I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
The above prayer is a call to let go. We are all busy accumulating. And when not accumulating we are protecting our own. Indeed we are fearful of what we would be without what we are grasping on to. This consumer ideology has an impact not just on our individual lives but it also affects ministry in the church. We forget, very quickly, that it is God’s church; forget that we come to God’s community as an offering. We take the ownership issues into our communities with us. This leads to conversations that all too often focus around ‘my ministry’ or even ‘our ministry.’ With ‘the our’ really meaning a small and focused group.
In the Anglican Church, which is an Episcopal tradition, with diocesan structures, we should understand ourselves as family. We should see ourselves as a church that does better when we work in support of one another. But the me first, ours first world that we exist in has lead at times to parochialism and silo-ing. This is not a help to us in our present state as we are all facing a rapidly changing landscape. Our isolationist attitudes cause us to miss opportunities to celebrate together, as well as lose opportunities to support one another in the challenges of living as faithful communities in these difficult times. In many ways the church is in need of letting go – of opening our clenched fists. The church desperately needs to embrace standing before and God and before one another with open hands.
A little of a year ago, with the direction of the Bishop of Huron Robert Bennett and our Suffergan Bishop Terrance Dance, four Deaneries came together in the London area to create a new Deanery of London. There were, and there remain, many skeptics. There was plenty of conversation about what we lose in coming together. Despite all of that, twenty seven parishes became one Deanery of London. Forty clergy in one clericus, and nearly two hundred members of Deanery Council. One of the first orders of business was to covenant with one another about who we wanted to be. To my delight, much of the conversation we had with both clericus and with Deanery Council revolved around finding ways to share our stories, to learn more about and from one another, and how we might share ministries. This was very much a conversation about opening our clinched fists and standing together with open hands. There was/is a real desire to leave behind past habits putting our need needs ahead of those of others.
It has only been a year. It’s early to draw any conclusions. That said, I want to share how exciting it was to be present at our first London Deanery Fair. The Deanery Council Executive, having heard the people of God ask for opportunities to get to know one another and learn from one another, planned an evening for our parishes to display to one another the work that is being done to advance the Kingdom of God in the London Deanery. Parishes came to our first Ministry Fair with information about a strong ministry from their parish and with questions about ministries that they might be struggling with that other parishes could help with. It was a great night. Seventeen of our twenty parishes fully participated, and filled the room with picture boards, PowerPoint Presentations, food displays, clothing displays — and on the list goes. The Kingsmill Room at Huron University College was full of about a hundred souls who were all standing with open hands – offering, and seeking, giving and receiving. It was really a great moment for us in our young life together as a new deanery.
I want to offer thanks to Dr Stephen McClatchie for his expertise in helping our new Deanery articulate what they want and who they wish to be. I would be remiss if I did not also offer thanks from our Deanery Executive to Murray Hunter, who keep our feet to the fire and made sure we had a strong response. And thank you most of all to all who lead in this deanery – Lay and Ordained who took the time to make informative displays, to attend the tables, and for all of your openness and questions. It was a great evening that allowed us an opportunity to better appreciate what God has given us in one another. We are a rich and diverse deanery with much to celebrate. When we stand together with open hands, we are fully open to what the Holy Spirit is doing. May we continue to live, learn, and grow together.
Here’s to an end to clenched fist and to the warm embrace of open hands.