Dry Desert
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna... in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:3

In some churches, when you're ordained a pastor, you're ordained to a certain role for a certain time. The ordination is a declaration of, "Yes, we see these gifts in you, and we want to formally call you to pastor us in these ways."

But in the Episcopal Church and many other traditions, ordination means something else. We are not ordained to a certain job at a specific place. We are ordained to the priesthood.

It's a lifelong vow that cannot be taken down and picked back up. It's also, ostensibly, a permanent change in the way we move through the world.

Ordination at St. Paul’s


Last year on February 3, Bishop Ian Douglas ordained me a priest in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Thanks to the pandemic, only ten people were allowed in the sanctuary. But a hundred others (maybe you!) joined us on Zoom. We projected their faces onto a screen, and I could really feel the presence of everyone there with us. Unforgettable.


Before I made my priestly vows, Bishop Ian said the following to me, reading from our Book of Common Prayer:

As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God's forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God's blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you. In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.

It's that last part—"in all that you do"—that feels the heaviest and also the most holy. Being a priest is not just about what we do but how we do it.


That brings me to my next point.

"Part Time Priest"


I serve at St. Paul's half-time. With my other time, I'm a student at Yale Divinity School pursuing a second master's degree in New Testament; a podcaster for Yale Bible Study, a Pastoral Associate at Berkeley Divinity School; a sometimes-musician; and (most importantly) a wife, sister, daughter, and dog-mom.

Sometimes, people call me bivocational, being called as I am to both the church and the academy. But to me, it doesn't feel like two vocations. When I'm recording for my podcast or puzzling through the New Testament in Greek, I still feel like I'm acting out of my call to being a priest.


Can people do those things without ordination? Of course. It's not about how well I do these tasks but how I approach them in the first place. So I'm not a "part time priest;" I'm always a priest and serve at St. Paul's half-time. After all: "in all that I do," I am supposed to nourish and strengthen Christ's people.


Is that a ridiculously high ideal, of which I fall short absolutely constantly? Yes.


And yet, I feel sure of my call to keep trying to do so.



One Year of Priesting


In my first year, I baptized babies, and I performed my first wedding. I transitioned from Missional Curate to Priest-in-Charge, and I led my first vestry meeting. The thing that surprised me the most about all of this is how natural it's felt. I figured that, at first, I would feel kind of like I was faking it. Somehow, even when I have no idea what I'm doing as a priest, I still feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be.


But also, whenever I took off my collar, I kept being a priest.


Whether I'm drowning in Hebrew flashcards or blessing someone before they undergo surgery, whether I'm celebrating Eucharist or yelling at my dog for eating an entire tin of Christmas cookies... I'm still a priest. I still don't know quite what this means, and I suspect I will continue to figure that out for the rest of my life.


This week, I'm feeling especially grateful for the opportunity to serve at St. Paul's in this very first part of what will hopefully be a long career in the church. And I'm grateful for the power of the Holy Spirit that flows through our community and empowers me to serve you as best I can. Thanks be to God!

This week, I want to highlight the letter I wrote for our 2021 Annual Report—my first as your Priest-in-Charge—and presented last week at our Annual Meeting. Click here to download the 2021 Annual Report.


Our patron saint, the apostle Paul, wrote,


“If we see what we hope for, that isn't hope. Who hopes for what they already see?” (Romans 8:24).

Hope, it seems, only counts as hope if it's for something that doesn't quite exist yet.


We've needed a lot of this faith-driven hope in our time together in 2021.


Right now, our community's narrative is being written within the margins prescribed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The instabilities continue to shape our common life; vaccines, testing, and variants are top of mind more often than I would like. And some members have drifted away—become unseen—in the tumult of abnormal worship and intermittent programming. One of my hopes-for-the-unseen is that most of them will return when they have the bandwidth to do so. In addition to changes wrought by the pandemic, we also continued to adapt to ministry with a half-time Priest-in-Charge. Happily, our lay leaders are the heart of our ministry at St. Paul's, and our intrepid Morning Prayer officiants lead worship on the two Sundays per month when I'm not here.


However, even given the rollercoaster of COVID and a changing church, we took tremendous steps this year.


The people of St. Paul's bless and commission Rev. Helena as Priest-in-Charge in September 2021.
The people of St. Paul's bless and commission Rev. Helena as Priest-in-Charge in September 2021.

Over the course of the year, we worshiped: in our parking lot, sitting in lawn chairs; in our cars, drive-in style; on Zoom from our living rooms; and in the pews of our beautiful sanctuary. We were leaders in Southington's first celebration of LGBTQIA+ pride. We witnessed the ordination of a priest (me!) in St. Paul's sanctuary for the first time in memory. We trained up four lay preachers for Morning Prayer Sundays, under the expert guidance of Rev. Salin Low. We welcomed new families into membership at St. Paul's and recruited two of the youngest acolytes we've ever had. We celebrated the first same-sex wedding in St. Paul's history when I married Jen and Katie this November. We watched the children perform a Christmas pageant having done absolutely no rehearsal. We found out what it's like to have a Priest-in-Charge who's also a graduate student.


A couple other highlights and details are worth mentioning for posterity:

  • Monthly drive-in Eucharists from January through Easter, with Zoom Morning Prayer on the other Sundays. Easter through the fall, 8am worship indoors and 10:15am outside in the parking lot. Inside for All Saints Day to end of the year

  • Ash Wednesday on Zoom, with everyone picking up their ashes and imposing them on ourselves

  • We confirmed 11 youth on three different days (5/23, 9/11, 9/18), in three different places (St. Paul’s, Trinity on the Green in New Haven, St. Andrew’s in Rocky Hill), by three different bishops (Laura Ahrens, Jim Curry, Drew Smith)

  • 7 youth and 4 chaperones went on pilgrimage with Wonder Voyage to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming

  • Free Little Pantry installed near our driveway under the leadership of Kate

  • Women’s retreat at Camp Washington in October, led by me and Rev. Mo Lederman

  • Successful and joyous pledge drive, with pledges holding steady from 2020 to 2021

Thank you so much to everyone who made this year possible, especially our employees Jenn, Matthew, and Jamie.


As a community, your flexibility, creativity, and resilience were evident at every turn. Serving as your Priest-in-Charge has, so far, been one of the great blessings of my life. I can't wait to see where the Spirit leads us in 2022.

Do you remember when Regan and Hannah presented this fall about our amazing pilgrimage trip to Wyoming? They told the story of our trip, day by day.


I frequently think about one of the moments Regan described, when we saw a herd of buffalo by the side of the road. On this particular day, we saw a baby buffalo eating a blue surgical mask. There, in the midst of vast plains and enormous mountains, we were confronted with another layer of cost of the pandemic.


Where will the billions of masks we're producing go??


Landfills.


Oceans.


The mouths of baby wild animals.


So, I found a way for us to recycle some of those masks.


If you have used surgical, KN95, N95, or dust masks, bring them to St. Paul's! We're returning to in-person worship on Sunday, February 6th. Starting that day, please bring in your disposable masks and deposit them in this recycling box. It's right by the main door to the sanctuary.


We need to fill up this whole big box, so collect used masks from your family and neighbors, too!


(And please don't put any other PPE in this box; it's disposable masks only.)


We wear our masks because it's our responsibility to care for our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31). But it's also our responsibility to be good stewards of God's creation (Genesis 1:15). This is the best option I've found for doing both in this circumstance.


To read more about how the mask recycling process works, check out Terracycle's Zero Waste Boxes website.