NOTE: This is second in a series of homilies related to the 6 session study the parish is doing during Lent that is focused on Trinity’s mission and use of liturgical space. After worship we enter discussion using an outline from the book Re-Pitching the Tent by Richard Giles.
Like most couples, Roy and I have life stories that are similar in some ways, and very different in other ways. We are both Eisenhower baby-boomers, raised in Maine. Both grew up Catholic. Both had ministries in the Catholic church, Roy a youth minister, and I a priest.
Our lives took different turns in some ways. Roy was married to a woman and has a daughter. His wife died in 2001. Until Roy, I had never been married, although I too was widowed, in 1995, when my partner died of AIDS. I have no biological children, although I became the custodial guardian of a niece, and raised her from her toddler years to adulthood.
Here’s another big difference that manifests itself in deep conversation and hot debate these days. Roy and his wife bought a house when they married. They raised their daughter there, and it was that same house that Roy sold when we married. And for much of those 40 or so years, the house only underwent minor changes.
I, on the other hand, have been a builder and a renovator, sometimes willingly, and sometimes reluctantly. In my professional life, I oversaw the building of a new rectory in Northern Maine. I have owned a couple of apartment buildings that were fixer-uppers, and by my count have completely renovated six apartments. Even the little ski chalet at Sugarloaf I that owned for about 20 years required major updates and renovations.
And the house I live in now was the fixer-upper to end all fixer-uppers. My house could be a whole season on HGTV. From the in-law apartment, built on one floor in the back of the house, so that Aunt Katherine could age in place, to the restoration of the main staircase that had been ripped out by the previous owners, my house has been under some form of construction since 2006. Roy and I married in 2013, and he has been part of the last couple of renovations and restorations. And now, we are finishing the last room – installing a new bathroom in a room that used to be a small sitting room. Since no bathroom had been there before, this is all new construction, all new plumbing, wiring, venting, and fixtures.
I have learned certain things over the years. For instance, when a carpenter says that the crown molding will take 2 days to complete, he means 3 days. When the painter says it will take two gallons, she really means three. And when the first plumber you hire walks away from the job in horror, you know that the second plumber will be expensive. Roy has learned none of these things in his life. Therein lies the tension. We are behind schedule. I shrug, and Roy panics. Now fortunately, Roy and I talk a lot about this tension, and we manage it pretty well. And my experience has taught me that we might just need shruggers and panickers. to really get the job done. Our life experience, our individual psychological makeup, our view of the world, all shape the ways in which we approach many things in life.
As Trinity embarks on this courageous and visionary next step of looking at this temple, or tent, or tent-temple, or temple-tent, in light of ever-emerging community needs and shared ministry, it is good to be reminded that the decision-making will be shared by people who are of one mission and varied backgrounds. Jesus stirred up a lot of controversy with much of what he said about the temple. He restated its true purpose while also predicting its vulnerability and impermanence. It was in the temple that leaders first marveled at Jesus’ wisdom, and it was in the temple that he gained some critical enemies.
In just about all aspects of our lives, we adapt our various constructions to meet changing needs and realities. Our new bathroom will have water-saving fixtures, LED lighting, and a USB charging station. The Victorians who built my house would recognize none of these things as possible or even necessary. They wouldn’t even know what these things are.
We adapt our environments to meet changing needs all the time. Sometimes at its own peril, the church has historically been slow to recognize and adapt to changing needs. Balancing tradition with innovation has never been easy. Helping to define the culture while adapting to changing cultural needs is a push and pull that can stress any church. This church, Trinity, has a history of looking to the community to help inform its gospel mission. It looks to me like the current discussion is a continuation of that. There is a lot to be thankful for here, not the least of which is a willingness to even have the conversation and dream the dreams, as a community of faith.
We know well that Jesus engaged his disciples in challenging, sometimes difficult conversations. And in the end, those conversations led from sin to salvation, from darkness to light, and from death to resurrection. This mission-driven parish has such good news to share, and that good news is not shaped by the tent – but rather, it shapes the tent. Thanks be to God.