A question I have been asking in recent weeks is this: Where do we sense the Spirit emerging in our congregation?
One of the joys of the past few days has been hearing what people have to say about how they see the Spirit emerging, at work in our midst. At breakfast downtown one morning someone pointed out that more people are now sticking around after services to have conversation with each other (she notices, because she and another breakfaster make the coffee 95% of the time). Across the table someone remarked how friendly the congregation was – when you visit somebody always says hello to you and asks your name. I’d add hospitable and devoted (Saint Alban’s people look after each other) as well.
One afternoon someone called to report on her visit ‘back home’– and how now she much prefers this small congregation, which she finds much less formal or stuffy that the big church she attended before. “You’d never see somebody bringing that sweet little dog into church back there.” So now “this is home”. Hooray!
One thing I am enjoying about this congregation is seeing people take responsibility both for themselves, for their place and time in the world, and for being God’s people chosen for here and now to both proclaim the Word and carry it out in their lives.
I sense the spirit emerging in the congregation in new growth in lay leadership, in members taking initiative, in independent, positive responses to challenges by organizing new ventures, taking on ongoing ones, working for transformation, or letting go of what needs to be let go of. I see it in the adult education class that studies our parish vision statement in light of the Scriptures and then discusses how to implement it, moving from vision to mission. I see it in older members deeply involved, passing on their skills; and I see it in new members, learning new ways of being church – God’s people in this place at this time.
Beneath all these immediate things – what is happening – is the long-term emergence of the spirit in our midst. That is what is really going on, deep down.
One sunny afternoon in the Berkeley Rose Garden an elderly man from Pakistan asked me what I thought the great religious traditions of the world had in common. “We are all seeking the same thing – and the same thing is seeking all of us.”
As Donald Nicholl said in Holiness (Seabury Press, 1981; 2nd ed., Paulist Press, 1987), “…the Holy One was longing for each of us to be holy before ever we began to do so, and that he continues to do so even when we ourselves get tired of our longing. The way in which we respond to that personal call is our total responsibility.” (61) He remarks that we should not judge the progress of others, for “…sometimes beginners are near to their end. And another thing is for sure: anyone who regards himself as already holy still has a long way to go.” (44) To sum it all up, he assures us that “…at the very centre of the universe is a loving Heart whose longing are the source of our own hearts’ longing. Hence our own longings can never be in vain, because they correspond with reality, with that Heart upon which our universe is centered.” (39)
As Augustine prayed, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Ii)
The movement of the Spirit is entirely compatible with our lives, as they are really meant to develop, for the God who sustains & sanctifies is the God who redeems & justifies is the God who made us & called us into being. This inspires confidence in me that Christ will have the victory – over small and sordid sins as over big and spectacular ones – and that these small beginnings, like bud-break on twig or vine, are indeed signs of the Spirit emerging in the midst of us, God’s people, here and now.
[The adult education class, led by Eric Hanson, meets in the conference room in the education annex on Sunday mornings between services, from 9:15 to 10:00 am.]
For St. Alban's Grapevine * June 2009
Parish Newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA USA