From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

This article really is not about baseball. Well, it somewhat is. But not solely. It’s principally about why we love what we love, care for the things about which we care, devote our lives to something instead of letting the drag of apathy pull us into handing ourselves over to nothing. At heart, this is a reflection about the places, people and things to which we give our hearts. It’s a celebration of lives capable of loving those things—big, small, and everything in between —even baseball.

But it really isn’t about baseball, although I write this while totally exhausted because of baseball—with good reason, as last night I voluntarily had only four hours of sleep in order to watch a game which took place half a continent away, played by millionaires who have no idea I exist. Yet I was invested, which is a ridiculous understatement for what felt like living and dying with every pitch. I was “all in,” in a house and town full of people who were “out cold” as they obliviously slept the night away as if there were not living and dying going on in their midst. Or at least, so it felt to me at 1 a.m.

Somehow over the last thirty years I fell in love with a baseball team with little capacity to do anything but break my heart. It started in my freshman year of high school in 1985, when the man who would unknowingly become one of the most influential teachers in my life, Gary Shriver, wrote the score from the previous evening’s World Series game on the chalkboard, because his hometown Kansas City Royals were playing. It was the beginning of the second Reagan administration. “We are the world” spun on vinyl. Mikhail Gorbachev had just taken over leadership in the Soviet Union. And Mr. Shriver loved the George Brett led Royals. Thus, I loved them too.

Little did I know that eight years later I would move to Kansas City and make a life, career, family, church and community of forever friends in that same city over the first fourteen years of my married and adult life. Little did anyone know that the Royals would not be in the playoffs again for twenty-nine years, the longest playoff drought for any major league sports team in any professional sport. Until on September 30, 2014, that ended, with me in Roanoke, Virginia, as the sole person within a tank-of-gas car ride to cherish what this meant for a city, her people and me, even while uncertain how it ever came to mean so much.

Except, it is things such as these that fill our lives. While we mostly—and rightly—talk about the great needs and concerns of life, the big loves and lovers with whom we must first attend, and the deepest joys which will never play out on a television screen, it is also worth celebrating that our lives can be about small loves as well. It shows our capacity to live lives worthy of the word “life” that we are able to love the big and important, alongside the small and seemingly inconsequential.

In fact, maybe it unveils how much we indeed reflect the image of God, who takes joy in galaxies and dandelions, blue whales and minnows, you and a woodchuck: the big, the small and everything in between.

I believe it does. Thus, today I am thankful not just for the score of a game (for which I am very thankful), but for a life that allows me to fall in love so easily—recklessly even, shown in nothing so much as giving my heart to a team such as the Royals. I am grateful that although this momentary euphoria will have almost certainly ended for my team by the time you read this, I can still hold such moments as precious reminders of how life is filled with something instead of nothing. I can rejoice in the jagged paths of life which allowed me to fall in love with a city, her people and a team so far away from the place life has now taken me. In short, I can see that life is God-haunted, when I have eyes to see.

In our capacity to love the big, the small and everything in between, the image of the One beyond us is more perfectly shown in us. It is right there, as we delight in all of life.

So, this really isn’t about baseball.
. . . well, maybe just a little it is.

Love big and small,

Eric Long,
Rector

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From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

“Children are vital to this church.”

Each week, this simple statement is conspicuously placed in the worship bulletins at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Pensacola, Florida. It is amongst the first things every person, of every age, sees when he or she comes through the doors of that church. This is intentional. I know, because I deliberately placed it there.

St. Christopher’s had long been a beautiful church, with rich traditions in which everyone took tremendous pride. However, like many congregations in America, there came a time in the last few decades when something went terribly wrong. The parish began a slide which ended in the loss of a vast number of members under the age of forty. Throughout that span, St. Christopher’s remained a delightful community, filled with talented people, busy paying attention to every detail of their beloved church’s life, except the future. It was not a lack of concern. Everybody was deeply troubled by the ever growing absence of children and young families. It was not a matter of inattention. It was discussed all the time; nervous conversations were ubiquitous, complete with a great deal of hand-wringing. The issue was that doing something about it never quite rose high enough on anyone’s “to do” list. Instead, it was perpetually seen as the great problem that “somebody” needed to address, presumably somebody not named “me.”

At least, it was that way until we insistently declared in word and deed that care for the future was not what a church does once every other congregational task is finally attended to – which is never. Rather, the future is that which every other congregational task is called to uplift. St. Christopher’s ultimately did that hard work, and thus, within a few short years, was full of children and young families, and became widely regarded as the area Episcopal congregation for family ministries.

To be a part of the Church is to be entrusted with a two-thousand-year-old inheritance. Over millennia, faithful people considered you when they lived out their faith. You mattered generations before your mother brought the wriggling, crying bundle that was you into the church. You were central to their purpose and identity because they knew this is how Jesus requires his community to live. When he commanded his Church, without equivocation, to move out and go forward with his good news, even to the ends of the world and even to the end of time, they rightly heard a claim being made on their lives. Thus, they lived out a gospel that was never first about “me,” “here” or “now,” but most particularly about “them,” “there” and “forever.” They were called to act for the future. They did. And so we are.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, repeatedly said, “The Church is the only organization that does not exist for the benefit of its members, but for those who live outside of it.” As counter-cultural – and intuitive – as such a statement is in an environment that trains us to believe everything, including church, is primarily about us, Temple’s declaration is undeniably the truth of what Jesus insists his Church is to be. Our main priority is to hand the Church to the future in at least as good shape as we have found her – which itself is far too low a bar for people of resurrection.

It is common to conceive of the care of children and youth as a secondary aspect of parish life that mostly happens alongside (or God forbid, away from) the real action of the church. It is easy to regard the work of raising future generations of Christians as something many of us have long since retired from doing. It is unfortunately normal to believe our worship and congregational programs exist strictly to attend to our personal tastes, preferences and desires, with no regard for those not yet with us. Yet, it is faithful to see how Jesus wants all we do to have an eye toward those who have yet to walk through our doors, or even be born, for that matter.

We have a continuing need for adults who will labor for St. John’s future by working with our ministries with children and youth. Although our parish is far ahead of most congregations and has much to be proud of in these areas, our society has left us zero room for error in failing to care for these next generations. Each of us has a role to play, as again, this is not a part of what the Church does, but rather, precisely what the Church does. For some, this means coming out of retirement (of which there really is no such thing for disciples). For others, it means daring to try something new, even though the prospect scares them to death. For all, now is when we must hear the commission of Christ to move out and push forward into his future.

Children are vital to this church.

Let’s show the world how very much they are.

Blessings,

The Rev. Eric Long, Rector

For more information about how you can be a part of securing Jesus’ future for St. John’s, contact our Minister to Children and Families, Barbara Simpson, or our Minister to Youth and Colleges, John Simpson (bsimpson@stjohnsroanoke.org, jsimpson@stjohnsroanoke.org, 343.9341).