Because of some scheduling confusion, I was not able to say what I had planned to say at the Diocesan Convention in January when Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Montville/Lincoln Park, was officially affirmed and celebrated. I still think they are worth saying at this time in our life together. So here they are ...
For those of you who may not be familiar: St. Andrew’s in Lincoln Park, and Transfiguration in Towaco/Montville are parishes in north Morris County just 2 miles apart. Building-wise they are very different sites, complementary in what they have to offer. (Ex. One has a functional Parish Hall and the other does not; one has a much larger nave than the other; one is tucked away in a residential area, the other is on Main Street, and while both have NS’s they too are quite different in how they are run and whom they serve.
In 2007, with neither church any longer in a position to call a full-time rector, Rev. Richard Andersen (who was serving Transfiguration at the time) stepped up and found himself running back and forth, fully vested, presiding over three services at two churches on any given Sunday.
Then one day as I was concluding an interim ministry at St. John’s in Ramsey—Dick came to me and said, “Do I have an idea for you!” His ‘idea’ resulted in my ‘calling’ as our bishop appointed me Priest in Charge for the newly linked-parishes of St. Andrew’s and Transfiguration in 2009.
Three quotes immediately come to my mind as I try to summarize the journey that has brought us to this moment.
1. The first came upon my arrival when someone said to me, “I know why you are here.” I said, ‘great, please fill me in.” They said, “you have been sent to close one of the churches.” While I assured this person that I had not been ‘sent’ on such a mission, this parishionrer was giving voice to the fear of change and loss that ran fairly deep within both congregations when I first arrived.
2. The second quote came from a woman at one of our combined Vestry retreats which followed having combined our worship services. She said, “I think we are one church with two buildings!” In my mind she was giving voice to the power of worshipping together—where the site, though still important, became secondary as the worshipping community became primary.
3. The third quote also came from a woman. She spoke up at our joint parish meeting just last September when we were to vote on unification thereby seeking to form one new church. Frankly, I didn’t have a clear sense of how this meeting or the vote was going to go. Sometimes the Rector is one of last to know what lies beneath the surface of a polite parish. I knew that our Vestry was strongly recommending unification ... but sometimes even the Vestry cannot discern what deep sentiments might emerge in a parish-wide meeting. The quote went something like: "I was baptized an Episcopalian, I’ve been at Transfiguration since childhood, I was Confirmed here, married here, baptized my children here and buried my husband in this church. But as much as I love this place, you are my family and that means more to me than any building ...." A number of similar stories followed and soon the vote was almost unanimous in favor of forming a new church. [There was one abstention; one ‘no’ vote.]
Many “thank you’s” are in order to those who have encouraged us along the way. Bishop Mark, Canon Greg, Paul Shackford, Ross Mangina, Dick Andersen, friends from St. John’s Ramsey, Bernie Milano, John Garde, Joseph Harmon, Ann Koehler, Nina Nicholson, Kay Lark .... Diane Riley and Alan Lynch who have recently joined us as Deacon and Music Director; our parish administrators—Trina Ehntholt and Kathy Nardone who have remained faithful under ambiguous and stressful circumstances, and have had the patience required to work with this Rector. We have also been blessed with visionary and steadfast wardens: Dean Witty, Peter Katzenbach, Rowena Devlin, Paul Shannon, and Susan Leeds. And there are a host of clergy colleagues who kept asking “how are you doing?” all the while knowing there is no short answer ... and knowing for themselves how God often works ‘off-line’ and ‘outside of budgets.’ A final comment, or two ....
One additional effect of this process of unification is how this parish now views the Diocese. Where on occasion in the past there was fear, there is now abiding trust. Where there was once a sense of distance or even isolation, there is now a sense of partnership. Thank you to all concerned for this gift.
I close with a final quote that came up at our Convention table last evening: Our story is one of two churches daring to date, then daring to really trust themselves with one another, then came a proposed marriage which would eventually give birth to Good Shepherd Episcopal Church—named after the One who has overseen this birthing process ... this ‘new life,’ and the One who will guide its growth into an ever-maturing mission.
Or, as St. Paul affirmed the church in Philippi: “I am confident of this, that the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6).