I’ve had a lot of St. Paul’s in my life.
In our Anglican tradition, ethical decision-making is based upon the three-legged stool (scripture, tradition, and reason) or the four-legged stool, which adds experience as the 4th leg. When Bishop Gates invited me to become the Acting Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston, I had a decision to make. Would I accept another relationship with yet another St. Paul? Even if it was a temporary one? I’ve had a lot of relationships with St. Paul.
Like President-elect Trump, people have mixed feelings about the St. Paul of scripture. Often considered an impulsive misogynist, perhaps even a narcissist, St. Paul claimed his vocation as a missionary and evangelist. So do I. In all his travels throughout the early Roman empire, St. Paul wrote letters to Christians to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. He boasted, not of himself, but of Christ crucified and raised from the dead. A sinner of stunning magnitude, having hunted, authorized, and witnessed the murder of many Christians, he also argued or “apologized” passionately about the freedom that can be found in Christ, the hope of resurrection that awaits us all, and the love of God that surpasses all understanding. The words of St. Paul are quoted at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, weddings, and funerals. St. Paul is like each of us, both a sinner and a saint. Yes, I decided. I love St. Paul in all his complexity, and I’m curious about this new St. Paul in Boston.
Tradition? Oh my. It started in high school when I dated Paul #1 for a very brief time. Then there was Paul #2 during my first two years of college, followed by Paul #3 in the last two years. I married Paul #3 two weeks after graduation, more than 42 years ago. After ordination, I served as the curate of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Riverside, Connecticut, which was my 4th St. Paul’s, and a most blessed way to begin my ordained ministry. And now this new St. Paul's in Boston: Paul #5. It’s tradition! Of course, I would say “yes.”
Is this a reasonable choice, I wondered? I’ve had the luxury of continuing my servant leadership as a missionary and evangelist over these last few years, traveling here and there, much like St. Paul did over 2000 years ago. I’ve been passionately engaged with our new mission strategy. Why change now, and settle down to a more confined, prescribed, and settled cure? Will I be meeting new and diverse people? Will I be working hard? Will I be challenged beyond human understanding? Most assuredly! Of course, I would say “yes.”
Fortunately, my experience informs me that having a relationship with St. Paul is always a good thing, a relationship with both sinners and saints. And so, I said, “Yes, let the iterations of St. Paul continue. Yes, I may be a fool, but I’m also a fool for Christ.” As Eric Law once wrote, “A life is lived over a period of time in different places, and in relationships with different people. We do not take a moment in someone’s life and call that ‘a life’. Neither do we take one step of a journey and call that ‘the way.’ A life involves a past, a present, and a future.” The Way of following Christ in never-ending, filled with challenges, and filled with joy. Let it begin again this new year!
So here’s to my on-going relationship - past, present, and future - of life with St. Paul.