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  • Mary Palinkos

Farewell from Rev. Helena

For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

– 2 Corinthians 4:18b


On September 13, 2020, we gathered on Zoom at 8am and in the parking lot at 10:15am, and I preached my first sermon to you. I asked you: “What difference does Jesus make?”


It was my second Sunday here, but my first actually leading the service. Did you know that when I led Morning Prayer that morning, it was the first time in my life that I had both led worship and preached at the same service? Remember, I’d only been ordained a deacon about six weeks before I started here. And while laypeople lead worship and preach here all the time, that’s much less common in our wider church.


So I was nervous as I prepared for those services. I hardly slept the night before, rolling through all the components of worship I’d have to keep track of. I knew that acolytes were going to look to me to see when they should stand up

and where they should walk. I knew that everyone would assume that I knew what I was doing. And I did, kind of. I figured it out.


I realized recently that I don’t get nervous anymore. Not the night before worship, and not even right before it starts. (Though I’ll admit to not sleeping much last night.) Sometimes I do feel a little overwhelmed when we have weird stuff happening during worship and I have to make sure I remember everything. But I don’t particularly feel nervous anymore.


You may think that it’s because I’m just better at this now. I’ve done it a ton of times, so I have more experience to rely on. And maybe that’s part of it. But I think the main reason that I don’t feel nervous is because I have become part of this family.


The parish of St. Paul’s church in Southington, CT has walked alongside me as I have grown from newly-ordained deacon to baby priest to confident Priest-in-Charge. You’ve been with me as I’ve made mistakes or forgotten things or miscalculated—not just while leading worship but throughout our life together. You’ve given me grace while I suffered through months of nausea then disappeared for a bit for parental leave. And you have loved and supported me through all of it. So I don’t have to be nervous because you’ve shown me over and over that I’m not doing this alone; we’re in it together.


And look where we have been together.


We’ve worshiped:

  • on Zoom, and in the parking lot, and back in the sanctuary after more than a year;

  • with masks and without them;

  • with prerecorded music, and humming along to hymns without words, and full-throated singing;

  • we’ve taken communion standing and kneeling, with bread-only, then with wine in little glass cups, and finally from the chalice again;

  • we’ve made decisions together under two different Priests-in-Charge, with 18 different vestry leaders and countless other lay leaders;

  • we’ve enjoyed visits from three different bishops, raised the LGBT+ pride flag year-round, celebrated my ordination to the priesthood, laid 19 people to rest, and baptized 9 people (we may want to work on that ratio, by the way);

  • we’ve gained new members and said goodbye to others;

  • we’ve handed out sandwiches and toiletries in Hartford, packed tens of thousands of meals, opened a Little Free Pantry, sent 19 youth and adults for confirmation, and sent two groups of teen pilgrims on pilgrimage (with a third preparing to leave now).

And let’s be clear: I did not do (and could not have done) all this stuff. This was us, together, as St. Paul’s. And, really, it was God working in and among us.


Of course, everything hasn’t been perfect.


Even aside from the complications of a global pandemic and a changing church landscape, we’ve had disagreements. Some of you wanted to worship without masks sooner, some of you were uncomfortable with the LGBT pride flag, some of you wished I had allocated my halftime hours differently, some of you weren’t happy about our recent changes to worship that helped us preserve the 8 and 10:15 services. There may even be a few of you who aren’t sorry to see the back of me. Believe it or not, I’ll miss every one of you.


These words of St. Paul are sticking with me, as our appointed texts for the day show themselves to be particularly appropriate yet again: “For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”


Because as I reflect on my time here and prepare to leave, it’s not actually the flashiest moments or the services with the most attendees or the major high points that I will miss the most. Those are the things that “can be seen.” The parts of our ministry together that are most obvious. The ones we have photos of or that showed up on the local news. And Paul doesn’t want us to despise or ignore “what can be seen.” The things that can be seen can be wonderful and full of the Spirit. He just wants us to understand that these things are not forever.


But “what cannot be seen is eternal.” And it is those moments that have the lasting impact—at least for me.


When I sat in your kitchen and held hands with your family as we prayed.


When we laid hands on your children to bless them as they came of age.


When I visited you in the hospital, or offered you “Last Rites,” or poured your ashes into the ground.


When we sat and had coffee or chatted together in my office—and stayed for way longer than either of us planned.


When we planned your loved one’s funeral, and we cried a little bit—or a lot.


When you shared pieces of your life with me, snippets mentioned in passing as you walked out the door after worship.


When you caught me in the hallway or the sacristy or the parking lot to say one more thing.


When I pressed bread into your hands or caught your eye during a sermon.


These are the things we tend to think are fleeting. They’re just little moments, small in comparison to the high highs of weddings and the low lows of funerals. Maybe we get it twisted and think they don’t matter. But these little moments are actually the things that endure. Because they are the moments that add up to constitute relationship.


And even though our pastoral relationship needs to come to an end, with fairly drastic boundaries on our communication and the time we spend together, the ways we have served each other and shaped each other and traveled with each other will remain. We couldn’t get rid of them even if we wanted to.


“For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”


I was ordained and became a priest right there. It will always be the case that my priesthood started here, with you. And so the “shape” of the priest that I am will always be kind of St.-Paul’s-Southington-shaped.


You have taught me how to build consensus and make tough decisions, how to listen, how to livestream to Facebook, how to lead a funeral even when I’m crying—how to lead a community by trying, above all, to serve God. No other church has had as profound an impact on the way that I show up as a priest in the world, and I can’t imagine how another one could.


I leave here feeling closer to God, more clear-eyed about where Jesus is in this world, more on-fire for the Spirit.


Generations, centuries—millennia ago, St. Paul comforted his congregation in Corinth with these words. Let’s take comfort from them again today:


“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)


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