Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Groundbreaking Snapshot

The Messenger
Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
May 2008

A Groundbreaking Snapshot

When I was praying and thinking about my sermon for Sunday, April 13, I found myself looking ahead to the following Sunday when Bishop Beckwith would make his visit and would celebrate with us the groundbreaking of the new parish hall. In my sermon I predicted that the bishop’s visit and the groundbreaking would offer us a “snapshot” of what the Church hopes to be and what the Church really is – the Body of Christ on earth. I have a decidedly shaky track record when it comes to predicting the future, but this is one time when I was right on the money.

I can only imagine what the day felt like for the many of you who have lived through the long years of discussion and planning that led to the turning of the first shovelfuls of soil. I know, of course, that some in our community have had serious reservations about the project. There have been concerns about the expense and doubts about the need. Some parishioners have criticized the discernment process that led to the decision to build a new parish hall. On the other hand, many other parishioners have been enthusiastic and generous supporters of this project from the start. This lack of agreement should be unsurprising. Frankly, it would be highly unusual if there were unanimity in a parish this size about a project this significant.

I found it very moving that most of the parish, regardless of varying personal views, came together to welcome the bishop and to celebrate this milestone in the history of Grace Church. Although the weather was not as bright and sunny as we might have hoped, the day still provided a beautiful snapshot of Grace Church at its best. I am still amazed by the amount of care and effort that goes into planning all of our services, and especially major events such as the bishop’s visit. Nina Nicholson crafted the program and the Grace Notes with her usual keen eye for style and accuracy. Anne Matlack somehow juggled choir members’ schedules and prepared the choirs to produce beautiful music that was thoughtfully-chosen for the occasion. Mary Lea Crawley did her typically sensitive and creative work with our children, giving them a tour of the future construction site and making sure they were equipped to be an important part of the groundbreaking. Despite the mystery of just how many people would show up, Midge Cassidy pulled together a very fine reception. And, of course, Lauren Ackland was, as usual, the calm (at least on the outside) center of the storm. As I told a few people that morning, this was one of the many days at Grace when I was glad to not be the one in charge! This great day was not without its errors and glitches, but overall it offered a beautiful snapshot of Grace Church at its best – a joyful place where God is worshipped and glorified.

And then in the afternoon a good number of us went to Trinity + St. Philip’s Cathedral for Confirmation which, like the bishop’s visit to Grace, was a powerful reminder that we are part of a larger Church. Gathering together Episcopalians from the city and the suburbs in our cathedral offered us another beautiful snapshot of the Church being what it really is – the Body of Christ on earth.

One of the highlights of this long, full day was the adult seminar led by Bishop Beckwith before the 10:00AM service. The bishop shared with us his compelling vision for the Diocese of Newark – a vision of all of us standing with the Living Christ at the “Gates of Hope.” Although I had first heard the bishop outline this vision at our clergy conference in October and later at the diocesan convention in January, there was something particularly powerful about hearing him describe his vision right here at Grace Church. He has challenged the diocese – has challenged us - to focus on the four core values of worship, spiritual formation, justice/nonviolence and radical hospitality.

The bishop’s visit and the groundbreaking of the new parish hall give us a great opportunity to reflect on how we as individuals and as Grace Church embody these four core values. In what ways might we enrich our worship, deepen spiritual formation, promote justice and nonviolence, and offer radical hospitality to all, especially the poor and oppressed? In short, how will we here at Grace Church more fully be what we really are – the Body of Christ on earth?