On November 20, I joined in the celebrations to say farewell and thank you to the dean of Montreal, Paul Kennington, as he returns to London. I worked with Paul for five fabulous years, first as curate and later as associate at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, and I learned an enormous amount from him about how to be a priest and how to be a Christian. Here are five of those lessons:
- It’s all about Jesus. We share pretty much every other aspect of our faith with other groups of people-God, Spirit, justice and peace, love and service, stewardship of creation, respect for the dignity of all people. These points of commonality are wonderful gifts, and understanding the subtle differences between traditions and philosophies leads to new depths of understanding. But it is also important to remember that there is one big difference, one thing that makes us Christian and not something else: we follow Jesus.
- Rejoice in your own piety. Don’t be shy about letting people know how you pray and what happens to you when you pray. Create liturgies and spaces and practices that feed your soul. The authenticity will allow other people to pray as well and, even more important, it will give them the desire and the permission to do what they need to do so that they can get closer to God.
- Ministry takes place on many time scales. We have plans and dreams for our communities. Some of those dreams will come to fruition in our presence and some of them will wait until we are long gone. Figuring out which is which-and then finding the patience to leave it in God’s hands-is a valuable skill.
- Ministry is like improv-you should always try to say, “Yes, and…” Affirming people’s passions is the best way to unleash their energy and welcome the Holy Spirit’s power into a community. Plus, it’s better for your own soul than constantly saying “no.”
- We go where we are needed. Priests don’t all do the same thing. Parishes need different priests at different times. God calls us to where we are needed and, in so doing, makes room for the person needed next to arrive. This is also true of lay ministry leaders within parishes. In fact, it’s true of ministries as well. Different parishes and different ministries offer us new opportunities to grow and the chance to rest already well-used skills. Change is part of God’s plan for our well-being as individuals and as churches.
So, five deceptively simple lessons, offered with thanks and love, to honour a wonderful priest, mentor and friend who will be sorely missed.
Editor’s note: The word “improv” was inadvertently changed to “improve” in the copyediting process.