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November 17, 2023

Sisters and Brothers,

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

This is a famous little prayer from Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude. I think it sums up the Christian spiritual life well. We do have shining moments when we are left in awe by beauty and her myriad sources. Most of the time, though, we are just trying and hoping, and most of the time, we find it difficult to remember that all of our hoping and trying is done before the face of God. Trying and hoping in our work, our relationships, our interactions, and choices (personal, communal, political) could be entirely driven by self-interest. And even if so, all our hoping and trying would still be done before the face of God, whether we care to know that or not. Merton is reminding us of that truth. Our forgetfulness of our lives being lived out before the face God has no impact on that truth.

Thus, the best we can do is to try to stay mindful of that truth. The best we can do is live - hoping and trying, confused and frightened, frustrated and anxious - mindful that we aren’t hurtling through some nihilist game, but are in fact living under God’s loving care. “Though I may know nothing about it,” as Merton says.

Which brings me to reflecting on closing in on the completion of my second year among you. I don’t know if I’m leading you in the right direction. I don’t know if I’m even supposed to be leading you at all. Is there anywhere to lead you? Or am I here to simply care for you? I don’t know if you share my hopes for our life together. I don’t know if my hopes are realistic or attainable. Maybe I’m asking too much of you. Should we just relax into what looks like the reality of accelerating decline and closure and try to learn how to be faithful on that trajectory? Should we stop fixing and updating things to save money so we can pay a supply priest to conduct the last funeral before closing? I know that “We can’t because (fill in the blank)” has been the mantra here for a long time. I’ve tried to move us toward a mantra of “Let’s at least try.” Maybe, I’ve been wrong. I can say with conviction that I am trying to lead in a way that is pleasing to God, edifying to you, securing of a future for St. Bart’s. I try to trust that my intention “does in fact” please God, but I waver in my faith like everyone does and worry.

In the coming weeks, the Vestry will take up the issue of my incumbency. Currently, I serve you as a 3/4 time Priest-in-Charge with a Letter of Agreement that expires on December 31, 2024. The hope and clearly stated expectation of all parties when I was called to serve were that I would be called to serve in the permanent and full-time position of Rector. Please know that I want St. Bart’s, as a community, to get the best care and leadership for the true path that it is on. If that path is one wandered while we together say, “Let’s at least try,” then I hope that I’m the one you’ll choose to lead you.  Whatever the outcome of that deliberation and discernment, know of my deep gratitude for and pride in you. Say your prayers for our life together - for God to illumine our path wherever it may lead. It is a privilege to serve with and among you.

Yours in Christ,