This week, as the buzz of insects filled the air, the heat reflected off the pavement as the sun rose, and the smell of blooming flowers lingered nearby, I greeted families and watched an age-old tradition of parents dropping off children at school. Some of the families were rushed, the parents trying to get off to work. Some families took things more slowly, savoring the goodbye of the day. Some families were worn down by anxiety and tears – of children and adults. In the hubbub of greeting these families, reality hit me: Hickory Neck did it!
You see, over ten years ago, the community of Hickory Neck Episcopal Church had a dream – to turn the blessing of property into a blessing for the community: meeting a desperate need for childcare in our part of our county. Countless hours were spent by many church members planning, calculating, and organizing. It would take a tremendous investment to create a school from scratch, but the passion and vision were there. Unfortunately, the preparation was complete right before the economic recession hit. And the dream was deferred.
But the needs did not change – in fact they grew as the presence of young families, especially those transplanted away from extended family, grew in our neighborhood. Hickory Neck’s dream was what a Search Committee invited me to participate in: to help them take the dream off the shelf, and live out their baptismal covenant more fully in their particular context. And so, the work began again. After months of discernment and honest conversations, we realized Hickory Neck’s dream could still meet the needs of the community.
A year later, on a steamy September morning, I was struck with a sense of awe by the Hickory Neck community. I have been a part of many congregations, and one thing I have learned is most communities resist change. They might need change; they might want change; they might even say they are ready for change. But in the deep recesses of their minds and hearts, they do not really want change. Change is scary and could disrupt what drew them there in the beginning. But Hickory Neck is different. Hickory Neck is a community who has been fluid and flexible, who even when her dream began to morph and change, did not dig in her feet, but instead stepped out into the unknown and said yes to the Holy Spirit. The humility, boldness, courageousness, creativity, and gumption of Hickory Neck brought me to my knees this week.
I am so proud of our community for trying a brave new way of ministry – one that comes from the congregation, will be nurtured by the congregation, and will eventually feed the congregation. Though I have helped navigate logistics behind the scenes, the truth is, I feel so incredibly privileged to simply accompany Hickory Neck in the fulfillment of her dream. In these last two and half years, Hickory Neck has given me hope in the future of the church universal. If communities of faith can cast a vision that betters the surrounding community, journey through adversity to achieve that dream, and then actually live into that dream faithfully, then I think there is hope beyond measure for the kingdom of God.
A few weeks ago, a county official said to me, “You must be so proud of yourself for doing such good work at Hickory Neck.” But I shared with him, “No, I’m so proud of Hickory Neck. They are an inspiration to me every day.” Today, I thank you, Hickory Neck. I thank you for your witness of bravery, passion, and hard work. I thank you for inspiring me to be a better priest. I thank you for letting me be a part of this fantastic journey, in this fantastic community, doing the fantastic work of Jesus. I am so proud of what Hickory Neck has already accomplished. I cannot wait to see where we go next! Oh, and if you are not already connected to Hickory Neck, I encourage you to stop by. You are in for an incredible treat. Don’t worry: we’ve already saved you a seat!