The Beginning of the End

I've been sitting in my office all morning crying. My eyes are red and swollen and I've gone through half a box of Puffs. Father Hardman is probably getting grossed out listening to me blow my nose every two minutes. I decide to distract myself and go across the hall to see how the packers are coming along. I look around. Gone are the pictures of Bonnie and the boys. The walls are bare - the certificates and diplomas he proudly displayed are packed away. So are the crosses that hung on the wall and covered his credenza - so many of them! And that crazy cuckoo clock - I've forgotten the story behind it. The book shelves are empty (he would be mortified to see the layer of dust that remains). I glance down and see the indentations from the chairs that sat across from his desk. How many times over the years have I sat in those chairs? Hundreds. Oh geez, the tears start flowing again and I'm standing there Puff-less. So I look around to see if perhaps a box of Puffs was left somewhere in the room. And just as quickly as they started, the tears stop as I'm taken by surprise. There, sitting exactly where it always was, amid the boxes and the mess, is that awful 1970ish leather chair - his chair. "What," I say out loud, "is that still doing here?" We tried to get rid of it years ago, but he wouldn't let us. Of all the things to leave for the new rector! Suddenly a loud noise stops me in my tracks . . .

I rolled over and turned off my alarm clock, trying to figure out what day it was. It was just a dream - but that chair - what a nightmare! Hmm. It seemed so real and I wondered what brought it on. Then I remembered - yesterday we set the date and location for Father Myers' retirement party. That one phone call made me realize that this is indeed the beginning of the end.

Although Father Myers announced his retirement a while ago, we have miles to go before he leaves. At every staff meeting he reiterates that just because he is leaving doesn't mean things should come to a halt - or become "schlocky," to use his word. He continues to expect liturgies, programs and events to be dynamic and original, meaningful and thought-provoking, and organized with precision and care.  So we've been plugging away and we are ready to begin our 2010-2011 program year.

How timely that Father Hardman suggested Christian hospitality for our annual theme. Offering hospitality is a basic Christian practice, something we strive to be, not to do. It is a process and an outlook that requires commitment, patience, flexibility, and practice. It is about listening, opening our hearts and homes to strangers, and building and transforming lasting relationships. As we prepare to welcome a new rector, we will all be called to participate in Christian hospitality.

Hospitality is extended in many ways. We continue to find new ways to make our liturgies more engaging and interactive while staying faithful and respecting the Episcopal tradition of the Holy Eucharist. Our prayers, music, and preaching heighten and strength our connections with God and each other, both spiritually and emotionally. Besides our regularly scheduled special liturgies that include Baptisms, Lessons and Carols, and Chorals Matins, this year we will offer two liturgies that reach beyond our musical traditions - the inspirational music of the Beatles and the soulful and passionate Delta Blues.

As they do every day of every year, our missions and ministries encourage us to practice Christian hospitality in our communities - our parish, our neighborhoods, and our world. The annual Housewalk, our parish's only outreach fundraiser, offers "social" hospitality to the greater community while providing Christian hospitality to those who are the most isolated - the poor and the needy. Although Good News Partners will again "host" our annual parish service project, we see that the host/guest roles are somewhat blurred - by giving of our time and talents, we are actually inviting them to be one with us. This is obvious in all of our ministries and missions - whether it is the new Stephen Ministry, the Shawl Ministry, or our Christmas and Easter offerings.

The Church School and Youth Groups have increased their visibility and involvement for the youngest members of our parish. WHAM [We Have A Mission], our high school youth group, has taken the lead in global outreach with their now-annual mission trip to Nicaragua. The relationships they have developed with the Fabretto community continue to build and strengthen. They are vocal in their commitment to each other, the parish, and the children of Nicaragua. AIM [Actions In Motion], our new junior high school youth group, looks to follow in their footsteps and to build strong relationships within the group and the parish, as well as in the Chicago area as they focus on community action.

Then there's the fun stuff - our fellowship events. Although the old favorites - Ice Cream Social, Fall Festival, Parish Picnic - are on the calendar, we've added a few new ones for a bit of variety. "Flex Your Muscles" is a women's team building day at Camp Wonderland, WI. Our Holiday Wine Tasting Party will offer wines to compliment our holiday dinners or to give as gifts. Our Fall Fellowship Dinner will have a bit of a twist - it's a Murder Mystery party. Who will be the victim? [I'd like to nominate a few!!]

We encourage you to check the parish calendar for the dates of all events taking place during this new program year. If you put them on your calendar now, there won't be conflicts later. The best gift we can give to Father Myers on the event of his retirement is to remain a strong, supportive and active parish. Your participation and commitment will make this happen.

And about that retirement party. In big, red letters, please mark Saturday, May 14, 2011, on your calendars. Although Father Myers will be our "guest of honor," he will also be our "host" as he welcomes us to his new home - the retirement party will be held at Misericordia's Banquet Hall. The perfect location! Boxes of Puffs will be available at each table.