A Sky Full of Stars

For me, journeys never end.

Whether I find myself walking around the world in Epcot Center at Walt Disney World or concentrating on time, breath and step while moving through a labyrinth, ultimately, all journeys are a quest for something.

When we begin a new journey, we should pause for just a moment, and ask:

  • Why am I going?
  • What do I hope to find?
  • How do I want this journey to move into the next one?

During a journey, we often pray for an epiphany – for something new to be revealed; something that will change us, something that will give our lives more meaning, something that assures me, – that assures us, – that God is real and true and present with us.

Journeys are like walking a labyrinth. The labyrinth’s path may place you right next to someone else or you may find your self on the edge all alone. Later, you may be in the way of someone else, and you have to yield and get out of the way. Sometimes you rest in the center. Sometimes, you struggle on the edge. Today, you and I are at the part where I yield and get out of the way. But, we will forever be together on the same journey seeking Christ, seeking truth, and seeking love.

Although, our time together has faced many unexpected challenges, the majority of which were simply beyond our control, it has for me been a glorious time.

Our journey together is coming to an end.

But, I believe that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This week, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany – a feast commemorating the arrival of the magi into the presence of the Christ-child. We really don’t know who they were. Perhaps they looked like Mark, Izzy and Carla! Perhaps not. Some say they were kings. Others suggest, just visitors from the East. Astronomers? Royalty? Crooks on the run? Whoever they were, they had longing in their heart.

For me, they are us; people on the journey of faith seeking God. Sometimes the veil between ourselves and the divine is very thin and something new and ineffable is revealed to us.

An Epiphany.

We watch the skies. We look to the stars. Like us, the magi were searching, recording and reflecting upon constellations hoping to discover the deep yearning of the universe.

In a sky full of stars, they saw a calling, a journey, seeking God, seeking truth, seeking meaning.

In a sky full of stars….

Every liturgical season, I pick a song to be the soundtrack for that time period. It keeps me focused. It keeps me inspired. It provides hope and motivation when both of those these may seem so out of reach. For Advent and Christmas, I picked “A Sky Full of Stars” by the band Coldplay.

In “A Sky Full of Stars,” Chris Martin, the lead singer, sings, “Because you’re a sky full of stars, because you light up the path, because in a sky full of stars I think I saw you.”

For me, it seemed like the perfect soundtrack song for Advent and Christmas; the season where we gathered around the advent wreath searching for hope, peace, joy and trust. It seemed like the perfect soundtrack song as we stood outside on a cloudy cold night, looking towards the heavens, watching Jupiter and Saturn align creating celestial brightness on an early December evening. It seemed like the perfect soundtrack song as we journeyed together to the manger and welcomed the God-child into the world in the middle of a deadly pandemic. It seemed like the perfect soundtrack song since this morning we celebrate Epiphany, the great “revealing” where the Gospel of Matthew recalls that visitors from the east followed a star welcoming “God with us.” It seemed like the perfect soundtrack song as I finish my time walking alongside of you as your interim rector.

“Because you’re a sky full of stars, you light up the path. In a sky full of stars it’s such a heavenly view….”

“Because you’re a sky full of stars….

I believe it is the interim’s job to hold up a mirror to the congregation revealing truth, ministry possibilities, and discovering the things that may be getting in the way. I believe it is the interim’s job to look toward God’s story, told in the Bible, told through scripture’s sacred story, and help a congregation find their place within that story. Reflecting on story, telling story, recalling story and redeeming story, this is the work I hope I have accomplished with you.

And what a story our time together turned out to be!

During May, 2019, I met for the initial interview with Rich and Anne about applying to be your interim rector. I knew of some of your congregation’s story through Daphne, through deanery meetings, and through brief interactions with you at the Deanery Vestry School.

I met with Rich and Anne to talk about my approach to interim work. I was nervous to share my thoughts with them. What I revealed to them was that through my work with EfM – Education for Ministry – I had become influenced by the work of Marshall Ganz and Cesar Chavez, and wanted to try approaching interim ministry from the ideas that Ganz and Chavez put forward through their work they called “Public Narrative.” Ganz suggests that the challenge for any leader is to figure out how to break through the inertia of habit and become truly present to the reality at hand. Because, by doing this through intention, within the presence of each other, by truth-telling through stories of experience, space is created for change and transformation to occur.

Marshall Ganz says, “We don’t just talk about hope and other values in abstractions. We talk about them in the language of stories because stories are what enable us to communicate these values to one another.”

During the year, I proposed we would move through the three stages of Public Narrative – the story of me, the story of us, the story of now. The story of me takes the time to appreciate and claim as sacred, the story of the individual. The story of us incorporates the story of the individual into the story of the congregation. The story of now incorporates all stories formulating a new story of call. I believed that in the context of interim ministry, the story of now asks the congregation to consider what thing is God calling the people to do right now, in the present moment. I believed this approach, formulated by Ganz and Chavez, could be an exhilarating framework to work from within during an interim period.

I guess Rich and Anne agreed, or at least thought it was worth a try, so I was presented to the vestry then hired. I was overjoyed. I felt as if what I presented during our conversations was a little abstract, but I was convinced it was what was appropriate for your congregation at this particular time in the congregation’s story.

I had read on your website that y’all “at St. Elisabeth’s share an adventurous spirit and a commitment to radiate God’s love within and beyond the red doors.”

And then we began our time together. As the Search Committee began their work, we began our journey to where we find ourselves this morning. I could never have imagined the epiphanies we would experience together.

I believe walking through a church’s red doors, – walking through any door that opens into an unknown – is the bravest thing anyone can ever do. I believe the more a congregation can be seen and known outside of the church walls, the more growth becomes possible and real. In an unusual and unexpected blessing of COVID-19, is that what was hidden within red doors of St. Elisabeth’s is now on full display for all to see on Facebook live.

In March, as COVID-19 began to overcrowd our hospital system, and death caused by the virus was on the rise, our campus had to shut down. On Thursday afternoon, at around 5:00PM, March 12, 2020, we were asked by our bishop to prepare to close our buildings down. On the third Sunday of Lent, we were allowed to be present on campus in case anyone showed up for worship, but, after we celebrated communion we were to lock the doors and watch the numbers.

Pam, Dillon and I got together on Saturday and did all we could to move the administration of St. Elisabeth’s to the cloud so that we could work online. Then, on Sunday, we bought an incredible amount of hand sanitizer and soap, a few parishioners passed through our red doors, I propped my iPhone on a tripod, connected to Facebook, Dillon played piano, I washed my hands at least 8 times during the course of worship – we streamed our first service, and then we locked the doors and left.

Marshall Ganz shares that, “In order to deal with fear, we have to mobilize hope. Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other and the people we work with to make change.”

I knew then, that, not only did we have to change, but that we were about to go through a multitude of changes – the majority of which we couldn’t see or even predict. I knew I couldn’t attempt to replicate the Sunday worship experience on Facebook Live. I knew music was important to the people of St. Elisabeth’s and that we needed to hear Dillon and sing with him. I knew we had to see and hear from each other as much as possible. I knew we had to embrace technology and claim the virtual spaces of Facebook Live and Zoom as holy and sacred. And then hope to discover how the spirit could move us to use them. And I knew I had to create the space which allowed people to make the best possible health choices, supporting each individual in the choices they made, ensuring that I had made the safest health choices for all the people of St. Elisabeth’s so there were other choices individuals wouldn’t be forced to make.

People recorded readings and announcements on phones and texted them to me. Acolytes read the Gospel. Dillon recorded music. Our choir sang together, virtually. Children and parents and friends colored Stations of the Cross so that we could worship together on Good Friday. Writing teams created virtually St. Elisabeth’s first Easter Vigil. The Pride Fest on the lawn evolved into an incredible service of reflection, story, history and music. The Glencoe Clergy Association created a car rally illustrating how much black lives matter. Formation moved to zoom where we celebrated disciplines, learned the histories of hymns, engaged scripture, practiced prayer forms, held vestry meetings and met as the budget committee. We fed people, discussed books, fulfilled promises to families, called a new rector, and had one of the most delightful Christmas pageants ever.

Because of all this, because of everybody’s willingness to lean-in during these truly most unprecedented times, I never lost hope. And pray you didn’t either.

Our online worship and formation opportunities allowed us to stay connected. Who could have predicted that within a pandemic, our worship attendance numbers would increase, our spirituality could deepen, and our appreciation of gathering would significantly increase. One of the biggest blessings for us during this time is that parishioners and friends who have moved away have once again been able to join us in the “pews,” from wherever they are! Our congregation has grown.

And, I believe, the beautiful Labyrinth is the secret to this congregation’s continued growth. It is outside. It is accessible. It represents prayer in motion. It is a gift to the people of Glencoe. There is an incredible story there, waiting for you to claim it, with more stories to be told.

Our journey to this moment moved from those early interviews, to the commissioning of a search committee, beyond a New Year’s celebration welcoming 2020, into Lent where we were greeted by a pandemic, – through a call to your new rector Adam, into Advent and Christmas, ending right now, today, in this moment. A day where we celebrate all that has been revealed to us. Where a sky full of stars has delivered hope, faithfulness, joy, struggle, death, and new life.

I cannot wait to see what will be revealed next.

St. Elisabeth’s, never forget you are a sky full of stars. You light up the path. And under this sky full of stars, I saw you. It is such a heavenly view.

My prayer for you is that you always enjoy the view.

I sure have.

I love you.

I will miss you.

I hope nothing but the best for you.

What a heavenly view…

Delivered with love and faithfulness by
The Rev. Kevin M. Goodman, Interim Rector
September 2019 – January 2021