Tonight, we had the second meeting of the Deanery Study. Each parish, represented by its pastor and two representatives, reported on self-perceptions of each one's strengths, assets, competencies, and our goals for the future.
These reports, formulated in conjunction with each parish's leadership team, showed many similarities, and also pointed out how each parish has unique charisms.
The whole process of this Deanery Study is to re-examine the mission of the Church, to examine the mission of the Church in this portion of the Church of Trenton, to look at the signs of the times in the real world of today, and then to make recommendations to Bishop Smith for the future life of the Church in this area for the future.
Many people fear the future. They hear all sorts of "bad news" about the number of available ordained ministers shrinking greatly in the next few years. They bemoan the limited pool of qualified leaders for our parishes. They cry about not having leaders to serve them in their native languages and cultures. They fear change, and departure from "the ways I'm used to."
But the Gospel calls us to hope. The Gospel calls us to realize our equality as baptized members of Christ, all called to ministry by virtue of baptism. The Gospel calls us to "think outside of the box" and imagine ministry in new, and different forms in the future. The Gospel calls us to be open to being Church in new and different ways.
The Church has faced many struggles and re-configurations in its 2000-year old history, especially in the area of ministry and leadership. For the first 1000 years, married priests were the norm! There were married bishops. There were married Popes!
There were also strong, vibrant communities led by women! During the persecutions, many times women were called upon to lead the local gatherings, because all of the men had been hauled off to prison or execution. Perhaps even back in those highly-patriarchal days, women presided at the small gatherings for the "breaking of the bread."
Reading the "signs of the times" is not always easy. Sometimes our "vision" is clouded by our history, our specific location, our local practices. But sometimes, reading the signs of the times can provide a local community with a renewed vision, a renewal of energy and a renewal of vibrancy.
Let's pray that we can all have hearts, and eyes, and minds open to the vibrant ways of living the Gospel in perhaps new ways in the future. Let's keep the mission of the Church foremost in our minds, and pray that the Lord will grace us with the strength to be open to the Gospel of Christ in the days, weeks, years, and centuries to come.