What’s on the next page of the ever-unfolding story of our common life together as the Episcopal Church in Vermont?
[Thom Rock is a member of Diocesan Council from St. Mark’s, Newport, and member of the Budget and Finance Committee. He offered this relfection to open the Mission and Money in Motion Conversation held on June 29, 2013. I commend it to you. Bishop Thomas Ely]
Ecclesiasticus (The Wisdom of Sirach) 44: 1-2, 8-15 NRSV
HYMN IN HONOR OF OUR ANCESTORS
1 Let us now sing the praises of famous people,
our ancestors in their generations.
2 The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
God’s majesty from the beginning . . .
8 Some have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
9 But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
10 But these also were godly people
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
11 their wealth will remain with their descendants,
and their inheritance with their children’s children.
12 Their descendants stand by the covenants;
their children also, for their sake.
13 Their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
14 Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on generation after generation.
15 The assembly declares their wisdom,
and the congregation proclaims their praise.
The Nigerian writer Chamamanda Ngozi Adichie has cautioned about the dangers of the single story; that by reducing a people, a culture, or a country—perhaps even a religious denomination—to a singular narrative we run the risk of stereotype, judgment, and discrimination, and even extermination. In reality, every story is braided together from multiple strands. We are like books containing thousands of pages. But as Episcopalians, we also recognize that we are not the saving author of those pages: as the great poet-priest John Donne wrote so long ago, all of humanity is of one author and of one volume, and every chapter is translated by God; that God binds up all our scattered leaves for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
Some of those scattered leaves may be, as Ecclesiasticus puts it, famous ancestors. But the story of our common life together equally depends on others; Godly people whose righteous deeds will not be forgotten, whose descendants will stand by the covenants. Every day in this diocese, ordinary people get up and do ordinary, extraordinary things together that not only make up the story of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, but also make a difference in the world.
So, bearing that in mind and our reading from Ecclesiasticus, I invite you to join me in the following meditation: (getting comfortable in your chair, resting your eyes… Imagine…)
Just ahead of you, a few yards off or so, you can see an exquisite building with an enormous set of carved doors. You feel in your heart that this is the library where God binds up all our scattered pages into one volume. A feeling of Peace, understanding and knowledge fills you. With each step closer, you feel a growing sense of openness and curiosity. Beyond the doors the entire story awaits—The Story.
As you approach the doors, they automatically open, inviting you into this sacred archive. You go inside, and marvel at the sight: stacks and shelves and tables full of sacred writings and tablets and scrolls and books. Standing in awe, you take a deep breath… and as you exhale you understand that you yourself are an integral part of this one great story. That if your story was not here there would be something terribly missing from this library.
Looking around, you notice texts of all sorts and all languages. Your eyes fall on a bookcase you hadn’t noticed before. Each book on the case bears the shield of The Episcopal Church. There are hundreds or perhaps thousands of volumes, each titled with the name of a Godly person whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten and recording the glories of their life in the world. See and feel yourself moving to the book case and taking one particular volume off the shelf. As you carry the book back to the center of the room, where there is a table and chair, run your fingers over the letters on the cover. They spell your name. Take note of the cover. What it’s made of, are there any decorations, the way your name is printed, how the volume feels in your hands, is it light or heavy… When you’re ready, take a seat at the table, open the book and examine the pages. What is it that you see?
Turn each page and read about yourself, see the various images of yourself in our common life together. How you have answered the Spirit’s call in your private life, in your congregational life, in the life of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, and in the world. Finally—when you reach the page dated June 29th, 2013—make note of your fingers resting at the bottom of this page, flexing and working together to complete the task at hand. Then, feeling the paper glide beneath your fingers, turn to the next page. Now what is it that you see? What is the rest of the story that God is writing through you in the ever unfolding story of the Episcopal Church in Vermont?
And now, making note of what you’ve seen on the next page, bring it with you back out those magnificently carved doors, back to this moment in time, back to this chair that you are sitting in right now, in this room in Trinity Church in Rutland …
We all recognize that The Episcopal Church in Vermont, along with the Anglican Communion world-wide, is facing great challenges and change. Yet, every good story contains a character that must, or needs to, or does change. To that end, the ever unfolding story of the Episcopal Church in Vermont is a real page-turner! This year alone we are living into many new ways of being with each other. We have a new way of looking at the stewardship of our resources—the Alleluia Fund; we have an evolving way of looking at communications—growing into a model of shared ministry and embracing technology; and we have an exciting new way of envisioning how we will be church together—Stirrings of the Spirit. In addition, this year we will be trying out a new way of conducting pre-convention orientation and ministry fairs. And this august gathering, formerly known as the Budget Summit, has morphed into the first annual Mission & Money in Motion.
These are all stories that have only just begun. Indeed, some may still be only blank pages. The whole story is yet to be written. It feels a bit like the very end of the last of the Chronicles of Narnia, when C.S. Lewis relates that for his characters the ending is “only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures… had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has yet read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”