Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Holy Week 2013 - Tears

Holy Week was intense for me this year, and I think at one point I had just about every emotional experience in the human range. There were moments when I was profoundly happy and elated and full of joy. There were other moments when I was depressed or even angry. In some ways it was the "easiest" Holy Week yet at Messiah from a logistics point of view. After some years of practice, the Messiah folks and myself have pretty well figured out how to execute the extremely ambitious programme we do with limited resources of people and money. I'm extremely proud of my people and was pleased to see everything go so incredibly well. There was just so much less "drama" this year! So why did I go through some dark times, too? Probably because it's a very hard thing that we are trying to do.

For instance, after the Palm Sunday Service I came home and broke down crying. I was crying for my parish and for my ministries, and I realized that much of it was delayed grief from Eleanor's death. The last time I had a good cry about Messiah was a few months after another parishioner had passed away--Daphne Archer. The worship Palm Sunday had been lovely, but I was disappointed that we didn't get a single visitor despite blanketing the neigbourhood with post cards and doing some very intentional on-line marketing (via Facebook and the church's website). So I spent a lot of time second guessing myself about those decisions I had made to spend so much time (and a couple hundred bucks--modest but not zero) on that advertising.

Now, I know from some previous years that when I do nothing to advertise, the results are even worse, so that's not really an option either. But maybe I made a big mistake targeting the Open-Dechurched in this year's campaign. Maybe I should have gone for the Unchurched. The problem with us going for that demographic with our evangelism efforts, however, is that we really don't have much of a "conversion pipeline" in place. We aren't like the churches that are constantly running education and formation programmes of the "Alpha" and "Christianity 101" sort. I wish we did, but it's tough for a solo priest to establish those kinds of programmes. In fact, the parish has not been hugely responsive to the adult education events I've put on in the past, even when I brought in fantastic guest speakers. So I realize that what I should do is not even think about it like a traditional adult ed course, but instead create a learning "event," perhaps at a local coffee shop or bar. A place where people can come with questions and share their experiences and insights. Great idea, but I just don't see how I can find the time to start that right now.

So, back to the tears. What else was upsetting me? How about the death of Jesus? The emotional impact of the Palm Sunday liturgy is intense. We read through the story of the execution of Christ in a dramatic fashion but stop short of his resurrection. It's dark and harsh, and that was probably affecting me, too.

Reflecting on the tears, I wondered how many of my clergy colleagues have cried in a similar way for their parishes at one time or another--probably a lot! It's not something most of would probably be willing to share unless we were having one of those deep conversations among colleagues that sometimes happens in places like the Convent's meeting room or the lounge at the Manresa Retreat Centre. Sipping Single Malt and passing around a bag of chips and talking about the life, the universe, and everything is enormously refreshing. Those kinds of encounters happen far less frequently for me, now. That last time it happened I wish a monk and a bishop's wife in a very old tavern in Canterbury. Our three ministries had been very, very different and yet remarkably the same. That's one of the neat things about pouring your life into doing something hard, anyone who joins you in that work can usually relate!

I'm sure it's similar in other occupations. Just this evening we had two of Betsy's school colleagues over, and they, too, have a clutch of common troubles that keep them up at night. Something about the human condition compels us to do difficult things and to find solidarity in that struggle. That's kind of neat!

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