Lately I’ve been thinking about the Clericus groups that I’ve been a part of over the years, and that took me back to the Clericus of the Central and West Worcester Deanery in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, which I was a part of when I was first ordained. This group of about twenty or so clergy met twice a month, in the mornings, for Eucharist and Breakfast, and a general “bull session” about nothing in particular. It was a chance for general notices to be shared, and for fellowship and support.
Preening was kept to a minimum, as most of us were used to gossiping about each other (I hope I’m not scandalizing you). Clergy can try to convince you that their parish has it all figured out, and has the most amazing programs and the answer to every question, but in this group most members knew each other too well to believe that. It was actually a pretty healthy group, full of odd personalities as clergy gatherings generally are, and I remember it with affection. At least one of the members is still active in ministry, and we are still partners in crime.
At the same time, I was also enlisted in a smaller Episcopal clergy support group in my city, a gathering that was almost useless, since there was a very low trust level among the members. It took me a while to realize that trust cannot be mandated or required, but has to be developed mutually over time. It took me a while to find such an affinity group, a “Curates’ Club” of sorts, which was very valuable.
When I later served in the Church of England I was part of a clergy team who lived and worked and prayed together during term time in a pretty intense fashion. After four years of this, and a return to parish ministry in the States, I thought I never wanted to see another priest again! I’d had enough. Now I was in a parish thirty miles away from the closest Episcopal church, so it was easy for me to hide.
It took a couple of years before a desire to be with my colleagues rekindled, and I started to attend Clericus meetings in a nearby city, which wasn’t of course nearby at all, being the aforesaid thirty miles away on local roads. Attending the gatherings (I think they were monthly) was an all-day investment of time, given the commute. Again, it was an opportunity to connect with colleagues, and to flesh out the life of the diocese in the local context.
I mention these things because today we are regathering our Diocesan Clericus after two and a half years of not meeting. We have been together at Convention and Colloquium this past year, but the start of these gatherings is another marker of recovery. We’re seeing new folk who have joined our company since we last gathered, and some of us are seeing each other after a passage of several years! But it’s also the case that re-gathering begs the question of why we’re here at all, and that question deserves an answer.
Warning: I’m not going to try to raise your expectations about the value of Clericus meetings. Instead, remember the call of Matthew, whose feast we celebrate today. No sooner did Jesus issue the invitation to follow him, then both of them were together with the disciples in an unlikely gathering of tax collectors and sinners! Jesus tells the Pharisees, “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). Jesus and Matthew didn’t go off together, so that Matthew could sit at the feet of the Master, but they joined the company of the disciples. Then, fellow sinners all, they sat down with Jesus’ other unlikely friends.
Again, I’m not going to oversell you. Whatever the value of any particular program or brilliant sermon that might be part of our gathering, the chief value is being together. Very simple. We are colleagues together, as a college of clergy in this diocese. These relationships require us to show up. That, on the face of it, is worth our investment.
In pastoral ministry, not everything can be evaluated by a time management analysis, and reckoned worth our time or not. Just being there has a value that cannot be easily calculated. The relationships we’re investing in will pay unforeseen dividends later on. Maybe on judgment day it will be revealed that we were wasting our time, and should have been employed more productively, but I don’t think so.
God knows we all have impossible schedules, and there’s always “come what may” in any life. Nobody’s keeping score, and I know I’m preaching to the choir! But let me say that your presence here today is an enormous encouragement to me, and an act of leadership. You all are helping to stitch together the common life of the Diocese of Tennessee, and that is an important matter that is dear to each one of us. Jesus called us to follow him, and being together with each other is part of the call.
As we continue to recover from this pandemic, I’m convinced that renewing our vocation will require us to be together intentionally. Thank you for making the time today. It’s good to be together, and to be answering the call.