We are approaching the most beautiful time of the year in our quiet corner of Connecticut. Sadly, I won’t be here to share it with you. Soon the hills will explode in a pallet of reds and oranges with splashes of purple and yellow. But this year it will all go on without Jane and Robert, William and me to see it with you. Soon the last harvests will be gathered. The fields will lie still and we will be moving on.
There never is a good time to say goodbye to those you love, but harvest time is better than most. The ancient Hebrews calibrated their calendar around the phases of the moon rather than the sun. And by their reckoning this is the appointed time of transition… a time of farewells and new beginnings… a day of reflective atonement and a day of confident commencement.
Over four years ago you welcomed Jane and Robert, William and me to St. John’s. You took us in. You made us part of your parish family. You opened your doors and your hearts. And from that day ‘til our very last, your goodness will always be in our thoughts and prayers.
As we move on, we have been packing up our old furniture, William’s electronics, Robert’s fencing gear and Jane’s books and pots and pans. But the most precious things we are taking with us are the memories of you… of our time together… Praising God, Serving Neighbor.
This morning, we remember those magic first days… with Marian Schwaikert warmly welcoming us at the church door when we drove up from Long Island. We remember those hectic early days of meeting you all and trying to match the many new names and faces that are now so close to our hearts.
As we settled in, I remember our Appreciative Inquiry Summit… where so many of you shared your experiences, your ideas and suggestions for worship and fellowship, outreach and evangelism. Over the last four years, working together with our outstanding vestry team, we have come a long way to realizing our hopes and dreams for St. John’s.
And before I go any further, I would like to thank my talented, tireless, blessed, vestry sisters and brothers who have served us… served the Salisbury community… and served Our Lord and Savior… so well these past four years. Thanks to: David Bayersdorfer, Lynn Curtis, Sherry Cortese, Theodore O’Neill, Nan Longley, Leslie Allyn, Mieke Armstrong, Barbara Boccuto, and Susan Wood.… Good and faithful servants, all.
Through some prudent belt-tightening, your stewardship support and the wise leadership of our vestry, we have developed and implemented an effective, appropriately frugal Five-Year Plan to put parish operations on a sound basis well into the future. We owe so much to our lead planner, Karen Byers for selflessly putting in the time and giving us the benefit of her extraordinary organizational skills.
While planning is vital, nothing happens without the means to get things done. I particularly want to thank a team of champions the Lord has raised up among us. Thank you, David Harris, Annie Milliken, Douglas Thomas and Henry Schacht. Your good and giving hearts, your sacrificial giving keeps St. John’s a vibrant voice for Christ in our community.
Special thanks to Mieke Armstrong and Barbara Boccuto for your unmatched efforts in raising the support vital for the ongoing mission and ministries of St. John’s. You literally help keep the roof over our heads.
I will miss the comfort of relying on our hard-working Leslie Allyn, the dedicated Chairperson of the Altar Guild and parish hospitality. Together, with Nancy Bayersdorfter, Dolly Beard, Ann Beizer, Annette Cloney, Nancy Howard, and Susan Wood, who week after week, I could always count on to prepare the altar exactly right for our coming together in weekly worship.
Thanks too, to Jane Pinckney for sharing her gift for floral decoration and for always adding just the right touch of added beauty to our beautiful St. John’s. And speaking of flowers, I also want to thank the “Two Joe’s” … Joe from Thorn Hill Florist, and Joe from Country Gardens. It was always fun to work with them, especially at Christmas and Easter.
On my personal highlight reel of memories, I fondly remember working closely with the lovely, Lille Mikesell, our long-time Director of Music, Thank you, Lille. You put a song in our hearts.
A particularly poignant memory will be that of serving with the caring Karen Byers, Lillie Mikesell and Fr. Lance, on the annual Healing Service… calling on Christ, The Healer, to bless and preserve our beloved parish family, particularly those struggling with serious medical issues.
Christmas at St. John’s will always be a joy to remember. The creche, the carols, the liturgical beauty of our services, the generosity of our outreach ministries… My favorite is the Christmas Gift Tree for needy children in the community. You spread the love of Christ when and where it’s needed most.
I’ll also fondly remember your outreach to the seniors who couldn’t make it to church, so you brought St. John’s to them. Together with Danielle Baily from Noble Horizons, Norma Baker and Holly Reid, and Pastor Peg from Lakeville Methodist Church, as well as Megan Conklin of St. Mary's, you shared the joy of a Pop-Up Christmas Pageant to our elder friends at Noble Horizons.
A unique ministry at St. John’s is our outreach to strangers who arrive tired, dirty and hungry via the Appalachian Trail. To the hikers who pass through our community, we are known for our open doors which offer everything from a change of sox, to Wi-Fi access, to trail mix, a coffee break and fresh clean water. Thank you, Sherry Cortese, St. John’s own apostle of the Appalachian Trail. You help us witness Christ’s love to a broad cross-section of people from around the country and around the world.
Before I go any further, I want to thank my wife Jane, who was the Director of Social Services for the Town of Cornwall… and thanks, too, to her colleagues in Canaan and Falls Village. Together we have partnered with these social services professionals to bring food, clothing, toys, bedding, health and hygiene to the neediest across the region.
The neediest among us included the Alganm family who came to us as frightened refugees fleeing the barrel bombs and poison gas of Aleppo, Syria. Barbara Pogue, Katherine Perry, Pom Shillingford, Garrett Richardson, Jean Wardell, and Amy Lake have done such great work in welcoming the whole family and helping them settle into the community. I add my ten-year-old William to that team. He invited Omar early on to join us for rock climbing at Simon's Rock and horseback riding at the Time Out Foundation.
We haven’t just waited for people to bring their needs to us. Through Louise Lyndemyer’s Hispanola Heal Partners we have reached out from the cool hills of Connecticut to bring help to the people of Haiti. Thank you, Louise. In the voices of the Haitian people in crisis, Christ has called to us. And you have answered.
I also want to thank my clergy colleagues in the community. The ecumenical Body of Christ is alive and well in our town, nurtured by the leadership of Fr. Joe (St. Mary’s), Pastor Peg (Lakeville Methodist Church), Pastor Diane (Salisbury Congregational Church), Heidi Truax (Trinity Limerock) and The Reverend Kurt Hall from The Salisbury School. And last but not least, The Reverend Canon Lance Beizer for his quiet work and witness – together with his wife Anne – have joined me in this important ministry here in the Northwest Corner. Thank you Lance!
Thanks also to some fine folks who are doing great work for St. John’s while maintaining very low profiles:
Michael Flint has leant his tremendous technical expertise to producing our weekly video and audio of This Week’s Focus for broadcast in the community and around the state on CATV and Robin Hood Radio. Thanks, Michael.
The Reverend Virginia Army has kept us in synch with the many good works of The Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Thank you, Virginia, for your attentive and able guidance.
I also want to recognize some local heroes… the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service, who were kind enough to admit me and train me to serve with them as an Emergency Medical Technician. It has been an honor and a privilege to ride with you. Thank you: Brian Bartram, Rob Keller, Ashley Allyn, Sue Bayer, Kitty Hickcox and Dan Wori. Thanks particularly for sharing your healing skills and helping me through my EMT coursework.
Thanks, too, to all the officers of the Ambulance Service. Thank you, Kaki Shafer Reid, Michael Brenner, Jacquie Rice and Josh Allen. It has been a privilege to learn from you, to ride with you and serve with you.
And of course, all of this would not be possible without the leadership and support of our Bishops, and the ECCT staff. Thank, you: Bishop Ian Douglas, our Bishop Diocesan; Bishop Laura Arhens, our Suffragan Bishop; The Reverend Lee Ann Tolzmann, our Canon for Mission Leadership; Robin Hammeal-Urban, our Canon for Mission Integrity and Training, and particularly… Thank you, Reverend Canon Dr. Molly James, our Dean of Formation, who very kindly joins us this morning to mark this transition.
Finally… and most humbly… I will remember and be forever grateful to you… my beloved sisters and brothers… in Christ… and in the parish family of St. John’s. Thank you for bringing us here. Thank you for warmly welcoming us and for faithfully supporting us over the years.
But most of all, I thank you for showing me the face of God… up close and personal…over and over… in your goodness. I see his face in you this morning. And he is smiling. God bless you and all the good work that you do in his name.
God love you!