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"Come sit beside me"

A Letter to the People of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut

Reflections: Thoughts about work and prayer

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I think in my 25 years of ordained ministry I have preached a few good sermons drawing on the lesson from Luke 10:38-42 that we heard on Pentecost 11. The passage tells the story of when Jesus says to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful, Mary (your sister) has chosen the good portion (Translation from the RSV)." Mary was sitting at the Lord's feet and listening to the teachings of Jesus, while Martha was distracted by a variety of tasks.

We know the sermon and we know the message. We are all Marthas in a busy world. We are anxious and troubled about many things. We know in our hearts and in our minds that our faith calls us to slow down, to listen to Jesus' words of love and compassion, to breathe his message of hope and new life, and to share his model of healing and reconciliation with our neighbors far and wide. We know it, we can talk about it, and we can give a healthy and heartfelt nod of assent to it. And then our Martha comes back into the picture with all of the anxiety and troubling thoughts and we are off and running with our "Martha-lives."

Here's the thing. A week after I preached my most recent sermon about Martha and Mary with Jesus, I kept having this image of Mary coming into my mind and into my heart. In this image she was still sitting at the feet of Jesus, but this time she was not looking at Jesus, she was looking at me, beckoning me to come sit next to her. "Come; sit beside me," she seemed to say as she patted the ground and then looked to Jesus. Her message was clear: my sister Mary and Jesus are both waiting for me.

This image has been a challenge and a blessing to me this summer. With Bishop Ian away on sabbatical, my workload has increased as I've taken on the role of Ecclesiastical Authority. For one thing, I attend more meetings. It also means that I'm the solo bishop working with Canon Lee Ann Tolzmann and our now more than 30 parishes in some kind of clergy leadership transition.

Regular busyness continues as well, as I work with others to explore new missional curacies, new ideas for part-time ministries, and new collaborations between parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) and between ECCT and Lutheran (ELCA) congregations. Our Ministry Networks are growing and emerging, focusing on human trafficking; the environment; domestic violence; poetry; music, liturgy and the arts; and much more. We are welcoming new clergy to Connecticut and saying goodbye to others called to share their gifts elsewhere.

Many of us are in learning mode, gaining skills and designing new ministry adventures for the fall. All around ECCT people are exploring ways to reach out to our local contexts in new ways.

Our conversations are increasingly less about church structures and more about what structures we need to respond to the anxieties and troubles we see around us. As news of violence locally and globally continues to flood our senses, we know that our work is to change the culture that feeds this lack of trust and supports broken relationships. Our work is about listening, learning and building bridges that lead to new relationships and new life. It's new work for many of us, and we are making some missteps and learning from them and trying on new ideas and new ways of thinking and being in the world.

I'm loving both the busyness and the gift of prayer during this time. I have begun the practice of several times a week sitting for 10 minutes in a quiet space and imagining myself sitting next to Mary, listening to Jesus teach. I open my heart to hearing a word of scripture that God might be offering to me on this day. Sometimes I'm reminded of something I heard in church on Sunday or another passage that I have encountered during the week, sometimes old favorites come into my mind. Sometimes I just enjoy the silence that feels like a Word even unto itself. I've been grateful for this practice in these summer months.

Mary's call to come sit beside her and listen to Jesus reminds me and all of us that our hard and faithful work is not fueled by our anxious fears but guided by the gentle compassionate God whose focus is on healthy relationships, compassionate justice, and healing peace. Our work is best done when we are clear why we are doing it and who we are as the people of God. And that clarity that comes from our prayer, when we accept Mary's invitation to come sit next to her and listen to our Lord. She and Jesus are waiting.

Before the summer turns to fall, it is my hope that each and every one of us somewhere in some way will join Mary at the Lord's feet for a time. To sit, to listen, to learn. And then to come away, refreshed and renewed for the busy Martha-lives that call to us every day. The work is there and it will always be calling to us. Let us respond to that work not with anxiety but guided by the heart of Jesus and fueled by our passion for the God of Peace.

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, Bishop Suffragan

Ecclesiastical Authority

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