You who have fished other waters;
You, the longing of souls that are yearning:
As loving Friend, you have come to call me.
O Jesus, you have looked into my eyes;
kindly smiling, you’ve called out my name.
On the sand I have abandoned my small boat;
now with you, I will seek other seas.
~ Cesareo Gabarain (found in Wonder, Love and Praise #758)
What a week we’ve had! The weather outside, as the old song goes, is frightful -
even for a snow-belt-experienced boy like me! We have conserved power, boiled water,
and now, we wait for the thaw that must begin before the rains that are coming can truly
wash away most if not all of that wintry stuff. (At least for now. It’s not even February.).
I will miss seeing and being with y’all today.
Yesterday, January 20th, was the sixty-fourth anniversary of a big transition for
All Saints’, Memphis. On that day in 1960, this congregation became a financially
independent parish. In 2022, All Saints’ became a mission church once more.
Over more than six decades, this small-again-but-still-mighty band of believers
has had 14 clergy in charge and numerous “supply” (substitute) priests or deacons - even
a supply bishop! There have been times in between when there were no clergy coming
to teach, preach or preside at Sunday services - or on any other days, for that matter.
Today, 58% of all congregations in the Episcopal Church have no priest regularly
serving God alongside them. Twice as many priests are retiring as there are seminarians
graduating and being ordained. And so, another old piece of music comes to mind and
seems fitting, a 1989 Oldsmobile jingle: This is not your father’s (or mother’s) church.
But it is your church, sisters and brothers in Christ. Whether you come to 1508
South White Station Road on Sundays to worship, whether you consider yourself simply
a friend of All Saints’ during these days - this is your church. YOUR church. As one
Episcopalian put it to me years ago, “You clergy come and go. This is my church.”
What will your church look and be like when I have left as your priest in charge,
when this hard, cold month of January comes to an end? I think our Gospel lesson and
that hymn we would have sung - the one with words you see at the top of this sermon -
those words can help us think and pray about the future of All Saints’ Episcopal Church.
Soon after I was ordained, I was called to serve a large church in the suburbs of
Pittsburgh. While I was there, I got to know members of another small but mighty band
of believers, a religious community called the Community of Celebration. The ministry
they were known for was music - as outreach. The “stage name” they were given was
“The Fisherfolk.” Back in the 70s, they became a bit of a religious phenomenon.
Based in Britain, the Fisherfolk, their music, and the Community of Celebration
had come across the pond. They settled in an old, poor steel town outside of Pittsburgh.
People like me came to hear them, and they sold thousands of records. Christians began
to learn of their unique religious community, different from the monks or nuns found in
traditional monasteries. In this religious community, the Community of Celebration,
you could belong and become a member - even if you were married, even with children.
For me, the Fisherfolk are a blessed memory. Yet, over the years, the Community
of Celebration has not come to an end. It has evolved, several times. What was once an
almost “hippie” like commune with an international ministry is about to change - again.
For some time, the three (yes, 3!) remaining members have been in conversation with
another Christian community, prayerfully considering the possibility of a merger.
In the Gospel passage from Mark appointed for today, Jesus said to his disciple
Simon (who became Peter) and his brother Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you
fish for people” (1:17). They followed him. Later Jesus saw James and his brother John.
He called them, and they followed Jesus, too. Immediately, Mark says.
Our Collect uses a different, more Episcopalian kind of word: readily. “Give us
grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call….” Readily means willingly, easily. Maybe not
today, when roads are still sheets of ice. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and very
soon, everyone who is a member or a friend of All Saints’, everyone who listens to God’s
call on their hearts to follow Jesus: Everyone, as I said last Sunday, everyone is called to
ministry. The question is: What kind of ministry? And the next questions are: How’s
that workin’ for ya? Easily? How are you following Jesus? Willingly?
Some of you are called to serve on All Saints’ Mission Council. Some are not.
Some of you are called to ministries of music or at the altar or in the garden. Some of
you are called to leadership, and some of you are called to follower-ship. And some -
actually, I think all of us - all are called to fish for people, to be fisherfolk. But how?
Next Sunday afternoon at 3 pm the ministry of music as outreach will continue at
All Saints’. That’s a miracle! Actually, it’s The Miracles. Through their songs and
story, I believe their voices will inspire those who come. Their story is not yours or mine
or the Fisherfolk’s, and yet, it’s a story of answering God’s call, a call to fish for folk.
Now, here’s a warning: When we fish, in the words of the hymn at the beginning
of this sermon, we may have to “abandon our small boat.” We may have to take a fresh
look at how small our world can become. The family of God at All Saints’ may even need
to consider what getting into a new church boat might look like. God only knows.
I do know this: The older we get, the harder change can seem or be. We may not
think we can “readily” answer God’s call at the ripe old age of…whatever. We may not
be able, even with God’s help, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. We may not be ready to
“seek other seas.” The Good News? Jesus is with us, in our every step. Jesus shows us
how to fish for people. Jesus, kindly smiling, has called out your name. And mine.