Dear People of St. James:
In July of 2013, I accepted the call to become the Rector of St. James. Over the past eight years, we have worked together to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, welcome the stranger, and worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. We have navigated Covid together. We have raised up new clergy for service in the Church. And through careful financial management we have retired all our debt, made substantial property improvements, are once again paying one hundred percent of the diocesan pledge, and have grown our cash reserves from $77.00 to $250,000.00, securing St. James’ financial future. In the past eight years I have baptized 70 children and youth, laid 67 members of our St. James family to rest, and welcomed new members on your behalf. You have done me the great honor of inviting me into your lives, and we have walked together in faith as fellow servants.
On Wednesday, February 23, four days before his consecration, Bishop Daniel Richards asked me an unexpected question. He asked me if I would be willing to consider leaving St. James to serve him and the Diocese as Canon to the Ordinary. This request came as a complete surprise to me. I was in no way looking to leave St. James after repeatedly assuring you that I had no plans to leave a job and a parish I love. However, Bishop Richards asked me to pray and think about it carefully, so Anna and I entered a period of discernment at his request. For three weeks we thought, prayed, discussed, and tried to listen to where God was calling us. At dinner on Friday, March 18, Anna and I reached a consensus, and on Tuesday, March 22, I telephoned Bishop Richards to accept his call to serve as Canon to the Ordinary. I informed the Wardens of my decision yesterday, Monday, April 25, and met with my staff earlier today. This evening I submitted my letter of resignation to the Vestry of St. James. Both Bishop Richards and The Venerable d’Rue Hazel, Archdeacon and Diocesan transition officer, were in attendance. My last Sunday at St. James will be May 15.
Please know that this was not an easy decision to make. I struggled greatly with what this change would mean for me, for my family, and for St. James. However, I am at peace with this decision. This new call will present me with fresh opportunities for new areas of ministry and will present St. James with new opportunities for growth.
While my departure will result in some changes at St. James, there are some things that will not change. I have always said that Rectors come and go, but the St. James family remains constant. Your faith and love for each other is strong, and St. James is not only a good place, but St. James is in a good place. St. James will go through an interim period before beginning a search process for a new Rector. I know that you will welcome an Interim Rector and, eventually, a new Rector with the same warmth and kindness with which you welcomed me and my family. St. James’ staff will remain the same, and it is Bishop Richards’ intention that Mother Lathrop continue to serve as Curate after my departure.
After Sunday May 15, I will no longer be able to serve as your priest or pastor. While this change is often eased by distance when a priest accepts a call to a new parish, my family and I will remain in Greenville, which makes this especially awkward. After inviting me into your lives for the past eight years, for the good of all, I have to step back pastorally and socially to make room for someone new, while still remaining in close proximity. This is necessary, and although it will be difficult, it will allow you to form a new pastoral relationship with the clergy that will serve St. James going forward, while freeing me to do the work to which I have now been called.
Please pray for me as I begin a new journey as I will pray for you as you begin yours. Whether nearby or far away, I will miss you, the people of St. James, the most. You trusted me to lead you and labor with you in this small corner of God’s kingdom. It has been a high honor to serve such a wonderful parish family as Rector for the past eight years. You are a kind, generous, faithful, and loving congregation, and you are truly a gift to each clergy person called to serve in this place.
You have been a great blessing to me. May God bless us all on our journey ahead.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self examination, and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
(Book of Common Prayer p. 265)
The Church around the world began our Lenten journey with these words from the Book of Common Prayer. It was a call to enter into a different kind of time, a more intentional time, during which we would explore the nature of sin and how our choices keep us from drawing closer to God. The readings throughout Lent remind us that God does not draw away from us, rather, God pursues us as we draw away from Him.
Two Sundays ago, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son, and we immediately identified with one of the brothers. Some identified with the brother who chose to leave his father and his home and go out into the world in an act of disobedience and disrespect, the “bad son.” Others identified with the brother who stayed at home and did everything that his father asked of him without complaint, the “good son.”
However, the uncomfortable truth is that both sons were prodigal or “lost.” The brother that left thought he didn’t need the father’s love and care until he no longer had it. Then, when he returned to the father, he felt ashamed and unworthy of his love. The brother who stayed thought he could earn the father’s love through obedience alone. But when his brother returned, the “good son” refused to enter into the feast celebrating his return and rejected his father’s love because the “good” son felt his good behavior entitled him to all of it.
The truth is that neither son understood the heart of the father. The father’s love couldn’t be squandered or bought, neither was it exclusive or limited. The heart of the father was to love unconditionally and generously. Nothing that either son could do would make the father love them more or less: his heart was always with them.
This is the bind that Lent puts us in. Lent can leave us feeling ashamed and unworthy of God’s love which drives us even harder to try to show God how good we can be. But that was never the point of Lent. Lent reminds us that we are loved, always have been loved, always will be loved, and that God’s love will pursue us even when we run from it.
Soon our Lenten fast will come to an end and we will kindle the New Fire at the Easter Vigil. As we process into the darkened Church, the Deacon will chant “the Light of Christ” three times, as we light our individual candles from the Paschal Candle. The Paschal Candle reminds us that God’s love is a light to us in dark places, when all other lights go out, pursuing us even to the grave and beyond. What does God ask of us in return? To love like God loves: generously, indiscriminately, unconditionally. To bear the Light Christ to the world and to love each other as Christ loved us.
As the season of Lent comes to a close, let us pursue the heart of the Father, for we have all been prodigal. We were all lost but are now found. The Paschal feast is being prepared to celebrate our return. Don’t stand on the outside looking in: come in and feast, beloved of the Father.
As one enters the nave at St. James, you may notice the small space to the left of the entrance. What is it for? What is it doing there? Why are there candles and the icons?
This small, dedicated space is what is known as an Oratory. The word Oratory is an English translation of the latin word oratorium, which is derived from the latin verb orare, “to pray.” An Oratory is a place set aside by the ecclesiastical authority for prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist. Oratories seem to have originated from the chapels erected over the tombs of the early martyrs where the faithful resorted to pray, and also from the necessity of having a place of worship for the people in country districts when churches proper were restricted to cathedral cities. We also find early mention of private oratories for the celebration of the Eucharist by bishops, and later of oratories attached to convents and to the residences of nobles.
At St. James, the Oratory serves both as a place of prayer and as a living connection to our past. How is it a living connection to our past? Because the structure of our Oratory is made up of a piece of the sanctuary of the old St. James Church on Buncombe Road. The wooden portion against the wall is what is known as a “reredos” and stood behind and above St. James’ Altar (which is now freestanding in the nave) for more than fifty years on Buncombe Street. The brass cross that stands in the oratory (except during Lent) also stood in the same place on the reredos for over fifty years. These were brought up to Piney Mountain when St. James moved and were added to the narthex when the Oratory was created.
The candles we are invited to light in the Oratory are known as votive candles. The word comes from the Latin votum, meaning “vow,” “promise,” “dedication,” or simply “prayer.” While many people mistakenly associate the lighting of these candles only with prayers for the dead, they can, in fact, be lit for any special intention or prayer need. When we light a votive candle, it symbolizes our prayers being presented before the throne of God.
So this Lent, I encourage you to stop on your way in or out of the nave on Sunday, or at any time during the week, and take a moment to pray and light a candle as a symbol of your prayer need burning before the throne of God. People have offered prayers before the reredos for 118 years. Why not add your prayers to theirs?
Political turmoil, social upheaval, economic challenges, and, not least of all, an endless parade of sometimes conflicting medical advice marked much of 2021. After a push to develop vaccines under the Trump administration in 2020, and then distribute them to an anxious nation under the Biden administration early in 2021, on May 13, 2021, Dr. Rochelle Wollensky, Director of the CDC, made the stunning announcement that for those who were fully vaccinated, masking and social distancing were no longer necessary: the vaccines were working. This announcement seemed both fantastical and shocking given the draconian restrictions we had been living under. The freedom to go maskless in public felt strange and foreign, even wrong at times. Everyone seemed to be asking the question, “Are they really, really sure?” And we were assured the worst had passed.
But our freedom would be short-lived as we learned about the rise of new Covid-19 variants which were divided into “Variants being monitored (VBM)”, “Variants of Interest (VOI)” and “Variants of Concern (VOC).” Like a twisted rendition of a popular secular Christmas song, there was a parade of new classifications: on Beta, on Gamma, on Epsilon and Eta. On Iota, on Kappa, on Mu and Zeta. Then came the dangerous Delta variant and now the ubiquitous Omicron variant, and with them, the reintroduction of more stringent mitigation efforts as cases, hospitalizations and deaths all rose precipitously as the effectiveness of vaccines waned.
While those of us who are experiencing each of these new revelations and developments are keenly aware of the frustration and resentment each new variant brings as our “return to normal” seems to be always just over the horizon, I am writing this for those who may read this ten, twenty, or even one hundred years from now, so they have a sense of the times in which we are living. Infection rates, hospitalization rates and death rates, vaxxers versus anti-vaxxers, pro-mask mandate versus anti-mask mandate, those in favor of opening schools and those advocating for e-learning, to boost or not to boost, this is the daily diet of our news cycle and the main topics of conversation. We seem to be caught in an endless loop like the movie Groundhog Day where we wake up and relive the same scenario every day. We are both consumed by it and yet resentful of it, like an addiction we cannot shake.
But how has the continuing pandemic affected St. James? It has affected the congregation and clergy profoundly. As your Rector, I have had to learn much more than I ever wanted to about epidemiology, public health, and statistics. I have had to research and do a deep dive into the current science, which often changes weekly, in making decisions about mitigation strategies to manage the safety of the congregation. This has meant a series of ever-changing protocols at St. James: at times we have been online only, sometimes we required registration for services, social distancing and masking, for a short time we were mask optional, sometimes we sing and sometimes it is inadvisable to do so, and communion has wavered between communion in one kind only or allowing intinction. The landscape is constantly changing, and I have done my best to lead St. James during this difficult time by adapting to the changes in our protocols with full explanation, integrity, love, and grace, always guided by Jesus’ admonition that we should “love your neighbors as ourselves.”
Through all of this, the people of St. James have been understanding, forgiving, and faithful. You have continued to support our mission and ministry financially, for which I am exceeding grateful. I am also grateful for the support I have received and the many expressions of sincere thanks for the careful consideration that goes into our protocols. Our weekly attendance is certainly down, but it is down across the board in every religious community as people make risk assessments and many don’t feel comfortable in large indoor gatherings. Someone said, “I have missed going to Church for so long that I no longer miss going to Church.” That is the fear that many clergy have and only time will tell if our attendance will rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
However, in the midst of this pandemic, there are also reasons for optimism and joy. Our services are live streamed, and many take advantage of this opportunity to participate remotely across the country, so we are reaching people we never have reached before. We were blessed to have singing and our choir return for a time to help lead our worship this fall. While we had a scaled-down, limited attendance Holy Week and Easter schedule in 2021, we were still able to celebrate the resurrection together. And unlike 2020 when Christmas services were entirely online, it was a joy to be able to have a normal Christmas schedule in 2021 before the Omicron variant really took hold. Thirty masked children retold the story of the nativity at our 4:30 p.m. Christmas pageant to an almost full church. In addition, we were honored to host our now retired Bishop, Andrew Waldo, and the clergy of the diocese on December 15th 2021 for the ordinations of Beth Hendrix, Dave Rodrick, and our own Lathrop Hart Mosley to the Sacred Order of Priests.
As these plague years wear on, finding reasons for optimism and joy in the midst of sadness, sorrow and uncertainty becomes ever more critical to our emotional and spiritual well being. As a community of faith, as followers of Jesus, we must gather together to tend the embers of hope in the midst of change, keeping them alight as we wait for the sun to rise. We must keep the faith and share with others that this too shall pass. And in the words of St. Julian of Norwich, we must trust in the providence of God and that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
So, my brothers and sisters, find some joy and look to the rising sun: for this too shall pass and all shall once again be well.
Those who have been called to ordained ministry have had to walk an often difficult and frustrating road. Sometimes this journey takes years as it did in my case. I remember well my “discernment weekend” in 2003 at the Cenacle on Fullerton in downtown Chicago. On that weekend, a team of clergy and laity from the Diocese of Chicago had assembled to listen to those of us who believed we had a call to ordained ministry and to evaluate us. In fact, at the orientation for the weekend, the leader of the Diocesan team told us, “It is our job to keep you from getting ordained. You have to convince us why you should be.”
This is a common experience for many who go through discernment. We feel the call so strongly, but we seem to meet human resistance at every turn. Yet this is by design, for those who feel the call most strongly must have their call tested so that they may be tempered lest they fall victim to zealotry. As it was explained to me, “God may call, but the Church must call as well: wait patiently upon the Lord.”
For Deacon Lathrop, that journey is finally coming to an end. On December 15, she will be ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is hard to describe the feeling of finally having reached a destination that takes years, For when the hands of the Bishop are laid upon your head and the words, “Make him (her) a priest in your Church” are spoken, you are forever changed. This is what is known as an ontological change, a change to the very nature of your being. Not only are you authorized by the Church to perform the sacraments, through ordination, you are given the spiritual gifts necessary to validly celebrate them: blessing, pronouncing absolution, and most importantly, celebrating the Holy Eucharist.
Celebrating the Holy Eucharist is the most visible change in moving from being a transitional deacon to becoming a priest. The first time that the newly ordained priest stands at the Altar to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, they have a profound sense of the trust that has been placed in them and the need for continual grace to live into that trust, for they stand with one foot in each world: the physical and the spiritual. And no matter how many years you have heard the words of consecration said or even practiced saying them yourself, the first time you do it for real as a priest will stay with you forever.
This is the heart of what being a Curate is all about: experimenting, learning, and finding your voice as a new priest under the supervision of an experienced priest and in the safety of a congregation that loves you, cares for you, and gives you the room you need to grow in knowledge, confidence and experience.
When Lathrop stands behind the Altar for the first time, you will notice that she will do some things differently than I do them. Apart from a few specific instructions in the Book of Common Prayer called rubrics (and printed in red in the Altar Missal), the manner of celebrating the Holy Eucharist varies widely. Each priest’s manner of celebrating the Eucharist (called the manual acts) reflect that priest’s particular background, training, and theology. Some priests are more “high church” or Anglo-Catholic in practice, some are more “low church” or evangelical, and there is a lot of room between them. As long as the rubrics are followed, the Book of Common Prayer allows for such variety as a form of liturgical and theological comprehensiveness. When Lathrop celebrates, I will act as deacon. When I celebrate, she will act as deacon. But apart from the difference in our parish roles as Rector and Curate, we will be brother and sister priests in one Sacred Order.
For those of you who would like to attend her ordination, please park in the green circle to leave room for guests to park in more obvious spaces. Also, I would like to ask the people of St. James to use the overflow seating in the foyer first before sitting in the nave. There are two others being ordained from two other churches which are also invited to attend, and I would like to welcome our guests first into our beautiful nave. The service will also be livestreamed on St. James’ YouTube channel.
Thank you for being a congregation that is a blessing to serve!
In 2018, I was sitting at Diocesan convention in Columbia when I was approached by a fellow member of the clergy and asked, “Would you be willing to run for Standing Committee? We need one more candidate and you’d really be doing us a favor.” Now bear in mind that I had no intention of running for anything at that convention. I was still getting to know the Diocese and didn’t really feel ready to jump into Diocesan leadership. However, I told my friend that I would do it if they had no other options. Less than ten minutes later, Susan Palmer, an Assistant Dean at the University of South Carolina Law School and President of the Standing Committee, approached me and said, “I hear you’re willing to stand for Standing Committee. As a fellow attorney, I would really like you to be my Vice-President. What do you think? Say yes. Please!”
So began my journey in Diocesan leadership which has taken more than a few unpredictable turns. After serving one year as Vice-President of the Standing Committee in 2019, I was elected President of the Standing Committee in December of 2019. That’s right, December of 2019, just before a world-wide pandemic and financial crisis were about to take hold. Then, in February of 2020, I was called to the Bishop’s house for a private, in-person meeting, told that he intended to retire as of December 31, 2021, and that as President of the Standing Committee, I would have a leading role in the bishop search process. That work began in earnest shortly thereafter. When it came time to elect a new Standing Committee President in December of 2020, the Standing Committee turned to a provision of the Canons that allows the incumbent to serve an additional term should the circumstances require and asked me to stay on as Standing Committee President for one more term. I reluctantly agreed and was re-elected.
My work with and for the Diocese over the past two years has been weighty, frustrating, stressful, time-consuming and fulfilling, all at the same time. Although not without difficulty, it has truly been a joy and an honor to serve, especially when such heavy matters beset us as a Diocese. I feel that the Standing Committee and I have made a real difference in the life of the Diocese and the Church as a whole. The Diocese weathered the initial shock of Covid, we navigated through uncertain financial waters, we formulated and executed a bishop search process that was efficient, canonical, sound, and fair, we had a successful electing convention, and are leaving the Diocese on a firm financial footing, reducing the draw on the endowments while increasing the value of the endowments. I am extremely proud of the work the Standing Committee has done.
However, this success depended on one group of people who were instrumental in my Diocesan leadership over the past two years: you, the staff and people of St. James. You shared your Rector with the Bishop and the people of the Diocese and supported me in my Diocesan service. Your kindness, generosity and understanding when I was preoccupied and distracted with Diocesan affairs has been deeply appreciated.
The November 6th Diocesan Convention will be my last convention as a Standing Committee member and as Standing Committee President. Shortly thereafter in December, I will turn over the gavel to a new Standing Committee President and I will lay down my responsibilities with a sense of relief, gratitude and exhaustion. Thank you for your unwavering support. I am proud to have served the Diocese, the Standing Committee and the Bishop, but most of all, I am proud to be your Rector.
Mark Twain once wrote, “"People who love sausage and respect the law should never watch either one being made.” As a former attorney who worked with Plan Commissions and City Councils, I can attest to the veracity of this statement. The legal process is messy. It is a series of hard, bright lines which everyone swears will not be crossed until they are, a series of deadlines that are absolute until they’re not, and espousing high, inviolable principles while secretly practicing pragmatism.
I am pleased to report that this was not my experience at our Electing Convention held in Columbia last Saturday. Electing conventions are not meant to be places where political deals are cut, but the movement of the Holy Spirit discerned. Although they always have some kind of legal drama, their purpose is not to write law, but to remember that God’s law is written upon our hearts and to be guided by that law: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Tomorrow will mark one week since our Electing Convention was held at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia. Through a careful, respectful, prayerful and holy process of listening to and discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit, The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards was elected on the fifth ballot. However, the process doesn’t end there. In order for Daniel to take office, a majority of the Bishops and Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church must vote to assent to his election before we can proceed to his consecration in February. If this does not occur, then we start back at square one.
While I know that this Email article is uncharacteristically short, it has been a very long two weeks. I have been blessed to work with our Bishop, the staff of the Diocese, excellent attorneys, clergy colleagues, willing volunteers, and faithful laity (including St. James’ delegates) throughout the planning process and finally, bringing it all to fruition in the Electing Convention.
Please keep the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, the Bishops and Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church, as well as Daniel, Amy, and their family in your prayers as we prepare to seek the consents necessary to welcome Daniel as our ninth bishop in February.
It happened about 6:00 in the morning on August 2, 1992: my grandmother died.
I remember her hands most of all. I had spent so much time growing up looking at those hands. Holding those hands, massaging them with lotion. The thick knuckles, and the rings that could no longer be removed because the knuckles had gotten so big. Hands that had spent years scrubbing and cleaning, washing, and ironing, kneading and mending. Hands that were calloused – chafed and dry from being in and out of the water. Nails that were shorter than they should have been. She had tried glue-on nails a few times, but they always surrendered to the work, and eventually she just gave up on them. Hands that crocheted, hands that comforted, and hands that used to pat me gently on the back when we hugged. My Grandmother’s hands.
They were once strong hands – hands of substance and character. But so different now. Now they were frail – fragile even - but she didn’t care anymore. It just wasn’t important to her anymore. But it mattered to me. I thought that if I could just massage those hands with lotion that would be enough – somehow that would be enough to stop what was happening – to arrest her disease – to keep her here and with me. And then I wouldn’t have to say goodbye.
I had asked her during one of her moments of consciousness if she knew what was happening, and she nodded yes. Then I asked her if she was afraid. And she shook her head “no.” That was the last time we ever communicated.
So I sang for her. She used to ask me to sing for her so I quietly sang her favorite song, the Tennessee Waltz, while I massaged her hands. I don’t know how I was able to sing – there was so much emotion welling up within me – and yet, the song came soft and sweet, gentle and assured. She didn’t respond, but I knew that she heard me.
Empty with exhaustion from four months of keeping vigil, I mindlessly left her bedside and let someone else take over for a while. I shuffled to the front porch where I collapsed on a bed of blankets I had made on the floor. They woke me just in time. Surrounded by her family, in the comfort of a makeshift hospital bed set up in her dining room, my grandmother breathed her last as I stood there, massaging her feet as she slipped through the veil. Those hands that had been caregivers for so long, lay still at last.
Like my grandmother, I have always been a caregiver. As a child, in college, and even as an attorney. It is part of my DNA, part of what makes me, me. I care about what others are going through and I do my best to listen and to help.
But the thing that most people never understand about caregivers is the incredible toll it takes on you. Being a caregiver is extremely costly, but we hide it well. That’s not to say that you ever resent or regret being a caregiver, because that is simply how God has fashioned you. But to be a caregiver is to gift a part of yourself away every single day. To feed the feeble who can’t raise a spoon to their mouths, to breathe with them to encourage them to breathe, to hold the hands of the dying, to weep with those who weep and comfort those who mourn, all the while doing your best to be a calm, steady presence, a life raft that they can hold on to in a tempestuous sea of uncertainty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about caregivers lately. And on this Labor Day weekend, when we celebrate the achievements of our working men and women, there are two groups that I think deserve recognition more than any other this year: our caregivers and healthcare workers.
Our caregivers and healthcare workers have been through absolute hell for the last year-and-a-half. The first wave of Covid hit. Then the second wave. Now the third wave. We have gone from a pandemic that largely affected the elderly and those in care homes to a pandemic largely of the unvaccinated of all ages, often with more severe symptoms and worse outcomes.
Day after day our caregivers and healthcare workers have been on the front lines fighting this battle, caring for the sick and dying in staggering numbers, gifting parts of themselves every single day. We have all seen the newscasts and read the stories about our healthcare workers who are struggling just to get up in the morning, facing yet another day of death and despair: an unending, relentless parade of grief, making them feel inadequate and convincing them that they are failing miserably.
I have heard some try to comfort them by repeating the platitude many of us have been raised with: “God never gives you more than you can carry.”
But speaking as a caregiver and a priest, I am here today to tell you that, not only is this bad theology, this is absolute and utter rubbish as any caregiver can tell you.
First of all, God did not send this pandemic upon the world to test the world or punish the world. Second, God is not sending our caregivers and healthcare workers an endless stream of the sick and dying to test them or punish them. That is not what a loving God does and our God is a loving God.
Caregivers and healthcare workers are human, not divine. Only Christ, through his divinity and humanity, was able to bear the weight of the whole world on his shoulders and carry it to the cross: that was his calling and his alone. Being human, we are not only creatures of creation, we are subject to the limits of creation. God has fashioned the heart of each caregiver and healthcare worker and, like all things in creation, each heart has limits.
Think of it this way, each of our healthcare workers is like a life raft. Life rafts are designed to support and uphold people and help them navigate to safety as a last resort in the midst of tragedy. But each life raft has an occupancy limit and can only operate safely and effectively within those limits. When it stays within those limits, the life raft can keep itself and others above the water’s edge, carrying its cargo to safety. When it is overloaded, it can sometimes stay afloat for a short time, but eventually it will go down with its passengers, no longer able to save them or itself.
Our healthcare workers aren’t failing: they are life rafts that have been asked to carry far too many and far too much for far too long. They are exhausted, they are overburdened, and they are being swamped.
So where is the good news in all of this? Where is the hope and promise in the midst of all this darkness?
Jesus knows what is feels like to carry the weight of the world. He knows what it feels like to carry a burden so heavy that you feel that you are being crushed. He knows what it feels like to be afraid and to despair, to pray with everything you have that the cup would pass from you, that you wouldn’t have to do what you are called to do, that you wouldn’t have to stare death in the face, but to choose to take up the cross nevertheless. Jesus knows better than anyone because Jesus has been there.
My brothers and sisters, we must reorient ourselves away from the bad theology of believing that “God never gives you more than you can carry,” to the hope and the truth of the Gospel: “There is nothing that you and God can’t carry together.”
God does not send these things upon us to test us, but God can help us carry them when the burden becomes too heavy to bear. In those moments of despair, God can speak gently to us to lay our burdens down for a time, to rest and refresh, so that we can once again take them up with renewed vigor. And when we try to do it all ourselves and our human strength fails, and it always will, Jesus will be there to catch us.
No one does a better job of revealing this theological truth than J.R.R. Tolkien. In The Return of the King, the final book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo Baggins is secretly carrying the Ring of Power, as he has been all the way across Middle Earth, to Mount Doom in Mordor where it was fashioned in an effort to destroy evil once and for all. With every step, the Ring grows heavier and heavier, the chain holding the Ring cutting into Frodo’s neck. By the time Frodo reaches the base of Mount Doom, he is utterly and completely spent. His human strength fails him as he falls to the dusty ground in agony and regret: he can go no further and despairs over the probability that he will fail in his quest. For if he fails, evil will win, the world of men will fall, and millions will die or be enslaved. Yet, he bears the Ring still, for only he can carry it.
In the moment of his greatest despair, his loyal companion, Samwise Gamgee, who has been at his side for the whole journey, sees the pitiful state Frodo is in and how the Ring has taken everything Frodo had to give and now threatens to take Frodo himself. Sam asks Frodo if he remembers the Shire, their beloved home. Frodo responds, “No, Sam. I can't recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. Instead, I'm... naked in the dark. There's nothing. No veil between me and the wheel of fire! I can see him... with my waking eyes!”
Sam, realizing that Frodo has given everything that he has to the quest, responds, “Then let us be rid of it! Once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you... but I can carry you! Come on!” Sam lifts Frodo onto his back, carrying him up the mountain to make the final ascent.
My brothers and sisters, on this Labor Day weekend, let us lift up our healthcare workers and caregivers in prayer and be their companions in the fight. Let us ask God to strengthen and refresh them. Let us ask God to support them, uphold them, catch them when they fall, and carry them when they are utterly spent. Let us do all in our power to persuade our friends, families, and colleagues to do their part by getting vaccinated and taking mitigation efforts to give our healthcare workers and caregivers a fighting chance in the daily battle they willingly embrace: they cross they have chosen to carry.
After all, in the midst of this tempestuous and unpredictable sea, we may one day need a seat on the life raft ourselves.
Clergy life is a life of transitions. When we are first approved to go to seminary as lay people, we have to transition and say goodbye to our homes, our careers, our family and friends. We then have to transition and say hello to a life in seminary in an unfamiliar place where we know no one. After investing three years in getting to know an entirely new group of people and building those relationships, we then have to say goodbye to our seminary community and say hello to the first congregation we will serve as clergy. After a time, we will have to say goodbye to them as well as we continue down the path of ordained ministry to which God has called us and say hello to a new congregation. This cycle repeats and repeats, and one would think that it would get easier each time. The truth is, it never gets easier, but it does get more familiar.
One of the hardest things that we clergy must do is to sever ties with those who have invited us to share their lives. The general rule is that when you leave a cure, there is a two-year period in which it is expected that you have minimal contact with those that were in you care. It is incredibly hard to transition away from those deep relationships because they are built on a shared history of trust and vulnerability. But as clergy, transition we must; both for the benefit of those we leave behind, and for our own personal growth as clergy. For new bonds of friendship wait to be forged, and new pastoral relationships wait to be established for clergy and congregation, and a new cycle begins.
St. James is currently in the midst of such a cycle as are Tina Boyd and The Rev. Lathrop Mosley. Both Tina and Lathrop have had to say goodbye to communities that have supported them, loved them, and sustained them. For Lathrop, this was the School of Theology at Sewanee. For Tina, this was St. James. Yet each have been called as Abraham was called to trust God, to leave kith and kin, to journey to a new and unknown land, and to build anew. For Tina, this is a season of saying a sad goodbye to St. James while for Lathrop, this is a season of saying a joyful hello to St. James. As Tina transitions out, Lathrop transitions in, and the cycle continues.
Although we will miss Tina and her gifts, we need to give Tina the space and the distance she needs to grow in the ways that God is calling her to grow: she cannot remain anchored at St. James. As she journeys to Virginia, with every mile she will begin to shed her identity of “Tina Boyd, St. James Children and Youth Minister,” and begin a journey of self and spiritual discovery as she begins to be formed to be a priest of the Church. This is the greatest gift we can give her: to let her go and to give her the freedom to be what God is now calling her to be.
The greatest gift we can give to Lathrop is to open our arms and welcome her with all the love and support we offered to Tina during her time with us. St. James is now Lathrop’s home, she is one of the family, and she is your clergy. As a newly ordained deacon and soon-to-be priest, Lathrop is on her own journey of discovery. She is learning what it means to be in ordained ministry, to serve a congregation, to be invited into those intimate moments of others’ lives, to minister to people she hardly knows, and to build a network of friends and support anew.
However, there is one constant in both of these journeys, and that is you, the people of St. James. I cannot think of a better place for any future deacon or priest of the Church to discern and test a call to ministry, or to practice and grow in the ordained ministry than among the caring, loving, supportive community of St. James.
So as we give thanks for Tina’s past ministry among us and we gave thanks for Lathrop’s current ministry among us, I give thanks most of all for you, the people of St. James. For clergy come and clergy go, but they are always better clergy for having been formed by you.