Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What I Love About St. John's

At a recent training session for the Berkshire Organizing Project, we participants were asked, “What do you love about your congregation?”

I found that easy to answer. I love—and am grateful for—this parish’s appetite for experimentation, flexibility, and personal challenge.

In worship, we try to balance the preciousness of old hymns by adding varieties of style and message encountered in learning new songs. We treasure The Book of Common Prayer as a strong and dependable compass, and we also welcome fresh worship texts from additional sources. Worship Outside the Box (our “alternative” service aimed at families and children) teaches skills and develops talents important to the whole congregation. And when the Christmas Pageant hasn’t quite enough children to carry off the customary version, swiftly a homegrown, witty, intergenerational alternative pageant is crafted.

From time to time, we gather for a worship forum, a chance to hear how certain experiments do—and don’t—work for us. And always in that order: first, what we appreciate about a change (or a stability), then what we may struggle with in that change (or stability). What this approach teaches is the twofold importance of truthful self-expression and of hearing what matters to others. So each person may grow clearer in balancing what-matters-to-me with what-matters-to-my-neighbor.

Open to personal challenge, St. John’s supports its candidates for confirmation and reception by asking members to adopt the same Confirmation Covenant that the candidates are asked to embrace—last spring, seventy parishioners signed on. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is held high not only in ceremony but in opportunities for adults, teens, and children to discover, celebrate, and strengthen what matters most in their faith and practice, and be nudged beyond old comfort zones into a more centered, grounded, grateful, and generous love for God and world and neighbor and self.

I love and celebrate this parish’s generous openness to sharing these sheltering buildings of ours with the wider community. We’re a congregation committed also to sharing our financial resources beyond the agenda of self-preservation, and this passion we have for making a difference locally and globally feels like the breath of God bringing oxygen to our cells.

I love seeing and hearing parish leaders’ openness to guidance, gained sometimes from debate around the table, sometimes in the silence we’re smart enough to keep together, and often by insight gained through steady attentive gatherings of God’s people.

I would be diminished in all these lovings, if it weren’t for the love I rise to, and go home to at the end of each day, the love I am so fortunate to have in Diana.

I love our parish staff: each of them practices a beautiful openness to people, and a real flair for his or her portions of the one ministry of Jesus Christ. Together, we enjoy an openness that lets us complement one another’s work for the good of the whole community.

With our 120th Annual Meeting today, I’m reminded that such a meeting ought to feel like a love fest. One way we make this true is by devoting a good portion of the meeting to consider two of our mission frontiers, and learn what’s happening there. Another is to thank God for the lives of members and friends who have stepped from this life to larger life in the past year.

And another is to celebrate the leadership of parishioners retiring from office. This year, that will include two of our Wardens, Steve King and Polly Macpherson; our Treasurer, Jim Kolesar; Vestry members Charles Bonenti and Celia Twomey, Parish Librarian Judy Buhner, Diocesan Convention Delegate Laurie Glover, and Sweet Brook Ministry Coordinator Roberta Patten. They all have loved us through their service to this congregation, through the exercise of their unique constellations of talents and abilities, and through their openness to the responsibilities of leadership, and the grace of God.