Saturday, September 16, 2006
Fr. P was installed, this morning, as the new vicar of a cute little church in an old mill town in New England. He invited Nguyen and the kids and I to attend and I must say, it was a pretty moving event.
First, the church was stunning. It is a medium sized granite building, with gorgeous, dark stained oak pews and what looks like a chestnut ceiling. It is warm and cozy and a very comfortable scale. As I was sitting there, I felt that perhaps the designers of churches such as these knew a little something about ideal congregation size. This church was designed to be a family, or at most, pastoral sized church. It never intended to be huge. It never aspired, architecturally, to be a mega anything. Rather, the intent, which is clear from the way it was designed, was to create a sense of community and intimacy. From what it sounded like this morning, that has been more or less the case for the last 150 years.
An installation is sort of like a wedding. There were clergy from all over the state, including the Bishop. The people of the church turned out in their finest clothes. They made a beautiful lunch and invited friends and family as witnesses. In essence, Fr. P is marrying this congregation. It is a mutual relationship where the parties agree, for better or worse, to grow together in their relationship with each other and God. They grow, in God's love, towards healing and wholeness and discipleship. It is powerful to recognize the hand of God at work in bringing these two parties together. When Fr. P, (the bride, LOL) walked down the aisle towards his pulpit, I got a little choked up, I admit.
Yesterday I met with my former minister (and baptizer.) I shared with him that my attitude towards marriage has shifted over the last couple of years. For most of my marriage, I think there was a kind of unspoken and unacknowledged 'escape hatch'. In the back of my mind I always thought that divorce was an option if things didn't go well. Since becoming a Christian, though, I have come to believe that marriage is a sacrament... and the option of bailing out has evaporated. What is amazing is that since then, I feel like my marriage has improved significantly. Now, with the escape hatch closed, running away is no longer a choice, so I am forced to figure out what needs to change. I am forced to do real work rather than blow things off. I have to look at my own behavior and attitudes and adjust them for the long haul. It has made me much happier in my marriage than I ever was before.
I wonder if that is sort of how it is for Fr. P and his new congregation. They have chosen each other for richer, poorer, in sickness and health and are committing to working together through the joys and difficulties inherent in all relationships. All in the name of God's love. In Jesus' love. Which, as it happens, was the subject of Fr. P's most wonderful sermon today.
When Fr. P made his vows, he knelt, facing the altar, to say them. That is how we ought to approach all our significant commitments to God. In humility, with love and a little awe.
Congratulations, Fr. P.