It is often said that most preachers are preaching to themselves. We create sermons that not only rise out of our hearts but are also the message we need to hear. So for better or for worse, preaching is often some form of self-therapy. I am not sure how blogs work but during this unique and challenging time, I find myself writing what I need to hear… and hopefully that message resonates with where you are as well.
One thing that has struck me in a techni-color way lately is that the human heart is a complex creation. We have the capacity to hold many thoughts and feelings at once; tears and laughter, anger and tenderness, confusion and clarity, grief and hope. These months of Covid-19 have been a season of heart complexity for me with varied and intense emotions swirling around together like a whirlwind. There are times when the slower pace and social distancing have created a deep sense of spaciousness and contentment. There are other days when I think I’m going to pull my hair out as the feelings of uncertainty and loss seem overwhelming.
This past week was particularly challenging. Robert Payne, a long-time member of Holy Trinity and a spiritual force of nature, passed away. For over 30 years Robert served as an advisor in our youth ministry, impacting thousands of lives. He was instrumental in the blossoming and growth of Glory Ridge, a rustic camp in the Appalachian Mountains where youth have worshiped and served for decades. And without him, our dynamic pilgrimage ministry would not exist. Almost every pilgrimage we have offered started with a brain storming session with Robert over breakfast at Smith Street Diner. At team meetings I would often introduce him as the mad-scientist of pilgrimage who would concoct wild and brilliant ideas that would usually work out brilliantly. He had an inexhaustible exuberance, playfulness, and faith that allowed him to believe what others thought impossible… and because of that the impossible would often become reality. His loss feels like a crater that marks the end of an era.
But as I sat and cried I was reminded of the words of St. Paul who wrote, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We are invited to grieve… grief is a good an necessary process… but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We are people of the resurrection. We have hope that death does not have the final word. We have hope that when we take our last breath, it is not the end but a new beginning. In his famous Chronicles of Narnia, Oxford Don and Anglican C.S. Lewis writes about those who have died: “Now at last they were beginning chapter 1 of the Great Story which no one has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.” It is our hope that one day we will see Robert again as we each begin our Great Story, along with all those we have loved and lost and we will never be separated again. And we don’t have to wait until death to experience the power of resurrection. As many of you know, to honor Robert’s life we gathered in our cars outside of the church. The line of cars stretched all the way down Greene St., and curled around the entire Hanes Lineberry parking lot. With lights on and homemade signs on display, we left the church and silently paraded past Sandy Hurt’s house to remind her that she is loved and not alone. There were many tears and much laughter. Robert had once again brought us together and the power of that connection was beautiful and healing. It was a resurrection moment. Grief and hope woven together.
This week also brought the news that our beloved Nathan Finnin has accepted the call to be the next rector of St. Andrew’s By-The-Sea in Nags Head, NC. Like many of you, I am truly excited for Nathan and his family. It is a wonderful opportunity and the people of Nags Head will be blessed and all the better for it! And, with my complex heart, I am also truly sad that I have to say goodbye to my colleague, friend, and brother. Over the past 8 years of working together at Holy Trinity, we have experienced highs and lows, laughter and tears, and navigated a lot of challenges. The result is a friendship that I cherish and a fellow priest I respect and admire. As Nathan entered into the search process with St. Andrew’s he asked me to be a reference for him. When their committee called me I was sorely tempted to sink his ship so that he would have to remain with us here in Greensboro! But, my love for Nathan and trust in God’s call won out and I told the truth. He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, with a brilliant sense of humor and a heart as big as the sun. His own journey has made his heart tender and his faith deep. He will be a wonderful rector and a gift to St. Andrew’s. And, their gain can certainly feel like our loss. The loss is all the more poignant in our current circumstances. With social distancing, the world already feels topsy-turvy and add to that our search for a rector, things feel particularly challenging. And with my complex heart, I not only feel the loss and anxiety, I also feel deep hope and excitement. I trust that God holds Holy Trinity safely in those divine hands. I trust that what will evolve and emerge for us will be just what we and our community needs.
As Pat has said many times, “there are three things we need to remember in this time of transition, God is with us, God is with us, and God is with us.” Amen and amen! We are not alone! We are a resurrection people and are called to trust, to abide in hope that God is with us and all will be well. So with complex hearts, let us cry and laugh, let us feel anxiety and contentment, let us feel frustration and peace, and let us grieve as those who have hope.