Rector’s Report to the Parish, 2017
Dear Fellow-Ministers of Saint John’s,
The year past has been one of particularly rich development for me, as for the first time in my ordained ministry I was given the gift of a sabbatical leave. These weeks enabled me to visit a number of other parishes that have made arrangements similar to our own—having a rector, or a senior pastor, who works as well in a secular role.
From April through June I visited eight other parishes in places ranging from Massachusetts to Maryland and from Pennsylvania to Minnesota. Each experience exposed me to different ideas and to a variety of creative ways of answering God’s call to ministry in community.
Each of these models departed, in various ways and to varying degrees, from the usual full-time-rector-with-benefits that for so many decades has been at the center of our understanding of what a “church” is. Each of them had strengths that enabled them to address their particular challenges, and each of them had a sense of hope and optimism about the prospects before them.
I found that one thing in particular, however, was held in common by all these communities, and no less by ourselves as well. It was that each of these communities had a strong ethos around problem-solving and community inclusion. As I studied these places, I gradually realized that these are not separate, but connected, qualities; or, said perhaps differently, they are two expressions of the same spiritual virtue, that of goodwill.
When we have goodwill toward other people, we are better at making them feel welcomed, acknowledged, and included in our work together. And when we have goodwill within the community as a whole, we want to find solutions together rather than assign blame and fault.
We have many gifts as a community at Saint John’s, but now with the experience behind me of traveling to visit other parishes I am more than ever persuaded that the single most precious gift we have received from the God who calls us into ministry is this: The gift of goodwill. We are people who actually enjoy being in each other’s company. We willingly offer our attention and our authentic concern to each other; we can share the joys and sorrows of our individual lives within this community and know that we will be seen, heard, affirmed, challenged, forgiven, and helped.
The world around us is moving in a direction in which people are unsure even how to find their way into such a community, and lacking either the confidence to make themselves part of one or any sense that they need to. Sociologists teach us that whether or not a rising generation takes on any religious practice at all depends on both parents and peers—and that when a child’s peers are less likely themselves to be part of faith communities, parents need to work even harder at helping their child learn what it means to be an engaged part of a broader community.
What our faith teaches us is not only that we cannot be Christians alone, but that at a more fundamental level we cannot be humans alone—we cannot be people made in the image and likeness of God if we keep ourselves one step (or more) removed from authentic community and authentic engagement that draws us out of ourselves and engages us in a web of commitments to others. It is this basic idea that lies at the heart of all we do, and that we build among ourselves and offer to anyone who comes here.
We are deeply blessed indeed to have such a gift at the center of who we are and what we do. That said, we have work to do and challenges to face.
Not long ago I came across a bit of wisdom uttered by Archbishop Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 1960s, another period of intense cultural upheaval, Ramsey saw a number of churches in England battening down the hatches and trying to carry on as though nothing had changed. In a strong bit of pastoral guidance, he gave them this advice: “The church that lives to itself, dies by itself.”
The upshot of Ramsey’s wisdom is that we cannot be here for ourselves alone. We surely are not; we give our support to outreach ministries like the Monday Lunch Program at the cathedral and the Centre Street Food Pantry, which we helped to establish. In Lent, we will all be invited to offer our support to Manna Ministries, the umbrella organization of ministry with and of the homeless community in Boston, and based at our cathedral.
But it is always right for us to ask whether we might do more. As we celebrate the decades-long ministry of the Gift and Thrift Shop, and give thanks for the many, many people who carried that ministry in our midst, it is appropriate for us to ask: What next shall we do? Where else might we serve? What more can we offer? Often in small churches we easily fall into the trap of thinking that our resources are too small, and our energy too scarce, to do anything of value for others. But if we believe the teaching of our own faith—that this is something we are called to do, not for reward or acknowledgment, but out of gratitude for what God has done for us—then we can free ourselves of that excuse and get on to serving. How then shall we serve?
I end with a word of thanks to all of you for making it possible for me to enjoy an enriching and renewing sabbatical leave. I acknowledge particularly, and with deepest gratitude, the steady and wise guidance of the Senior and Junior Wardens, who have shared with me fully in the leadership of the parish. We are all in their debt, and I most of all. My thanks, too, to my marvelous colleague Jeffrey Mills, for assuring the continuation of our liturgical life in my absence; and to the Reverend Richard Loring III for both acting as our Sunday morning priest in my absence and for so gracefully connecting us to our own history, as the grandson of the first rector!
With my thanks for the great blessing of the ministry we share in Christ’s name,
Mark D. W. Edington
Eleventh Rector of the Parish