Grace and peace!
I am writing to request the renewal of my license to officiate in the Diocese of Dallas for the coming year.
Of course it is reasonable that the diocese request a summary of ministry as a part of the renewal process, but of course I am also sheepishly mindful that for me to make too much of my (whole) two and a half months assisting Holy Trinity runs the risk of self-deception and/or wishful thinking. Ha. But the people have been wonderfully welcoming, and it has been a gift to begin building relationships together. Father Keith regularly reminds me that for these first six months, I retain the ability to ask interesting questions of the status quo here, before my total assimilation, and I am glad for the regular invitation to share these questions and observations.
That’s just to say my first work has been listening and prayer, and learning to listen to and join in the prayers of the community of faith. Already we have had the delightfully human opportunity to discover that most of our invisible assumptions of each other don’t hold up to reality, but I have more commonly experienced a deep gratitude, both of a general and deeply local kind.
Take Linda, for example. Although I do not believe I knew her prior to coming to Holy Trinity, Linda, who organizes the knitting group I frequent on Tuesday mornings, used to attend St. John’s, Dallas, where my family has a long history and my grandfather has been a mainstay for something like sixty-five years now. Just a couple of weeks ago I learned that, beyond that surface connection, back in the day Linda had been the lead designer for the kneeling cushions that adorn the side chapel at St. John’s. When my brothers and I were children, tasked with the thankless work of waiting for Dad to wrap things up elsewhere, we enjoyed the chapel, where we successfully named each cushion after the professional sports team most evoked by the unique combination of color and symbol.
Far more intimately than most sermons I heard there (which were mostly wonderful), these symbols of faith have been imprinted in my memory for most of my life. I can close my eyes and see the stitches. And now I am given the gift to tell Linda that part of our shared story and name my thanks to God for so knitting together the lives and works of God’s friends. (That’s a small example, but dear to me, and Holy Trinity is full of thousands like it, both because our shared history as well as the many ways God has used Holy Trinity to build up and bless the greater church far beyond HT’s own walls for generations.) It’s like finally meeting the people who have been working on your class’s shared group project for years, and so whose lives are a part of your own, despite your not knowing each other. Which of course for members of the Body of Christ is exactly the case.
At this point, I want to interject that this fullness of communion is very much what I see the diocese encouraging in many and powerful ways, living into the desire to be present as church at once locally, nationally, and internationally. It’s a desire I share and for which I am grateful.
Back at Holy Trinity, I’ve taken my share in the teaching and preaching of the congregation, as well as pastoral care and hospital visits. I manage a good deal of our social media presence and have taken the lead on newcomer ministries (a new work in progress) and certain other aspects of formation for adults, children, and youth. I have been told by some vestry folks that my job is to bring some professional relief to Father Keith, but my experience of Father Keith’s work ethic makes me reluctant to accept that measure for evaluating my effectiveness. Free up some time for Keith, and he will simply find himself some new work for the spread of the Gospel. Sue me.
In each of these things, my basic approach is to need as much help as I can and not know as much as I can afford not to know. Fortunately, I come by these qualities more or less naturally.
My wife says these last remarks bother her and are terribly misleading, that my tendency toward self-depreciation drives her nuts. What I mean is something like what Pope John Paul II arrived at when he first became the priest in charge of a parish. Overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all and the task of convening meaningful meetings, he resolved to ask two questions of every gathering he convened: “Who can we ask for help?” and “What light do the scriptures shed on this challenge?” If the mission we share in Christ is reconciliation, needing help keeps us on task, that’s all.
Most recently, I enlisted the aid of a youth at our community-wide trunk or treat; together, we carved a pumpkin that would have roundly defeated the other entrees in its category, had there been any. I say, a win is a win, and at the urging of a staffer I enclose a photograph of myself and Parker with said pumpkin.
I realize you and I don’t know each other well, so I feel compelled to note that I don’t write any of the above glibly. The examples that have come to mind here are probably my way of naming what my life in the church and these dozen years of ordained ministry have shown me, namely that most of what it means to be the church happens in the spaces between the plans and programs, which is just to say Bonhoeffer was right. “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
I confess I have dreams for this community - like developing a team to keep bees on a portion of the land, and so to make visible a Christian witness with respect to care of the earth - but wonderfully it’s a dream that’s not mine uniquely, but one I am learning we share in community. Happily, it is a dream shared by people determined by the waters of baptism and so committed to trusting God’s love for us to grow in us the love God would have us share with each other. In such a community, maybe there is room for forgiveness, mercy, and bees.
Thank you for affording me a place in the shared ministry of this diocese at Holy Trinity by the Lake. Please know you are in my prayers, even as Rebekah, the kids, and I are grateful for yours. We have a lot of settling still to do and friendships to build, but we are glad, expectant, and grateful that God has called us to sing praises with the People of God in this place.
The Rev. Jonathan Melton