Cross Words by Fr. Rick Cross



        R              “Discerning our future”



Hold on to what is good, 

even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe, 

even if it is a tree which stands alone.

Hold on to what you must do, 

even if it is a long way from here. 

  • Peublo verse

Now that we have a State Plan for Reopening from our Governor and further interpretation for our Diocese from our Bishop, it is time for us to begin discerning what the future holds for St. Patrick’s, and for each of us as individual members of the Body. Discernment is a spiritual discipline that is different than secular corporate decision-making.

The Bishop has issued “An Initial Approach to Regathering” as a guide for us to follow in  re-opening our buildings for worship. The Vestry can discuss the mechanics of re-arranging our seating, ( we have some good experience with this one! ) administering the Bread at Communion, and masked singing, etc.

But I have something different in mind. I suggest using this time of limbo to go deeper and to engage in a substantial exercise of spiritual discernment about our future. We can choose to simply modify our old habits and ways to conform to government and Diocesan regulations, or take a more radical step of discovering “new skins for new wine.”

Followers of Jesus have the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose coming presence we will celebrate (somehow) on Pentecost, as “Counselor,” in our day-to-day choices. Similar to the way functioning in a democracy takes more time and is messier than the clear-cut efficiency of a dictatorship or an authoritarian system, decision-making in the context of the Spirit requires a different approach. Discerning the future of St. Patrick’s community means embracing an open-ended space for God to recreate and re-form who we are as Christ’s Body in the Bangor-Brewer area.

I have the image of the empty chair for the prophet Elijah at the Seder meal. There is a tenth position on our nine-member vestry, and it is the Holy Spirit’s presence. As leaders of our congregation, vestry members are asked to think and pray about what the future of our parish looks like. Each may have some creative ideas, but there are unseen thoughts that will emerge as we learn a disciplined way of listening to the unseen Counselor guest with us.

The best model for discernment I have experienced is the Quaker Clearness Committee. It was originally used in premarital counseling of couples in clarifying their decision whether or not to be married. Parker Palmer described the process in an old issue of Weavings magazine. The approach has been successful in several church settings where I have served. I am proposing it to our vestry as we seek to ask how God is leading us to be Christ’s Body in a new day and season.

How might the Clearness Committee model work to discern the future of our faith community? A “committee” could be created consisting of a variety of people who exhibit gifts of deep spirituality, wisdom and prayerfulness. Usually clergy invite several, lay leaders invite several, the congregation might suggest several, and the Bishop might suggest names. Participants are invited to pray about their commitment to the process. A reasonable committee might be eight or ten strong and include: 1) the priest-in-charge, 2) the deacon, 3) two vestry members, 4) two members from the congregation at large, 5) a non-member community representative, 6) a Main Street Church representative, and the Bishop or his appointed representative.

The committee would be charged and commissioned by the vestry to engage in a time-specified process of discernment, and be asked to report back with specific recommendations. The process might be accomplished during a three-month period of June – August with a report due September 1st.

A Clerk leads the process, a Recorder takes copious notes, and a Time Keeper monitors shared participation. A series of regular two-hour structured meetings and an in-depth retreat would be focused on “How is God leading us to be Christ’s Body in the future?” The vestry would receive and act on the final report and specific recommendations.

The process is all in the context of prayer. Several white papers would be submitted to name specific issues to be considered, focusing on questions. Periods of silence, no cross-talk, questions to the focus persons, and extensive notes of shared thoughts or proposals would be offered. The Spirit’s presence is recognized throughout the process.

A parallel but smaller Clearness Group could be formed as a Standing Committee of the Vestry to discern issues in individual lives. Please pray about these ideas which I will propose to the Vestry at our next meeting on May 21st – Ascension Day.

Readings for Ascension Day

I am asking everyone to read this scripture in the Spirit of prayer from now through Ascension Day, May 21 and to ask, “What is the Spirit saying to the Church?” Vestry members and anyone else who is willing will be asked to share your responses as the first item of business on the May 21st Agenda.

Acts 1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.