It strikes me as almost inconceivable that one year has passed since my leaving Greenville, South Carolina, and St. James Episcopal Church, to join the staff of Bishop Kirk Smith in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, but today marks that anniversary. My, that year seems to have gone quickly, and in many respects it has. But on the other hand, it has been a slow, deliberate process of settling into this ministry, learning the dynamics of diocesan leadership and how to serve as the bishop’s chief clergy assistant. What a rewarding year and life changing, growing experience.
In rereading my blog posts from last year, writing about when I started, I noticed that I failed to mention that I actually started this new ministry last year by flying to Washington, D.C. and attending the Gathering of Leaders conference (GOL) at National Cathedral. What a surreal experience that was—not the National Cathedral; I’ve been there before and love the opportunity to go any time that I can, and I wholeheartedly commend it to you.
What struck me as surreal was that on Sunday, September 30, 2007, I woke up as rector of St. James Episcopal Church, in Greenville, SC, and the next morning, I was no longer that priest, that rector that I had been for a little over seven years. No, on Monday morning, October 1, 2007, I woke up as the bishop’s Canon to the Ordinary in Arizona, would be representing him and the people of Arizona at this conference, and I wasn’t yet living there, and had only been there twice before, both times during the July and August just past.
It was all a little overwhelming, to be honest—surreal, in one sense of the word, “the irrational juxtaposition of images.” The image I had of myself didn’t match up with the image I had stepped into; I felt a little awkward at the GOL, because I didn’t feel like I knew what the Canon to the Ordinary did well enough to represent Arizona properly.
It didn’t matter; people understood I was brand new, and I relaxed a great deal. Then, on October 6, I arrived in Phoenix, and began my work in the diocese proper.
Now, one year later, I am more relaxed about this role and ministry position, and I have to tell you, I am having a wonderful time doing what I do and with those whom I work on a daily basis. Bishop Smith has assembled a top-flight staff of talented people committed to his vision for the diocese, and together, under his leadership, with the clergy and people of the Diocese of Arizona and with God’s help, we are working hard to bring it about, to spread the kingdom of God in this state.
For this, I give thanks to God. I thank God for the spiritual growth that has taken place in me; for the spiritual growth, maturity, and excited energy taking place in congregations with whom I have had the privilege of working; for bringing my family safely here and having them grow into a new life in the valley of the sun. I thank God for the amazing clergy that I have met in congregations located around the diocese, for the talented and dedicated lay leadership that serve in our churches, and for the many, many committed youth and young adults who want to grow in their relationship with Jesus and want to share his transforming love with others.
Much work remains to be done; I go to bed each night knowing that work will be there for me the next day, but I can leave it alone as needed for the sake of my family and my own health. I have personal goals of improved physical health and conditioning, and for spiritual growth and disciplines, goals toward which I take steps everyday and week—well, most days of the week.
Yet being here has shaped me, has challenged me, and has brought about growth in me in ways unexpected, and in ways I have been praying for over months, if not years. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve here, and for the blessings that have come our way—even amidst the challenges of resettling into a community where we knew no one. Sometimes, it is very lonely still.
Thank you, Bishop Smith for calling me; thank you to Chuck who asked me to consider this ministry; thank you God for asking more of me and my life, for that is really all I want to do—to serve as You would have me serve.
Wherever your glory be best served, whenever, however, there, then and in that state let me your servant be; only hide not from me your Divine Love. Help me to trust you to the uttermost. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give, and not to count the cost; to fight, and not to heed the wounds; to toil, and not to look for rest; to labor, and not ask for any reward save that of knowing I am doing your will. Amen.
In a nutshell, that’s what my walk with God is about for me. It’s about being that available to God, being responsive to God’s call, being responsible with my tasks given or assigned to me. It’s about knowing that I am doing God’s will. That’s the number one goal I ever hope to accomplish with my life.
How can we know that conclusively? I don’t know how you can know that, it might be different ways we know this from person to person. But one rule of thumb for me is asking: Do I have joy in what I am doing, even in the most difficult and menial tasks? Not joy as in “ha ha!” but the joy that comes in understanding that “this responsibility is yours to do; therefore, do it to the best of your ability.” When we rise to that task, and do it, there is joy there—at least for me there is. Some people might term it as job satisfaction, but I call it joy because I sense that I am doing this for God, to further God’s mission. What better use of my life could there be, really?
So if it means I drive eight hours round trip for an important two hour meeting with a congregation’s leadership in the middle, I have joy if that meeting goes well, and the parish and clergy find it was worth their time to attend and receive something of value from it. Yes, I did spend eight hours in the car, but look what they got in return—real benefit, a renewed purpose or sense of mission, the sense that the diocese knows and cares that they are there and supports them in their work and ministry. Great! Happy to do it to further the missio Dei—the mission of God—for this is what our bishop is about. Extending the mission of God in Arizona. And if that brings benefit to the Episcopal Church in Arizona, well that’s a nice benefit, as well.
It is this striving to do God’s mission first and foremost that we must attend to, while serving our Episcopalians, along with the unchurched who need to know of God’s love and care for them as much as any of us—and in these rough economic times, probably even more so.
It has been a great year here in Arizona, and I look forward to the personal growth and ministry opportunities that await me in the coming year. And actually, I feel that—as “Big Al” said in Scent Of A Woman—“I’m just getting warmed up!”