The First Season of a New Ministry
November 15, 2020
Bishop Mariann preached this sermon to St. Margaret's Church on November 15, 2020.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’
Hello St. Margaret’s, and friends of St. Margaret’s. Hello to all guests in worship for this special today. Hello Richard and Alban, members of the vestry, and your good wardens, Michael and Jenny. Hello all past and present leaders of St. Margaret’s. If we’ve not met before, I am Mariann Budde, and I’m honored to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Washington and be part of this celebration of a new season of ministry at St. Margaret’s and the official installation of Richard as your rector.
In my nine years as bishop, St. Margaret’s has been close to my heart, and so have you, Richard, from your years at Washington National Cathedral, through the ordination process, and then, as grace would have it, as part of a diocesan/parish partnership that brought you back from Atlanta, where I worried you’d stay forever. You came back for what we thought would be a two-year assistant’s position and part-time communications work for the diocese.
Little did we know--perhaps the Spirit knew--what would unfold from there, all the events, discerning moments that have brought us to this moment. Praise God for all of it, and for all of you.
Typically when we celebrate a new season of ministry and the installation of a rector, the relationship between the two is just beginning. It’s a time of anticipation and unknowing, with all the unrealized hopes and projections that we bring to new beginnings. That’s not the case today. If you’ve been a part of St. Margaret’s for a while, you’ve heard Richard preach. You know something of his passion and the themes he returns to, because they are central to his understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Richard, in turn, you know this congregation well. Long ago, you fell in love with them, and you’ve gladly cast your lot with them. God willing, you have many years of relationship building ahead of you. Nonetheless, the relationship we celebrate has already been tried and tested and found true. Praise God for that.
Relationship building, grafting a new leader into the organic life of the community is the first task in a new season of ministry, and you are well on your way in this important work. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. If the relationship between clergy and congregational leaders is faltering, it adversely affects everything that we hope to do. If the relationship is strong, almost anything is possible.
You’ve also made great strides in the second task of a new season in ministry, and that is gentle, courageous evaluation of everything you do as a church. The great question underneath that evaluative effort is why? Why do we do what we do? And the answer begins with the simple clause: So that. . . fill in the blank.
Here are a few biblical examples:
Jesus taught: “Let your light shine before others” Why? “so that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” Why? “so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
You can use the words so that to clarify purpose and fruitfulness for just about anything, and you have put them to good use in your time together thus far. You’ve evaluated worship and music, your ministries among those who experience homelessness. That work continues in earnest, and it’s so important.
The third task of a new season in ministry is weathering a storm together, I would say that you can check that off the list. We all can. Storms take many forms, some of our own doing and others when life comes at us with disruptive force, such as what we’re all still weathering in the pandemic and its many repercussions.
What I know about weathering a storm is this: how we go through it will matter more in the end than the storm itself. The stories we will tell of this prolonged season of societal disorientation won’t simply be that we got through it, but how we did. How can we live now so that our future selves and those who come after us will look back with gratitude?
The fourth task in the first season of a new ministry is to clarify mission and purpose. Rachelle Sams preached a few weeks back about core identity, asking you to consider what your central truth is, the one from which all else flows.
The Holy Spirit is leading you as a community to greater clarity of your core mission and purpose. As we listened to the opening song this morning, Richard mentioned that this particular piece serves as a theme, or purpose song, for St. Margaret’s. It certainly seems that way to me: For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table:
For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead,
and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy.
St. Margaret’s, God has instilled in you a fierce commitment to ensure that everyone has a place at the table, that all feel welcome and included. The one you have called to serve as your rector shares that same passion.
That’s in part what makes this extended time of physical distance and virtual worship all the more poignant for you, for you can’t gather together around Jesus’ sacramental table now. You can’t easily invite one another to share your tables at home, and in your homes, there are people missing from the table whose presence you grieve. You can’t invite your neighbors experiencing homelessness into safe warm indoor spaces. I grieve that for you, for all of us. And yet I know God is with us in our loss and disorientation, God is, as God always does, making a new way for us through this wilderness.
What I’ve seen in you, St. Margaret’s, and in you, Richard, is a determination, born of God, to keep going forward in life and faith. You keep going, adjusting and adapting. I know it’s not always easy, and only you and God know the cost in your personal lives.
I hold each of you to the light and mercy of God. I see your desire to do right by your neighbors experiencing homelessness and to transform the ministry of Charlie’s Place to meet those neighbors in a spirit of mutuality. I see your desire to strengthen the infrastructure of this community; to utilize its resources well; to show up where love is needed.
Here is my prayer for you: that each of you might know the same love and mercy you work so hard to ensure that others have. On the eve of the election, Richard began his sermon with a word of care, encouraging you to have a plan of self-care during what was sure to be, and was, a difficult week. I hope you will do that every week! Flip the order of the great commandment, that you strive to love yourself as much as you strive to love others. Take the time to be in real conversations with each other, and to pray for and with one another. For your call isn’t just to be the Adams Morgan congregation committed to lives of justice, but also creators of joy.
Friends of St. Margaret’s and my friend, Richard: You are well on your way in this first season of ministry, poised to look toward the horizon to what lies ahead. Thank you for saying yes to one another and to the ministry you share.
My one word to you is this: find ways in the coming year and beyond to create as many informal opportunities for personal connection among you as possible and to make spiritual growth a priority for everyone. This needn't be a heavy lift, but it is an intentional one, and one that paradoxically is often lost in the many tasks of ministry. This is a priority throughout the diocese--identified as a felt need in all our congregations--and we are at work creating resources and collaborative opportunities. Be part of that effort.
I am persuaded that the future of St. Margaret’s, and all our congregations, depends on that kind of spiritual renewal and deeper experience of God’s love in Christ. Without it, we are running on our own energies, and our energies aren’t enough. Without it, we create a church in our image, according to our preferences, rather than open ourselves to the call of Christ to join in his redeeming work. But know that you needn’t do this alone. I am right here; your diocesan community is right here, as we do this holy work together. Amen.