An old adage says that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.
At one time or another most of us fall into the trap of believing that we have control over our lives and our futures, and that a well-laid plan is the first step toward the outcome we want. We make to-do lists, strategic plans and contingency plans. We tell each other that failing to plan is planning to fail. When reality doesn’t match our plan, we just need a new plan (or a new reality).
A little over seven years ago, Bob and I had made a plan for moving to MDI: that we would not think about relocating until we had been here at least five years, and that then we would see where God was calling us. Two years ago I began discerning whether I might be called somewhere else. A year and a half ago, as the wardens of the parishes on MDI were making their own plans for the future, I shared my plans with them. We all made plans for how we might all work together as three parishes with two priests, or four parishes with three priests, and how that transition might work. It all seemed very manageable, even tidy.
And God laughed.
Within the last few months, four full-time settled priests in four parishes has become one settled priest. The guy who was supposed to be the first to go has ended up the last one here. A plan to keep doing what we have been doing with fewer resources has suddenly become an opportunity to follow God into something new and different. As one of our wardens said recently, “We’ve been talking for ten years about the four parishes coming together to work as one church on the island. God has gotten tired of listening to us talking about it, and has called our bluff.”
And God is laughing.
Long conversations about church buildings and rectories and fractions of full-time priests have moved to the back burner as we look at the reality around us and see that we have a rare opportunity to look at our shared ministry with a clean slate, at least as it pertains to clergy leadership. It is becoming clear that a lot of the work that we had done preparing for one transition has made us ready to face a different one; that a lot of the anxiety that we have been feeling over the past ten years was unnecessary and focused on the wrong things, anyway. A plan that seemed impossible seven years ago now seems almost inevitable, and maybe even the goal toward which we have been moving.
We are making new plans. I have been experimenting with spreadsheets to see how one might provide Sunday worship among three or four parishes with two-and-a-half clergy: the grids have begun to look like Mondrian paintings. We have been making arrangements to train lay people to lead Morning Prayer as Sunday worship occasionally. Our diocese and our new Bishop have pledged their help and support. Our wardens have been strategizing about what we need to plan for the short term, the medium term, and the long term.
The only thing I can predict with any certainty is that none of these plans will come to pass exactly as we have made them, even with the best foresight and the bests will.
No matter what happens God will bless us and lead us to new opportunities, if we will just follow. If we don’t follow, or if we make a mess of those new opportunities, God will still bless us and work through us to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
And God will laugh.