Sunday, November 24, 2013

A new thing, a new ministry, but taking the old with me!

A sermon preached by the Ven. Mark Sluss at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, November 24, 2013.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. The last Sunday of Pentecost.
And while it is a day that is set aside to celebrate the kingship of Jesus. The gospel reading for us today is that of the Crucifixion. It seems an odd way to celebrate the lordship of Jesus, with a story about his death. In a way however it is very fitting. We look at Christ dying to an old life in his ministry and being reborn through resurrection into lord of all. His Coronation as it were.

It is a transformation. Christ from one ministry to another.
And so we are here as well at the end of one ministry and the beginning of another.

I have been with you all here at Christ Church Cathedral for almost 11 years now. For the first five years as a Layperson, I was an acolyte for the cathedral, subdeacon, acolyte master and Head Verger. After I investigated a long time call to ordination, I then became your deacon. For almost 7 years I have served here, by the permission of the bishop as your deacon, and his Archdeacon.

I have loved my time with all of you. As a lay person you all made me feel so welcome.

When Todd and I first moved to St. Louis, we were very nervous about joining a church. We knew Chicago, where we moved from, was progressive that the church was welcoming to Gay and Lesbian persons, but we knew Missouri to be let’s just say a little behind Chicago in the acceptance of gays in the church. When we got word that I was being transferred to St. Louis, we got online and looked up Gay and Lesbian ministries in the Episcopal Church in the diocese of Missouri. And we found the Oasis Missouri.
Ahhh ha! A resource to help us choose our church. We moved into the Soulard Neighborhood and downloaded a list of Oasis congregations. And off we went to Church Shop. I am reluctant to tell you all, that the Cathedral was last on my list. I had attended St. James’ Cathedral in Chicago, and I really didn’t like the manner of worship there, and I painted you all with that same brush of corporate worship that, St. James’ had practiced. So we first went to Trinity in the Central West End. It didn’t fit us. Then I attended St. Mark’s. And I liked the people there. I liked the atmosphere, I liked the preaching. But after attending Todd stopped going with me. It turns out that the architecture there affected the acoustics of the space, and it really bothered Todd and his hearing issues. He finally confided in me that he would come out of St. Mark’s with a horrible headache due to the sound bouncing all over that huge high ceiling, and he begged me to at least try the Cathedral.

So reluctantly I agreed to try the Cathedral. The first Sunday we attended. We were greeted at the door by Sherry Gatlin. Now Sherry and her husband Harold, have been gone for a while from the Cathedral, but I am sure that many of you remember her. Sherry pushed bulletins into our hands. And demanded that we sit next to her, and Harold. The second Sunday we were invited to one of Sherry’s infamous pot lucks. We couldn’t say no, and we never left. What I learned from that experience is never go with preconceived notions, don’t assume something will be a certain way. You will be surprised.

As we got to know the people of the Cathedral like most people we had trouble meeting all of you, and remembering your names. I hate to admit it, but Todd and I had a little game to help us identify some of you. One parishioner attending here reminded us of a character on the British TV show “Keeping up Appearances” we called her “Our Rose”. I’m not going to admit who “Our Rose” is, but know that you were referred that, with love, because you made a big impression on us. We also had Loud Guy #1 and Loud Guy #2. Because of the volume in which you both sang. It is how we identified each of you when we were too embarrassed to admit that we couldn’t remember your names. But we eventually learned all your names, and we fell in love with you. You see relationships, as everything, require time. And it wasn’t until we accepted the risk of being embarrassed and admitting that we couldn’t remember names and just ask, that we finally felt like we belonged. (Well ok the new name tags probably helped as well). The Cathedral was a place where you could be vulnerable.

I wanted to get involved with the Acolytes, it was nice that the Cathedral allowed adult acolytes. St. Mark’s had children and they did not really want adults as acolytes. So that was one thing going for the Cathedral. I joined the corps under the direction of BR Rhoads. I made my way through the ranks. Torch, Cross, Server, Subdeacon, I was happy to serve. Then an ordination was coming up and someone, asked if anyone had ever been a thurifer. (The person who swings the incense pot called a Thurible). I was one of the licensed thurifers in the diocese of Chicago, and raised my hand, and I was recruited for that role. And I gained some notoriety for my 360’s, and Queen Anne’s, and figure 8’s. I was given that role for most diocesan ordinations. You see the Cathedral always gives you a place to use your gifts. Singing in the amazing Choir or Lay Reading, usher, greeting, acolyting, pastoral care, altar guild, everyone can find a way to use their specific gifts in this space.

I then started doing something that was not unique here at Christ Church Cathedral. After spending a year with you, I spoke with the Dean about forming a discernment committee to look at a call for ordination. I had felt a tugging ever since I had completed the Education for Ministry coursework, while in Chicago. I finally felt I needed to devote some time to seriously investigating my call. And you were all wonderfully supportive. You challenged me, you pushed me, we delved into some things that were tough, but the result is me standing here with you today as a deacon. Some people mistakenly think that ordination is the end point of discernment. But discernment goes on, and on with people. There is no end. The community of Christ Church Cathedral gets that. And creates a space where those conversations can occur. The risk of ongoing discernment is that people take those steps and they move on. But you here have those gifts, and you equip those discerning members with great education and gifts to succeed in their calls! Remember Rob Rhoads, Renee Fenner, Tom Heard, and now Joe Thompson is at Seminary, you all do wonderful work at bringing people to their next labor in Christ’s vineyard.

It was earlier this year, in my role as Archdeacon that the Bishop asked me to gather the deacons together during Lent he wanted to speak with us. You see the order of deacons is getting larger. (It is expected that at next convention we will ordain 6 new deacons for the diocese) We are finally reaching a critical mass of people working and living as Deacons here in Missouri. And the bishop wants to investigate new ways of deploying deacons in the diocese. You see Deacons serve in a special ministry directly under their bishop and the bishop is responsible for where we serve. And Bishop Smith had talked with bishops of other diocese. (Let me tell you, you usually know trouble is coming when two bishops talk). He wanted to try a new thing. Deployment not necessarily back to the parish where deacons were raised up. But maybe to a specific ministry, (hunger, senior citizens, Deaconess Anne House). Or say deployed to a convocation. Deacon of Metro II serving maybe 3 parishes of Metro II. This would reinforce the concept that Deacons are ordained for the diocese and the bishop not for a specific parish. We were asked to think about this. I gave this some serious thought and prayer. And decided that as Archdeacon I could not ask the rest of the deacons to submit to this obedience unless I was willing to do it myself. So I asked for discernment into this new method of deployment. The Bishop in conversation with me, and with the leaders of ministries that he was contemplating for deployment, finally made his decision. But he wanted to wait until a replacement deacon could be named to take my space at the Cathedral. And so that is how the timing of the announcement came to you. And why it took from Lent to the end of Pentecost for this to occur. We were waiting for Cathy to finish her field education.

So I am going to Deaconess Anne House to serve as their deacon. And Jon and I have worked on my letter of agreement and we have some great ideas of what my ministry there will be. It is exciting. And to be honest, this is the ministry I hoped I would be assigned to.

But I tell you I am not going to this new ministry alone. I am taking you all with me. I am taking Christ Church Cathedral along. You all were such a big part of my discernment and my formation, as a lay person and as a deacon. That there is no way that I cannot take the things I learned with me to the young adults at Deaconess Anne and to the persons living in Old North St. Louis. Your love and support go along with me. The memories of you go with me. And while I cannot worship with you every week, as I did as your deacon. Because of the diocesan guidelines regarding former clergy who take leaves, this is not goodbye forever. As the Bishop’s Archdeacon I will be with you for Diocesan Events. (Ordinations, Confirmations, the Great Vigil of Easter). Cathy will be your deacon. A word about Cathy I am sure you will love her as much as I do. I am telling you she is a wonderful deacon. She has an amazing prophetic preaching voice. That I know you will enjoy. She WILL motivate and inspire you. The only bad thing I know about Cathy is this: She cheers for the University of Tennessee, but perhaps we can overlook her fondness for the color orange.

I thank you all for the lessons you taught me. I thank you for letting me be your deacon, and most of all I thank you all for your love and your support. I will miss you all. But you have a new responsibility, to help Cathy to become an even more amazing Deacon for Christ and his church here in St. Louis. I know you are up to the task. And I know you will do an amazing job.

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