Sunday, February 3, 2013

Senior Warden's Report

Here is the transcript of (now-retired) Senior Warden Brendan O'Sullivan-Hale's remarks at the 2013 Annual Meeting.

When I was eight years old or thereabouts, my parents took a long weekend away from me and my brother, and deposited us at my Aunt Joan's apartment. During that weekend, I became acquainted with another kid my age who lived in the same complex. Over those few days, he and I played together every chance we could get.

Among the amazing things we did that weekend was run circles around a stretch limousine that appeared in the parking lot. We were astonished that a millionaire lived in the apartment complex, and watched for anyone going in or out of the building who might be him. It wasn't until years later that I realized the resident of the complex was obviously the driver of the limo, not the owner.

Still, the mysterious limo cast a spell over the weekend. It seemed as though my new friend and I might become best friends. But there was a problem. Though my aunt lived barely two miles from my parents' house, she lived in a different school district. Our friendship was doomed, and we knew it.

As the hour approached when my parents would arrive to take my brother and me home, we comforted ourselves with a game. We stood at opposite ends of the limo. I observed that I was touching the back of the car, and he was touching the front, and through the car we were touching each other.

He took a step away, and saw that he was touching the parking lot, which was touching the limo, which was touching me.

And on it went - I'm hanging from a tree branch, which is touching the grass, which is touching the sidewalk, which is touching the parking lot, which is touching him. And so we knew that when I went home I would touch the doorknob, which then touched a great many things across the miles and got back to him.

That's been nearly 30 years ago now. I don't remember my friend's name, but I suppose in a way we're still in touch.

We Christians make the claim that our God entered into history at a particular place and time. Specifically, God showed up in the person of Jesus about 2000 years ago. He recruited disciples, taught crowds, and performed miracles of healing, feeding, exorcism, and keeping the open bar at a wedding from running dry. Then he was arrested and killed. Then he rose from the dead and hung out with his disciples a little while longer before slipping back through the veil, leaving his disciples as alone as they were before.

Or had he? Appearing to Moses in the burning bush, God says, "You cannot see my face, for no one shall see me and live." Can one who has lived with, and eaten with, and served with, and prayed with, and been touched by God living among us, then, go on unchanged?

There is a mildly wonky concept in our church known as the apostolic succession. And really, the only reason it's wonky is because the only time we really talk about it is when we're doing things like negotiating ecumenical relationships with our Lutheran brothers and sisters. See what I mean?

But it's really pretty visceral. After Jesus ascended, the disciples became leaders of the Christian movement. And they, in turn, laid hands on new followers to become leaders of the church, who then laid hands on a next generation of leaders, down through a line of what we know today as bishops.

Bishop Cate, then, was ordained while having hands laid upon her by other bishops, who had hands laid on them by other bishops, going back through time, wars, famines, and plagues, across oceans, plains and mountains, to the person of Jesus himself.

But the continuity of Jesus's physical presence does not stop with Bishop Cate. She in turn laid hands on Cathy Scott when she was ordained a deacon this past year. It was not Bishop Cate but another bishop, also connected back to Jesus, who ordained Mother Suzanne, and Father Tom, and Father Dan, and Father Michael.

And Jesus's touch came through Bishop Cate to me when she laid hands on me when I was confirmed, and the same is true of most of you when she, or another bishop laid hands on you. And if you have not been confirmed, fear not, for holy oil, blessed by a bishop, was rubbed on your forehead at your baptism. And if you were baptized in a tradition that just doesn't do that kind of thing, try this: after communion, go over to the Michael Chapel. Someone will be standing there, with a tiny container of oil, touched by the bishop and through her by Jesus himself, and in the hush of that holy moment will make the sign of the cross on your forehead and say, "I anoint you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".

The physical presence of Jesus is all around us, imprinted on us through our bishops and other clergy, and through each other. We are all changed by Jesus's touch, despite being separated from his earthly ministry by vast distance in space and time.

While I cannot guarantee that this is the last time you will have to hear me pontificate, this is the last time I will be doing so in my capacity as Senior Warden, or as Helene affectionately calls me, the Vestry King.

Many of you have been complimentary of what I've been up to over the last three years, and for that I am grateful. Many of you have kept your frustrations over the last three years to yourselves, or at least haven't expressed them to me, and for that I am also grateful. And many of you have shared your frustrations with me, but have always done so with the acknowledgment that we're in this together, and for that, yes, I am grateful.

But I have accomplished nothing except through the grace of God and everyone sitting in this room. Look at all the ways All Saints is better off than it was three years ago.

We have a rector! I had nothing to do with that. That was the search committee.

Our financial position is stronger than it's been in many years, and we exit 2012 in surplus and go into 2013 with a balanced budget. Maybe I had a little to do with that, since I'm on the stewardship committee, but ultimately it's all of you, through your generous contributions in pledge and plate, who made that happen.

Everyone who sits within earshot of me at worship knows that I have nothing whatsoever to do with our music program.

When we welcomed our neighbors from Holy Life Missionary Baptist church into our space after their fire, it wasn't me who unlocked the doors.

I may swing the incense every once in a while, but I don't train acolytes.
I don't polish silver, or heaven forfend, the eagle lectern.
I don't prepare the altar.
I don't greet visitors as they come in the door.
I don't prepare amazing flower arrangements.
I don't put on amazing spreads during our parish celebrations.

I don't deliver our food offerings to the Damien Center.
I'm not a lay eucharistic visitor.
I don't organize the yard sale.
I didn't set up the booth at pride.
I don't organize educational programs.
I don't administer grants from our endowment.
I don't count the collection plate.
I don't pay the bills.
I don't tend the garden or mow the grass.
I don't teach Sunday school.
I don't pray with people in the Michael Chapel.
I don't knit snuggle sacks for newborns, or scarves for young adults leaving foster care.

And by the way, our new rector doesn't do those things, either. Ok, she actually does know how to knit.

Over the last three years, we the laypeople took over the Episcopal Church of All Saints. Not because we wanted to, but because we had to. And while those years at times felt like a journey through the wilderness, look who we are today.

Always remember what we have done together. There may be some temptation to think that now that we've got full time clergy, we can let go. But the same Holy Spirit that ordained Mother Suzanne, that ordained Cathy, and that will soon ordain Brantley, also ordained us, through the waters of baptism to a ministry of far more than sitting in the pews. We the laypeople are ministers of this church, called to different duties but equal in every way to Mother Suzanne, to our affiliate clergy, and to Bishop Cate, and let's pile on Rowan Williams and Justin Welby for good measure, through the eternal touch and companionship of Jesus.

And as for me, how lucky am I? Look at this building, this beautiful old cathedral. Look at everything you do for each other, and for the community around us. What millionaire parked this stretch limousine here? 

I'm just glad that you trusted me enough to let me drive for a while.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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