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Celebration of A New Ministry in Oro Valley

Part of the joy in our journey in life is sharing it with friends, colleagues and acquaintances. My journey has been especially blessed by people with whom I enjoyed time together in seminary. Rev. Megan Traquair is one of those friends for me; she and her husband, Philip, were part of our seminary community, and they reached out to welcome Beth to The Block in the summer of 1990 when we were just married.

Megan was recently called to be Vicar at Church of the Apostles in Oro Valley, Arizona, in Northern Pima County, just north of Tucson. She asked me to preach at her installation, and I was pleased to do so. Here is the sermon, for your reflection, as well.

Celebration of New Ministry ~ 10:00 AM ~ 9 November 2008
The Rev. Megan Traquair and Church of the Apostles, Oro Valley, AZ
Joshua 1:7-9; Psalm 147; Ephesians 4:7, 11-16; Luke 10:1-2

Few occasions in the life of a church congregation bring as much joy, happiness, and good will for the future as the Celebration of a New Ministry brings to a priest and her people. It is a time of rejoicing, feasting and good feelings. A time to celebrate the ministry we share with other Christians—other Episcopalians—in harmony with our bishop. A time to rise to the occasion and do the work that God has called us to do through Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified and Risen One. Today is no exception, as we celebrate the presence of new clergy leadership working with committed and enthusiastic lay leadership here at Church of the Apostles.

What makes the tone of today’s service unique in my experience, however, is the careful attention given to making this celebration of a new ministry a true liturgical recognition and celebration of the mutual nature of ministry between a priest and a people for the work of spreading of the kingdom in a community. I understood this clearly the moment I opened the envelope and read the invitation for today’s ceremony; it said:

“The Reverend Megan Traquair and the members of the Episcopal Church of the Apostles invite you to join us as we celebrate our new ministry.”

We also heard this emphasis in the presentation, in the litany, and we’ll hear it again in the covenant and exchange of the symbols of ministry, coming up in a few minutes. What all these things say loud and clear to us is that what is happening here today is not just about the coming of a new priest to a congregation, but rather it is about the work of a priest and a people in a new ministry together.

I believe this emphasis is significant, because it places the mission of the church as the priority for effective ministry by all the members in this place, both clergy and lay. And in a mission-minded diocese, I believe it thrills your bishop to oversee a Celebration of a New Ministry when it involves a truly mission-minded congregation, particularly a congregation situated in one of the fastest growing areas long term in the State of Arizona—the Sun-corridor—in one of the fastest growing states in America.

Today celebrates a new opportunity to engage the spiritual hunger of your neighbors in Oro Valley, in Marana, North Tucson and in Northern Pima County; a new opportunity to bring hope and transformation to lives shattered by fear and worry in the face of economic and future uncertainty. For the church, indeed, has hope to offer those who live without hope, or live with no sense of purpose or expectation of the miraculous in their lives.

In the reading from the Gospel according to Luke, we gain a sense of the urgency of mission and ministry of the church; this urgency comes from the fact that Jesus himself sees that the harvest is ready, but the laborers are few. Therefore, we must continue to pray for more laborers to send out to help gather the harvest.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, each one of us is just such a laborer, one being sent into the harvest, as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” By virtue of our baptism, each one of us has received spiritual gifts that build up the body of Christ. Every one of us possesses a unique combination of gifts that can be offered for the work of ministry in so many places, not only around the church, but more importantly in the community, in face to face encounters with those in need of spiritual food and drink, people who seek to be connected with something, or someone, greater than themselves.

Often, that need—to be connected with something, or someone, greater than one’s self—is filled with the false gods of material accumulation and earthly power, or by the devils of distraction thrown up by the sports and entertainment industry. What we have to offer is new life in Jesus Christ, through repentance, reconciliation and renewed daily living through the power of hope found in Christ’s resurrection.

Transitions times in parish ministry such as these are wonderful times to reflect on the past, on where we’ve been in our journey, and more importantly, to discern what God is calling us to be now in a new ministry together. Your web site tells me that Church of the Apostles started in 1992 by worshiping in people’s homes. Then you moved to another facility a few miles from here, until the parking lot overflowed; then you moved to Wilson School on La Cholla Blvd. (In fact, I heard the girl’s locker room there functioned as the sacristy, and the linens were often rinsed out in the sinks.)

Then in 2003, you moved to this location, by virtue of a generous gift of land, and built this lovely worship space and these fine facilities. What a great story! What rapid growth! And here you are today, celebrating that legacy and history as you look to future growth and ministry.

I first met your vicar when she was in seminary, a year ahead of me. She was from Santa Barbara, CA, and I have a brother who lived there (and still does), and that tiny connection led to a friendship. I got married after my first year in seminary, and Megan and Philip helped warmly welcome my wife Beth to what we called “the Block.” Not a cellblock, mind you, but that’s what they called the location of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, for most of it was situated on one large block of the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, IL.

And to think that Church of the Apostles was beginning as a congregation when Megan was starting her priestly ministry. She first served in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and then in Northern Indiana, where I originally came from, and from which I was sponsored to seminary. When I would go home to see my mother and brothers, either from Dallas or from South Carolina where we had lived since graduating seminary, I would hear about Megan and her effective ministry at Gethsemane in Marion, Indiana, a town not at all far from my home town of Winona Lake.

My brother and his children knew her through the diocesan summer camp program. And last October, when I was called to come to Arizona and serve on the bishop’s staff, it heartened me to know that I had a friend already in the diocese, because Megan was serving in Tucson. And now, your two stories have come together, and have become part of the on-going story of new life Jesus Christ for each of you. From time to time, it is important for all of us to reflect on how God has brought us together in this place, because those details tell the story of how following Jesus has transformed our lives, and lives of others we have known and loved.

You see, going into the harvest, working the harvest as Jesus calls it can often be as simple as telling someone else how knowing Jesus has changed your life, how belonging to this community of faith shapes who you are in the world. Evangelism is truly that easy; it has been likened to one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

Then next thing we need to reflect on regularly is “Who is my neighbor?” This question can truly challenge us, because our neighbor is not only those who are present and accounted for, or those who look like us, talk like us, dress like us and who votes the way we do. Our neighbor is also those not here today; especially those not here today.

Our neighbor might speak Spanish as their primary language, she might be of a different ethnic heritage, he might be a single parent, or recently widowed our neighbor is twenty or thirty something, often single, and trying hard to figure it out; our neighbor is unemployed or underemployed. Our neighbor may look affluent but is deeply in debt or in financial crisis; our neighbor needs a friend, some one to listen, someone to accept them for who they are.

We need to look around us with new eyes and begin to see our neighbors again; we need to befriend them, pray for them, and bring them here, just to check it out.

My favorite evangelistic line in the Bible is Andrew’s line in the Gospel of John. He goes to report to Nathaniel that he has found someone who just might be the One they are waiting for: the One Moses and the prophets wrote about: Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth. Nathaniel balks, and asks his immortal question: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (By the way, this was a very offensive retort; tantamount to saying, “Can anything good come out of Guadalajara?”)

And Andrew smiles and replies, “Come and see.” That’s the line: Come and see. You say it with a gesture like this: come and see (motion with hand toward yourself, as in ‘come along’) That’s really all you have to do—make the invitation. Come and see. It works better if you then ask, “And what time would you like me to pick you up; for the early service or the late service?” This week, I challenge you to go invite one of your newly discovered neighbors to come and see, come and see the life changing community here at Church of the Apostles. You will see that “Come and see” can truly be that easy.

The last thing we need to reflect upon regularly is “What is God calling us to be?” This is a question that I know your Bishop’s Committee has reflected upon (in more words or less), but it is an important question—for from it we discern our vision for mission, our reason for opening the doors at all. What is God calling us to be?

This is an important question because clearly God has something big in mind for Church of the Apostles, Oro Valley. I recently came across an amazing quote in my strategic planning work:

“The formula is something like this: The Right Task, plus The Right People, plus the Right Setting, equals Unprecedented Actions. That sounds a lot like applied common sense. Why [then], in most institutions, is it not commonly applied?” (Marvin Weisbord)

Today marks the coming together of the essential elements of that formula: The Right Task, plus The Right People, plus the Right Setting. The next step is to realize what comes after the equals sign: Unprecedented Actions. That is the part left up to you, that is the part you and your new vicar have pledged to and in a few moments will covenant with the bishop about.

The Right Task, plus The Right People, plus the Right Setting, equals Unprecedented Actions.

But notice also what is NOT put on you: the results of your actions. That is because we cannot control the results. Ultimately, only God can bring forth the results, but this does not discourage us by any means. It actually frees us and allows us to focus, focus, focus on the one thing that we CAN control: our evangelistic efforts, our apostolic actions. It is like planting seeds for a later harvest; we can plant the seeds, water and fertilize, but only God can produce the harvest.

Brothers and sisters, we ALL are in the planting and watering side of growing and spreading God’s kingdom. But God is interested in seeing true growth take place, and God assures us that if we are faithful in our efforts, in our actions, in our sowing and casting seeds for growing the kingdom, God will produce that growth. God will honor that effort and those actions; God will provide us with growth.

And lives will be changed; people will be transformed; hope will reign in place of fear, courage will cancel out doubt, and joy will eliminate sorrow in the lives of those so touched, and in our own lives as well. For what does Joshua say but “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

May God grant you all the grace and power to be faithful in your efforts and actions, in reaching out to your neighbor, and in bringing in a full harvest, from this day forward. Amen.

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