Reflection on Seven Years
I have gotten into the habit of thinking I have been at Grace the number of years of the anniversary coming up at the start of the calendar year, so honestly it surprised me a bit last week when our senior warden reminded me my actual 7th anniversary was coming up– and on a Sunday, just as when we began together 7 years ago. I received a “peace and love” rose which has been liberated from its box and is ready to be planted in our yard, with the photo of the rose signed by as many of you as could fit on the sheet. It was meaningful to share leadership of the 10AM service with Katherine Frederick, whose process toward ordination began with my arrival seven years ago. But most meaningful were your prayers– words from the heart, with a whole extended family of Grace hearts and hands surrounding me.
I have been ordained for 18 years, and served very diverse places, and I want you to know that the love, the depth of spiritual connection, and the intellectual curiosity at Grace are unique. I believe Bishop Alan saying very much the same thing finally convinced some of you that this community is special! The last seven years have not been easy– the challenge of the pandemic would have seemed like a science fiction plot to most of us when we began together, and on top of that we have had devastating fires, the accelerated shift of the place of church in society, and mental, physical, and relational struggles and losses in many of our personal lives and families. Through it all, God’s grace has held us, and that is what Grace Church is all about.
God’s grace is in fact God’s unconditional welcome, God’s love holding, sustaining, and surrounding us on every side. Grace is active and operative and ever-present; as I shared in last Sunday’s sermon my mentor Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves speaks about being “in the grace” or “out of the grace.” By recognizing when she is “out,” having lost sight of the fundamental guiding awareness of God’s presence and provision, she can get back “in”–through a breath, through gratitude, recognition of beauty, or simply a spiritual opening, like the change between a clenched fist to an open, upstretched palm.
A letter went out last week outlining some of the challenges Grace is facing as well as the great deal we have to celebrate. This week we held the first of what will be many Sustaining Grace gatherings in parishioners’ homes this week and we heard deep affirmation of how important this community is in people’s lives, as well as questions and concerns about the future. What if we approached all of this from a perspective of grace? If the last seven years have taught anything, it is certainly that we do not know what the future holds. But we have seen God present to us in extraordinary circumstances, still working through this community to bring love and life to many in surprising ways. As we work to be good care-takers and do what we can to secure our beloved church for the present and for the future, can we do this “in the grace?” Can we trust that, beyond what we can see, beyond what we can control, God is at work, doing better things than we can ask for or imagine? Paul wrote in the portion of the letter to the Romans we read on Sunday, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Dear ones, when we open the flood-gates of our hearts; when we unclench our fists and turn them upward, God’s grace will be there, ready to surround us and bear us up. After seven years, and many trials, we can move into a future full of hope, trusting that God will hold us through all that is to come, and delighted to see what God will do next.
In Christ’s deep peace, and love,