I have two parish directories sitting on my desk as I write this, one from 2013 and our current church directory. Paging through the 2013 Directory, I find myself looking at a photo of my own family, taken eight years ago, when I was beardless, Ella was small, and Amy — well, Amy was just as beautiful as she is now. So much has changed in those eight years, both for the parish and for me. I was still in my first decade of ministry when I started working for the Diocese, and was warmly invited by George Glazier to base my work at St. Stephen’s. St. Stephen’s is and was very much my kind of church, focused as it is on social justice and the arts. Every place I’ve served has formed me in its own unique way. St. Stephen’s formed my creative side, sparking my excitement about what is possible in liturgy, in the use of space, in seeking relationships with those outside the church, and in passionately working to help transform the world.
I’ve been gone for three years, working with children and youth at St. John’s in Worthington. As I return to St. Stephen’s as your Priest-in-Charge, I look upon those three years as a time of pilgrimage. During that pilgrimage I became a spiritual director, immersed myself in the contemplative tradition, painted some, read a lot, wrote poems, played guitar, examined my vocation as a priest, and found that I’m still as called to ministry as I was when I was ordained sixteen years ago. Returning to St. Stephen’s now feels like returning home, bearing with me whatever wisdom my travels have managed to teach me.
I know that St. Stephen’s has seen some changes during those three years as well. There are both absent friends and new faces. The building is, as Kaethe Sandman says, being rebuilt from the inside out, so that its architectural greatness is both preserved and amplified. The sanctuary has something of the feel of a botanical garden, which makes it a very wonderful place to sit in the midst of winter. The campus around our church feels more like its own small city, nestled within Columbus, with each passing year. Everything around us is changing, and eliciting changes of our own. This, of course, has always been true, but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that this tendency to change has accelerated in the past decades. Our task, as always, is to preserve what is beautiful and just in our tradition and our community, while listening seriously to the critiques of culture and society that are soliciting so much change, and changing ourselves when we find that those critiques are in alignment with what we know of the Kingdom of God.
I begin my tenure as your priest with great excitement, and with a promise based on 1 Corinthians 13, one of my favorite passages in scripture. In that passage, Paul ascribes a series of traits to love, and one that always catches at my brain is “love does not insist on having its own way.” I promise not to insist on having my own way. I believe that the church, and the scripture that forms and binds us to each other, is a discussion, a negotiation, a community process. I have practices of leadership that I bring with me, having been trained in the Art of Hosting and the Circle Way, and I’m excited to introduce them to you because they help communities discuss issues and come to decisions in ways that honor the wisdom and gifts of every member, while also allowing for dissent and honest disagreement. Of course, community is formed by a lot more than decision-making processes. We’re formed by the ways we play together, relax together, learn together, and, of course, worship together. I so look forward to doing all of these things with you.