I am Director of Transition Ministry for the Diocese of Virginia and it is my delight to be here with you today, bringing greetings form your Bishops and Diocesan staff. I am your guide and adviser as Christ Church enters into its time of transition, having said farewell to Pierce, as you begin the process of your search for a new rector.
Oftentimes when we talk about the time of transition in a parish`s life, we hear the metaphor of journey. It is an apt one - it does feel like we are moving from one place, with one leader, to another, with a new leader. And like the Exodus, that journey of the people of Israel from enslavement in Egypt to the Promised land, a transition can feel frustrating, confusing, overly long, misdirected on occasion, lacking in a clear destination on other occasions...there is a reason why the Israelites muttered and complained. It took them 40 years to get from one place to the other!
I will guarantee you one thing as you travel on this journey - it will not take 40 years.
That is the good news. However, it will take some time and some work and perhaps a misstep along the way to get from Pierce’s ministry to the ministry of your next rector.
That would be a frightening bit of news for me to share with you, but for one fact: you do not walk this path alone.
And here I am going to shift metaphors, in a way that I hope will provide some comfort.
There is still a journey in this new metaphor, but I invite you to imagine another journey, one foretold in the ancient books of the people of God. Imagine a woman great with child, a child who is proclaimed to be the salvation of the world. Imagine her on a journey riding on the back of a donkey, with her husband walking ahead. Each jouncing step of the beast hurts her hips and resonates up her spine. This trip, so late in her pregnancy, is more than a little frightening. She knows her time is near, and yet her mother and other female relatives, the ones who should attend her as she gives birth to her first child, are not with her. It is just her, and her husband, and the tired donkey.
And yet one more...the one she carries, the one to whom she will give birth very soon, the one whom the angel identified as the Promised One. Mary knows that her God is making this journey with her, within her. She feels God's heartbeat under her ribcage. She groans as God's little feet kick against her full bladder. She aches, and every ache is sensed by the child within her, who knows her as every child carried by every mother does, but who also knows her as her God knows her. She may not have her mother with her, but she senses the presence of God in the core of her very being, because it is God she is carrying.
What a remarkable thing this is...God with her, Emmanuel, always present, always sensed, always in rhythm with the body of this woman who is the God-bearer. Barely more than a child herself, and yet entrusted with the work of bringing the world's savior into the world in human form.
She does not travel alone. God is with her.
So too with Christ Church, with each and every one of you. each one of you, young and old, male and female, married, single, whatever...God is with you. This beloved place is pregnant… pregnant with possibilities, pregnant with what the future holds for you as the Body of Christ. And the thing that will get you through this time of transition, this pregnancy, that will take you all the way to the new birth of a new relationship with your next rector, is that fact that you do not travel alone. God is within you, just as surely as God was within Mary. God is ever-present, with that God heartbeat in rhythm with yours. God is on the back of the donkey with you, when you have an uncomfortable feeling that you aren't going in the right direction, when you reach a crossroads point and you are not sure which way to go, when you wonder if you will ever get there, when you finally call a new rector and think "Will this be someone who will guide us with the same loving care that Pierce did?"
God is with you each step of the way. We who serve you at the diocesan offices are a part of your support team as you proceed - consider us your GPS through the process - but ultimately it is God who will direct you.
As you prepare to celebrate Mary's journey, bearing the Christ Child within her, and as you sing with the angels to rejoice in the child's birth, remember that God is within you, in this journey and in all your life's journeys, now and always.