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I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, then you grow wings.
William Sloane Coffin
Coffin, the late pastor of Riverside Church in New York City and a prophet regarding social issues, is prescient in his approach to faith and profoundly helpful about those of us who are beginning new ministerial relationships. I am deeply honored to be serving as the new priest at St. Paul's; I am also humbled by the welcome I have received since I started several weeks ago. Having recently come from Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, another parish with a proud history (though not as long as St. Paul's), I have a deep appreciation for the sense of the broad sweep of time at St. Paul's, the beauty of the sanctuary and the seriousness with which we celebrate the liturgy, as well as the eagerness with which we bring the good news into the world. I am learning about our relationship with Chester Eastside and the potential for deeper ties with this wonderful ministry. Most of all, however, I am grateful for the warmth of the people here and their clear desire to live out their faith with meaning and integrity.
In speaking about faith, I often think about the conversations of the disciples with Jesus, often under very tenuous circumstances. There is a scene near the beginning of Mark's gospel, when the disciples and Jesus are literally awash in the chaos of their boat, as priests often feel more often than they care to admit (There are days when new calls seem to operate this way.). The disciples wake Jesus, and his response has always intrigued me. He does not ask, “Why all the questions,” or “Why do you doubt,” but, “Where is your faith?” Faith is not something that is left over when all our questions have been answered, all our fears assuaged; it is something that is alive in us that we live, moment-by moment, in the knowledge that God is in the boat with us, experiencing all that we go through, and aiding us in those times when we are most in need. I think of this episode often when getting to know other partners in ministry, learning about their history and their hopes for the future, when we all take a leap in our relationships and somehow manage to grow wings.
Years ago, I was in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice (when it was not itself being swamped by water), and I remember seeing a fresco there illustrating this very scene. It is an interesting piece because Jesus appears in it twice, once asleep in the stern and again at the prow, calming the waves. Some of the disciples are trying to wake Jesus in the back and others are pointing to him in the prow; the most interesting ones, for me, are in the middle, staring out of the picture wide-eyed and full of anticipation. My belief is that we often find ourselves, clergy and lay-people, in this very position, getting to know others and their dreams for the future. My sincere hope is that you will feel free to tell me your own dreams for this fine parish and how we can work together to achieve them.
As many of you know, I will be here on Mondays and Wednesdays during most weeks as I share my time with the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Essington. My Sunday ministry will, of course, be at both places. I would like all to know how eager I am to meet all of you and to spend time learning about you, and your hopes for our future together. I am very excited about the opportunities ahead at St. Paul's, the chance to honor our history and to explore new possibilities. Please feel free to call or stop by whenever you like; it will be a privilege to hear about our mutual hopes so that, in all that lies ahead in our relationships, we can learn to grow wings together. God bless you all.
The Rev. Mark Smith