Aside from God’s Love, Change is the Only Constant

Those of you who read the MailChimp email I sent on August 22nd,  or who heard or read my sermon on the August 29th know that change is afoot.

It began on April 15, when the Rev. Canon Val Ambrose (of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan) had a Zoom meeting with several of us in Two Churches’ leadership and several in Holy Trinity Wyoming’s leadership to explore the possibility of collaborating on one worship service and some other events. On May 13, we reported the results of those conversations at Vestry / Council’s monthly meeting. The next day, Canon Ambrose shared with the local diocesan Chapter, that due to some Church Pension issues, the interim priest at Holy Trinity could not stay past July 18. And then on the heels of that, we learned that because he needed to have open heart surgery on June 30, he would be leaving even sooner. And on May 18, Canon Ambrose shared with me that leadership at Holy Trinity was interested in talking about how and whether I might walk with them as their half-time Priest in Charge.

Since then, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church’s leadership has been in conversation with Two Churches’ leadership, and has prepared a Letter of Agreement which calls me to serve in this role with them effective September 1 (at which time I will also begin a half-time call with Two Churches). And Ascension Lutheran’s congregational meeting on August 22 further paved the way for this to happen.

But the confidentiality surrounding this process was dictated by denominational polity. Our two denominations are united by the 1999 Called to Common Mission covenant, which allows Lutheran pastors to serve Episcopal Churches and vice-versa. There are however, some differences. On the Episcopal side, confidentiality surrounding a call must be maintained until there is an approved Letter of Agreement. But the nature of ELCA polity requires that there be congregational votes on such things –– which sometimes lets Lutheran cats out of the bag before Episcopal cats can escape.

This new relationship will not only ease some financial concerns, but will provide opportunities for fellowship, Christian education and formation, and worship –– without diluting Lutheran sensibilities at Two Churches and perhaps even cultivating them at Holy Trinity –– in fact, in many ways it will be as though our congregations have simply grown. And many of you will remember that ten years ago Holy Cross and Ascension faced comparable issues and decisions, and we have grown through them in unimaginable ways. So we are familiar with the road that lies before us.

“What time will worship be?” Two Churches and Holy Trinity have both been worshipping at 10:00, and the most equitable accommodation was for each location to make one hour adjustments. So on Friday evening, August 27, leadership from all three congregations gathered to invoke the Holy Spirit, and we cast lots (well, we drew marked brand-new pencils) to determine which location would worship at which time. There are at least eighty-eight accounts of casting lots in the Jewish Scriptures; and seven accounts in the Christian Scriptures; and one of the more compelling stories is in the Book of Acts (1:23–26) when the eleven remaining apostles cast lots to determine whether to select Matthias or Barsabbas to replace Judas. And the Spirit spoke: beginning on September 26, worship at Two Churches will begin at 9:00 and worship at Holy Trinity will begin at 11:00.

In a slightly-related issue (because Joel and I had already been looking for another place to live) Holy Trinity has made its rectory available to Joel and me. And to help make this happen, I will be taking “vacation” from September 1 – 21 (Pastor Polly has graciously offered to supply on September 5th, 12th, and 19th). I will maintain a home office and one at each church building; all of which will provide the needed flexibility to meet both shared and congregation-specific needs. Sunday will be a Two Churches and a Holy Trinity day; Monday and Wednesday will be Two Churches’ study days, Tuesday and Thursday will be Holy Trinity study days, and Friday and Saturday will be days off (at least on paper). But of course, if a Two Churches’ pastoral emergency occurs on a Holy Trinity day (or vice-versa) I’ll most certainly be there.

And while your leadership is doing its best to anticipate and make decisions on as many details as possible, there may be some questions to which we will need –– at least initially –– to answer “I don’t know.” But don’t let that keep you from reaching out to any of them –– or to me before or after we move –– with any questions you may have. Peace!

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family. He relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the ELCA N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and in July 2020, he finished a two-year practicum to become a Spiritual Director.