As I shared coffee with a couple of the congregation in the interlude between the first and second Eucharists at Church in the Valley, they were teasing me about an "I am vicar..." moment of uncharacteristic decisiveness that had gripped me. Truth to tell, I was glad of it.
A recent email exchange with Best Spiritual Director Ever had featured frequent reminders in heavy type "You are the Incumbent".
Having been the junior partner for 4 years, it remains surprisingly hard to remember that I am not just allowed but positively expected to hold the vision for these communities, to be the place where the buck stops, and, yes, after due consultation and discussion, to make and implement the decisions that seem best by the light that I have.
My parishioners decided that I should have 3 matching samplers hung over the mantle-piece in the vicarage to help on my way
"I'm the Vicar"
"It doesn't all have to be done by Thursday"
"I'm not Jesus".
You may wonder why on earth there should be the slightest risk that I might ever make the third error. It arises, though, through a very dangerous tendency among those who set out wanting to serve, who know that whatever they do will never be enough, and that nothing short of everything will do. Listing Straight posted a wonderful meditation on the subject - if you don't frequent the Lectionary Leanings page over at RevGals, please head there forthwith as those words bear reading. Ministry begins with service, to God and to his people. Of course it does. It should continue with service too, but from the urge to serve as fully as we can it can be but a short leap to the dreaded Messiah complex against which Oscar Romero.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.