The first two weeks in October are big weeks in my journey of ordained ministry.
For five years we shared ministry at St. Philip. Then on 1 October 1993 I became the sole priest and Rector, the position I hold to this day.
It would have been inconceivable to me when I first came to St. Philip that, twenty-nine years later, I might find myself still ministering within the same faith community; it probably would have been equally inconceivable to the parish. Likewise I could not have imagined when I became Rector of this community that, twenty-three years later, I would be serving in the same role.
It is certainly an unusual “career trajectory” in the contemporary church for a clergy person to remain with the same congregation for twenty-nine years when the average stay for clergy in one parish is around five years.
In some ways, it is not entirely accurate to say I am today the Rector of the same parish I came to nearly three decades ago. The changes in our community have been enormous. We have mutated at least three times during my ministry. We have shifted theologically in deep ways. We have lost and gained numerous parishioners. Our worship has changed; we have experienced new leadership in every ministry we share. It has never been dull.
There are many things about this long incumbency that I cherish.
It is richly rewarding to begin baptizing the children of young people I married, including the four daughters with whom our daughter and son-in-law have gifted the world. I have even baptized at least one child whose parent I baptized as an infant. I have seen a great deal of life and death in this community.
My own children attended Sunday School and youth group at St. Philip and were confirmed here. My youngest child was married in this church. She and her family now attend regularly. I get to worship most Sundays with my wife, all my children, my son-in-law, and my grandchildren. There are few things that could match the beauty of this enormous privilege.
But, perhaps most of all, hanging around with some of the same people for such a long time, I have experienced deeply, one the great attributes of God. I have been privileged to experience in this community the steady faithfulness, generosity, and forgiveness that are foundation stones in my vision of the God who called me to ministry among the people of St. Philip and has sustained us on this long journey together.
It has not always been pretty. We have bumped into each other in the manner of every dysfunctional family more times than I can count. We have disagreed; we have been impatient, unfair, at times even hurtful. We have waded through deep waters of misunderstanding, confusion, and distrust. And yet, over and over, we have managed to get up, dust ourselves off, and carry on together.
There are few places apart from biological family where people choose to stick it out with each other even when there is hurt and disagreement. Many of the people in the community in which I serve have made the brave and noble choice to persevere in relationship even when it has been painful and challenging. What I see when I look at these people is the presence of Christ. Because we have taken the often difficult path of faithfulness, we have grown and been shaped by God’s Spirit in deep and profound ways. We have come over time to look more like the loving, patient God in whose image we are all created.
Thank you to all those saints of St. Philip who have hung in there on this long journey into deep places. May we continue to grow in love and faithfulness.
Bless you all.