Let’s rejoice as we begin a new phase of our lives together in ministry. I have signed a letter of agreement to take effect July 1, 2016 as Rector of the Church of the Advent! So much has gone into this moment and I am glad to share with you some of my and the vestry’s deliberations.
Becoming Rector is the culmination of a long process that began with my coming to serve the parish more than 6 years ago as a long-term supply priest. Year by year I have carved bits and pieces out of my schedule at the Chapel in Athens until two summers ago when Bishop Wright directed me to make full-time service to Advent as Priest-in-Charge my work in the Diocese of Atlanta. We hustled to realize that change and I have been serving under a letter of Agreement as Priest-in-Charge that expires at the end of this month of June, 2016.
When I came on board full-time two years ago the vestry designated the entire month of July as a vacation for me. That’s when I drove to Yellowstone. That rest and refreshment was a great gift to me and the ministry we are still sharing. I have asked the vestry for a similar break to begin this next phase in service with you. Not only do I need the break, I also need some serious and hopeful self-examination and a long overdue health screening, both physical and mental. My prayer life could stand a return to silence and settled-ness, too.
I have already addressed some of my physical health matters. I was proud to have my internist note how much weight I had lost since my last visit, over 35 pounds! My blood pressure is down to normal levels and my cholesterol numbers are the best they’ve been in years! I am motivated and already practicing a much healthier diet and activity level. I believe that another 15 to 20 lbs. needs to go. When that happens I’m shaving my goatee. But that is not all I want you to know about me.
I have had more than one intense emotional demand in the last year. Notable among them was finishing my divorce. Many of you know how this process has been prolonged and that it is finally in the judge’s hands is to say the least, long awaited. In other ways my emotions, self-confidence and attention span have been maxed out. I am glad to take a deep and long look at my psychological health, at how I form and sustain loving relationships and how I bring to my calling the best of who God has made me to be.
The image I have is that I have been forcing you all, my friends, my family and so many other good people who have tried to love and support me in these recent months to work with me as if I DIDN’T have one hand tied behind my back. Sometimes it felt like more than both hands were tied. And yet I insisted there was little wrong or at least it was something that “I could handle.” That was a formula for disaster and sadly this break will not avoid them all. Worse, I have lost valuable friends, and squelched the support of the very people who tried to love me.
I need a break because I will not “go-all-in” with God and Advent unless I have some comfort, some confidence that I am addressing these shortcomings in an honest, open and finally courageous way. I will not go-all-in with one hand tied behind my back.
In order to get to that point of comfort and confidence, I need your prayers and a good therapist who can stay with me and dig deep into the hurt places, the fear, the old angers, wherever there is something binding me, keeping me from being fully engaged, alive and free in my life, my love, my ministry.
I can’t say much more except that I have already begun that work. I will look forward for the moment when this work is a good and regular habit for me. This is a longer term re-education of me so that I can live, love and serve with less fear, anxiety, and distraction, with more gratitude, humility and kindness. I want this for me, for my friends, for us all. I want to go-all-in because none of us know how much longer any of us have.
Here’s the agenda for my sabbatical: I will be out of the office this week and as far away as Kanuga between now and July 1. I am using the time to rest a bunch, to lead a conference, to tie up some loose ends with my house in Athens and to get – in most cases get back – into those disciplines of prayer, study, listening, gratitude and humility that have been a part of my best days up to now.
I will likely need more time away than what is left in this month. I may want to visit my daughter in Yellowstone again. I will definitely need to be in Athens some of the time as the house goes on the market. The vestry has agreed that my being gone as long as September 14th is worth it if it helps me find that sense of balance in life with each other and God.
I do not believe I will be gone that long. But that is not my first concern. My health: physical, spiritual and mental is my first concern. I want us all to understand that I am not the expert here. It is my job to be as open to learning, to possibilities, and to deep scrutiny as I can be.
Finally, I want to ask you to pray for me and I want you to join me every day at noon and every night at 9 PM if you can. Together let’s pray this:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
“Peace is the way god means things to be.”