Annual Meeting, January 24, 2016
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. – Jeremiah 29:11
This year has been an extraordinary year in the history of our parishes – or, more properly said, in the history of our parish. For as of this past December, our parish is one new parish. With the merger of our two parishes into one new parish, God is doing something new here in Newton. And I, for one, am curious to see what God might be doing in our one new parish here in Newton.
As I am curious about what God might have in store for our future, I find it helpful to look at what God has done in our past. As I consider our parishes’ pasts, I am struck by how God, in this merger, is bringing together gifts from each of our old parishes. For example, “old” Trinity’s attention to the “inside” and its organizational structures should complement well Messiah’s focus on the outside and its long-standing commitment to service. Messiah’s tradition of exploration and excellence in liturgy should complement “old” Trinity’s commitment to tradition and superb music. Messiah’s core of dedicated, prayerful parishioners should create a rich fusion with “old” Trinity’s commitment to adult formation. The list could go on…
One of the most important gifts that our two parishes carry forward into our one new parish is that of resilience. Yes, “resilience;” and, yes, both parishes. As I hear the stories of how Messiah was able to remain viable for so long, I am struck by the years – decades, even! – of resilience: how Messiah weathered declines in membership, how Messiah embraced liturgical change, how in spite of everything Messiah kept its commitment to mission, and how in the absence of staff Messiah parishioners learned to do everything in the parish. “Old” Trinity, too, has stories of resilience: how “old” Trinity weathered declines in membership; how, when the altar was moved forward, the congregation embraced the change; how well the parish responded when a rector needed help with alcoholism, how “old” Trinity has been willing to have so many of its spaces occupied by tenants. These and many more stories show how God has given our two parishes – our one new parish – the gift of resilience.
God has given our parish this gift of resilience, not merely for the sake of survival – God has greater plans for us than mere survival. God has given our parish the gift of resilience in order that we might be willing to “hang in” during times of change to give space for God’s plans to unfold.
Change is exactly the situation of the Hebrews to whom the prophet Jeremiah wrote in the 6th century BC. The Hebrews were exiles from Jerusalem who had been conquered by the Babylonians and taken away to Babylon. Imagine how everything had changed! They had lost their city, their homes, their possessions and probably friends, neighbors and family members. Now, they lived in a place where there were new houses, new streets, new neighbors, new food, new language, new plants and smells in the garden… new everything! Living with so much change, I suspect the exiles felt uncertain and anxious, and probably were grieving.
To these uncertain, anxious and probably grieving people, God had a message: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Whatever happened, God was with them and had plans for them, “plans for [their] welfare… to give [them] a future with hope.”
We are in a new place. As with the exiles in Babylon, the year ahead is certain to bring many changes. Those changes may bring excitement and disappointment, hope and hurt; new friendships but new conflicts, joy but also grief, renewed faith along with uncertainty. I hope that as we experience the challenges of change, we will yet the different graces and gifts that each of us brings to this “marriage.” Especially the gift of resilience. A resilience not merely to survive – because who would want merely to survive? – but a resilience to “hang in” during change so that – just as God gradually unfolded God’s plans for the exiles in Babylon – so we might give God a chance to unfold the plans he has for us:
“Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
I will leave you with a quote from Cardinal John Henry Newman: “To grow is to change. To be perfect is to change often.”
May we embrace the change that this year will bring, for change means that we are growing. And – if Cardinal Newman is correct – to be perfect is to change often.