As a priest, 2023 is the year I’ve started to really feel my age.
I don’t really mean that I’ve started to look at the generation below me with bewilderment or that my knees are aching in new and unappealing ways (though both are surely part of my reality). Rather, I mean that 2023 is the year I’ve started to re-live important moments in my journey as a Christian but from a new perspective or position.
Many of these moments occur within my work with the children of St. Stephen’s, where I serve as an Associate Rector. I grew up in the Episcopal church and many of my most formative experiences and relationships took place on the grounds of my parish. Over the course of this year, I’ve travelled back in time as I encounter these experiences and relationships again through the life of my current community.
At various moments I’ve found myself once again,
—at age five, eating dinner with the rector of our church in Geneva, IL one Wednesday evening. I was simultaneously awed and fascinated by this somber man dressed in all black. I recall that he spoke directly to me in his grave tones. We ate spaghetti, and he gave me an extra meatball when I was still hungry. I was sure that I had eaten with a celebrity.
St. Stephen’s also has community dinners on Wednesday evenings, and I often find myself sitting with one of our families for the meal. I wonder how the seven-year-old child feels when we talk about school or his favorite action heroes. Is he awed? Am I normal to him? I hope to be approachable even to the smallest of our community.
—in 8th grade, performing as the narrator in my middle school’s spring musical (Aladdin!). My priest attended the show on a Friday night. I was thrilled; I felt special.
This spring I attended a local elementary school’s production of Shrek the Musical, Jr., in which a 9-year-old parishioner played the Big Bad Wolf. The show was incredible, and my parishioner’s parents were effusively grateful that I would attend. To me it was an obvious choice: children notice when adults dedicate time and attention to them, especially when it isn’t necessary. I want the children I serve to know that they are of consequence in this world.
—as an anxious seventeen-year-old trying deeply to make sense of myself and of the world around me, visiting my rector’s office and sinking into one of the easy chairs therein to spill my deepest secrets and wonderings and worries and finding myself cared for and carried when I was struggling to keep myself afloat.
This summer a 9-year-old asked to meet me for a pastoral conversation, to talk about the death of her grandfather. Our conversation journeyed a winding road; we spoke about death, heaven, God, boys, popularity, the Bible, and hope. It remains one of the greatest privileges of my life, to be entrusted to hold her wonderings and woes. Even (especially) children need companionship as they confront the terrible beauty of this world.
I don’t entirely have the words to explain what it meant to me this year, to see my own life coming full circle in the context of this church that I love, and which formed me so deeply. Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘I handed on to you as of first important what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins’ (1. Cor. 15:3). This is the first year I’ve been aware of the responsibility of aging in faith to hand on what I received as a child: dignity, attention, care, affirmation. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to the children; I would not be a priest without the mentors and role models and companion who treated me in ways that helped me know that Gospel truth. May I ever remember those who came before me and strive to hand on all that was gifted to me in my youngest years.