From the Associate Rector - April 2022
At the end of February, Fr Roy, our Junior Warden Jason Rios, and I attended the CEEP Conference in Atlanta. There I got to take part in a 2 day gathering for women and non-binary clergy, which consisted of networking, sharing ideas, and checking in on one another at our first in-person meeting post-pandemic.
One topic that kept coming up was how to lead with vulnerability. This led to great conversations: how vulnerable can we be, or should we be, as priests? How much should we share about ourselves, or about our families? How can we lead as examples? What stories are too personal, and should never be shared in a sermon? Clergy are taught to “preach from your scars, not your open wounds.” Or to coin another phrase, “a priest should never bleed all over the pulpit!”
There is a wonderful article in The Christian Century from March that speaks to that question, and is even wonderfully called “Bleeding in the Pulpit.” Its author, the Rev. Katie Murchison Ross, is a Presbyterian minister. She writes about how she came to reveal a devastating personal loss to her congregation, and her worry that she “would fall apart while the congregation looked on.” Her first instinct was to shut down, and to never speak about it. Then, the pandemic began, and she doubled down further on trying to conceal her wounds, and be the stable, guiding pastor in a time of great fear. As the pandemic wore on, she realized that everyone was struggling, yet trying hard to act like everything was ok. As people in her congregation began to tell her their own stories of pain, grief, and loss, she realized that “Each story was an invitation, a chance to wonder where my own heartbreak had company or where God’s grace might be breaking into my story. Each story was a gift, a reminder I was not alone. In each story was a sign of the presence of our human, weeping Christ.”
“In each story was a sign of the presence of our human, weeping Christ.” I love this sentiment, along with another one Rev. Murchison Ross writes that says, “I would argue that Jesus’ greatest sermon and greatest gift was his own bleeding. On the cross, our God became more vulnerable than we thought it possible (or appropriate) for God to be. Willing to weep and suffer in solidarity with humanity, Jesus showed the world how deeply loved we are. Why shouldn’t we reveal that love to one another in tenderly bearing our own suffering?”
In our Lenten Study on Confession, we have talked at length about forgiveness, and the notion of kenosis – Jesus’ self-emptying at the Incarnation, and the subsequent spiritual practice of emptying ourselves. We’ve spoken about how difficult that really can be, to let go of all past sins and pains. The point is made in the book that while therapy is wonderful and important, it does not replace reconciliation with God. Some of us have really wondered if we can ever be fully forgiven - the good news (great news!) is that we can.
As we approach Holy Week, I remind us again how it’s ok to not be ok. If you are carrying too much, it is ok to unload, and we, your priests, are here. In Holy Week, we are confronted with a God who may not exactly meet our expectations – we are confronted with a God who weeps, suffers and dies for us. One of the many things I love about church is that here, our own heartbreaks find company with God, and with each other. May we revel in the fact that God loves us that much and so much, no matter what, and has abounding grace for all God’s children.
Blessings for this Holy Season,
(You can read the full article here. Content warning: pregnancy loss.)