Happy Epiphany and Happy New Year, my sisters and brothers.
Over Christmas a few years ago, my wife, Caroline, was inspired by a fellow artist to try something new: choose a single word to serve as a guidepost and beacon for the coming year. Her first year she selected blossom, which inspired her time and again to see new growth in herself and in events around her. Over the years, she and friends who shared this exercise have chosen focus, light, trust, and well. What word would you choose? It can be a tough but fulfilling exercise, and I commend the practice to you.
I wonder whether my word for 2018 should be catalyst. The spark for this choice came just after my ordination in Dover last month. I remain forever indebted to all who contributed to the grand weekend, celebrated even in the midst of snow and ice. I could say “thank you” for years and not feel I have said it enough. It is nearly impossible for me to find anything from the entire weekend that was remotely disappointing. Nearly impossible, that is.
Many news articles, photos, and videos were published after the consecration. All of them were complimentary of our diocese, my ministry, and the Episcopal Church. However, near the end of one thoughtfully written news article, this phrase appeared: “The new Delaware Episcopal bishop said he wasn’t elected to be an agent of change …” I was dumbstruck, and frankly I hope that if you read it, you were dumbstruck too. Would a bishop really say that??
Let me be clear: I was elected to be an agent of change and, moreover, it is for this purpose I was ordained a deacon and priest in the first place. It is for this purpose — being an agent of change — that I was baptized. And you, as a follower of Jesus Christ, share this purpose, too.
Time and again, our scriptures and our faith teach us that nothing God touches remains unchanged. God breathed over the primordial chaos and ordered it into the cosmos we know. Across the Bible, from Abraham and Sarai and Moses and Miriam, to Peter, Paul, Mary, and Mary of Magdala, the pattern is stunningly clear: when God shows up, things change. And, even more, when we open our hearts to God, we change. I pray, with every fiber of my spirit and being, that God shows up in what I say and do and, in what I preach and profess — not because God wants to join what I am doing, but because I want to be a part of what God is already doing. If I am doing God’s work, then I will be an agent of change in the world, even when I least expect it. For all of us who serve Christ, ordained or not, we know well that the Holy Spirit shows up powerfully in the most unexpected moments.
I confess that catalyst is an imperfect word of the year. In chemistry classes we learn that a catalyst is something that does indeed spark a reaction (i.e., causes change) but is unchanged in the process. There is no way I expect or desire to remain unchanged doing God’s work. I hope to grow and learn, to be stretched and challenged and rejuvenated by faith and love and prayer. If I am not changed personally — spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally — after twelve months, I will be sorely disappointed. But as far as selecting a single word to guide me for 2018, this idea of catalyst (and the article and ordination weekend that led to it) has me as focused on the movement of the Holy Spirit as I have ever been. I look forward to this year in ministry with you and to the changes in store for us in Christ that we cannot yet even hope or imagine.