Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On this Rock we will build our Church

A retirement gift from one who collects heart rocks
So…my intention to blog each week didn’t last too long. Last week was a flurry of activity with my birthday celebration on Thursday and preparations for our annual Diocesan Convention. The 5 hour drive on Friday across central Wyoming provided eyewitness evidence of the drought—brown, dry, stubble everywhere.

The Convention with its theme this year, "On this Rock We Will Build Our Church" is like a family reunion with workshops, business meetings and worship to bring us together and move us along. Attending for the first time as a unattached clergy person was both unsettling and freeing, but seeing friends from childhood on, as well as numerous folks with whom I’ve served on Cursillo, commissions and committees helped to ease the strangeness. I feel much blessed for the many opportunities of the last 25 years which have let me rub shoulders with so many talented, caring, generous people.

As the Convention progressed I was aware of changes through the years. It seems we have fewer concerns about the budget and the consequent attempts to amend it line item by line item. That is a pleasant change. There are also far fewer resolutions; in the last two conventions there have been a total of two resolutions. “Back in the day” it was normal to have 10-15 resolutions concerning everything from banning the use of Styrofoam cups at coffee hour to giving 10% of the cost of your Thanksgiving dinner to the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, (Now Episcopal Relief and Development) to clergy salary minimums to advocating for the passage of anti-hate legislation. I’m not sure why there is such a paucity of resolutions; I don’t think it is a lack of passion or concern as it is just a different way of getting things done.

While a few of us enjoyed the give and take of debate and parliamentary wrangling, I think most folks found it disturbing and frustrating. At this Convention I found a certain freedom in speaking my mind/heart/spirit without having to consider how it might reflect on the congregation with which I was associated. I am not sure that I can rightly consider myself a “wise, old crone” but I was reminded of several personally touching paragraphs that Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, wrote in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully:

“Wisdom is not the quality of being wedded to the past. Wisdom is the capacity to be devoted to its ideals. . . And why must the elders in a society immerse themselves in the issues of the time? If for no other reason than that they are really the only ones who are free to tell the truth. They have nothing to lose now: not status, not striving, not money, not power. They are meant to be the prophets of a society, its compass, its truth-tellers. . . It is the older generation that must turn the spotlight back on our best ideals when the lights of the soul go dim. Before it is too late.

“A burden of these years is to accept the notion that nothing can be done to save a people when a younger generation is in charge. A blessing of these years is to have the opportunity to take on the role of thinker, of philosopher, of disputant, of interrogator, of spiritual guide in a world racing to nowhere, with no true human goal and no lived wisdom in sight.”

Warren Murphy, our keynote speaker who has written a powerful book on the Sacred Ground of Wyoming and the people who have inhabited this place throughout the generations, spoke of the challenge we face in teaching/learning about the formation of a community of “rugged individuals.” We are so proud of that heritage; indeed that can-do attitude has sometimes been what got folks through long, lonely blizzards and hot, windy summers. And yet, it doesn’t take long for most of us to also recall those times when neighbors (and sometimes strangers) were right there lending a helping hand when we had a flat tire and a broken jack, when the next door neighbor kid shoveled the drift off the driveway (without pay and without being asked too) or when someone brought a casserole when we were recovering from surgery and couldn’t get to the store and then stayed to visit and do the dishes. We may be tough and rugged, but we also know we really can’t always do it all by ourselves.

The Bishop's Award for Service
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all this Convention was being honored by Bishop Smylie with his annual Bishop’s Service Award. Each year he gives a lovely chalice, paten and pitcher, created for his Consecration as our Bishop, to an individual who has added something to the Diocese. I was humbled by his kind words about my ministry and friendship. Standing in front of so many good Wyoming folks who have formed me, called me and ministered with me my heart was filled to overflowing, as were my eyes. It isn’t too often that my knees knock, but by the time I returned to my seat I felt emotionally exhausted and physically weak.

So from this side of retirement I find myself looking back—not so much with nostalgia for a glory that may not really have been really all that great, but with memory of what is truly good and right. I also look forward—not as a fantasy where the future will magically turn into a Broadway musical, but with a vision that God is really drawing us into new ways of being together as we listen, pray, sing, laugh, eat, share, cry and stick together, even in the midst of disagreements and controversy.  "Faith, hope and love abide, these three and the greatest of these is love."

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations - an award well deserved! I am not even going to a Convention this year!!