April 5, 2014, 50th Anniversary Mass
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Time. There are few things that we experience in our day-to-day lives that are as important and as abstract as time. It seems so relentlessly, ploddingly chugging along at times, at other times it is an avalanche blasting down a mountainside, at other times it stands completely still. The past is gone. The future, well, goodness knows when, if, how that will come. And we are here really only now; right here, right now.
On the other hand, ours is a religion very much, very indelibly in time. Yes, God in Christ is with us in the Holy Spirit always and everywhere, particularly when we gather together around this table, AND Jesus Christ, God in God’s self absolutely intersected with this realm, the realm of time and space very specifically, in a very specific time, in a very specific place; 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus of Nazareth in the hill country east of the Mediterranean Sea. We are a people inextricably, religiously linked to time.
Fifty years ago today the Word was proclaimed and the Sacraments offered for the very first time around this very table, in the midst of this very congregation here gathered. And I don’t say “this congregation” metaphorically. Dorothy, Helen, Helen, Bob and Kay, Mike and Maron and Kim and Christopher… they were here, in this very room, doing precisely this fifty years ago today. That is a long time to be gathered, and I thought the 10:30 Mass was long.
50 years is also just the blink of an eye; less than that in the scheme of things. Fifty years. Churches in New England where I am from have cobwebs that old. Churches in England have church mice families that have lived in the rectory for 500 years. But 50 years… those are our 50 years.
It hasn’t been the easiest fifty years, according to what I have heard and read. The congregation has ebbed and flowed from the 60 souls that gathered around this table in 1964, pioneers sent to the wild southern hills from St. Mary’s downtown. After meeting here for a few years, money was raised and the first Mass was celebrated down the way on Hilyard in the middle of 1968. The seventies saw a lot of movement, but that might just have been Eugene in its heyday, but a lot of solidification happened in the church. The 80’s were hard. The new wing was built in 1982, but just as the dust settled from the construction, we slipped down to 14 pledges, $11,000, less than half of our current annual health insurance bill. But an energetic priest, a few newly minted deacons, Maron among them, and a lot of day in, day out church work, much of it accomplished by the venerable Women of Resurrection carried the church through.
The 90s again saw a time of change and growth. Jonathan Weldon was the longest serving priest here, from 1992 through 2004. You’ve had nearly as many clergy here as my parent’s church and it was founded in 1685. That’s hard. In that era, not only did the organ come on line under his leadership, but this little mission to the South Hills became a Parish (meaning fiscally independent) in 1998. We had arrived.
Jonathan’s departure ushered in another era, the era of the never-ending transition. Dennis j Parker was here as the world’s longest running interim. Then Natasha Garrison was called as the second rector in 2008, a tenure that did not last as long as anyone would have chosen. But through that era of transition, this church plugged along, doing that day in, day out church work that needs to be done. The fact that we did not shrink, in this era of dwindling Protestantism is absolutely remarkable… not shrinking is the new growth in church talk. That speaks a lot to the quality of the people here. God was worshiped. People were cared for. Justice was done. Bills were paid, that’s not glorious, but is significant. Then 2 ½ years ago I was called to serve God with you here. All I can say about that is thank you for the chance to be here with you.
Looking back in time, looking back over these past 50 years, the history, the dates… they are important, sure, good to know about, of course, but the real story is sitting in these middle school folding chairs. In the nooks and crannies of the memories of our elders, in the shadows our forbearers leave among us, those who went before us these past 50 years here at Resurrection, and those brothers and sisters in Christ over the past 2000 years that made this gathering possible.
Looking back in time can be like looking into a reflecting pool of the future. God called us together 50 years ago to gather in the name of Christ, to proclaim Resurrection to the people of this place in this time. And we have done that. The Word has been proclaimed. Saints have been nurtured, relationships cultivated, children formed, music made, the needful served, a piece of land cared for, resources preserved. We’ve done that. We do that. We will continue to do all of that; that is the basic pre-requisite to call a body a church. The question that needs to lay on our hearts is: What is God calling us to be, right now? What is God calling us to do, right now?
Looking around, right here, right now, I am very excited. My story of this place is that it took 40 years for Resurrection to get it feet under itself. That is reflected in our becoming a parish, leaving the Diocesan nest. And we had some bad luck after that happened. Some instability in leadership came about just as things were coming together, but the heart of this place has been beating steadily these past 10 years, more steadily, as far as I can tell, then in the history of this parish. We are in a very solid place. We have record numbers of people in our web of relationships. We have record financial resources. We have record reach into the community; through both the social gospel work that is making this parish a recognized leader in outreach to the most vulnerable in Eugene, and through the depth of the spiritual witness of the prayer, worship and study we do together.
We are kind of outstretching our governance models. We do too much for the way we are organized. (Which means we have to reorganize, not that we have to do less!) We have systems and infrastructure to work out. We have outgrown our building. But admirably, we keep welcoming people in amongst us. The big red doors are wide open, letting more people in and letting the light of Christ shine out.
What will our next fifty years look like? What is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? That is not for me to say. That is for us to discern. Over the course of this year, the 50th year of Resurrection in Eugene, that is very precisely what we will be doing. We have, I believe, arrived at exactly where we are supposed to be as an embassy of the Kingdom of God. We are stable, solid, a vital and viable gathering of Christians striving to know and do the will of God in our community and in our hearts. What we will be doing, in an unfolding process led by the vestry, is to undergo a facilitated discernment process to pause and feel the breath of God on our cheek, to feel the heartbeat of God in our own chest, and figure out what work we have been given to do to become the Church we are supposed to be. Probably starting May/June-ish, we will have a facilitator come in and lead us in a series of congregation wide meetings, in prayer and dreaming and study and conversation about where we have been, where we are going, and most importantly, where we are in this very moment; because it is right here, right now that the voice of God speaks to us.
50 years. Congratulations, everyone. For the hard work, the generosity, the faith, the sense of humor, the love of God and each other that it has taken to bring us to this moment, thank you. To those who will follow us in the future, you are very welcome, and so sorry (they get to decide which is which). And to those of you in this very room, in this very moment 50 years into it, thank you for what you do and will continue to do in the name of Resurrection. AMEN