New River Regional Ministry on A Friday Afternoon
St. Ambrose Episcopal Church
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
Yesterday morning, part of the leadership core of the New River Regional Ministry, the new ministry that we are trying to nurture into being, went to a meeting at the Diocesan offices in Miami.
The ride down I-95 is a journey in time for me. That’s how I got to work everyday for most of my tenure with the LAC Division of FedEx. I laugh, remembering that there was a big sign on one of the buildings, an ad for bidets. It had a smiling little stick figure squatting down. It said, “a clean tushie is a happy tushie.” It still amazes me that I used to get on southernmost end of I 95 at the edge of downtown Miami. More than once, I thought I could just stay on this very highway and get all the way to Maine, even missed my own exit on purpose a handful of times. The sign for the exit to Jackson Memorial and the VA hospitals always gives me a little clutch. When Sherod went through the most intense part of his radiation therapy in the summer of 2001, I had to get off on that exit to see him while he was in the hospital and then had to race home to our daughter who had come home in March.
Yesterday, we were going to the Diocese because we still need assistance to keep this ministry going. That has never been easy for Sherod or me, two headstrong, opinionated people who get very impatient very quickly. It is always easier, isn’t it, to see the speck in someone else’s eyes than the beam in our own? In the past few months, we’ve understood more clearly that we’re trying something that does not lend itself easily to the existing funding and assistance mechanisms of the church and that others have had to make enormous stretches to understand the help we were asking for. Recently, I was introduced to a TV series called “The Walking Dead”; it came recommended for it’s portrayal of people’s behavior when the world as we know it has ended. The series is populated by large numbers of walking dead folks who are hideously, horribly hungry and who lack all charm and subtlety. With no intent to suggest that this is what our congregations are like, I imagine that there are times when members of the committees charged to disburse the very finite amount of funds available to aide fragile ministries must feel they are swarmed by endless need that threatens to be all-consuming.
In the past few years, these kinds of diocesan meetings have been sharp, we’ve hit against sharp edges of fear, misunderstanding and difference many times. It’s felt like we came out bruised and somehow diminished. Today I am aware that if we felt diminished, it wasn’t because of what “they” did. I don’t like having to ask for help. Rather than recognize any self-doubt and uncertainty about our work, I had an easier time getting defensive and combative.
That “slow, constant work of God” has started smoothing many of those edges. Yesterday, I was simply grateful to have a place to go to for help. Our successes are still small and the way isn’t real clear for NRRM. But I felt great joy as I talked about the things that are happening in our midst and listened to Sherod tell other parts of our story as well. I saw faces around the table that just looked human—interested, tired, willing to listen. I know at least two have lost a parent in the last 9 months—one in the last month. For some strange reason, yesterday more than usual I would have given anything to call my mom. I wondered if they too were tucking away grief to do the work at hand–so much of the time that’s what we’re all doing, just getting through the day.
Since we started NRRM, the Episcopal Church has continued to struggle with accelerating decline. I ache for the other applicants for Diocesan aid who are struggling to keep their doors open. It’s been too easy in the past to view other needs in the diocese as competition for that very limited number of dollars available to help. We are all part of the Body of Christ and we are all diminished when any of us fails. It struck me that ministry has this way of stripping layer after layer of veneer and defense and self righteousness until we are essentially ourselves, aware that all we can really do is open our hands in need, and sometimes in wavering hope and confidence.
Promising word has come back about the results of the meeting. We’ll know more on Monday. Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer both comforts and confronts me as I sort through the past week. It is extraordinarily difficult for me to trust the slow, hard work of God. Today what I can say is, “I trust, Lord. Help me with my distrust”. And whatever it is that we have accomplished that inspired others to continue to engage and assist us, Ad majorem dei gloriam…