Fr. Tommy's Farewell Sermon
The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost
As I'm sure you'll remember the last time I stood in this pulpit I talked about what I was thankful for, highlighting the words on the front of our bulletins each week: "Lively, Prayerful, and Welcoming." If you missed the sermon, a synopsis was reprinted in the July Saints Alive! Newsletter. Today I want to share with you what I've learned here at All Saints' and my hopes and dreams for you in the future. The nice thing about sharing my hopes and dreams for this parish is that I'm on my way out. If you don't agree with them, you can leave them!
First, I want to tell you about the greatest gift you've given me as a priest - authenticity. It's hard to find a place where you can totally be yourself. Where people love you for who you are warts and all. You have done that. You've seen my shortcomings as a priest and a human being and loved me anyway. I have felt immense support from this congregation throughout my 4 1/2, nearly 5 years serving as a priest in this church. I hope I've been able to return that love in kind. It's never easy to say goodbye, but I want you to know that I will be holding each of you in my heart as I leave this place and when you come to mind, either individually or as a group, you can be assured of my prayers.
I know that as I shared more of my story about who I was it was a difficult time for some of you in this parish. For some, it felt like the church they had loved had changed. Once upon a time many priests served under the same dictum as the armed forces used to - "Don't ask, don't tell." For many people, myself included, this wasn't a healthy or helpful place to be. I know to this day that people in this congregation are not all of one mind on issues of human sexuality, but I thank you for opening your hearts and minds not only to me, but also to Jason.
I hope that in the future when it comes time for this parish to call a deacon, priest, rector, or other member of staff that sexual orientation won't be an issue but a candidate's education, qualifications, and gifts and graces would be.
One of the challenges I experienced working here at All Saints' has been the simultaneous 10:30 services. It was hard to find time in an already busy schedule with other responsibilities to find time to write a sermon week after week. It's unusual for a church to have simultaneous services and I don't have to tell you the drain on resources it takes between having two altar guild teams, two priests/preachers, two musicians, and the list goes on and on. I've heard a few times that one of the dreams of this parish is to be "one church." I think this is something that needs to be explored to try and become that "one church" so many people long for. Maybe a 7:45 a.m. Rite 1 Service, 9:00 Great Hall Service, 10:30 Christian Formation, and 11:15 Historic Church service? There has to be a way forward to still maintain the core value of this parish to have distinctive worship services while utilizing less human resources. I leave that to you to pray about and figure out.
One of the things that attracted me to All Saints' was serving on a multi--staff team and the diversity of this parish. During my time here, there have been a number of staff changes and no doubt the departure of Deacon Kay, Deacon Tom, and me represents another round of change. Change is a part of life as many of you know who have been through more changes than I've seen in my lifetime. Change isn't always bad nor is it always good. Whenever I was in discernment with a parish and would read on their profile "open to change" I immediately became suspicious because I know that's usually not the case. Whenever we get scared or anxious, we long for security and change makes us angry, sad, or upset.
Today as I conclude my ministry here at All Saints', I know I stand in a long line of associates: Fr. Benedict, Rev. Anne Weatherholt, Fr. Roger Edwards, Rev. Meg Graham, Fr. Scott Bellows, Rev. Joell, and Fr. Andy. Some of these associates have left well and others haven't. I don't need to tell you who left well and who didn't - you know the stories as well as I. What I do need to say is how important it is to leave a place well so you can enter the next place well. I hope that I've been able to say goodbye to All Saints' well so that I can arrive at Hopkins ready to hit the ground running on August 1.
Saying goodbye to you has been harder than I expected and I didn't get to say goodbye to many of you personally as I would have liked. I look forward to seeing many of you around the diocese when you serve on different committees or at Diocesan Convention. You're always welcome to stop by and say hello to me at Johns Hopkins, I just ask that you not do it by coming as a patient.
So as I take my leave today I will give the final blessing and then take off my stole and leave it on the altar. In the tradition I learned how to be a priest in, we would pick up our stoles, kiss the cross embroidered on the back and remember the words of Jesus from Matthew 11:29--30 "Take my yoke upon you . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." A practice I continue to this day. My burden serving here as your priest has truly been light and now it is someone else's responsibility to pick it up.
Be assured of my prayers and love for you my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.