Looking to Our Future

I came back from last autumn’s sabbatical leave with no clear idea about the “when” of retirement. However, retirements have been cascading through the diocese. From the bishop’s announcement of his coming retirement in 2019 to three new clergy retirements this year announced this week. Baby boomers are dropping like flies. But even though I have no set retirement plans as yet, my age and energy levels tell me that I need to think and pray about that eventual departure and what remains for me to do in my final year(s) at Trinity.

If I feel a sense of urgency about anything it is seeing more and more of us engaging in intentional living as apprentices of Jesus. I desperately desire to see a new hunger awaken in us for more of God than we are experiencing right now. With Lent coming quickly, I need to settle on a program for our Lenten discipline that will encourage us to get moving, so I’m offering the following reflection and invitation.

Ash Wednesday is February 14, Valentine’s Day. Bummer. You and your beloved will look a bit odd at your romantic dinner with ashes on your forehead. But the signs of love in a relationship are not cards or flowers or chocolates or a fancy night out. The signs of love in a relationship are the little things we sacrifice for one another. Sacrifice is a combination of two Latin words, the literally meaning is to “make sacred.” What is offered is made sacred when it is offered to God. What is offered is turned into love when we offer it to the beloved.

This year you are invited to make Lent a love-offering to God. One of the ways Trinity will help you do that is by dusting off a special program we used 14 years ago. In those days we were in the process of many restorations and looking at the foundations of our identity as a Christian community. The name of the program was “Foundations 1.” I have no recollection of what “Foundations 2” might have been or even if there was one. I have used the program off and on for over 20 years. In the churches I served before coming to Trinity we called it “An Experiment in Christian Community.” Its original title was “10 brave Christians.” I thought that rather odd but never searched out why until this year.

The source is a book and a study built from that book done in a Methodist church in 1980. The book was about spiritual practices commended by an Anglican priest, John Wesley, to club members he had recruited. This club was derisively called “Methodists” because of their embrace of spiritual practices, but the name stuck. The book was called The John Wesley Great Experiment. A church decided to try this and gave this invitation to its members: “Wanted: 10 Brave Christians for 30 days.”

So, do we have 10 brave Christians in our midst? I suspect we have far more than that. 10 Brave Christians is a 30-day challenge to immerse ourselves in apprenticeship. Yes, I know that Lent is 40 days long (46 if you count the Sundays) but we can make it work for us. The 30 days are comprised of 6 five-day weeks – taking Sundays off as a day of celebration. During each of the active days there are brief readings from Scripture with questions about what we each hear as we listen to God speak through those readings. Right there we have both Learn the Story and Pay Attention woven into our program. That part of the exercise will take about a ½ hour of our day. Some of us may find that a serious challenge, but it can be done if we choose.

Another part of the program is giving 2 hours each of those weeks in service (Serve Others). That service can be many things including serving during our worship in our various support ministries. It can be formal volunteering with other ministries in the parish, or non-profits in the town, or taking time in our day to give blessings and encouragement to the people we meet or those we know could use a boost.

Then as part of our Lenten Soup Suppers we’ll have a brief reflection (offered by yours truly) followed by time at our dinner tables sharing the week’s experiences with our fellow parishioners (Check In and Tell the Story).
During this time, we will be asked to commit to attending Sunday worship for five consecutive Sundays (Show Up). For those of us on the road on any weekend in Lent some alternatives will be described at our first soup supper on February 21.

Finally, we will be asked to commit to giving a tithe (10%) of our income during those weeks (Give as We Receive and Practice Gratitude).
Once the 30 days have concluded in Holy Week we’ll be free to drop those disciplines or to weave them into our daily life.

There is a risk in offering this as it could lead to our lowest attended Soup Suppers ever! But I don’t think so. This exercise can set the tone and agenda for our parish as we draw ever closer to a transition in priestly leadership. This is therefore as much about our future as it is about being apprentices in the present.

As I noted in my first address to the Annual Parish Meeting in 2004, God has a future for Trinity and that future is good.
In the Holy Three in One, The Rev’d Jack Stapleton, Rector

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