Faith Matters: Parting, with thanks

  • Rev. Eliot Moss of the St John's Episcopal Church in Ashfield. Recorder File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • St. John's Episcopal Church in Ashfield. Recorder File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Vicar, St. John’s Episcopal Church
Friday, November 17, 2017

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

This coming Sunday will be my last with St. John’s in Ashfield.

While any amicable parting is tinged with sadness, our main feelings are ones of thanksgiving. We have journeyed together, minister and congregation, for over nine years. We know each other’s foibles and our strengths, and have even learned how to be vulnerable with one another. We have experienced each other’s gifts. Now, it is time for us to switch partners in the dance, to mix it up, experience someone else’s gifts and allow them to experience ours. Otherwise, we risk getting stuck in a rut. St. John’s and I will each leap into the unknown. As Rabbi Norman Hirsh wrote, “We don’t like leaving, but God loves becoming.”

We have much to be thankful for. People have come, people have gone; baptisms, burials, weddings and other ceremonies have marked our lives. We have renovated our buildings, not really for ourselves, but for all the others who enjoy our space as part of our calling to God’s radical hospitality. We have grown tremendously in outreach work, particularly given our modest size (“small but mighty,” as one of our assistant ministers put it!).

A few examples give the flavor of this: The Mothers Circle, a free support group for mothers of newborns, meets in our space and we provide child care for the older kids and help pay the facilitators. We introduced to Franklin and Hampshire counties the Welcome Backpack program, which makes available to women being released from the correctional facility in Chicopee a backpack filled with toiletries, food and other helpful materials. We have participated from the beginning in Cathedral in the Light, an outdoor “street church” ministry in downtown Greenfield. Of course, we continue to make our famous blueberry cobbler for Ashfield Fall Festival and funnel the proceeds from that into these outreach activities and many more.

There has been much spiritual growth, and increased resilience and willingness to look outward, even as religion has become less fashionable. We participated in a program a while back that included this interesting exercise: “Envision a world in which your church did not exist — nothing is there. Beyond your members, who would care?”

This might be a challenging question, but we know that there are many people who would notice our absence; they would care. Along the way, we figured out that the particular gift of St. John’s in this time is hospitality, reaching out to the other. People notice that. Earlier this year we put up a banner on the side of the church stating our welcome to immigrants and refugees. Sadly, some unknown person ripped it down. But the more impressive thing is that, within a few days, someone in the broader community, not a regular churchgoer, to my knowledge, stepped forward, wanting to pay for a replacement.

What we do and say matters beyond our members. We look back with thanks, very appropriate to this time of year. At the same time, we look forward, not filled with anxiety and fear, but with hope and expectancy, with a kind of holy wondering and anticipation about what God has in store for us. We have confidence in the future because we know we are loved and will be carried through whatever may come at us.

As I leave my post as pastor and priest to St. John’s, I wish all of you these blessings of thanksgiving and celebration for what has been, and holy wonder, hope and anticipation for what will be. Whatever your faith, or if you claim none at all, peace and joy to you!

About St. John’s Episcopal Church

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Main and South streets, Ashfield, welcomes all to join with us in seeking to follow Jesus. Our worship, similar to Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, includes Bible readings, preaching, prayer, singing hymns and Holy Communion. We are open and affirming with respect to sexuality, marital status, etc., and represent a range of belief and spiritual practice. We strive to serve the world in Ashfield and beyond. Worship is at 10 a.m. Sundays, followed by coffee hour. Our Christmas Eve service this year will be at 5 p.m. and suitable for all ages. We are a congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and thus of The Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. You may contact the church by calling 413-628-4402 or by email to stjohnashfield@gmail.com.