My younger brother took the picture of this sailboat when my siblings and I spent two weeks with my dad on an island in the Stockholm archipelago a few years ago. The picture captures all the grace and beauty and marvel of a vessel under sail. I have been out sailing when wind conditions were like this and our good vessel Promise sliced effortlessly through the water; the blue of the Gulf Stream off Fort Lauderdale was infinitely indigo blue in the sun. It is glorious.
To get out to the big water from our home on a canal in SoFla, Sherod and I would steer Promise through the New River, an urban version of river, a version that is cornered and hemmed in by seawalls and criss-crossed with drawbridges. Often too, I’d sit in my car at stoplights on Davie, on Andrews Avenue, on 3rd Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, when a bridge went up to allow boats through. Because the river was so hemmed in and sailboats shared space with enormous yachts and power boats, they made their passage through with gallant awkwardness, bobbing and tilting, masts naked and exposed. Next to the shiny, sleek powerboats, sailboats looked nothing so much as well-intentioned tubs floating down river.
When Sherod and I would make that passage, there was always that small thread of anxiety that weaves its way through the body as you hope your muscle memory still works and your reflexes are sharp enough if a wake is unexpectedly strong or a current catches your bow just so. But it also didn’t matter a bit that we bobbed and weren’t as fast, or as big or as beautiful as others sharing the waterway with us. There was the thrill of anticipation that past Port Everglades, I’d steer into the wind, Sherod would raise the mainsail, give me a point of sail and fabric that had been flapping uselessly would begin to tighten and fill enough to cut the motor off and take flight.
Today, it is I who am a somewhat ungainly, but seaworthy vessel that has left port. When our previous rector left Ascension, I knew I would need to carry my work lightly, that a new rector might want someone else to work alongside him or her. Then I began to face into the reality of how I found myself being tugged and pulled by tides and wakes, and by the certainty that being at port no longer felt right. A few weeks ago the lines began to loosen. The rector of a parish in Montgomery that has seen its fair share of hardship and is in a neighborhood that was once upscale and is now a boulevard across from urban blight, announced his resignation. I made some inquiries about what would come next and realized I could and should ask to be considered when they started looking for an interim. I was told it would be a 1-year assignment, that normally the Bishop does not allow an interim to stay on as rector. It was scary to let go of Ascension for something that felt so fragile and temporary. But it also was wonderful letting go of some comfort in exchange for adventure.
Two weeks ago, I began a conversation with the leadership group assigned to fill the interim position. The conversation was lively. The tug was there, even stronger. A week ago Sunday we met, this time face to face. The conversation continued and ran long, still lively, still intriguing. I had made my peace with the fact that all I could expect to have was a year of interim work. Not a lot of time, but enough to start figuring the next step to take after that. As the second conversation wrapped up, a heart-stopping surprise: the Senior Warden had found out that there was an alternative to the route we were discussing. The discernment team could choose instead to go with a longer term assignment for someone to serve as priest-in-charge. Over an 18 month or so assignment they and the priest-in-charge would then decide whether or not to convert the position to a tenured rectorship. Somewhat awkwardly, we felt that possibility out with each other and I drove home trying to manage my sense of elation.
This past Sunday, the vestry at Holy Comforter met and unanimously agreed to call me as their priest-in-charge. Yesterday, the senior warden called to extend the call and I accepted. Announcements are going out. Calendars and schedules are being revised.
The passage has begun.
There are currents to navigate; some of them run swift. We are all moving in some pretty tight spaces, finding our way around each other, making sure not to leave anyone bobbing in an unnecessary wake. I am making my path out to the big waters. It’s not just that I feel awkward and and vulnerable, along with elated. It’s that I look ahead, beyond the passage out from this place I have made my church home for three years, and find myself repeating the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer over and over again: Oh God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small…