What I have been up to? Many things. For most of the winter I have been spending time every Wednesday with a small group of guys building some canoes. My boat is almost done. The ribs and planks are all in place. Now I've got to finish sanding the interior (I've already made one pass at it) and then coat it oil. While the oil soaks in we'll "fair" the outside shape of the canoe with sanding to make it perfectly round. Then comes many layers of varnish inside. We'll stretch canvas on the outside with a special filler. Then paint. Then she's done!
This is the first boat I've ever built, and I one of the things that I've noticed is that I have far more emotional attachment to her than to anything else I've made. Something about the organic quality of a boat really makes the connection visceral. When I hammer in a nail I notice the way the whole boat vibrates. She is organic and living. If you've never built or owned a boat you might think this is hyperbole, but really I mean it. The Japanese have a concept of "Kami". Many objects, like Samurai Swords, are said to be inhabited by a Kami, and I totally get that. I'm certainly not going to worship my boat, but I do respect the mysterious quality of spirit that seems to inhabit it.
There is a natural affinity between pastoral work and boat building, which you can see best embodied, perhaps, is places like The Carpenter's Boat Shop. It's a Christian Community that is also a school that teaches apprentices the skills of wooden boat building. One of my classmates, Kim Hoare, has recently become the Director of the Carpenter's Boat Shop, and I really hoping to be able to do one of their "Boat Building for Clergy" retreats. So much of what we clergy is do is stuck up in our heads that using our hands to build things is enormously satisfying.
Life in the parish has been complex. Like many small urban congregations, we face a lot of challenges that have their roots in deep societal trends. For the last year I've been dealing with a radical decline in staffing that has left me shouldering more and more responsibility. At the peak I had three people at my staff meetings. Now... I find myself unclogging toilets and creating the leaflet for Sunday and everything in between. My Youth and Children's Ministry person (part time) will be gone by the end of the summer, and all that's left is a very part time person who mainly just checks the phone and e-mail and manages space booking.
Easter nearly killed me (spiritually). In Lent I broke down crying more than once. My Interim Director of Music, Bruce Kirkptrick Hill, died on Lent 4, a mere two weeks before Easter. I've known Bruce and his wife well for about six years (going back to my St. Mary Magdalene days) and so this was a personal loss as much as a professional one. What do you do when your organist dies right before Holy Week? well, first you take care of people. In this case that meant being there for Stephanie, his window. As it happens, I was her communications link to Canada while Bruce was dying. I relayed messages and did my best to comfort Steph.
Steph. I call her "sis" when I see her in person. I started that back when we were serving together at St. Mary Magdalene's. When she was hired we hit it off incredibly well. Perhaps it was here Mennonite background (Betsy shares some of that heritage) or something else, but we just always had a great deal of mutual respect and trust.
So I did my best to be there for Steph. I had been there for Bruce--visited him in the hospital, even--before his fateful trip to Cuba. But after he died I was pretty grieved.
There was a Tuesday BCP Eucharist that I did for some older members of the congregation shortly after his death. I could barely get through the sermon because I started crying as I preached about Bruce. The reading was about Jesus feeding the 5,000. And my sermon was about how, in the Resurrection, Jesus pulls together all the crumbs. All the fragments of this man's life would be pulled drawn back together in the kind of abundance and fullness that characterizes God's crazy abundance. I cried and cried. And these old folks, who know and love me as I love them, were right there with me. Honestly, if I had hand picked the people in my life I would like to break down crying with, it wouldn't have been much different. Older folks know grief and have a patience and compassion that is deep, deep, deep. I composed myself and did a liturgy that would have made Bruce proud.
I was honoured to be asked to be the Liturgical Deacon for Bruce's Requiem at St. Mary Magdalene's. It was wonderfully familiar to be back there, and yet there were some changes. As usual, I was awestruck by the professionalism and poise of the "SMM" crew. These guys know liturgy. Not just by rote, they really understand the principles of what makes good worship at adapt flawlessly to changing circumstance. Father David is doing a great job there, and I applaud and support the work they are doing.
Now, imagine 570 people packing the church. Standing room only. Then imagine many of the best church musicians in Toronto packing the Gallery Choir. How about one of the best Organists in Canada on the bench. I have been to many church services in my life, including some in great Cathedrals of England, and I have to say that this was the best church music I have heard in my life. It was out of this world, literally. I was really glad I could be a small part of that.
Back at Messiah we scrambled to find a musician to fill in for Holy Week. Someone to pick up the pieces and move forward with what Bruce had planned. He did a fine job, but attendance was disappointing. It is hard to determine why, but we simply had fewer people this year for Holy Week Services despite having what I thought was some pretty awesome liturgical content. I won't give you a blow-by-blow, but the worship (music, prayers, everything) were pretty impressive, I just wish more people had come for it all.
Normally I would have taken a few days off in Lent to make a retreat and then a Sunday after Easter to recover. I could do neither this year, and the result is that I have been really struggling to keep it together. I'm pretty much totally burned out, but it hard to see how I can take any time off until my Honourary Assistant comes back from holiday. When he does, my plan is borrow a canoe and take Henry into the woods with a guy friend and his 2-year-old for two nights.
Perhaps I'll get some rest this weekend. Friday and Saturday I'm going with my skipper from sailboat racing to pick up his new boat. we are looking forward to a very exciting summer of racing on the lake, and this new boat is a whole new league for us.
There are many challenges the parish faces that I don't feel I can blog about. It is much on my mind, of course, but it's hard to say much at this stage. I'm obviously exhausted and burned out. But I think we are moving things forward despite that.
On a Diocesan level I've been heavily committed. I'm now a Fresh Start Coordinator, which means that I spend 3/4 of a day once a month teaching clergy in transition. It's a sort of continuing education initiative designed to keep people sharp and in tune with the latest research in the field of ministry.
And I'm also serving on a committee that is helping to reshape the communications strategy of the Diocese.
And I'm helping to coordinate new media (particularly video) projects for the Diocese.
And I'm "consulting" with the Back to Church Sunday Committee (the contest to give an iPad to the best commercial inviting people to church was my idea).
And I'm still involved with the "Fresh Expressions" movements in the Diocese. The committee is being restructured, but I'm part of all that.
And I've been asked to help with some other one-off projects. I do say "no" to some of them... but perhaps not as many as I should. Sigh.
This summer I'm travelling to England for a retreat at Canterbury Cathedral. It's the reunion for the the group that did the same thing two years ago. I love Canterbury, and I really look forward to resting in the arms of the mother church of the communion. I expect England itself will offer up the usual charms, as well. I'm hoping to maybe visit the maritime museums in Greenwich. I'm also interviewing a Church of England big-shot on behalf of the Diocese (we have a kind of information exchange with them). We were hoping that Betsy and Henry could come with me, this year, but we just don't have the money for that, and a grant we thought might come fell through. It turns out that no grant organization we can find thinks clergy families should be supported to go on retreat. Don't get me started on the short-sightedness of that particular policy!
Henry is amazing. Right now he is daily mastering new phrases and words. This morning, for perhaps the first time, he said, "I love you daddy" when I dropped him off at Daycare. How incredible is that?! He just started a fixation on Thomas the Train. Ilove him to death, and I want nothing more than to load him up in a canoe and take him in to woods and love him in the wild way of nature. I have so much I want to teach him and show him. He's a delight.
That's probably a good place to end for the moment. If you've read this far you deserve a special prize! So here it is: last night I had a crazy dream in which I went sailing with President Obama on a high-performance racing Catamaran. It was just the two of us racing this carbon fibre beast. I spent a lot of time with the guy in my dream, actually, and can tell you that he is exactly what you would imagine.