St John the Divine, Victoria - serving as their Priest and Rector - for just over a year now. Some recent conversations I have had on Social Media, plus a blog posting which I found very moving on the dearpopefrancis.ca blog (here), plus some time spent with friends from my MRC (Motorcycle Riding Club)
as both 'pastor' and friend have all caused me to reflect on the experience of the past year or so. And just why I find this particular place, spiritual community and time in my life so personally and spiritually nurturing.
That's the key. I believe that the key to our Spiritual journey is the need to be in community. That doesn't mean that time alone, in prayer, reading, meditation, playing guitar or riding motorcycles (my own influence may have slipped in there) is not important - but to have a sanctuary, a place to share ideas, hopes, doubts, dreams, concerns and above all, love, is crucial. The Orthodox Church has a saying 'we're saved together, we fall alone' (Or in stronger terms, in the Divine Liturgy - "We're saved together; we're damned alone") - it is certainly my feeling that community is what we are called to, to discern, to wrestle, to pray, to learn, to laugh and to weep and so much more.
A Spiritual Community
For me, this parish, this church, this disparate and diverse group of followers, are seeking to be an intentional Spiritual community. We participate in a number of activities - including some powerful social justice and Outreach work - we worship together, we study and learn together, we pray, we sing. All of this is one, there is no distinction between our 'spiritual' and 'social'. It is an exciting community to be a part of and one which feels very much like a place I can share my journey. Though I am in a position of 'leadership/servanthood' and have a specific role and calling within the community, it is a safe place in which to voice my questions, share my doubts, discover new ways of expressing ancient faith, learn together with friends what this following Jesus is all about. That's not to say that previous parishes I have served have not offered such opportunities, but this is a community in which I feel liberated in my preaching and sharing in a way I have not before. There is an acceptance and an openness to new and old ideas, and it might be that I am just now recognising and feeling confident in joining in that journey - or that I am receptive in a way I have not been before. But the sense of freedom is palpable.
A Welcoming Community
I think in part that this sense of freedom comes because the Church is going through a time of growth. As new people have come and joined our community there has been a sense that much of this is new to many of us, and that goes hand in hand with a sense of excitement, and a desire to welcome others into our sense of pilgrimage and exploration. This makes for a community which is welcoming and seeking to be inclusive. We have a commitment to the full participation of all as any wish to, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, background, class or any of the other factors that so easily define and divide us. That, at least, is the plan!
An Imperfect Community
Before this becomes an exercise in back slapping and self-congratulation, I recognise that we are not perfect - we do not get it right all of the time. I realise that there are some for whom our Church is not a place where they feel at home, or we fail to welcome as much as we think we do. I know that. We know that. One of the encouragements about this particular part of my journey is being able to live with those imperfections - because I know that we are seeking to work on them, to learn and to grow and to be what God calls us to be. There will always be those who don't like the decor, the music, the style, the Rector, whatever and disagreement is allowed, even encouraged. Sometimes those disagreements lead to change, sometimes to growth, sometimes to sadness or frustration, sometimes we have to just hold in tension our disagreements. But I trust this parish, these people, and I know that not everyone sees things the way I do, and that what I might want is not always the way things are going to go, This give and take, though sometimes painful, is part of being in community. Something I - and I feel St John's - is committed to.
So I am here, I plan to stay here for as long as God and the people think I should! Thanks be to God.