Endings and Beginnings

Rev. Mary Thorpe

Good morning. I’m Mary Thorpe, Director of Transition Ministry for the Diocese of Virginia, and I am honored to be here with you as you begin your time of transition from the leadership of Father Brad to the next rector whom God has prepared for you. I bring you the prayers and support of your bishops and your diocesan staff. My presence here today is an outward and visible sign of that support, and we will get to know each other better in the months to come.

But here we are today, and I’m sure it feels a little odd not to see Father Brad up front. Despite the farewell, despite the realization that it was time for him to have a well-deserved rest after serving here so faithfully for so long, today it just feels a little…abrupt.

It usually does. In our Old Testament reading today, we reflect upon a transition of kings. King David is dead, and his son, Solomon, the issue of his marriage to Bathsheba, now takes the throne.

It always surprises me when I read this passage how matter of fact the author is about the passing of David and the ascendance of Solomon to the throne. David was a mighty king and a very complicated human being. He did marvelous things in the name of God and he also did some pretty awful things – that whole incident with Bathsheba comes to mind. David is a big deal! Jesus’ lineage going back to David was cited as one proof of his kingship – he comes out of the root of Jesse, David’s father. So you’d figure that when he died, there would be more to the story than “yup, he’s gone. We’re on to Solomon now.”

Transitions in leadership seem to require more drama, more emotion, than a mere statement of the end of the man and the time of his tenure.

We know a little bit about that here, as we catch our breath and imagine the unimaginable – St Tim’s without Father Brad Rundlett at the helm. And yet here we are, and the sadness is still in our hearts, and the worry about the future of this place is hovering over some of us.

I’m here today to tell you that, in the wonderful words of Dame Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

And here’s where we can take our cue from the second part of the reading from 1 Kings: Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheba, ascends to the throne as calmly and as naturally as somebody getting on the Metro. And what’s the first thing Solomon does? He goes to talk with God, to offer sacrifices and ask God what God would like Solomon to do.

You’d think that Solomon would be feeling his oats, thinking, “wow, I get to be king just like dad, lots of power, lots of riches, lots of people fawning over me.” But his father has trained him well. His first task is not to put himself over everyone, it is to bow to the one who made him king, God Almighty. He offers sacrifices. God comes to him in a dream. Solomon speaks to God in humility: I’m just a child, really. How can I serve you, God? What do you want me to do? And God likes hearing this – humility is always a good starting point when taking on a new responsibility.

So God plants within Solomon a wise and discerning mind. God gives him untold wealth and long life as well, but the most important thing is the first thing – the ability to be a good leader, to help the people through the transition from the reign of David to this new era.

Now, Brad was not King David, and Mark is not Solomon, but there’s some wisdom about times of change of leadership that may apply in the case of St. Tim’s.

You are a healthy and loving parish, full of vitality and possibilities. You were well-guided by Fr. Brad – he encouraged lay leaders to lead, not simply to serve as implementers of his vision alone. So you’ve got good men and women who participate in vestry and in other areas of lay leadership who will help things continue to go and to grow.

With Father Brad’s retirement, however, there is a need for another priest to help this parish, as Father Brad helped this parish. Many things can be done by lay leaders, but some things really do need to be done by a priest.

You need your next ordained leader, your Solomon, who comes before the Lord with humility and says, “Lord, what do you want me to do to serve you and these people?”

The natural inclination is to look at Father Mark here, who came to support Father Brad in the last months of his ministry and who will serve as your interim priest during this time of transition, as your Solomon.

It is true that he is gifted, humble, and wise. But he is not your Solomon. To understand his role, think back on the prophet who served King David in the latter part of his reign – Nathan. Nathan, who had the strength to carry God’s displeasure about David’s taking of Bathsheba. Nathan, who had the strong, strong relationship with God to bear God’s words and wisdom to the king.

Father Mark is, in fact, your Nathan. Nathan means “gift” and Father Mark is indeed a gift to you all. He will lead you, guide you, offer an honest assessment of what is working well and what you might consider as you enter into the next chapter of your parish’s life. His role is to prepare you all for your Solomon, your next rector.

This is what will happen in the months to come: your vestry will appoint a search committee, a small group of wise and discerning and prayerful people who will gather information about this beloved place, help discern where God is calling you next, and identify the kinds of gifts and graces your next rector will need so that he or she can help you get to where God is calling you next. They will, with the affirmation of the vestry, publish a document that will tell prospective candidates who you are and what you are looking for and then receive applications, winnowing through them until they come up with a final candidate whom they will recommend to the vestry. The vestry will meet the recommended candidate and –we hope – affirm the person. Assuming that all necessary due diligence is done by the search committee and by my office, a call will be issued and the name will be given to the Bishop, tacmeds.com who will approve of the call. The vestry will negotiate the terms of the letter of agreement and once all parties, including the Bishop, have signed it, you will have a new rector.

It’s not as quick as “David went to sleep with his ancestors and Solomon ascended to the throne.” We don’t have familial succession, as in the Davidic line. We need to discern and to seek, because in calling your next rector, it’s not like hiring someone. It’s much more like seeking a spouse. You are entering into a covenantal relationship, and as our sacrament of marriage says, “it is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and deliberately.”

This all may seem like you are entering into a long process, and I can tell you that it will take some time, but only as much time as necessary to do the work of discernment, of hearing the voices of the parishioners of St. Tim’s, of listening to the murmurings of the Holy Spirit. It will take only that amount of time – no more, no less.

In the meantime, you have the blessing of your prophet Nathan, Father Mark, who will lead you, serve you, guide you and be a part of your lives, until your Solomon comes to you.

You will also have the guidance of my team at the Office of Transition Ministry to help your vestry and search committee with their work and to do the kind of due diligence that will ensure that you will have a gifted candidate without issues that will hinder their ability to serve you well. You will also have the prayers and support of your Bishops and all of the diocesan staff.

Transitions are rarely as swift and uneventful as the handoff from David to Solomon, but I assure we will do all in our power to make this a time of joyful self-discovery and a time of exploring possibilities rather than one of worry or slowing of momentum.

And where our power fails, then the strength of Jesus Christ, given to us each week when we kneel and receive the sacrament of his body and blood, will fill us with everything we need for the work set before us, this day and forever more.

Amen.