Annual Meeting Sunday, let me reflect back to you a few elements of this foundation.
It may surprise you to know that when I arrived in 1983, this parish had much the same personality that it does today. It was diverse, open-minded, creative, informal, and vibrant. I didn’t create it. That’s why I was interested in coming here, and that’s why they called me. We were sympatico. The character of a parish can be remarkably enduring, and in our case, St. Michael’s personality will outlive both me and all of you.
The style of worship in this parish has endured as well. My predecessor, Peter Moore, was one of the leading liturgists of his day. He brought this congregation intelligently and sensitively through the sometimes contentious years of liturgical reform in the 1970’s. He taught this parish to love worship that could be both reverent and fresh, familiar and experimental.
Then there are habits of ministry that we have developed together in these 30 years. At this point, they are so much an enduring part of this community’s foundation, that it would take a crowbar to wrench them out of you.
You generate many more opportunities for spiritual formation than most parishes do. Later, at Annual Meeting, we’ll hear about a new emphasis for spirituality in 2013 that you’re calling The Year of Pilgrimage. I didn’t come up with this - you did. But more importantly, you always maintain a palpable atmosphere of devotion, self-reflection, and prayer - before and throughout worship, in meetings and other gatherings. You create and maintain this by your spiritual authenticity.
You also continually generate new ways of serving and partnering with the poor and the disadvantaged in the wider community. Later at our meeting you’ll be hearing about a new initiative that is rising out of our year-long process we’ve called Who is My Neighbor? It will be entirely lay-led.
And we have gotten to the point where our most essential ministries are skillfully maintained by dozens of experienced and lay leaders, whether you look at pastoral care, spiritual discernment, children and youth, or communication and administration. These habits of professionalism and sensitivity have become ingrained in the community, and are not going anywhere.
But even more deeply, there is something that endures that is much more important than our personality, than our habits of worship and ministry. It is the very nature of what we are about as a faith community. It is what St. Paul wrote about in our second lesson today.
I want you to know that these are not just words. They are real, here, in this place. I don’t just believe, as a theological principle, what Paul was writing about. I experience it every day.
Paul says that the church is like the human body. Our body is wondrously made with hundreds - trillions, if you count neurons and cells - of interconnected parts: fingers, hairs, ligaments, organs, bones, ears. Paul says that every single part of the human body is necessary, and has an important function. And yet all of these diverse parts, all of these functions, are held together and coordinated in their activity by one mind, one soul.
So it is, Paul says, with the church. We are the physical body of Jesus Christ on earth. And this body is made up of many parts. Every single one of us, as individual members of the one body, is essential to the working of the whole. As Paul reminds us, none of us can say to the other “I have no need of you,” any more than the eye can say this to the hand.
For where would we be without mystics and contemplatives? What would the church be like without accountants? I wouldn’t want to be in a church that didn’t include the occasional homeless person that walks in off the street. We would fall apart without administrators. And what would it be like if there were no artists, no musicians? We even need difficult and disturbed people; they become our teachers as we learn patience, acceptance, and unconditional love.
Paul goes on with the metaphor, saying that all these diverse members share the one Spirit. We’re all animated by one spiritual force that is within everything and everyone. It’s not as if we’re all connected to God separately, sort of like individual threads that go from our heart to a common point in the sky. It is more like the interconnected parts of a human body that are all harmoniously coordinated by one mind, one soul, all at the same time. And have no doubt, this mind, this Spirit, will guide and provide for you through the months and years ahead. It always has and it always will.
These are not just words. This vision of our faith community as an amazingly diverse body whose members are animated by the one Spirit - it is real, and those of you who are involved in anything here know it. This unity within our diversity, this human variety and divine empowerment - this is precisely what gives us strength, enduring strength.
Finally, I want to say something about our gospel today. In it, Jesus goes into his own congregation, the synagogue in Nazareth. He opens the scripture and reads to them. They are nice verses from the Bible, and everyone smiles approvingly.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
They nodded their heads, comfortable at the sound of these familiar, pious words. And then Jesus said something that shocked them all. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, too, St. Michael and All Angels. Today, we bring good news to the poor in the North Valley of Albuquerque. Today, we proclaim release to the captives and freedom to those who have been oppressed by homophobia, fundamentalism, isolation, or the stale emptiness of secularism. Today, we bring sight to those who have been spiritually blind, opening their eyes to God’s love and the riches that come with faith. Today, the scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing.
This is what endures. Christ is here, embodied in you. You are his hands and feet and heart and mind. He is infinitely varied in the diversity of his members, and all of you are needed. The Spirit is your common breath, your heartbeat. The Spirit is your shared wisdom and intelligence, your inspiration and creativity, your love and your soul. And all of this works together for the glory of God and the benefit of God’s people.
These are the things you can count on, and they will endure long beyond both me and you in this place.
So long live Christ, whom you embody!
Long live the Spirit, who animates your common life!
And long live St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church!