I have some important news to share with you.
I have been offered, and have accepted, a new position as rector at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Elmhurst.
My final Sunday at St. Nicholas will be February 6.
While I will attempt in this letter to explain how I reached this decision, I would be grateful if you could meet with me after worship this Sunday, January 16 so we can speak directly with one another. This will be more satisfying than anything I can say in print.
I am excited by the new opportunity and grateful to the search committee and vestry at Our Saviour for placing their trust in me, yet leaving St. Nicholas — leaving each of you — may be the hardest thing I have ever done.
This is the place where Carla and I have raised our family and where I have made the mistakes and done the work that taught me how to be a priest. It is where I have most often encountered Christ and where I have learned the love of community. It is the only church our sons remember.
My heart and soul — and our family’s heart and soul — are deeply connected to St. Nicholas and its people, and always will be. Thank you for everything you have been and done for me and for us.
A great memory
I did not expect when we celebrated Christmas so joyfully just a few weeks ago that I was presiding at my last Christmas liturgies at St. Nicholas.
But what a memory they will always be. I was moved by so many things:
- looking out at our teens and young adults, and remembering them as toddlers and elementary school children
- listening to my wonderful colleague and friend Paul Brouillette singing and playing with the choir
- witnessing the magnificent musical force Mary Fletcher Gomez and the choir have become
- marveling at Manny Borg’s sincere and earnest preaching.
I was delighted by your joyous participation in both liturgies, by seeing many new faces and many more familiar ones. This is a wonderful, wonderful community and despite the economic challenges it faces, I believe its best years are immediately ahead.
So why am I leaving if the best is on the horizon? It’s complicated. During my years at St. Nicholas, I have sought continually to discern what God wants of me. Part of that discernment has always included asking: where?
During a few of the difficult earlier years here, I occasionally answered in exasperation: anywhere but here! Yet on the few occasions I considered acting on that exasperation, it quickly became apparent to me that St. Nicholas was where I was meant to be.
However, in the Fall of 2009, this began to shift. I surprised myself in a conversation with Bishop Lee when I spontaneously told him that for the first time I could imagine myself serving a church other than St. Nicholas.
I wondered as soon as I said it: Where the heck did that come from? — and locked it away in a drawer until this summer when I said the same thing to Canon Randall Warren, who handles transitions for the diocese.
The possibility was bubbling in my soul, but my ego was resisting. I could not imagine leaving St. Nicholas, yet I knew something new was stirring in me and I had to keep listening.
Impact on the congregation
As I did, I first considered the impact on the congregation. The initial reaction, I knew, would be surprise, even shock. But, I wondered, then what? To my surprise, I found myself thinking my departure might be really good for St. Nicholas.
Here’s why. After 15-plus years, this congregation is in many ways the product of my vision. My basic convictions about
1) ministry that issues from baptism not ordination!
2) community that includes and celebrates everyone!
3) rich sacramental life flowing from our magnificent baptismal font!
have formed and informed the life of St. Nicholas and have become part of its DNA.
These are great convictions that will endure long after me, and it is satisfying to know that over the years they have attracted and motivated leaders such as Emory and Deb Seles, Irene Wiren, Christine Swanson, Karen Martin, Mary Anne O’Rourke, Bill Barlow, Ethan Jewett, and many others.
But St. Nicholas can and should be more than an expression of my vision, and I sense that for this to happen, I need to step aside. I’ve accomplished a lot at St. Nicholas, but my departure may enable you to accomplish still more.
What great new ideas, practices, and ministries are waiting to be born? I don’t know exactly. I just know that they need to come from your creativity and dreams rather than mine. Many, perhaps most of you have been drawn to St. Nicholas by its unique DNA. That is my gift to you.
Yet you have your own skills and talents, your own visions, dreams, and approaches to ministry. It is time for you to shape a brand new St. Nicholas that will be your gift to others. I know you can and you will.
Rekindling my soul
Besides trying carefully to discern the impact of my leaving on St. Nicholas, I have also tried to pay attention to my own soul’s needs.
Since the building project began, I’ve known that my soul’s flame was not burning as brightly as it had in the past. I don’t say that with any spirit of blame. I just know that in 2008 and 2009, as I worked with others outside St. Nicholas to build an addition congruent with the vision we had sought to cultivate here, I felt increasingly tired, run down, beat up, and burned out. I was not my best, and I could not and did not bring out the best in our diocesan partners.
After the project was completed, I tried hard throughout 2010 to renew myself, hoping I’d catch fire again — and I did to some extent. Still, my soul kept insisting: I need a fresh start in a new setting if I’m going to burn again with intensity.
The opportunity at Our Saviour came to my attention in early November, and for some reason beyond my fathoming — the important things in life usually are beyond my fathoming — I was powerfully drawn to it and felt God was calling me there.
It was the first time I had experienced such a deep sense of call since I came to St. Nicholas, and when — to my surprise — the search committee at Our Saviour heard the same call, I knew this was it.
We will have opportunities in the weeks ahead to say goodbye. As we do, the main thing I want to convey is how thankful I am for all you have been to and for me — and for Carla, David, and Jonathan.
We are fortunate to have spent these years among you. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to minister with you through some times that were challenging and difficult, and through others that were amazingly joyous.
I will miss you more than I can express. But I will always be your biggest fan, take great delight in everything you become, and hold you close to my heart for ever. Always.
May the love of God which surpasses all understanding dwell abundantly in each one of you.
With love and appreciation,