A new season

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Blessing of the Animals at Holy Comforter, October 7, 2018. Photo by Harrison Black

It seemed like autumn would never reach Alabama, and as always, it’s happened in fits and starts, with small harbingers I’ve had to be vigilant to notice.  The red spider lilies have just about run their course for the year, their long, fragile, awkward stems topped with a small burst of fire that waves with the wind of each car that zooms past on Old Selma Road.  Very close behind the lilies came the peak bloom season for the wild black-eyed susans. Maybe because we had good rain all through the summer, not too much, not too little, they too were resplendent, flames of deep yellow beauty.  I fought the impulse to stop and pick a bunch to put in a vase at home. I wondered if I should run home for my camera. Instead, I pulled my car off to the side of the road one afternoon, after the sun had begun to set, and allowed my eyes to feast on their glory.

Last Friday evening, Sherod and I were driving to a gathering in downtown Lowndesboro, when a doe came out from one side of Hwy 29/Broad Street and started across the road at a pace so sedate we both worried that someone else, coming down the road fast,  would have run into her.  Sherod coaxed her on all the way across, saying “Oh little doe, hurry, hurry, that’s how you get killed,” She’d already made it to the brush alongside the road when all of a sudden, a small, white spotted fawn darted across the road too, following mama.  It  happened so fast. Those creatures were exquisite.

For me, the new season as priest-in-charge at Holy Comforter, has also begun.  On the first Sunday, I looked out at the congregation and thought my heart would burst. So many faces filled with expectation. In the past, there was an almost complete break with what had gone before, when I started a new assignment.  Last Sunday, a few people from Ascension came to my first service at Holy Comforter.  I can feel the tears start to sting behind my eyes when I think about that. People I love and respect walked with me to a new place, not to cling, or deny endings and beginnings, but to remind me that a thin gold thread of grace weaves all my beginnings and endings together, into a whole that I call my life, and is more filled with love than I could ever earn or deserve.

And then, so much to think about, so much to do.  I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge through 35 years of work and ‘adulting’.  What I’ve realized in these past 2 weeks is how much of that I held in check for the past three years because I needed to honor the boundaries of my role as associate rector.  That actually took more energy than I knew.   I am so happy, dusting off old practices; there’s “muscle memory,” like riding a bike, about how I serve in a broader leadership capacity. The knowledge just falls back into place, piece by piece, as I go through my days at the church.  I already love my new parish—the red doors and the somewhat creaky, but resonant, bell we ring for services each Sunday.  I have been the recipient of so many big and small gestures of generosity and kindness.  The work is hard and the challenges significant for all Episcopal churches, especially the ones, like Holy Comforter, that must learn how our identity is ‘re-formed’ when the neighborhood around us has changed dramatically.  Holy Comforter and I must learn again and anew, what it means to be people of the cross and resurrection.  

It is a good, and right, and joyful thing to be starting in this new ministry as fall begins, when the leaves fall off the trees and it seems like there is nothing left but grey, cold, lifeless limbs, lifted up to the heavens in silent plea.  I think we too must allow ourselves to be stripped of false pretenses, our ever-so easy answers and the ability to distract and be distracted.  I have learned that it is in this kind of time that I am able to see more clearly that which is most essential, most true, about my life and my faith.

Evolution

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Take I

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Take II

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Take III

I figured out, this is my 6th church office. There are some pieces that have been with me all along. A whole lot of them are gifts, each with a story I get to remember, as I find their new places in the new office. There are so many stories of goodness. This time around, there is a very strong sense of the ways in which all those stories have shaped my understanding of myself as a person who happens to be an ordained Episcopal priest. I have stopped presuming I know how any one of my calls fits in the larger scheme of things–the path has taken so many unpredicted turns.  Now, I see more clearly how all the stories, the successes, the failures, maybe especially, the things I didn’t know I didn’t know, have prepared me to say this yes with more trust in God’s generosity than I’ve ever had before.  Out of the chaos of moving, there is a new creation slowly emerging and good work already underway. AMDG