I like to hike, both by myself and with others. There's something about setting out, in the fresh air, and getting to see creation in all its unexpected beauty, that really envigorates me. I'm zealous enough (some would say crazy enough) to go out for hikes while it's rainy, or even while there is snow and ice on the ground. In any hike, I find it's good sometimes to stop, turn around, and marvel at how we've come. Sometimes, this happens naturally or by design: at the top of the mountain, or the end of the trail, there's usually a point when I can look at the distance I've covered (my favorite way to do this is to see if I can spot my car at the foot of a hill I've climbed). Sometimes there are designated overlooks, where the trail has been built out, or benches placed to encourage contemplation. And sometimes, there are the unexpected moments, like a pause to get a drink of water, or to dust myself off after an unexpected trip down a steep hillside, where I look up and realize where I am. No matter what, the overlook is a chance to pause and reflect on how I got to where I am, and recognize that God was there, in the good, and in the bad. I would not have the tranquil walk along the stream bed, if I had not slipped down the muddy trail to get there; I would not have the panoramic vista without the steep slope to the mountain top.
I've spend a lot of the last year on metaphorical overlooks, as I mark a year of fifth anniversaries. Some of these have been joyous, like the fifth anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. Some of these decidedly less so, like the fifth anniversary of the death of my father. Soon, I will mark the final event of that year of anniversaries: the fifth anniversary of my arrival at St. Paul's.
The Bishop was here for my first Sunday, if I recall correctly. I was part of a package deal that would allow St. Paul's to help St. David's, Peter's township, as they returned to the Episcopal Church. In many ways, I was joining St. Paul's for a stretch of trail and a journey that had been going on for some time. St. Paul's had been active in the Diocese, and maintaining the ways of the Episcopal Church, for some time. St. David's was a new expression of that.
There were many activities on that trail. Some remained truly characteristic of life at St. Paul's, and I joined in, like the mission trip to McDowell County, and the diversity and vibrancy of Sunday worship. Other parts of the trail seemed to be more characteristic of a particular time, and so they passed as we started new things, like Bible 365. There were ministries that began, and went dormant, which we vowed would revive again if needed, like the special needs ministry, or the caregivers support group. And, of course, we said goodbye to Kris as St. David's went on its own trail to its own destination.
My own journey intersected with all of those things. I was carrying some weights from the trail that brought me to you: grief at my father's death, some uncertainty, a number of other things. As I look back, I can say how blessed I am to have a vocation that puts me in the middle of a community every day, and forces me to think about where God is in the midst of everything. I know that for many people, grief can naturally lead to a sense of isolation, and frustration or anger at God. I did have some of that, but I also had a community walking with me in their way, keeping me moving along the trail.
And so, I look back from this overlook, realizing that I probably wouldn't have this wonderful view without everyone I have met, and all the experiences I have had. I think about the challenges along the way - at first, just learning everyone's name seemed harder than climbing out of the Grand Canyon! But I am grateful for what I see now, and realize that God is in the middle of all of that.
For the last year, my profile picture on my Facebook page has been a collection of some of the souvenirs of my journey of the last five years: my prayer book (a gift from the parish where I interned in seminary, presented to me at my diaconal ordination almost six years ago), my ginormous clump of keys, a St. Paul's coffee mug, flat Jesus. It was a picture of the edge of my desk, but it is also in many ways quintessentially me. It was also emblematic of that year, five years ago, when I graduated, grieved, and found myself at St. Paul's. And, looking back, I can see that Jesus was in the middle of it, just as he always is.Thank you all for the last five years, and whatever part of that trail you walked with me. My stop at the overlook is coming to an end, and I look forward to where the trail will take us next, and where else we will find Jesus walking alongside us, in our journey.