I first came to ministry in the parish I now serve in October 1987 as Associate Rector. Six years later I was licensed as Rector on 14 November 1993, 20 years ago today.

In October 1997, after I had been at St. Philip for ten years, I wrote an article for our Diocesan paper called “Staying put”. In that piece sixteen years ago, I wrote in part,

In an article in Sierra magazine, the poet Mary Oliver has written, “One of the reasons I continue to live where I do is that now I am able to collect the profits from premiums paid over years of residence – things are by now so familiar that I have no choice but to look deeper, and deeper, into the ordinary.”

A great deal of church life is made up of the “ordinary”. We have squabbles, misunderstandings, and miscommunication. We let each other down and frustrate one another’s expectations. We celebrate each others’ joys and triumphs. By staying together we are able to “look deeper, and deeper,” into these ordinary realities of daily life and find beneath the surface “the profits and premiums paid” by consistent investment in a community of people.

If I were to write this column today on the 20th Anniversary of becoming Rector of the parish which has been my and my family’s blessed spiritual home for over two decades, I would use words similar to those I wrote sixteen years ago.

But, I would make one slight change. Today I might not say first that my long tenure in one place has caused me to “‘look deeper, and deeper,’ into these ordinary realities of daily life.” First, I might say that staying put in one place has caused me to “look deeper, and deeper” into myself, to examine my own life and become conscious of the inner contradictions, complexities and strengths of my inner being.

Staying put has caused me to see that there is no other place that is better; there are no other relationships that are easier. Changing the external circumstances of life, changes nothing about the internal reality of my being. Wherever I go, I take myself with me. I must face my own demons and deal with the power of my own shadow.

Everywhere has the same challenges. All relationships are fraught with difficulties.

Human beings hurt each other. We let each other down, betray each other, and fail to live consistently by those highest values we most deeply cherish.This reality can either cause us to break down, or to break open.

Carrying on in the same place in the midst of change, uncertainty, confusion, and even sometimes outright chaos, has caused me to seek within myself a place of steadiness and abiding that is strong and reliable even when everything around me seems to be in flux. As I have come to recognize that I am unable to control the surface circumstances of my life, I have been caused to fall back again and again upon that steady presence that I sense at the heart of my being and to rely on that faithfulness that holds me even in the midst of pain and doubt.

If we are able to stay put in the midst of the pain we will discover that staying together has the capacity to open us to a deeper reality than all the turmoil and failure that characterize the surface of our lives. On this 20th Anniversary of becoming Rector in my community of faith, that seems worth celebrating.