My dear friends,
As you know, my last Sunday at St. Margaret’s is January 20, 2019. The 10 a.m. Eucharist will include a formal “leave taking” ceremony, after which I’m honored to turn over leadership of our parish to my friend and trusted colleague, the Rev. Kathleen Kelly. There also will be a reception, and I’m told there may be cake involved. Mmmm. Cake. But back to Kathleen.
Kathleen is an attorney, a former law professor, a life-long resident of Palm Desert, and a member of the Palm Desert City Council. But more importantly for us, she’s a wise, experienced, thoughtful, and generous priest and servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. My sadness at saying goodbye to you, then, is tempered by my joy that you’ll be served both by Kathleen, and by my creative, hard-working, and visionary friend and colleague, the Rev. Deborah Seles. Both are remarkable leaders, and their continuing service is a blessing to St. Margaret’s, and an expression of God’s steadfast love for you all.
Kathleen will lead the congregation until a qualified interim Rector can be identified and called. Typically, congregations fear transitions in clergy leadership, especially when that transition is perceived as lengthy, because they worry about losing momentum in congregational life. I’m writing to assure you of my own confidence in the transition process being implemented by Bishop Katharine and our Wardens, and in Kathleen and Deb’s leadership. Over the long life of a healthy congregation, a steady rhythm of forward movement, healthy change, and revealing reflection are normal and life-giving. This isn’t a time of fear, but of opportunity and spiritual growth.
Along the way, you will continue to be served by so many others. In addition to our associate rector Deb Seles and our extraordinary resident clergy, you’re held together by the staff team of Chet Hecht, Debby Jansma, Darlene Fletcher, John Wright, Emily Vogt, Norma Cardenas, and Veronica Aguayo, together with Jo Bice, Jim Duke, Fred Swann, Craig Gahnz-Kuhar, and countless dedicated part-time staff, volunteer leaders, and workers in the office, in worship and music, in outreach, in pastoral care, in Christian Formation, and in current and former Vestry and Wardens. This is the most gifted and capable team I’ve ever worked with in my life. So somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good.
I remember vividly my first conversation with the Rector search committee from St. Margaret’s. I took the phone call from my office in Palos Park, Illinois, and did so with skepticism. Right – as if I’d move to California. But Bishop Mathes, whom I had known earlier as a neighboring priest and later Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Chicago where I was ordained, asked me to set the skepticism aside and consider whether God was calling us together. I doubted it, but decided to humor him and do it for interviewing practice. After my first phone conversation, I wanted to know more. And after my second, I was convinced that God was very active in the life of St. Margaret’s. And I’ve wanted to be part of it ever since. Although I believe that the end of my tenure as your Rector was rightly discerned and brought about, I still want to be part of this community and God’s work here.
But what I want even more is for you to have effective leadership in each phase of your complex life as a beloved community. I believe that God called us together, and I believe that God is calling you to a next chapter that will require a priest with different gifts and skills – a priest who loves St. Margaret’s as much as I do, and who builds differently on the work we’ve done together over the last eight-and-a-half years. So I rejoice for you that you’re going to have that, and will cheer you on. I’m imagining standing with a great cloud of witnesses, including Bob Burton, Brad Hall, Robert Certain, Anakin Skywalker, Obi‑Wan Kenobi, Jean Smith, and Yoda, all smiling with satisfaction and pride at what God has done in and through each of us and continues in you. Love you, I do.
I’ve been ordained for 17 years, and during that time, the Episcopal Church has become increasingly adept at managing effective transitions. My letter of agreement with St. Margaret’s binds me to a discipline of healthy disengagement after I leave. Specifically, I am obliged to refrain from most contact with St. Margaret’s parishioners and staff. I may not officiate baptisms, weddings, or funerals for St. Margaret’s members. I may not comment on the parish’s ongoing life, decisions, or leadership after I leave. And you know how I love to comment.
Most painfully, because most of my personal friendships here are set entirely in the context of my relationship to individual members as your Rector, our saying goodbye on January 20 really means goodbye. This discipline is intended for the support of the pastoral ministries and leadership of my successors, and for the integrity of the governance and leadership of the parish. I am pleased to keep that discipline because I have confidence in Kathleen and a deep love and respect for St. Margaret’s and its members.
I am honored to be your Rector and your friend. My tenure at St. Margaret’s has been challenging to me and to the parish. We’ve both earned stretch marks and battle scars from striving and struggling together to be effective instruments of building the Body of Christ, equipping the Saints of God for ministry, and changing and healing a broken and hurting world to be a place that reflects divine justice and love. With God’s grace, we have done great work, and I am proud of the 102 months we’ve been together. The work is not done, and it won’t be brought to completion during our time on earth. Sorry. No rest for the weary. But our work together is not without meaning or victory. This is a time to look back with gratitude, and forward with confidence.
St. Paul writes to his fellow missionary Timothy, “As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:5-7)
What a privilege to keep faith in such excellent company. I’m proud of you and always will love you.
See you Sunday.