Priest's Letter - April 2021
last month in this newsletter we published a quote from theologian John Cobb that I would like to repeat here again: "That the future is undetermined is our hope, for we know that the principle of this indeterminacy is the creative transformation we trust as Christ. This means that we cannot project particular future possibilities and cling to them, governing all action according to its tendency to achieve these goals. Every goal we entertain must itself be subject to creative transformation in the process of seeking it." This quote seems to me very appropriate for our situation as a church community, a situation in which we need to remain supple, ready to change our direction. The indeterminacy of our future should not lead us to despair but rather to hope.
We are not the only parish that is in financial troubles, not at all. The church at large is called to reconsider its priorities and re-imagine a future that does have a deep connection with the past but cannot be entirely like the past. The Easter message is not "Everything will be like before" but "The Body of Christ will be completely transformed". After the Resurrection, Jesus is seen and recognized alive, but his body is not "flesh and blood" like it was before. We, who call ourselves "the Body of Christ" must undergo the same kind of transformation from the known to the unknown. This means that, in a few years, most parishes will not exist anymore as they used to exist.
This parish of Christ Church has decided, at the present time, to proceed as speedily as possible with our Garden plans, with the hope of opening it to the public by the summer. In my mind, this does not mean that we plan to "save the parish" by a sudden influx of new people. That would be unrealistic. It does mean, however, that we perceive that our faithful response to God's call to be the church is expressed, at this moment, through the realization of this plan, which in many ways embodies the spirit of this parish and its creative transformation. With the situation of the church at large being so unstable and in flux, the Vestry and I have determined that doing is better than waiting, and that starting a new ministry of welcoming (through appropriate signage and "marketing") may lead us to some new understanding of ourselves and the role we can play in the course of the next year. After all, what matters is to be the church, to act like the church, even when strategies and goals cannot become clear all at once.
It has become apparent to me, though, that the name for the Garden that we have been using has not been clear to most, and that there is still in the parish an impression of vagueness as to the purpose of the Garden itself, despite the fact that the present design is the fruit of a careful process that lasted two years and that has faithfully included and evaluated all the inputs that have been received. I can only assume that there has been a failure in communication. Let me then briefly state that the new Garden has a multiplicity of purposes that can be summarized by the triad of HEALING, FRIENDSHIP, REST. In practical terms, the design is very flexible, both in the sense that it can be realized in steps, so that at the completion of the first phase it can already be safely opened, and that different sectors of the garden can be used for different purposes, depending on who will be available to work at what project. It is indeed hoped that the garden will attract parishioners, neighbors, and others to take care of specific projects such as the growing of organic vegetables, or a herbal garden, while it will always be a place of contemplation and peace. As to its final name, a group of parishioners has convened to brainstorm, and the final indication will emerge very soon for consideration by the whole Vestry.
In the meantime, our collaboration with other parishes of our area ("deanery 6") has started with a very fruitful, and - dare I say - joyful series of encounters during Lent with the parish of St. John's, La Verne, as well as some other Episcopalians from other parishes. We are planning another similar series of events to discuss a book that will be first presented by its author, theologian Angela Gorrell, on April 14. The initial event is sponsored by our Center for Spirituality within the series WISDOM FOR OUR TIME. The title of the book is The Gravity of Joy (see below). Some of the priests of the deanery have pledged to study models of collaboration and integration of ministries, which might or might not lead in the future to a "merger" between parishes. In any case, collaboration, not merging, is the focus at this point in time.
Our transition to worship again within our beloved church building has finally started. For the Easter triduum, we will have two services in-person and one online (see calendar). After Easter, we will resume regular Sunday worship in person at 10:00am in the courtyard. Thus, the online service will be moved to 5:00pm and will be shorter, followed by a time to chat, because for now we still cannot linger after mass for conversation and coffee. Some wished that, with the vaccination campaign, we would be able to stage a kind of "grand opening". In reality, we will need to move forward incrementally, when regulations and prudence will suggest that we can. There are no dates for the implementation of the next phases, but there is a plausible order: at some point we will be able to move inside the building, then to remove our masks, then to sing, and then (maybe) we will be sharing the consecrated wine again. To be perfectly honest, each phase could take from just one month to... years, depending on many variables.
Other activities are also being resumed, since several of us have been vaccinated. Arel Bucalo, who was elected to the Vestry just two months ago, has stepped into the position of chair of fundraising. She is presently organizing an Italian dinner to go for April 17 (details below). I am very grateful that she has been willing to take on this committee responsibility, which is obviously remarkably important at this moment.
In the next few months, it will be of enormous strategic value for our ministry that everybody who is able gives some time to the Garden project. There will be work parties and more consistent work groups, as we need to establish a group of "docents" who can welcome guests on our campus. With the coming of Spring, and the desire to meet again especially for those who have received the vaccine, I hope that the Garden project will prove itself to be a source of joy and delight, rather than a chore.
With thankfulness for the possibility of celebrating Easter together,