Gay and I have come to another time of transition in our journey. Calvary Episcopal Church in Ashland, Kentucky has called a new rector. The time has come for us to leave Calvary and move to another place of ministry. Those who have known me for a while can appreciate the irony in this.
I was trained in a communion where clergy traditionally "itinerate," then became a priest in the Episcopal Church where the norm is for clergy to be "settled." In the one, clergy are appointed for one year at a time and expect to move on short notice. In the other, clergy are called to a place of ministry and tend to expect to remain settled there for years. It is ironic that I am now engaged in an itinerant ministry in a Church of settled clergy. My job is to move from place to place on a somewhat frequent basis, helping congregations manage transitions between settled rectors.
These times are bittersweet. We share our lives with people for a short while, and then we go. I won't say we go "our separate ways." For to say that would be to ascribe to our individual journies more significance than to The Journey on which we travel together in the Communion of Saints. We form relationships and it is not normal for those relationships to be discarded just because our corporate life takes us to another geographical location. There are boundaries that must be set in place when clergy leave a place. But those boundaries do not mean we do not care nor that we cannot remain in touch with those whom we have grown to love as we have shared in Christ's mission.
My priestly duties come to a conclusion in this community and soon will begin anew in another community. The new rector will be leaving her priestly duties in one community and begin them anew in this one.
In truth, these experiences are not unique to interim ministry; they just happen more frequently for us. When this time comes, I always think of something that I learned early in my vocational life as I was preparing to be licensed to preach. During the course of study, I had to answer a series of questions for each unit. In one unit, the question was, "In what way was John the Baptist the precursor to Jesus Christ?" I didn't even know what a "precursor" was! A visit to the dictionary told me that a precursor is "a person or thing that comes before another of the same kind; a forerunner." The role of John the Baptist was to go before Jesus to prepare the way for him and his ministry, which was very different from that of John.
The heart of my answer to the question then and now is found In the third chapter of John (Jn. 3:22-30), when John's disciples come to him with concern about Jesus, who now appeared to be in competition with John. John's response to them was, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30).
This is not exactly "Lame Duck Theology." There is still transition work to be done. It is healthy ministry. The time comes when one moves on and another arrives to lead God's people into a new era of mission and ministry. What John did for Jesus, we do for those who come after us. Each builds upon whatever has gone before. Each steps into a future where we must have confidence that God will meet us there to lead, guide, and direct.
It is time for me to become less important at Calvary and for the new rector, The Reverend Antoinette "TJ" Azar to become more important. I am quite proud of the devoted work of the nominating committee and vestry in calling her as the new leader of this parish. I predict that their ministry together will be fruitful in many ways - new ways, powerful ways, transforming ways!
In a few days, it will be time for me to announce where I am going next. In that community, a priest is saying farewell to people he has loved and cared for. In this community, a priest is on the way to a community that is opening its arms to welcome her. It's the way things work in this Church - and most churches for that matter - and in transitional ministry. God be with all of us in this and every transition so that our work will be done to God's glory and not our own. For it is God who is constant in this ever-changing ministry.
There is no limit to what we might accomplish if it is always God who gets the credit!