Friday, March 28, 2008

Pilgrimage ... the next chapter

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
But we know within.
And we'll be there, heaven knows how we will get there,
But we know we will.

It will be hard, we know,
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we'll get there, heaven knows when we will get there,
But we know we will.
These words are from a song called Woyaya. They capture the essence of being on a pilgrimage.

Our little mission congregation is on a pilgrimage. If you've followed this blog, you know we've been on a discernment journey which began in Lent (and it was very Lent-y!). I came to this congregation in June 2007 after some serious internal crises which caused great injury to the members. We had few in numbers when I began and a couple of families intentionally left after my arrival. Our average Sunday attendance is down to 18 and our current location isn't conducive to attracting new members. So it was time to lay down our agendas and listen to God's call to us.

As we listened, we considered all options and looked at the whole picture of our life together. We could not ignore that illness, age and injuries were part of the constellation of our lives. It became clear that the call of being "church planters" was no longer the call felt by the members. It was time to do something else.

But what? That's where the song comes in. Our members are now embarking on "field trips" to visit other Episcopal Churches in our county and listen for where God may be calling them to be. There is movement ...
We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
But we know within.
On Maundy Thursday, our Hebrew Scripture text was the story of the Passover from Exodus 12. In it, God gives Moses the instructions for the Passover. Part of the instructions are:
"This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly."
This made so much sense to me in light of the fact our regular worship as a congregation was coming to a close (Good Friday was our last scheduled service). We were being told through this Scripture to get ready - be ready to go! For us, it meant the beginning of a pilgrimage to discern where God is calling us next.

Some call this "church shopping" but I don't like that term at all. It plays into our worst consumerist attitudes. It turns Church into a commodity and places the emphasis on what we want rather than where God is calling us. Putting ourselves at the center of this process instead of God isn't faithful.

The Church is not a commodity - it is the Body of Christ. We are called to particular congregations to live fully into our discipleship, not because of some passing want or whim we have. We may be called to congregations we'd never consider if it were up to our own desires. I have no doubt that I was called to work with this congregation, even though I do not generally feel called to work in family sized congregations or as a mission church planter. God had a different idea and needed me to do some particular work here ... and now that work is changing and will likely come to an end within the next month or so.

And so, rather than "church shopping," I told them they were on a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are intentional journeys and they are on a very intentional journey to seek a community where they can live fully into their call to be God's people. They will get there ... heaven knows when they will get there ... but I don't think it will take very long. With God at the center of this intentional process, they will be just fine.

As for me ... well, my journey may be hard and the road will likely be muddy and rough. Beloved Husband has just accepted his call to be Director of Operations for Bishop Claggett Center and we are both very excited about this new chapter in his life. Making this move will be a financial challenge as he is taking a 50% cut in salary to go there. This makes my having a full-time (or close to full-time) call a necessity. It also places a geographical limitation on any future call ... and right now, there are really no openings in this area. An old friend of ours, Lee Weber, said, "Well you guys are either completely faithful or completely nuts." I'm hoping it's the former and not the latter. I suppose time will tell.

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