Sermon for the Celebration of New Ministry for the Rev. Diane Pike
St. Paul’s, Lewiston – April 26, 2014
I read the weather forecast for today: A few showers, temperatures 48˚/33˚.
That does not sound very much like spring outside, but inside this lovely church it certainly does. You’ve created spring inside here with these gorgeous flowers and the beautiful altar hangings of the Easter season, and with the warmth of your welcome today. On a chilly, rainy day like this we all despair that we’ll never see sping, but we take heart in knowing that spring has come every year in the past . . . sometimes later than we’d like, and it will come again this year. As Western New Yorkers we’ve learned to be patient about this.
In our Book of Common Prayer there is a prayer for agriculture that seems appropriate as we begin a time of new ministry, of new growth at St. Paul’s, of the end of winter and now, day by day, the start of a spring that will not be too cold.
Almighty God, we thank you for making the earth fruitful, so that it might produce what is needed for life: Bless those who work in the fields; give us seasonable weather and grant that we may all share the fruits of the earth, rejoicing in your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The writer of that prayer must have read the same verses from the Gospel of John that we just heard, that lovely passage about Jesus as the vine and we ourselves as the branches: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” We are invited to bear the fruit of ministry, of love, of service to others, of a constantly deepening relationship with Jesus. That is how we demonstrate that we are his disciples. That is how we glorify God.
Mother Diane, you have been here since last December; you’ve survived your first Western New York winter. I want you to know we arranged the harsh weather of the last few months especially for you so you’d quickly earn your striped and become an official all-weather Western New Yorker.
We arranged for part of Niagara Falls to freeze over, and believe me, we don’t do that for just anyone. We pulled some strings to create the Polar Vortex. We brought on those record low tempratures, the TWO blizzards and the ice jam. And you’ve survived. Congratulations! You’re one of us.
As a result of the harsh weather, you’ve learned some things about what it’s like to live and work here in Niagara County:
- You’ve learned how to stay warm and jut how many layers you can pile on and still remain standing upright.
- You’ve learned what it’s like NOT to set foot outdoors for five months straight without wearing boots.
- You’ve learned the real power of prayer . . . when you’re trying to start your car on a sub-zero morning.
- And you’ve learned something about us as Western New Yorkers: That it takes more than a little snow and ice and cold to slow us down. There’s a real spirit here, a sense of “we’re all in this together,” a feeling that “we’re survivors, and we can handle anything.” That will stand you in good stead as you begin your time here as the rector of St. Paul’s.
There is much more for you to learn about us as the seasons change. This summer I hope you’ll have the pleasure of visiting Artpark for entertainment, for recreation, for a picnic. You’ll want to take the Whirlpool Jet Boat ride through the Class 5 rapids on the Niagara River—which will probably strike you as a relaxing cruise compared to the whirl and swirl of parish life. And in September you’ll want to be at the 56th Annual Niagara County Peach Festival—an old fashioned 3-day event with a parade, a midway, carnival rides, entertainment and peach shortcake . . .the sort of thing that is fading away in other parts of the country but is still a beloved tradition here. Those who once went to the Peach Festival as children are now bringing their own children to enjoy the fun. The festival speaks to the timeless values of family and community. It’s one of the reasons that your home, Lewiston, was named one of America’s Top 10 Small Towns . . .and proud of it.
And there are things for us to learn from you, too, Mother Diane, things that you’ve brought with you from your most recent home, Rhode Island. By next Shrove Tuesday I fully expect that we’ll be eating johnnycakes along with our pancakes. (for those of you who don’t know, johnnycakes are Rhode Island pancakes made with cornmeal and served with butter & syrup.)
We here in Western New York are proud of our fish fries, but we know you come from a part of the world that treasures scallops and lobster, and we’ll be glad to work those into our menus. More seriously, Rhode Island’s state motto is a single word: “Hope.” I can think of no better souvenir for you to bring to us from Rhode Island than that. Hope is what the Resurrection is all about. Hope is one of the best tools any congregation can have to lead it from scarcity to abundance, from anxiety into confidence.
Some of you know that in her former life Mother Diane was Director of Development for the Girl Scouts of America. What you may not know is that there are more Girl Scouts in this country than there are Episcopalians. It’s true: There are 2.3 million Girl Scouts, plus another 890,000 adults, both paid staff and volunteers, for a total of 3.2 milliom. And there are just 1.9 million Episcopalians. If you can grow that many Girl Scouts, Mother Diane, I hope you can give us some pointers on how to grow more Episcopalians. Maybe we need to start selling Thin Mints.
So, welcome. Welcome to Western New York, and welcome to Lewiston and to St. Paul’s. We look forward to growing and learning together.
Our service today is called “A Celebration of a New Ministry.” Please look closely at that title on your bulletin. Notice is says, “a new MINISTRY,” not a “new MINISTER.” It is more than just officially installing Mother Diane at St. Paul’s, though it is that.
What we celebrate today is a new ministry . . . the ministry that Mother Diane and I share as priest and bishop in the Diocese of Western New York, and the ministry that you, the congregation, share with Mother Diane. Ministry is what you and your rector do together. It is not a spectator sport, with the laity sitting on the sidelines watching and either cheering or booing depending on how they think the rector is doing. Our service today invited YOU, the congregation, to partner with your new rector and see what you can do together.
As we heard in our Epistle reading just now from Ephesians, there is something for everyone to do, whatever your gifts may be: We seek apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints—that’s you—for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Let’s listen again to some of the words we spoke just a few minutes ago. When I read the Letter of Institution I advised Mother Diane: “Do not forget the trust of those who have chosen you.”
You have chosen Mother Diane. You called her, out of all the possible candidates, because it seemed good to the Holt Spirit and to you to do so. You have taken the risk that we all take when we offer ourselves to another person in relationship and community. You have put your trust in her. Now you are in a partnership: Her success is your success, and your success is hers.
In that letter I urged her to care for you, love you, nourish and strengthen you—and why? “To glorify God in this life and in the life to come.”
So it is your new rector’s job to prepare you to do the work God calls us to do: To glorify God in what we say and what we do, and in how we live our lives. She is your spiritual fitness coach, strengthening you to walk outside the doors of St. Paul’s and take into the world God’s love, God’s care—to really live your baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for peace and justice, to respect the dignity of every human being.
A few minutes later, I asked you: “Will you who witness this new beginning support and uphold Mother Diane in this ministry?” Your response was, “We will.” You have promised her in front of God and each other that you will support and uphold her. That you have her back. You are a team. Her success is your success, and your success is hers.
And again, just before I began this sermon, we prayed for the rector and people: “Grant that together, they may follow Jesus Christ, offering to you their gifts and talents.”
As you begin your ministry together, I ask you this: Where will the people of Lewiston see Jesus through you, the rector and people of St. Paul’s? Other than by driving by this church building, how will the people of Lewiston know there are committed Episcopalians in this community?
This part of the world is a lot like the Galilee of Jesus’ time. It’s a border area, of course—we can look across the river and wave at Canada. Jesus was always crossing borders, traveling to places where he met a hostile reception, going to the places where upstanding people didn’t go, meeting with strangers, running the risk of rejection. Galilee was a place in need of healing, feeding and miracles. Who in Lewiston needs healing, feeding and miracles? How can you make this happen?
Lewiston was settled by pioneers who risked everything to come here in 1720, when it was the first European settlement in Western New York. It was a dangerous place in 1812, when the village burned.
It was a dangerous place later when escaping slaves arrived here, the last stop on the Underground Railway, before they crossed the river to Canada.
I invite you to be inspired by those pioneers who took risks, who lost everything, who defied law and convention to do what was right, to create the Kingdom of God on earth, to help people see Jesus.
At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus commands his followers to “go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” Baptize, he told them. Lay hands on the sick. Cast out demons. Speak in new tongues. Go forth and preach everywhere. That sounds like a good to-do list for your new ministry together.
Now it is your turn. Your pioneer forebears showed you the way. Go and be pioneers for the Gospel of Jesus. As Western New Yorkers we are all in this together. As Christians and Episcopalians we are all in this together. And as the congregation and new rector of St. Paul’s, you are all in this together. Go preach, teach, speak, feed, heal—and work miracles—together.
In the name of our God. Amen.