When I first interviewed with the St. George’s search committee – now, wow!, nearly nine years ago – they took me on a tour of this campus, a tour which of course included the rectory. The rectory is a beautiful, stately, Cape Code-style home – grand and simple, while, at once, elegant without being too big. Simply put, I love the house.
“What a beautiful front porch,” I mentioned, pointing to the broad covered porch that overlooks the church and churchyard, the belltower and parish hall.
“Indeed,” said one of the committee members, “many wonderful prayers have been offered here, and many sermons developed, too, I’m sure.”
When it came time to kickoff my own digital ministry, via this blog, the title instantly came to me: From the Rectory Porch. (I seem to remember a Milton quote, somewhere in Paradise Lost about a porch, and try as I might — though I haven’t gone so far as re-reading it! — I haven’t come up with anything.) But for those who might’ve been checking this site, here and there, for any new news or good gossip or, well, anything you’ve no doubt noticed a lull. It’s not that little is happening in my life and at St. George’s. Quite the opposite! Little time has been spent, however, writing about my more situated ministry, pondering Milton, like I just tried to, above, or Herbert or any of those more quaint aspects of ministry in this place. For one, I’ve been blogging – and blogging regularly for the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Vital Practices series. I submit a blog for them every other week, and you can read behind most of those blogs to figure out what’s on my mind and what might be going on at St. George’s.
For another, St. George’s is in the midst of some very significant and holy conversations about who we are and what God’s future for this congregation might be. You probably think I should’ve written “what our future is” – that being the obvious corollary to who we are – but I think identity and calling are not always the very same thing; connected, just not one and the same. St. George’s is at a moment, right now, where we’re asking fundamental questions of our current operating model – namely, why does this one congregation, which has been and continues to grow, year after year, still operate with the assumption that we need to have one (full-time) priest, and should we, can we come up with a different, broader, more mission-focused model? All the while, we’re also trying to invite God into this conversation so that our answer is not a dollars-and-cents fix, but a Gospel-based call. Creating that space to discern, to wonder, to talk, to remain open to what God is calling me and us to become has taken a lot of focus and energy on my end. It’s made me to set aside the writing and strategizing (which I confess is my go-to, maybe sometimes my ‘get-away’) and spend time in prayer and conversation with God’s people, one on one.
So that’s where I’ve been, in a nutshell. Feeling excited and hopeful and, honestly, really optimistic about who we might become, if we lean into God’s future. And, at the same time, still crazy busy trying to keep up all of these structures we’ve inherited and which I, personally, have also created.
By way of illustration, I’ll close with a slightly more amusing tale.
Yesterday, something came over me to write again for the Rectory Porch. Maybe it was the rain and the chill; maybe that it was Ascension Day, after all, and I wanted to say something about the Ascension. (That blog is halfway done, and still sitting on my desktop.)
I was deep into a fun little post – fun to me, mind you; not everyone thinks the history of liturgical observances of the Ascension in western Christianity is ‘fun.’ Like I said, I was about halfway through when the call came. Iman had come down the night before and we made tentative plans to go out to lunch. “A half hour,” I said to her, just after I said hello to the pest control guy who was out for his quarterly check on this campus. “Just a half hour, and I’ll be done. Oh, by the way, the pest control guy is coming over to spray in and around the rectory. Just let him in. He knows what to do.”
Shortly thereafter, the phone rang. It was Iman. Looking up, across the churchyard, I could see Iman on the phone, her red rain jacket, outside, walking around with the dog, Phoebe. “Greg, you need to come home right now,” she said. “Phoebe got into something in the guy’s truck, and ate it.” (If it were me talking, I’d have added lots and lots of exclamation points, but Iman is great under pressure and she’s not an exclamation-point kind of speaker. If I could’ve better emphasized the periods in that statement, I’d have done so. Come. Home. Now.)
Here’s how the rest of the afternoon felt:
Phoebe to the vet. Iman back to the house so she could get her car (which we left there, not checking the time) so she can get to her afternoon appointment. Me back to the vet: pacing, worry . “She should be fine,” the vet tech says. “Give her some of these pills…” Something about blood work. Something about rat poison inhibiting Vitamin K. Note to self: Google ‘Vitamin K.’
“Oh, and continue to monitor her for any loose blood or vomit.”
Back at the rectory, Phoebe and me. On vomit / loose blood watch. Call from the lady who lives down the lane. Something about her grandson, a tie, a presentation. “I’m over at the rectory,” I say. Moments later, a white truck pulls up. Grandson gets out, on his way to make a final presentation for a business class he’s taking in college. He forgot to how tie a tie. (I’m afraid after all these years of wearing a backwards collar, I might’ve forgotten, too). Necktie instruction in the rectory living room. The dog is asleep, exhausted.
Neighbor lady, the grandmother, shows up in her golf cart. We chat, something about gravestones. Another truck pulls up. “This the rectory?” “Yes.” “Need to mark phone lines before the perc test.” Rectory septic went out, or is going out, or at any rate is going to be investigated for what’s wrong when the health department perc test happens Thursday of next week.
Iman and Carter back home; Iman picked her up from school, and they went to the grocery store. Carter’s working on a mother’s day gift for Iman, who is not (yet, officially) her mom, of course, but whom Carter has come to adore and truly love, and for whom Carter is looking forward to the day, which is soon coming, when she is, officially, ‘Mommy.’
Friends come over for dinner. It was going to be a 6 o’clock conversation at the parish hall about youth group, and the great work they’ve done and how we can work together to build it stronger next year and in coming years, but with Carter’s project and her shower and our dinner – you get it, I’m sure – the ‘meeting’ is moved to the rectory, and to the rectory dining room table, and to dinner. It’s a much better meeting than it would’ve been, anyway, and even more wonderful to spend time together with friends, fellowshipping, praying, playing, eating, talking.
Even Carter got to stay up a little later than usual and play the second hand of a fun board game.
We all said goodnight. Carter upstairs, saying our prayers, kisses and off to sleep. I sat down in the living room chair.
I never even made it to the rectory porch. It was too dark and cold last night, but also some kind of birds, back in March, made a nest in the one front porch light that’s missing a glass pane, so I left them alone for the past five or six weeks. Their bird babies are all grown and they flew away, just this week, so I went up there two nights ago and cleaned out the light fixture and removed the old nest — now ready to take the rocking chairs up from the basement, wash them, maybe paint a fresh coat, and set them up in prime porch position.
Just this morning, however, I saw a few more twigs and branches back in that same porch light, the one missing a pane. I reached up and took them out. This time, I’ll get ahead of those birds. One round is enough. I’m about to reclaim that porch.
And many a new, fresh prayer will be offered. And the beginning of, I hope, many good sermons and stories will emerge. And I know that God will continue to reveal His grace and goodness, His will and His hope for me and for us. Right there, among so many other holy places, from the rectory porch.