Reflections on Leaving
Given by the Rev. Sandra Kay Rice
Let us pray.
In the name of God, who has called each of us into the sacred ministry of the cross.
In the name of God, who has called me into the sacred itinerate ministry of the diaconate.
In the name of God, who continues to call me forth. Amen.
Please be seated.
I loathe good-byes. As strong as that word may feel, I do indeed loathe good-byes. There is something so final about good-byes that it can eclipse all that has come before it. Yet, if there is one thing that I have learned in my now 66th year of life it is that goodbyes are as much a part of life as are the seasons of the year. "We each carry with us the story of gain and loss, of joy and sorrow, of life and death, of union and separation" (Unknown).
What is good-bye? The word goodbye – originally "God-be-with-ye" or "Go-with-God" – was the recognition that God was a significant part of the going. Good-bye was a blessing of love, proclaiming the belief that if God went with you, you would never be alone.
I have had an intellectual understanding that the diaconate was the itinerant ministry of the cross. I have had an intellectual understanding that Jesus' life was a continual journey of deeply investing himself, of letting go, of rooting, and of uprooting, of settling and of moving on. Yet one of the longest journey's any of us ever will make is the journey from the place of our intellectual understanding – to living out the reality of the journey to the heart . . . the reality today of saying good-bye. For me, it is a journey threaded with tears and interwoven with the joy of all that we have done together. No matter where God calls us to, there is much that God calls us from.
I was raised here among the splendor of mahogany and stain-glass, experiencing the Christ of the church within the confines of the structure we call All Saints'. And it is here among you, my beloved friends, that I have experienced Christ in the world . . . in the mission fields of Frederick, among the rubble of the ravaged land of Biloxi, Mississippi and in partnership with the Diocese of Panama and the Frederick Regional Council, where together we have provided medical care to over 5,000 of our brothers and sisters in Panama.
Someone said to me recently, "You leave a legacy of ministry here at All Saints'." It is humbling to think that in some small way I have left a legacy. The reality is that outreach ministry was already present when I came home to serve as a deacon in 2004. I believe that over the years, I been the conduit for the spiritual energy which already existed in the hearts of each of you. When I think of what I call legacy ministry . . . it is to say that together, together we deepened the roots of the existing love we had for our marginalized brothers and sisters.
The work of ministry is not solitary. Ministry by its very nature is relational – working shoulder to shoulder sharing the Good News of Christ's love in the world. Together we have mentored each other, collaborated, enabled, and encouraged one another. Together, over the nearly seven years of my ministry here, we have ministered well over a staggering 28,000 hours in the name of Christ. The spirit of the risen Christ in each of you illuminating the way.
I have felt immeasurably blessed to have served among you. I cannot help but think that in 2004, four years after my ordination, that I was still but a rookie Deacon, with an idealistic vision of ministry yoked to the concept that ministry can be made perfect. Oh, how much I have learned among you.
I have learned that the ministry of presence is sufficient unto itself. I have learned that pastoral care is not about being stoic. Many years ago, I observed a fellow clergy attending to the pastoral needs of a family. His pastoral demeanor was bouncy and cheery. Knowing the close relationship he had with his dying friend, I asked 'how are you?' "I have my professional façade on, came the reply." His professional veneer had served him well – insulating him from this painful pastoral situation. Perhaps more importantly, it insulated him from the family – denying their grief, their hearts of flesh. I have learned among you, that one of my gifts is that of the ministry to the dying. I have learned that another's suffering is intimately connected to their ultimate wholeness, and perhaps even to ours. I have learned that when we insulate ourselves too well from another's pain, over time, there is an accumulated residual numbness which mounds itself around our hearts so completely that our hearts become petrified, and the façade becomes a stony affront.
And here, I learned to laugh at some of the less than perfect ways that life is presented to us. True story. Who among the Great Hall parishioners does not remember All Saints' Day 2006 when Melanie Eyler so beautifully arranged the names of the deceased with small votive candles around the lovingly framed names? That was the good news. The bad news was the candles were on the floor near the altar and the Gospel book. Being in what I like to feel is a prayerful place before I read the Gospel, I was not aware I was standing too close to the candles on the floor. Except this small voice kept calling my name . . . 'psst, Rev Kay, Rev Kay!' And then the voice grew louder and more frantic until the voice appeared along side of me and said, "Rev. Kay your alb is on fire!" And so it was, smoke wafting up the front of my alb. I must say though, in true Episcopalian form . . I shook the front of my alb to dissipate the smoke and without missing a beat . . . well not much anyway, moved right along as though setting yourself on fire was the prequel to the Gospel for the All Saints' Day liturgy.
Perhaps the greatest gift you each have given to me is to help me to lose the yoke of my rigid expectation of perfected ministry. You have helped me to claim my authentic self as one called by God into ordained ministry. Among you, I have found my preaching voice. These two gifts are two of the greatest gifts I have ever received. There are other immeasurable gifts . . . the sacred wonder of all that you have entrusted of yourself to me. Thank you.
And then, there are those persons whom you know with certainty, that life would be very different if your lives were not intertwined. To my beloved husband, Wil, who not only has supported the work I have been called to do, but has been an integral part of encouraging my ministry . . . the very touch-stone of reason when all else seemed out of kilter, I say to you . . . thank you for being you.
No ministry matures in isolation. My beloved mentors – and you know who you are – my gratitude is beyond words. You have listened to me, loved me in spite of my rants and spoken the truth to me in love. Thank you seems woefully inadequate. I love each of you for the gift of yourself which you shared with me so unselfishly.
Beloved people of All Saints', the love that I have for each of you is a love not born of familial birth. The love I have for each of you is born of the intertwining of our hearts by the unconditional love of God.
As we approach the outreach ministry programs for the fall, it will feel different. It is suppose to. Change can be at once unsettling and invigorating . . . the rich dichotomy of what it means to live into life. There will be a sense of grief at the empty spaces. I invite you to sit within the empty spaces, to feel and experience the grief of not only your personal loss, but to experience the grief for the loss to the community of All Saints' as three of its beloved staff members depart. My prayer for each of you is that you will allow the sacredness of the empty spaces to become the fertile ground for you to experience the joy and the challenge of filling it with something new and unexpected.
One of the joys of diaconal ministry is to be part of the journey as each person embraces their gifts of ministry. It is part of the very nature of God to be within you waiting for you to move toward him to serve his people.
As we say good-bye to our relationship as we know it. I say to each
of you, may God-be-with-you. I go today, in prayerful anticipation of what God will call me to . . . even if at the moment the answer is tethered to the unknown. I rest in the unknown, because in this good-bye I am assured of God's presence and love. And in this good-bye, I ask you be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit as you explore old and new opportunities to be in ministry together. You each have within you the gifts of ministry. Name them. Claim them. Raise them up. Raise each other up!
I invite you to rejoice with me for all we have done together.
The congregational response is THANKS BE TO GOD!
FOR WHAT HAS BEEN,
THANKS BE TO GOD!
FOR WHAT IS,
THANKS BE TO GOD!
FOR WHAT WILL BE,
THANKS BE TO GOD.
The Reverend Sandra Kay Rice
Director of Outreach
All Saints' Episcopal Church