Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
Good evening Bishop Curry, colleagues, family, friends and all the good people of St. Michael’s. I cannot tell you what an honor it is for me to be here tonight to celebrate with all of you and your new rector. Everyone at St. James’s, Richmond sends their regards and best wishes as you begin this new chapter in your church’s history. And a bunch of us have come by bus to join with you in this celebration. We love Melanie, Coco and Greg and we know that God will bless them and you in this new and wonderful relationship.
Have you discovered Greg’s sense of humor yet? You must have by this point. I have never known anyone who possesses the pastoral sensitivities, the keen intellect and the incredible sense of humor that one finds in Greg Jones. Often someone is gifted in one or two of these areas but rarely in all three. We miss Greg in Richmond and his many gifts.
Back in late July I was so excited when I looked in my mail box and discovered that Greg had sent me a letter. I rushed upstairs to my office to open it. There it was – a finely typed letter on official St. Michael’s stationary. Very impressive I thought for this new rector of a cardinal parish in North Carolina . And then I read the salutation – “Dear Father Hollerith” it began. That’s weird I thought, Greg and I are such good friends why is he being so formal. I read on – “Greetings to you in Christ Jesus,” it sounded more like one of Paul’s epistles than a letter from an old friend. “I am planning for my installation on September 14, and as we discussed I would be most honored if you would be the preacher.” He then went on to list the lessons for this service. How strange I thought. Greg must be getting too big for his britches, writing me such a formal letter. But then at the very bottom in the last paragraph he wrote – “It would be great if you would spend 30 or 40 minutes in your sermon speaking about stem cell research, the death penalty, doctor assisted suicide, the war in Iraq and how your parents messed you up in childhood and the fact that you have never really recovered.” There’s the man I have come to know and love! I was deeply relieved to realize that the old Greg was alive and well. Greg, I am sorry to disappoint you but I won’t be touching on any of those topics this evening.
St. Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”
I have always thought that the work of the church was to create within the walls of every parish a little slice of the Kingdom. To create a place where God in Christ was known and made known. To create a place where anyone could come and find community, hope, love, forgiveness and the challenge of the gospel. And, in order to create that slice of the Kingdom, the church has to be a place where Christians are willing to serve one another, to serve one another for the sake of the Kingdom. The church has to be a place where people are willing to equip and be equipped for ministry so that when folks leave the doors of the church they are empowered to go into the world to build up the body of Christ. That is a tall order for any parish family; nevertheless, this is the task of the church.
Serve one another for the sake of the Kingdom. A bishop once said to me that what every rector needs in his or her first church is a safe place to make mistakes – a safe place to grow and learn to bear the mantle of leadership, the mantle of servant ministry. St. Michael’s, you serve your rector when you make this church that kind of a safe place. Greg will make mistakes. If he is like the rest of us, he will probably make many of them. Give him room, strengthen and uphold him as he learns how best to serve God in this place. I know Greg. He is a gifted priest who is ready and prepared for this ministry. In him you have a pastor who is a faithful, talented, energetic, compassionate soul with no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas. He is a priest who wants only to serve God and God’s people. Help him to be your servant leader.
Serve one another for the sake of the Kingdom. Greg, you know my mantra for ministry, you heard it from the first day we worked together. It was true then and it is true now. First and foremost – love and care for your people. If you love and care for these people then almost every problem you encounter in ministry will take care of itself. Remember, as rector it is not your job to be right. As a servant leader to these people God doesn’t care about any need you may have to be right. It is your job to be faithful. As Bishop Simms once said, “Nowhere in scripture is there a commandment to be right – only to love.” You are not called to be busy, as if being busy were a sign of the well being of your ministry. You are not called to be better than others, you are not called to make everyone happy, and you are not called to be liked by everyone. No, you are called to be faithful. There will be many times when making others happy, when being liked, when being busy will be easier than being faithful, but no one said being a rector would be easy. Serve your people through your faithfulness – your faithfulness to God and your faithfulness to your flock. Love them and they will give you love, be faithful to them and they will follow you anywhere.
Serve one another for the sake of the Kingdom. The congregation of St. Michael’s and their new rector form a team. Greg is not the minister. As you all know, he is only one minister among many. After all, it is not ordination that makes someone a minister – it is baptism. The work of ministry is the work of the baptized. By his ordination, Greg has been called to a special ministry, a ministry of sacrament. By his baptism, he has been called, along with the rest of us, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Help him to discern God’s will for the ministry of this church. Encourage him to take risks and then step out with him in faith. Share with Greg your gifts of time, talent and treasure and together you can build up the body of Christ and spread the Kingdom of God .
God has blessed St. Michael’s with a superb priest and God has blessed this priest with a wonderful church. You must both treasure this gift that God has given you. I know Greg will be sensitive to the traditions and habits of this place, honoring what has gone before. And I know the good people of St. Michael’s will do their best not to limit the creativity and vision of their new rector with the phrase – “but we have never done it that way before.” Our Lord has brought you together for a purpose, for the purpose of doing God’s work in this church, in this neighborhood, in this diocese, at this particular moment in history. Your future is wide open, exciting and full of possibility. Honor Christ and together you will honor one another. Serve Christ and together you can change the world. Amen