This morning, about 36 hours after getting back to town, Sherod and I sat at a table out on Fort Lauderdale Beach on our regular day off. I can only speak for myself but I was worn to the nub. Yesterday I began to work at 5 in the morning and worked pretty much straight through until 9 last night. There were moments of celebration in that time, but there was also the grinding work of finding—and leading—the way out of a parochialism that threatens to choke the life out of NRRM, the Episcopal Church and maybe even all of us. I begin to think that parochialism is the essence of original sin.
Let me explain what I mean. Parishes are the smallest “units of ministry” in the Episcopal Church. They have always been about defining a geographical boundary and offering ministry and services to the population in that area. For a long time that worked well. I understand that you must circumscribe to build. But at least where we do our ministry, it has stopped working. The term “parochialism” comes straight from the concept of parish and here’s how the Merriam Webster online dictionary defines that word: the quality or state of being parochial; especially: selfish pettiness or narrowness (as of interests, opinions, or views). That is too accurate a description of life and work within the church today.
For over 10 years, Sherod and I have been absolutely convinced that for the Episcopal Church to be a meaningful source of hope, comfort, transformation and grace in our community, we have to become interdependent, intentionally and willingly; we have to develop strong partnerships across paroquial lines. The resistance to this redefinition of ministry does not stop astounding me. And right now, it has at least me, but maybe both of us, worn out.
Yet once again, we worked with enormous intensity to try to redraw the picture, find better words, open a small space—a door, a window, anything—to give us a way forward even when it seems like there isn’t one. As husband and wife, as well as partners and in a boss and subordinate relationship, we have a lot at stake when we sit down to do this kind of work. When the stakes are high so is the tension. There just don’t seem to be a lot of alternatives to acknowledging the tension and continuing on. Today it seems that maybe we have found a tiny little hole to try to squeeze through. We need some other folks to look at our work and maybe help us open the hole some more. Along with the weariness, fragile hope resurges.
Sherod’s sermon at the wedding on Saturday was based on this song by Emmy Lou Harris. He recognized that this is a ballad about the ultimate enabler in a dysfunctional relationship. But it is also true that whether in a marriage or a ministry, along with patience, there has to be unceasing perseverance and constant reconciliation, rediscovery and reinvention. I’ve only been doing small tasks and chores, some reading since our conversation. I am husbanding my energy for my time to walk tonight—that’s about all I am capable of today after the intensity of the work we did. But as we got into Sherod’s truck after sitting at that table at the beach, a small new possibility emerging for this wildly foolish ministry we’ve given ourselves to, the words “my heart has found another way to be loving you again” sang to me as a priest of the NRRM.