Seeds of Our Future

by | Mar 28, 2019

Top photo: Ms. Elizabeth B. Boyd,  Congregational Resources Coordinator at Seabury Resources for Aging,  answers a question at the Sightlines training March 8

Bottom photo: The. Rev. Henry McQueen, rector of St. John’s, Olney, with lay leaders at the North Montgomery County region’s joint vestry retreat March 23

Listen! A sower went out to sow…
Matthew 13.3

A mentor once assured me that God has already planted the seeds of our future into the soil of our lives. His words came back to me this week as I pondered two astonishing events in the Diocese of Washington of the past month, planned months before we began our strategic planning process, yet consistent with our hopes of greater fruitfulness in ministry and spiritual growth among our people.

On Friday March 8th, thirty people representing eleven congregations of the diocese gathered at All Souls Episcopal Church to learn how to become facilitators for an offering in elder spirituality known as Sightlines: Spirituality and Purpose for the Path Ahead. A collaborative ministry between the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and Seabury Resources for Aging, Sightlines is a six-session series that invites those of us entering our elder years to explore the spiritual challenges and gifts of what is, for all of us, uncharted territory.

The Rev. Susan Walker addresses participants at the Sightlines training March 8

The spiritual tasks of aging are not for the weak of heart. As Father Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, has observed, not all of us grow up to be elders. Some of us just grow old. The spirituality of eldership is a vocation, one to be embraced with courage and sacrificial love. Sightlines creates space for deep and meaningful conversation, and provides tremendous resources for congregations, and regions, that wish to undertake this important ministry. It is also one that we as a diocese are investing significant resources into on our collective behalf, and I am deeply grateful for the partnership with Seabury Resources for the Aging. If you would like to learn more about Sightlines and other resources for elder spirituality, contact Mildred Reyes EDOW’s Missioner for Formation.

The second gathering that took my breath away this month was a joint vestry meeting on Saturday, March 23rd for seven congregations in North Montgomery County. At a North Montgomery County clergy gathering last fall, we decided to actually put a date on the calendar for such an event, months before we were in the official strategic planning process.

The Rev. Beth O’Callaghan (blue vest), rector of St. Nicholas’,  and lay leaders reflect on Faith Sharing Cards at the North Montgomery County region’s joint vestry retreat March 23

Forty-five leaders met at St. Bartholomew’s, Laytonsville with me and Bishop Chilton Knudsen. We prayed and shared personal faith stories for much of the morning, using the Faith Sharing Cards that we have used in diocesan gatherings for the past several years. Reflecting on the experience of sharing stories, several commented how meaningful it was to go deep in conversation with another person, giving voice to our encounters with God and spiritual insights gleaned throughout our lives.

We then asked all present to reflect upon and share what they believed to be their congregation’s greatest spiritual strengths, and what they loved most about their faith community. There were many commonalities among them and a few key differences. Next, we asked each to reflect upon then share what they felt their congregation could benefit from in terms of diocesan support or collaborative endeavors. Again, there was several commonalities and a few differences.

Finally, we invited vestries to speak among themselves to identify the key issues they felt called by God to work on in the coming year. Which of those issues, we asked, are ones for you to work on by yourself as a congregation, and which ones might be best accomplished in a collaborative endeavor?

The seven vestries were unanimous in identifying two key ministry areas that would be most fruitfully accomplished in collaboration: elder spirituality and vestry leadership training.

My heart rejoices, for these are resources the wider diocesan community can readily provide. Most important, the leaders of seven congregations in the northern part of our diocese know that this is fruitful ministry they can undertake together. The clergy and wardens agreed to meet to determine next steps, as well as to take this good conversation into the North Montgomery County Becoming Good Soil Discovery Session scheduled for April 25th.

The Rev. Linda Calkins, rector and St. Bartholomew’s, and lay leaders present the parish’s stunning new labyrinth

We ended our day outside offering prayers of blessing for St. Bartholomew’s stunning new labyrinth, which the congregation offers to their community and all of us for times of spiritual retreat. I drove home filled with gratitude to God and for the North Montgomery County leaders. Let me also say what a tremendous blessing it is to work alongside Bishop Chilton, whose ministry among us includes pastoral oversight of the North Montgomery County region.

God has indeed planted the seeds of our future among us. May we continue to nurture the soil of our congregations and our lives.