Whenever I meet a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary, my question is usually the same, “So, any advice?” The answers have varied widely: advice about whether or not it is okay to go to bed angry; varying ways of decision-making; and my personal favorite, to only argue in the nude. As a child of divorce, in a generation of divorce, those couples who make it to fifty years garner a deep level of respect from me. I find myself drawn to them, watching how they care for one another, wondering what rough patches they faced along the way that could have led to the dissolving of the marriage, but that they managed to survive. As someone who has been blessed with twelve years of marriage, I am already amazed at the vast changes that have impacted my marriage. I can only imagine what lies ahead in the next 38 years.
My parish celebrates fifty years of ministry this Sunday. Over the course of the year, I have heard stories of times past and the joys of a long life together. But this week, I find myself wondering what advice we might offer to anyone considering the next fifty years of ministry here. Having listened to and watched my parish for the last two years, I see a few nuggets of wisdom emerging. First, change is inevitable. We often joke around here that we sometimes do things because that is the way we have always done them. But the truth is many, many things have changed in our history. Whether it was a particular clergyperson’s way of doing the liturgy, a particular party that “always” happens, or a group that has functioned for a long time, change is the one constant in our history. Over the last two years of my tenure with St. Margaret’s, many have commented on the sheer volume of changes in our life together. But from all the stories I hear, change has been a constant for the last fifty years of our life together. So if we know change is constant, perhaps our task is not to prevent that change, but to find the best ways to be flexible in the midst of change, knowing some change with stick, and some will not.
Second, what feeds us today will not necessarily feed us tomorrow. This bit of advice comes out of the wide variety of programs I have seen come and go over our fifty year history. I have heard many people speak longingly about programs that have fed us over the years – a bowling team, a youth program, or a prayer ministry. But just like we age and change over time, our spiritual needs and the needs of each generation changes over time. This realization gives us two pieces of freedom: first, we can let go of the idea that any one program is sacred because programs will come and go; second, we can keep dreaming and expecting that there are programs that are going to come along that dramatically impact our lives – even though we have yet to experience them.
Finally, though people, ministries, and systems come and go, one thing remains constant: our love and longing for Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one constant for every person who walks through our doors. We may all experience Christ differently or may be at different points in our walk with Christ – whether at the beginning, in the midst of a deep relationship, or even questioning how we feel about him altogether – but Jesus and a longing for an experience with the sacred is what keeps us coming back to this place and keeps us inviting others into the joys we have experienced in this place. Clergy will come and go, long-time parishioners will move or pass away, and life changes will bring people in and out of our parish. But Christ is always with us – challenging us, feeding us, and forming us into better versions of ourselves. Remembering that constant grounds us more than any of that stuff that inevitably changes over time.
As we gather this weekend, to worship, to feed on the Eucharistic feast, and to dance the afternoon away, I look forward to observing our parish – watching, wondering, and reveling in all that has been, all that is, and all that is to come. I cannot wait to see what the next fifty years teaches us!