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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A new priest, for Christ's sake

Lauren Kilbourn
The car is packed with my suitcase, the tank is full of gas, and Theo and I are about to go on a seven hour adventure in my VW Bug.

I'm heading out this morning - 7 AM sharp - off to Durham, North Carolina where it will be both my privilege and delight to be one of the presenters of Lauren Kilbourn to the Sacred Order of Priests.

I've known Lauren only briefly. She arrived in the Diocese of Newark shortly after her ordination to the transitional diaconate and did a FABULOUS job in a ministry with youth.

We really connected at last year's Clergy Conference / Retreat. I felt I had met an old friend for the first time.  We've stayed in touch via email, phone and FaceBook.

Lauren has more integrity in her baby finger than some folks have in their entire bodies. She's smart and funny, brave and bold, and is absolutely passionate about Jesus and the work she is being given to do.

So, you'll forgive me if this occasion gives me reason to wax somewhat less than eloquent - once again - about this whole business of ordination and the institutional church. 

I'm really excited about the state of the church. I can't imagine a better time to be a Christian who is an Episcopalian.

Yes, yes. I know, I know. The church is facing financial challenges the Grande Old Dame of the Church of the Landed Gentry could never have once imagined.

We've been living on old, dead people's money for a long, long time and, in some place - fewer and fewer these days - for a long, long time to come. 

Then again, most of the people sitting in the pews of most Episcopal churches could never have once imagined themselves being members of The Episcopal Church - much less actually being welcomed through those great red doors.

And, many of the people presiding at Eucharist and having leadership roles in the councils and corridors of the church could never once have imagined themselves there.

The cost of the full embrace of diversity has cost us dearly. Our "numbers" are down, in terms of membership, average Sunday attendance (ASA) as well as the "bottom line" of our financial statements.

What we're losing in pledge and plate is made even worse by the amount of money we are paying in legal fees, battling over property issues brought to us by those who have left the church but feel their "purer faith" entitles them to keep the sanctuary untainted by the plague of the Dread Liberals with their Uppity Women and Queer Companions.

Never mind. What is it the Psalmist sings? Dying, yet - behold! - we live.

Indeed, I think our current "financial crisis" and decline in membership is causing us to take a long, hard look at what it really means to be a church.  We are reconsidering that which is essential about the church and redefining and restructuring for a new generation of people.

The "Little Prince" was right: That which is essential is invisible to the eye.

Which makes the task very difficult for the pragmatists among us.

I watched Bishop Gene Robinson on Rachel Maddow's show the other night. If you missed it, you can catch the link here. He had spent the day at Zuccotti Park and did, he said, what most bishops find difficult to do: he kept his mouth shut and his ears opened.

He listened. Hard. It's what all the prophets did - from Jeremiah to Isaiah.

What he heard, he said, was a cry for community.

A cry for community.

Having been there, I couldn't agree more. But, it's not just in Zuccotti Park. It's everywhere.

If you listen.

That, precisely, is the challenge of the next generation of priests.

Indeed, I think it has ever been thus in terms of the challenge of every generation of ordained leaders who purport to follow Christ: To take the frayed and tattered ends of a bunch of rag-tag Christians with not a lot of money who want to be together and do something to change the world and usher in the Realm of God in the name of Jesus.

The greatest leadership skill anyone of us can bring to this time in the Church's history is to listen to the cry of the people.  And then, to get them to listen to the teachings and promises of Jesus. And then, to work together to bring the vision of the Peaceable Realm into reality.

Yes, yes. I know. I know. It all sounds so romantic and poetic when it doesn't sound like a simplistic answer.

After twenty-five years, I know that to be true.  I haven't stopped working toward that vision of leadership in community. I won't stop working because I can see us moving closer and closer.

Fair warning.

I'm so excited to be taking the next steps with a new generation of ordained leaders - like Lauren - who will take on the mantle of leadership for her generation.

I will be one of several priests presenting her to the church for ordination. What she doesn't yet realize is that she is presenting us with an amazing opportunity to help us take the vision to the next step toward the Realm of God.

It's a journey of seven hours and centuries of time to get to this place of hope for the future.

Join me in that wonderful prayer for priests at their ordination:

May God who has given you the will to do these things give you the grace and power to perform them.


it's margaret said...

Travel safely.
God bless your gathering.
God bless her. TBTG!

And if you are passing through Richmond, I'll treat you to a cuppa or lunch or whatever!

Geeklet said...

Thank you so much for leading me to the Rachel Maddow interview with Bishop Robinson. I could just cry. "I don't want to live in a country where it's every man, woman and child for themselves." SO TRUE.

Good luck on your drive! I hope there are no car piddles!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Margaret - I think I AM passing through Richmond. Or, can. Tomorrow. I'll email you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Geeklet - Wasn't it just an AWESOME interview? Bishop Gene speaks a truth that touches deep into my heart.

Theo was an absolute angel. Stopped twice. Did his business, then again when we arrived. I'm so blessed.

Janababe said...

Elizabeth, I don't know where to begin. Congratulations to Lauren and all best wishes to her. She takes the mantel at a time, I believe, when priests of her ilk are much more accepted and she will help continue to lead the way as you have.

I loved the interview with Bishop Robinson and Rachel Maddow. I have seen, in New Hampshire, the "community," as Occupy New Hampshire has joined with the Manchester Newspaper Guild as the local members battle management's ultimatum as opposed to their negotiating points. Then joined by the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, Granite State Progress (a progressive community) and the NH AFL-CIO. A wide-ranging community supporting non-violent protest of the trashing of the middle class.

Enjoy North Carolina and, in case you hadn't realized, you, personally, may be bringing me back to a church. I believe I'll thank you for that someday very soon. xoxo

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Janababe - Oh, how I wish you could have been there! I will be blogging on it tonight once I get home but there was enough mojo in the sanctuary to raise the roof. I hope you do find a church you can come back to. Look for a young priest on the staff. Look for a church that understands mission - not just "outreach". Look for a church which is very involved in community. Start there and then see if it fits. I'll keep you in my prayers because I know it's not me that's bringing you to consider the church but the Holy Spirit working through me. God bless.

MarkBrunson said...

I'm sorry. I have no relevant comment on the post, but the headline reminded me of the old joke about the Benedictine Guest Master, who was asked how he dealt with so many outsiders intruding into the monastic rhythm:

"We're told to receive all guests as Christ, so I simply look at them and say, 'Jesus Christ! You again!'"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I've always loved that joke, Mark.