I cannot believe that one year ago I was only a few days ordained, waiting for the Mayflower movers to come and take the boxes stacked floor to ceiling from our second floor apartment in Chicago to our little rented home in Midtown Brandywine. Good-byes were said to my beloved Chicago and to the friends and family that had supported me through the long process of discernment and seminary. A new adventure awaited me in the east.
If you recall, in my first blog post, I quoted an excerpt from a poem that has special meaning to me. It was as follows:
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
-John O’Donohue (an excerpt from For a New Beginning)
I remarked “a new beginning; a new start; what courage we all need when we are going to begin anew and face the world that God is calling us into.” Little did I know the incredible amount of courage St. Stephen’s holds. Our church is no stranger to heartache and tragedy, it is also not a stranger to the great joy and wonder of the Gospel. I found a church that had a beautiful honesty about their past. People remarked with sparkles in their eyes about the days when there was standing room only, two services, beloved pastors and no worries about the budget. What was astonishing was also the courage to look towards a future while acknowledging that there were now more pews than people, only one service where our small but mighty group worships God, and a budget that causes trepidation and questions about what the future will look like.
Our church has such courage to look towards a future where we will continue to serve God in our community, feeding the hungry and praying for those around us. People have this bold confidence to tell me that they believe we can participate in the effort to eradicate hunger from our city - imagine, St. Stephen’s attacking the systemic causes of hunger! And you know what, the budget is coming together, the pews are filling (slowly, but there are new faces), and trepidation is giving way to excitement.
As I continue to look back I do admit that the destination was not so clear as I got into my car and began to head East. Could this little group of faithful people actually be ready to address the needs of a city with the tagline “Murdertown USA?” Could Wilmington actually be home and am I really ready to unfurl myself and trust in the grace of God to live into this calling? Was I ready!? I had to trust in the grace of God, the grace of God that brought us together in an unlikely way. It was only a five minute meeting with Bishop Wolfgang in Chicago that derailed my plans of actually going West...my plans to pastor on the Pacific. In fact, I almost blew off that meeting with him thinking that there was nothing East. However, that gut feeling the Spirit gives me when God has something planned started to nag me - so I did go to the face to face meeting with Wolfgang. That chance meeting helped the Holy Spirit to unfurl this unclear future into what has become the desires of my heart.
The current bishop, Bill Gohl, has described us as follows: a “scrappy little church” that is already doing amazing and “life changing” things for its community.
I will take that title of scrappy anyway! St. Stephen’s was already outward focused when I arrived, asking the right questions. Looking in the right places. The real question I should have asked is if St. Stephen’s was aware that they are already changing the life of their community simply by living into their baptismal promise to be people of God! My trust in the grace of God gave me one of the greatest revelations of my life...I am surrounded by a church that is a conduit for the Holy in this time and place. You all are revealing the face of God to me every single day.
Wilmington became home very quickly. We left our small home in Midtown and moved into a beautiful historic (scrappy fits this description as well) Victorian close to the church. I feel part of Wilmington in a way that I did not feel in Chicago. There is no mistake we are becoming Trolley Square’s church - and we are part of the culture of a city on the verge of changing for the better.
In the last portion of the poem above, we are encouraged to awaken our soul to adventure and hold nothing back. How Gospel can that be! Our faith journey should be nothing less than an adventure. Every time we open ourselves to the grace of God and take that leap we are entering into the greatest adventure of our lives! When we embrace our calling and work in such a way, holding nothing back, we enter into an uninhibited faith that will forever change not only us, but also the lives we touch. I often wonder, is St. Stephen's still here because it has this ability to awaken its communal soul to the adventure God has set before us?
I have to thank Karleen Strayer for asking me a very thought provoking question on Sunday. She asked me what has surprised me the most over this past year. I would have to say, you all do. You all inspire me each and everyday. As we live today to its fullest I also anticipate the future we have together as we continue to seek out God’s call and answer “here I am Lord.”
Yours in Christ,