Good morning. I’m Harry Anderson, senior warden at St. Stephen’s, and welcome to Transition Sunday! I’m up here to talk with you about our search for a new rector, the transition period we have entered and how, filled with faith and grace and hope and God’s help, we’re about to begin a new chapter in the 65-year history of St. Stephen’s.
Here’s the short version of where we are. Last fall, Rilla told us she plans to leave as our priest in charge at the end of this year. We’re so fortunate and grateful to have had five years of her warm and loving pastoral leadership. Last January, Canon to the Ordinary Marda Steedman Sanborn visited us and talked about the process we are to follow to call a new rector. We immediately formed a committee to create a profile of St. Stephen’s that is now posted on our web site. It’s a wonderful introduction to our parish, loaded with information and pictures, and I’m very proud of it. Then in May, we formed a search committee that’s now accepting applications from those interested in being our new rector. In the coming months, the search committee will check resumes, do interviews, pick a finalist and make a recommendation to the Vestry.
So that’s the process. We’re in a period of transition and change. But really, what does that mean? You all know I’m a writer who cares about words and meanings. The word “transition” comes from a Latin root meaning “going across or over.” And “change” comes from an Old French root meaning “to alter or switch.” Going across while altering or switching. That suggests we’re on a journey. But right now we don’t know where we’re headed.
So, with that kind of uncertainty hanging over us, I’m wondering how many of you might be secretly thinking the same thing I’ve been thinking. Rilla, please don’t go! No show of hands necessary; I think I know the answer. Of course, we love Rilla and appreciate what she’s done for us. But, in truth, isn’t that wish of ours really about fear of change, about not knowing where this transition journey may take us? I think so.
Of course, taking a journey to an unknown destination isn’t exactly something we’ve never done before. Each one of us took our first journey to the unknown down our mother’s birth canal. And, as soon as we landed, we got a rough swat our rear end. How rude! But somehow we all adjusted and got used to this weird planet we live on.
And St. Stephen’s has certainly taken many journeys to unknown destinations in the past. I won’t recount them here; take some time and read the parish history in our profile. We’ve come through a lot because the people of this parish have been resilient, adaptable and faithful, and we still are. However, this transition we’re in right now will generate all kinds of very real emotions; we need to hold hands and lock arms as we take this journey together.
As I think about it, it seems like getting a new rector is not unlike getting a new boss at work. Changes in leadership can be uncomfortable. But they will go better if we maintain a positive attitude and focus on the future, not the past.
Let me share a personal experience in that regard. When I was 39 back in 19--, I
was the No. 2 editor in a major news section at the Los Angeles Times. When the boss who hired me left, I was put in charge for several months while they picked the new editor. They didn’t pick me. Instead, they chose a 29-year-old reporter whose work I frequently edited, something he didn’t always appreciate. We weren’t on the friendliest of terms. When I heard the news, my first reaction was anxiety and resentment. Come on! A boss who was in junior high when I graduated from college! I thought my career might be over.
But then I took some time to ponder it. Today I’d pray, but at that time I hadn’t yet become a Christian. I swallowed my pride and decided to make it work. Marty, the young editor, really needed my experience and institutional knowledge, and he had a lot of fresh new ideas that I came to like a lot. It ended up being one of the best working relationships I ever had. And today, that smart-ass whippersnapper is 63-year-old Marty Baron, and he’s the executive editor of the Washington Post. I hope my decision so long ago to make our relationship work helped him on his journey.
Anxiety, fear, maybe even resentment. As I discovered when I found out about my new boss, those can be paralyzing emotions. They keep us from moving forward if we let them. They distance us from God. They are natural human reactions, however, and it takes faith to overcome them. As we move through our transition, let’s keep that in mind.
In the Bible, what do you suppose is the spiritual command most frequently heard? Love God and your neighbor? Don’t steal or murder? Do for others what you’d
have them do for you? Nope. It’s be not afraid. It appears 80 times, including 27 times in the New Testament.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear John’s version of the feeding of the multitude followed by Jesus walking on the water. This version gives us important new details we didn’t hear in last week’s version from Mark. After Jesus feeds them, the crowd becomes boisterous and insistent that he must go with them and be crowned king. That had to be a confusing and dangerous moment, especially since Mark tells us that the whole thing began as a supposed quiet day off for Jesus and his exhausted disciples. To keep the crowd away, Jesus tells the disciples to quickly get in their boat and go home; he then goes up a mountain alone.
I imagine that the disciples were pretty confused and fearful of what might happen to Jesus and them as the excited and demanding crowd drew close. They knew what the Romans might do to a newly crowned people’s “king” and his friends. Maybe they even lost faith when Jesus didn’t go with them. On the trip home, rough seas almost capsized their boat. I think of those rough seas as a metaphor for their anxious state of mind. Then, as the storm intensified, Jesus appeared to them calmly standing on the water a few feet away, and he simply says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” According to John’s Gospel, the next thing they knew, their boat arrived safely on the other shore.
Could there a clearer example of what our faith in Jesus does for us? That’s why I’m certain that faith will guide us through our current transition journey at St. Stephen’s. Be not afraid. Jesus is standing beside us.
But read that last part of the story carefully. Their restored faith brought the disciples safely to shore, but they still had to steer their boat. While our faith will guide us during this transition, we still need to keep our oars in the water. In other words, in addition to praying and trusting Jesus, we need to be working together and preparing for our new rector.
Transition is a process that has several steps and takes time. Most importantly, it’s about taking the journey together, as a community. Our first step is letting go of the past. It’s not about who we were yesterday or are today. It’s about who we will be tomorrow. Letting go isn’t easy; it may feel like we’re losing something important. We need to lean on each other when those feelings happen. In its 65-year history, St. Stephen’s has been through tougher transitions than this, and it’s said hello and goodbye to a whole lot of rectors. The faithful ones before us made it through and moved forward, and we will too.
Our second step is getting through the “in-between” time. What’s new isn’t here yet. We don’t know how long it will take. It’s essential that we use this time to keep our ministries flourishing, to continue our good works. Our rector may change but we here today are the church, and our purpose goes on.
And last step in our transition comes when we know who our new rector will be, when we feel all the new energy and ideas that will bring. It’s fun to think about that right
now, but to safely reach that new shore all our oars need to be rowing in the same direction. This is not a time for us to go off in different directions.