Wonderments

Wonderments

 

by the Rev. Canon Martha G. Kirkpatrick.

At a gathering of the college of clergy a couple of months ago, one of my colleagues said, “I have a wonderment about that.” More than simply a question, a wonderment is a feeling of awe as a question arises about what is happening. What is God doing now in  our midst?

I have wonderments these days. This is an exciting time to be part of the Episcopal Church. Things are happening. It’s true that it is a time of profound change, in the church and in the world, and that some of this change feels like loss. But I believe it is all part of the birthing of something new, and that God is calling us to a deeper engagement in our communities to participate in the work of the kingdom. I am inspired by the overall direction set by the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, calling us to be the Jesus Movement — celebrating the loving, liberating, life-giving presence of God in the world. I am excited by the work happening in the Episcopal Church in Delaware through Invite, Welcome, Connect, and the Rt. Rev. Kevin S. Brown’s framework for our growth and future: to sow seeds, tend the garden, and share the harvest. I wonder what all this will look like going forward? How will it evolve? What new things will we see?

I’m a fairly late-blooming priest, and it was a different, but related question that got me into all this. Before being ordained I spent almost 20 years in environmental protection in federal and state government. Sometime in the mid-1990s, I had what I have come to see as a shake-down moment. It was precipitated by the suggestion that our JudeoChristian viewpoint was responsible for a desacralization of the natural world, and thus the root cause of the environmental crisis. This was such a shock to me that it set me on a quest to understand how Christianity views the earth, our relationship to the earth, and what the earth has to do with our relationship with God. Surely the church had explored this territory, and had some answers.

As I soon discovered, people of all faith traditions were seriously asking these very questions in the face of major threats to the health of the planet. . The Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University launched a multi-year seminar in 1990s, inviting scholars of the world religions to engage the questions of our planetary crisis, how the earth was understood in their faith tradition, what theological understandings were proving to be problematic, and which ones might be reignited for a fresh understanding of a human relationship to the earth that is sacred and life-affirming. These were the questions that led me to seminary and to study God, humans, and the earth. At that point I had no notion of being ordained, and no idea what I would do with a seminary degree once I was finished; I was simply pursuing questions. But the process led me deeper and called me to make sacrifices, which led me to wonder what on earth I was doing and what God wanted from me. Was this all self-indulgence? Why not get off this seminary train, dust off my law degree, get a job, give to charity, and try to live a good life? But as I tried this on, reversing direction at that point felt like death.

A wise man and mentor said to me, “What do you think God is calling you to do?” And he persisted. That led me to crack open the question of ordination, for which our wonderful church offers discernment partners. At that time, ordination felt like a declaration that I was committing myself outwardly and inwardly to following Jesus in my life and through the life of the church. I still had no notion of being a parish priest but my bishop at the time, the Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen, said, “I want you to get parish ministry experience.” So I did, and I found my home.

Fast forward to 2014, when I moved to Delaware and began several wonderful years as rector of St. Barnabas’ Church. This has been a rich time of coming to know and love my parish community, engaging with colleagues around the issues and challenges confronting Wilmington, and deepening my spiritual life through the Living School program (Richard Rohr) and centering prayer.

Lately new wonderments have been stirring, as I ponder the massive social changes we are experiencing and wonder what the Spirit has in store. The question I find myself asking is: how is the church being called to deeper engagement with the ways the Gospel transforms society? In my new role as canon to the ordinary for vitality and renewal, I’m excited to be engaging these questions at this time in the life of the Episcopal Church in Delaware, a time when I feel the energy and the spirit rising. I deeply believe in the local parish as the place where that engagement lands, where we are formed in community by worship and the Eucharist, and where we are reminded of our utter dependence on “the God who meets us in Jesus Christ, that this is God’s world not ours to make and impose, and that this God who meets us in the table is present for the life of the world.”[1]

[1] Alan J. Roxburgh & Martin Robinson, Practices for the Refounding of God’s People: The Missional Challenge of the West (New York: Church Publishing, 2018), 162.32

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