A priest friend of mine, when reflecting on the ministry of Bishop Stacy Sauls, talked about a piece she heard on NPR. Many good sermons come from NPR, by the way, and a gift to their pledge drive is less expensive than a sermon-help book. A baseball player spoke of his love for poetry and his essay in a poetry magazine, reflecting that he loved baseball, but it had broken his heart. She immediately knew his pain.
Many of us do, actually. We love the church, madly, deeply, recklessly, even sacrificially, but the church has also broken our hearts. Sometimes the church has told us we are not enough, that our voices didn't matter, and that while every other part of creation was good as deemed in Genesis, we, because of any number of unfounded reasons, were not good. Sometimes we have been abused by the church and her leaders, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Those ordained have misused their empowerment to demean and bully others. Some laity have reacted to uncomfortable and challenging situations in hurtful ways to those in community with them. So we just looked around us, our hearts bleeding and broken, and sat down to cry. Yet even then, we might have been broken even more. The church has a history of mauling her wounded.
Then, in our brokenness, we see something that intrigues us. Like Moses who approaches the burning bush for what seems to be nothing more than sheer nosiness, we see something bright that catches our attention. Maybe our heart sees another part of itself and goes to investigate. Maybe we just get our attention yanked by a scurrying furry squirrel that pulls us forward to the chase. But we move.
In the movement forward, our hearts begin to heal. I don't know specifics, but I do know when my heart was broken by the church, I sat in Bishop Sauls' office and said so. We even talked specifics, honestly and openly. And then he said those magical words of love and healing.
Magical because they recognized the injury. Loving because they weren't a flippant or thin blanket apology that isn't really sorry for anything. He, as a bishop who gets to wear that interesting shade of amethyst, spoke for the church, the church saying, "I'm sorry for what we have done to break your heart. What do we now?"
What now for me was becoming one of his priests, believing that broken hearts are useful in ministry, and falling back in love with the church. What now is remembering why I do love the church, my ministry, and the people I serve. What now is sitting with fellow clergy who all know something about crucified hearts and souls and selves and even more about resurrection, celebration and laughter.
Bishop Sauls would never have the hubris or arrogance to say he saved anyone from anything. He is wise enough to know salvation of any manner is God's job, not ours. From saving wounded clergy to saving parishioners in hard places, God is the top of that pay grade. Our job is witness. Our job is to witness love, mercy, forgiveness, and even resurrection. Witness by living what we say, not telling others what to do. Witness by simply being present, not worrying about end results. Witness is, for me, another word for mission. That, Bishop Sauls would likely say, is exactly what our business is.
Many of the clergy in the Diocese of Lexington nodded at this particular revelation, that an aspect of Bishop Sauls was his witness and mission of love to the broken and shaky hearts who wanted still to love the church, but who were unsure they could follow God. The church has broken many hearts. And Bishop Stacy Sauls was and is a witness to the sacrament of confession and reconciliation to many. He was and is a witness to the courage to see broken hearts not as players out of the game, but often the hearts that are courageous enough to let the light of God shine through the breaks, cracks, and wounds instead of wrapping those wounds in barbed wire and acting as if nothing happened. Those broken and resurrected hearts are the ones you want on your first string.
So thank you, Bishop Stacy Sauls, for inviting many of us to fall back in love with the church, her flaws and all, through your ministry and love for the church. Thank you for witnessing to God's saving love in our parishes, our communities, our ministries, and, most importantly, in ourselves. Well done, good and faithful servant. And to the National Church (Episcopal) where he is now the Chief Operating Officer, be careful with his heart, please.
Click here for the NPR piece referenced.