What a blessed experience it has been for me to complete my diaconal service at the Church of the Good Shepherd. What it means in my vocation to be a deacon, a servant leader, could never have been complete without the culmination of my ministry with the poor and oppressed of Rocky Mount. This ministry that you have given space and support to is a powerful statement of mission.
After discussion and Bishop Rodman, I have notified your rector, Matt Johnson, of my retirement from an active diaconal ministry. There are two reasons. First, I have reached the age specified by the national church for retirement (72). With the years, I have had to accept a decline in energy and alertness that compliments the job. Secondly, I wish to spend more time with my family without feeling the tension that duty to the church sometimes creates.
I leave you with an excerpt from the sermon that I wrote for Ash Wednesday, but was unable to deliver due to Covid 19 concerns.
Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 103 or 103: 8-14
2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21
Every day, God implores us to “look around”, [just] “look around” (1). And if you do “look around” in all the dreaded corners of Rocky Mount—you will see the homeless and forlorn walking the streets looking for their next meal; look in Wal-Marts—especially Wal-Marts if you don’t shop there and you will see the dejected and the “poor in spirit”; look from the church parking across those railroad tracks. From every direction leading to this church, you will see the faces of the poor and broken.
God sent his only son, Jesus Christ to us in human form, and Jesus took his place on earth beside the lowly, the poor, the sick and suffering. So if we want to stand beside Jesus, where will we place ourselves in this world? “In the New Testament, [Jesus] identifies with humanity, especially with the least of us. If we want to know Jesus, we cannot ignore one another. In Matthew 25, it is clear that, if we want to see Jesus, we need to look into our neighbor’s eyes. Whatever we do for our neighbor, Jesus says, we do for him” (2). And if you want these ashes to mean anything between you and God, you must feel compassion for the least of them. And when you do, the Lord says that “your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight (3). The prophet tells us that with God’s help we can use the old rubble that we see across those railroad tracks to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of the past. We can “restore old ruins, and renovate, [and] make the community livable again” (4).
In the Diocesan Webinar on February 9, 2021, Dr. William Barber called these actions “a moral revolution of values” and said “we cannot be at ease.” If we receive these ashes tonight, we must walk away committed to repentance and restoration. We must be willing to look around and look into the eyes of the suffering and rejected in these lonely streets. And we must commit ourselves to a new creation, a restored community, built by the hands and help of all who live here. Only then will we reap his amazing grace.
Thank you, my sisters and brothers. Velinda+
(1) Lyrics from Broadway play Hamilton.
(2) Smith, Helen. “Spirituality and Justice for All: To Experience Life Fully, Our Worship and Work Must Be One . The Presbyterian Record Vol.128,Iss.1, (Jan 2004): 42-43.
(3) Isaiah 58. The Message Bible.
(4) Isaiah 58. The Message Bible.