As anyone who has ever had to relocate knows, moving is never easy, even under the best of circumstances. Somehow, Maureen and I forgot that reality as we prepared for our move this summer. “What could go wrong?” we thought. “that a little extra planning couldn’t over come.” Once we knew we were coming to St. Peter’s, we accepted that the summer was going to exhausting. If the stress of buying a house and organizing all that comes with that on top of closing down a church consulting practice while saying good bye to our congregation of twelve years was not enough to stress us out, for Maureen there was something called ICD 10, a total revamping of medical coding due to begin begin this week along with Maureen needing to over see the transition at work to new office procedures so she could work from home.
All of this we figured we could handle, after all, the ultimate goal of a new parish and a new life closer to family seemed to make the short term stress worthwhile. What we didn’t factor in was our younger daughter, Kayleigh. Kayleigh, shall we say, does not handle change well. While we were preparing for change, she came home for the summer after graduating from Niagara University while in the midst of preparing to begin her masters at Canisius College in Buffalo, she too was stressed!
Somehow we made it through the summer. Maureen and I for the most remained civil with our eyes on the prize, despite the constant disruptions each day with the bank asking for more forms to be signed or resigned; trips back and forth between Syracuse and here and an office staff that was resistant to picking up new responsibilities (hers, not mine.)
Finally, on July 31st , our plans went into action as Maureen helped Kayleigh move into her apartment in Buffalo. This seemed to allay much of Kaleigh’s anxiety. On August 17th we closed on the house, the packers arrived on the 24th, followed by the van on the 25th. All was going as planned, until Verizon failed to show up between 11 and 2p.m as promised on the 26th and was delayed until almost 5 p.m. This delayed my arrival at the vestry meeting that night and our arrival at the cottage we were graciously offered the use of. But hey, no big deal, this was only a minor blip in the transition, and besides, we all know cable companies are never on time.
Frustration didn’t begin to build until the next day when the moving company called to confirm delivery. No our stuff would not be arriving on Friday as planned, by us. . Not them, but on Monday instead. Again, no big deal, we weren’t sleeping on the floor and I had plenty of other things to do while Maureen worked at the card table which had been set up in her office.
Somehow, despite an exhausting summer filled with stress at every turn and dealing with a mixture of excitement and grief we held it together until late Sunday afternoon August 30th. This is when the phone call that broke the proverbial camel’s back came.
“Mr. Swan, I have some bad news.” Said the voice of our “Transition Coordinator.” “We have just received word that the truck hauling your furniture has broken down en route. We will not be able to deliver your belongings until Tuesday at the earliest.” This began a series of very unholy conversations between me and the moving company as Maureen and I looked at each other and wondered if this was worth all the hassles, all the emotional upheaval and the constant sense of exhaustion.
If it weren’t for this summer, I am not sure I would have much sympathy for Israelites in this morning’s Old Testament reading. Its hard to believe, after everything God and Moses had done for them, here they were, once again, complaining about life in the desert. “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna.”
No wonder why Moses and God got frustrated with them. How dare they complain life was better in Egypt! If not for Yahweh, they would still be enslaved. Yes, the food was better and more plentiful, but they weren’t free. For years they begged and pleaded for God to free them and now they whine because they lack variety in their diet.
It is so easy to get bogged down in minutia when we are in the midst of change. Systems people tell us that change is a process, and more often than not, when we encounter the challenges which change inevitably brings, we often get scared, as anxiety within the group rises and we wonder if we will ever accomplish our goal. In the case of Israel, they left Egypt with a shared vision and a sense of excitement as God led them across the Red Sea from slavery to freedom. But freedom came with a price. No longer were the benefits of slavery available to them. Now they had to learn how to provide for themselves. They had to learned to live off the land. They had to learn how to self-govern and transition from being an enslaved people, to being nomadic people and then to being the agrarian society God was leading them towards as they awaited to entry into the promised land of Israel.
Did you know St. Peter’s By-the-Sea has just completed its own wilderness experience. We called it the interim period. Those who work in Transitional Ministry, use the wilderness story as a metaphor for the interim period. Beginning the day your previous rector announced his resignation, until the day I arrived as your new rector, you, as a congregation, wandered in the wilderness. You lived in a time of prayerful anticipation as you waited anxiously for a new rector. The questions you asked, either silently or out loud, were typical as you wondered if St. Peter’s could survive this time of change. Your wardens grew exhausted as they worked tirelessly to keep the congregation on course. And many wondered if they would still have a place at St. Peter’s with the new administration.
Fr. Bill was allowed a glimpse into the promised land of the new rector, but like Moses on Mount Sinai, he was not allowed to lead your through. It was Joshua who led the Israelites into the land of milk and honey, as it is I who has been called to lead you back into this new space and time.
Yes, we have arrived, we have crossed over into the Promised Land. But let’s not forget the rest of the story. When the Children of Israel finally crossed over, the Promised Land was not what they expected. God forgot to tell them it was already occupied. Jericho already existed as a walled city for the Canaanites. Other tribes had already settled the land God had promised Israel. Work had to be done before Israel would be theirs.
The same holds true for us as well. The interim period has come to an end, but the transition period has not. We now embark on the work of getting to know each other as we discern what vestiges from the past which still hold us back from moving forward. Like all new rectors, I have promised not to make any substantial changes for at least one year. However, my presence is change, and inevitably, as the Acolytes and the Altar Guild members have experienced, my personal style and my height have already necessitated some change.
Yes, I know, there are many who have waited patiently for my arrival. Who are ready to move forward with new ideas, and with suggestions for different ways of doing things. To those who are waiting, all I can ask is patience. Like Joshua at the Battle of Jericho, we need to listen, we need to wait for God’s direction. We need to walk around the walled city a few more times before we are ready to take command of this new land and finally settle it together.
Let us Pray,
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: we humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life together we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen