On the drive I took a call that told me that a member of the Messiah community passed away. She hadn't come to a service in many years, but she spoke fondly of my predecessor and certainly considered herself a member of the church. Her family wants a church funeral, and cell phones and such make it possible for me to arrange that even as I was driving across New York state. I haven't had too many funerals to deal with at Messiah, actually, but it is a ministry that inherited churches like mine do quite well. There is a lot of wisdom and love to be found in the burial traditions of the church.
I realize that a lot of my colleagues would shun their cell phones and iPads while on retreat, and there is good reason for that. Retreat usually involves a certain amount of ascetic withdrawal. I probably will, too, for some of the next several days. But I am an extravert, and so one of my needs (much neglected in the last few weeks) is talking out loud to process my stuff. And there is a lot of stuff for me to work on this Lent.
A few weeks ago I was talking to Betsy one Sunday evening when I was overcome by emotions I had apparently been suppressing. I had a good cry as I talked about two of my mentors: Mary and Bede. I also talked about the tremendous pressures I am under and my worries and concerns about the church. Looking back over the last few months I can see some moments when I think I did some of my best work ever as a pastor. Then there are other moments when I disappointed myself. Looking forward I see both threat and opportunity. The ways things will turn out is only partially dependent on what I do--so many of the outcomes of things in parish life are outside my control.
The feeling is very, very common among my clergy friends and probably among the non-ordained leaders of our churches, too. It's a mixture of anxiety, holy hope, and desire to do the right thing. But there is also a tinge of apocalyptic dread. The metaphor people sometimes use is "making planes in the air." Imagine falling through the air trying to assemble a wing, a fuselage, an engine.
An image that has more depth, for me, comes from the world of the Aurbrey/Maturin novels. At the end of Desolation Island Captain Aubrey and his crew are in desperate shape. They can barely control their sinking ship, and they are heading further and further away from inhabited land. Jack employes all his skills and technical abilities to keep the ship afloat and attempt to navigate to land, only to experience set back after set back. Much of the crew, including the First Mate, mutiny--putting their hope in tiny boats in rough ocean. Jack and his most loyal crew are left with the stricken ship. Patrick O'Brian manages to build and build this scene. The feeling of exhaustion and fear is incredibly vivid. The way things unfold and the ship is saved is a remarkable study in how organizations turn themselves around from the brink of destruction.
Messiah is leaking money, and we are all taking our turns around the chain pumps. The rudder is partially shot away, and so we are limited in terms of the directions we can go. Landfall is no where to be seen. Somewhere in the din my watch was broken, and without knowing what time it is, all the observations we make only reduce to a partial fix. We must stop the leak. We need more time. We need to find a habour...
Holy Cross has been a safe place for me to hold up and repair for years. I have great hope that the next few days will help me regain some equillibrium.
I may post more about how it goes. I might not. Right now I'm entering into the mode just following where the wind blows...
On my mind this evening: Betsy, Henry, and my parishioners....