Trinity Sunday Sermon
For those of you that I have not had the pleasure of meeting. My name is Andrea McKellar and I am the Ministry Developer for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. That is a fun title that means that I handle youth, Christian formation, Transition ministry and leadership for Bishop vonRosenberg. On Sundays, I attend St. Francis Episcopal Church in West Ashley. We meet in the chapel of Stuhr's Funeral Home. There I teach the middle and high school students Sunday School class. We have a pretty open class which means we read the Gospel and see where it leads us. The class answers each others questions. Sometimes it is just defining words or explaining some historical nuances but the conversation almost always leads to something deep, meaningful and fulfilling. They are very comfortable with each other and their questions are a mix of enlightening and terrifying. A few weeks ago, we were reading the gospel lesson and one of the youth said “so wait…are Jesus and God the same thing?” Softball question before I had even had some caffeine. Three of us answered him at the same time, yes...no...wow. That about sums it up. I am smart and inexperienced in preaching enough that that is all I am going to say about the trinity today!
Instead I want to tell you a bit of my story. When I was reading this week's Gospel lesson, I couldn’t get past Jesus first words. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Now remember that he is talking to his disciples, the same people that the Presiding Bishop said when he was visiting Charleston a few weeks ago “these are not the A Team of apostolic succession”. The kids I teach love the stories of how the disciples bungle along and don’t always get what Jesus was telling them. So honestly, they probably couldn’t bear it but he is also talking to us. There are so many things that we can’t bear at the moment.
Three and a half years ago, some of us didn't know how much longer we were going to have to bear it. We may have been having trouble hearing the spirit of Truth.
Before the split, I was Director of Christian formation at Old St. Andrews in West Ashley. I will admit that I was happy there. We stayed out of diocesan politics, were the face of Jesus in the community, and were a vibrant, growing parish. I had been raised Episcopalian and active in youth ministry in the Diocese of Virginia. I love the Episcopal Church but I had taken that relationship for granted. That the church would always be there for me and I didn't need to do anything to cultivate that relationship in return.
In October 2012, I was standing in the church parking lot after a 12-hour day of work when we got the email that Mark Lawrence was being restricted. I remember the shock vividly. The Earth had shifted on its axis. At the time we didn't know yet that the standing committee had already put in place steps for us to leave The Episcopal Church.
Old St. Andrews went through four months of discernment to decide whether we would stay with or leave The Episcopal Church. When I stepped back and looked at the situation with some perspective, I am glad that I got to choose to be an Episcopalian. I had the time to stop and think about what I believe not what the church tells me to believe. It is a church that, to me, doesn't give you a "get out of hell free" card, or claim to get rid of the messiness in your life but says "Hey, we are all messy. Let's hold hands as we get through this mess together."
I choose to be an Episcopalian and continue to love. There is nothing that you can do that will stop that love. That is what Easter is all about.
In The Episcopal Church in South Carolina we have been careful to define ourselves as what we are, not what we are not. And that can be a very hard thing to do. But for me The Episcopal Church, at its best, is...
...a church that accepts you for who you are now.
...a church that supports you in becoming your best self.
...a church that thinks what we do in the streets is as or more important than how we pray on Sunday morning.
...a church that stands up against injustices whether it be racism, gun violence, or discrimination.
...a church that cares for God's creation.
After 34 years of being an Episcopalian, I got to choose to be a member of the Episcopal Church. I was ready to rekindle the relationship of my youth and this time I was going to be an active participant. My choice to stay was not a choice I made lightly. Because of that decision I lost my church and my job. Did I mention that at the time I had a one and a three-year-old?
So with some “free time” on my hands, a small group of us who had left Old St. Andrews went to the bishop and asked to start a new church in West Ashley. Our first Sunday, we had 25 people in the living room of our priest’s house. During the sermon my daughter crawled forward and sat at Mother Jean’s feet while she shared her message of hope for our new congregation and I knew we would be okay. The spirit of Truth was guiding us. We may not have had any of the traditional church parts that Sunday but we were overflowing. We had people, bread and wine.
St. Francis is now an inspiring congregation with about 50 on a Sunday. We have four Sunday School classes, we have made children a central part of our liturgy and ministries. By starting fresh we were able to decide how we wanted to be known and live into that. Without a mortgage or a leaky roof, we are able to focus on helping our community. We put 10% of our budget to outreach and then figure out the rest of the budget. We raise up children and youth as valued members of our community and above all we very vocally welcome all.
One of the things that is oddest to people looking at us from the outside is that we meet in the chapel of a funeral home. I should admit that prior to this adventure I was a church snob. I grew up in colonial parishes on the Chesapeake Bay, I attended Bruton Parish in Williamsburg during college, I was married in the historic church of Christ Church Mount Pleasant and my children were baptized at Old St. Andrews, the oldest church building south of Virginia. I had never attended a church that was built after George Washington was born. When we were in our discernment, I looked at going to Grace but decided it was too new for me being built in 1846. God sure does have a sense of humor.
But out of death we at St. Francis have found life. As Rachel Held Evans says in Searching for Sundays “When the Spirit lives within you, any place can become a sanctuary, you just have to listen. You just have to pay attention”
I would not change my current situation for all the heartache that we experienced. The chapel at Stuhr’s has been a refuge for us in the storm. They refuse to take any payment from us and see our using the chapel as their outreach to the community. And not having a building during the week forced us out into the neighborhood. We had morning prayer in a local restaurant, Bible Study in a Coffee shop, and our Blessing of the Pets at a local dog park including a rescue organization, vet, and local restaurant.
I am not telling you all this to say that you shouldn’t have a building. I am quite envious of your beautiful sanctuary but encourage you to continue the good work that St. Stephens is doing in Charleston and thank you for being a congregation that has supported our group from the beginning. You all have had members visit us, shared out of your abundance, held up the flag during the hard years, and most importantly have been praying for us and all of the good people of our diocese.You are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement!
I am overjoyed to be on this journey together knowing that God, Jesus, and the spirit of Truth are with us. Amen!