The following is my final newsletter article for St. Mark's.
There is a certain view in the main chapel at St. Mark's that virtually no one, save perhaps the celebrant at the Eucharist, gets to see. Since I have been ordained a priest, I have gotten on several occasions for the Liturgy of the Word to sit at the prayer desk facing the pulpit when I am the presider at mass, and I have come to appreciate this particular point of view.
If you look up from the prayer desk from the vantage point of the priest, you can peer out of one of the windows on the east side of the chapel and see the very top of a lonely tree that resides in the University parking lot next to the church. The view from this angle is by no means a spectacular or Epiphany-inspiring view, and you have not really missed much if you have never noticed it. Really, all you can see is a few scraggly branches that seem to peer forlornly into the chapel in the vain hopes of joining parishioners in their prayers.
I have come to appreciate those gnarled tree limbs in my months of being a priest. I was ordained on the first of May, and the leaves on those branches where just beginning to sprout green leaves. Over the summer and fall months on Sundays that I presided, I got fleeting Sabbath snapshots of those branches. There were Sundays when those branches blew in the stout Nebraska winds; other times, I caught glimpses of snow on them. Green sprouts grew into fully formed leaves, turned a brilliantly yellowish color in the fall, and finally disappeared. One Sunday after a football game, there appeared to be the remnants of a Husker balloon caught in one of the limbs. For all the wind and leaves and sweltering summer hear, only the wooden branches remain in the dead of winter.
In some ways I feel very much like the leaves on those forlorn branches. I have been a curate here for a almost a year and a half now. In that time, I have gotten married, become an expectant father, been ordained, and have gotten the privilege to see but a brief glimpse of a single season in this parish from the vantage point of a priest.
As most of you have no doubt heard by now, I have accepted the call to be the next rector at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brookings, South Dakota. For those of you unfamiliar with South Dakota geography, Brookings is about 48 miles north on I-29 north of Sioux Falls on the eastern end of the state near the Minnesota state line. For literary trivia buffs, Brookings is also about 40 miles due east of De Smet, SD, where the Laura Ingalls Wilder family of “Little House on the Prairie” fame lived.
As such, this will likely be my last regular column as your curate. On this occasion I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of those who have been supportive of me and my ministry among you, if only for so short a time as this. For as the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted...A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
In a parting sermon that another Anglican priest once gave as he left one congregation to join to another, John Henry Newman offered this advice, “Scripture is a refuge in any trouble; only let us be on our guard against seeming to use it further than is fitting, or doing more than sheltering ourselves under its shadow. Let us use it according to our measure. It is far higher and wider than our need; and its language veils our feelings while it gives expression to them. It is sacred and heavenly; and it restrains and purifies, while it sanctions them.”
I will close this article by offering you one final thought. In all those times of watching our friend in the parking lot grow and lose its leaves, I was always at the prayer desk and hearing the Word of God proclaimed. In all of life's changes, both happy and sad, do remember that there is always guidance to be found in the hearing and reading of the Word of God. Please know you are in my prayers, and may that same God of Scripture bless you as you continue on to other seasons in the life of this parish in your continuing mission to grow and proclaim that same love of God which passes all understanding, and may the peace of the Lord be always with you.