I am feeling very fortunate right now. This past Sunday I started my new job as the parson* of a parish church, and I’m still feeling a significant high. It is an amazing feeling to finally, after years and years of discernment and study and navigating the shoals of the institutional church, be able to do what I feel compelled and called to do.
And I’ve been thinking a lot recently, as I’ve begun to take up this ministry, about those who have gone before me. This was initially prompted by a gift I received at my (very recent) ordination. My former home parish is an amazing place, and I understand its rate of growth-rate is in the top 4% of Episcopal parishes, which is remarkable. Things haven’t always looked so rosy though, just a few years ago its future looked cloudy – a fairly new parish (established in 1983 or so) it has had its ups and downs and has gone through some difficult transitions. But before even the first Bible study was held, the vision of a parish in the rapidly expanding west Portland suburbs existed in the eyes of one Lincoln Eng. And through all those years and ups and downs, Lincoln and his wife Mabel were a part of the life of the parish and stayed steadfast no matter what. Lincoln, the Venerable Lincoln Eng, had been archdeacon of the Diocese of Oregon and had a great personal story of overcoming adversity and intolerance as he sought to live out his calling as priest. Earlier this year though, Lincoln died; but at my ordination his wife Mabel gave me his prayer book. It’s covered in what looks like a bright red handmade cloth cover with a floral pattern cloth cross stitched onto the front. Lincoln had gone to the trouble of using a label maker and tape to create homemade tabs for each section. Actually, this is so useful that someone should make a set and sell it to everyone who uses a prayer book; in fact maybe I will$$. It also has Lincoln’s notes written in red pen throughout – Lincoln was apparently a fan of inclusive language because every “Him” and “Father” is crossed out and substitutes written in. This past Sunday, this was the prayer book I used to lead the services. And so, in some way, my ministry picks up where his left off and it really struck me that this is how our faith has been carried on for two millennia from one generation to another. And though I already knew that in my head, Lincoln’s prayer book brought it home to me in my heart.
And so as I was walking through the church where I have just started this Sunday, I stood in the hall looking at the pictures of my predecessors smiling beatifically forever from their (very large) portraits. I am also continuing the work of these priests, which like Lincoln’s prayer book was a comforting thought because in this chain of ministry I can see that my work is only of a season. Which is a real relief. I’m just a day laborer in the vineyard of the Lord, the management of the vineyards is not my task. That belongs to God. The ultimate success of the Christian movement does not rest on my shoulders, my job is to show up and labor faithfully and when this season ends to pass along my tools to whomever comes next. Someday it will be my smiling face, frozen in a moment in time, staring down on another new priest (and I AM confident that there will be many more after me) as they take up this task we call vocational ministry. And that’s comforting too. As I begin I hope and pray that I have the fortitude and steadfastness shown by Lincoln and all the saints who have gone before.
*Deacon-in-charge seems an awkward title and I like the old-school sound of Parson - now I just need a flat-brimmed black hat!