Wednesday, November 11, 2020

2020-21 Annual License Renewal Letter

Each year, just before Advent, I request the Bishop's renewal of my license to serve in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. These annual letters have become wonderful opportunities to step back and reflect, and I have made a practice of posting them here on the blog, as a small window into and review of a given year.



Dear Bishop Sumner,

I pray this email finds you well! I am writing to request licensing for the upcoming year, beginning in Advent. My form is attached, although I will readily admit that determining the number of Eucharists this year is still a work in progress for our church (what with hybrid online services, etc.). 

By way of the less formal report, what a year to attempt to report! Additional duties of my position in pandemic have included beginning an interactive, online worship service, training up virtual small group leaders (these groups have been a remarkable gift to our community's life), and continuing to develop especially adult Christian formation opportunities, making lemonade out of lemons and bringing in as many outside (Zoom-able) voices as possible. In these and my other continuing responsibilities (assisting with youth, staff development, liturgical planning), I've developed an approach that I've tried to remember again each day: as quickly as possible, let go of what we cannot do in a pandemic (rather than feebly attempting to make sad replicas of things we've lost) and (also as soon as possible) look for the things that we either could not or would not do EXCEPT for the pandemic (the way our largely elderly small group leaders overcame reluctance to master Zoom still makes me emotional - we have relative newcomers reporting to us that initiatives like the small groups have them feeling MORE connected than they felt on track to feel after many months in church). 

Of course, there has been so much loss. Lives and jobs lost, to such an extent that admitting personal struggles strikes some people as overly self-centered. I have tried to discourage that way of thinking. Much of my staff development work has been to find new ways to hold space in meetings for the humanity of our staff, with the stresses of rising to new challenges always threatening to come at the expense of the individuals working tirelessly to do the work. It has been interesting to observe stages to the stress, and then to learn from experts across the country that there are normalize-able patterns many of our teams are sharing. For example, Form, Storm, Norm, Perform is a 4 stage dynamic that, upon discovering it, allowed our team to quickly locate ourselves in those stages across the past 8 months and, most importantly, discover that those processes did not mean we had done the thing wrong. Indeed, we could each feel a sense of accomplishment for having made that journey not just once, but in each of the important circles in our lives (work, family, friendships, etc.).

Back a few months ago, a book for which I had been invited to contribute a chapter was published. I had written it back before we moved, so it was a gift to be connected to a larger project and see it come, at long last, to fruition.

At Holy Trinity, things are a lot like life - there's a lot of life and generosity, there's a lot of emotional strain and uncertainty. Much grace, and also weariness sufficient to prevent our forgetting for a second our need of said grace. Personally, navigating office life has proven a special challenge to protecting personal bubbles necessary to stay connected to my at-risk parents. I am so weary, on the human level, of having each day to either hold or not hold boundaries that will be perceived either way as a measure of my commitment to ministry. But on the more life-giving side, my father-in-law, a radiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, sent me an article a while back, We're All Start-Ups Now, that helped me account for the unexpected energy that has attended these days for me: seven years in campus ministry was, for me, the ultimate start-up experience and to have the parish require those skills has opened beautiful and adventurous spaces. There will have been much in this season, when it is over, for which we will need to overcome our embarrassment at what will seem an inappropriate or scandalous suggestion, and thank God.

But one day at a time. Thanks, as ever, for reading. And for your leadership of the Diocese of Dallas, especially in this season. 



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