This Sunday, July 26, will be my last Sunday as pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church in Hamburg, NY. It comes with a sense of bitter-sweetness, but the sense of sweetness and thankfulness are dominant. My 33 years here have been part of a wonderful journey evolving toward what I trust is a deeper spiritual maturity. True, the years have not always been easy ones, but it’s through trial and error one grows and learns. At this point, as in the past few years, my heart often bursts with joy at the wonderfulness of life around me. I feel satisfied, full, and truly one with Everything Real and Eternal! How has this happened?
In my journey as pastor, ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1971 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, you have allowed me to grow in the acceptance of every person as a Son or Daughter of God. Together, we have grown to understand that no person or group is more special in God’s sight than another. We have grown to see that there is no special place, no special form, and no special religion one must follow to gain acceptance and joy from the Creator.
I, with your support, have grown to see Jesus not as a teacher of religion in the usual sense. He didn’t make some special and damn the rest. He didn’t give religious dogma and beliefs for all to follow. No, Jesus we have grown to see as a teacher of wakefulness, of the freedom we can experience awaking to the understanding and experience that Eternity, Divinity, is within us, and within all others. Jesus, we have grown to see, was not a teacher of preservation of bodies, buildings, and structures, but a teacher of ourselves as Eternal Spirits who through our dreams, have taken on a body in the dimension called time and space. It is so liberating and free, as we keep remembering and return to our Higher, Spirit Self.
With this awareness, I confess that I have a certain limited concern about the survival of any belief system, be it Presbyterianism, Roman Catholicism Judaism, Mohammedism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other “abomination” as my teacher, the late Fr. Tony DeMello would say. It’s all about acceptance, recognition, awakening, to that which is in ourselves and in others, however hidden it may appear to be. It’s about listening in small groups, working out our healing with the encouragement and support of others.
In recent weeks, I have read how the first 300 years of our church history was mostly a multitude of small discussion groups, meeting to exchange stories, sharing wins and losses, with memories of Jesus’ words and teachings. Then after the conversion of the Roman Emperor, liturgies, forms, beliefs, and groups sitting doing what the leader told them became the norm. So-called open discussion groups became classes of indoctrination rather than openness to truth.
Some of my best times as pastor have been experienced in small discussion groups. In the past few years, I have missed some of those lively Sunday morning discussion groups we had. But we had them during Lent with those delicious suppers, in Tuesday and Thursday discussion groups, in special programs for people to come if they wished. They were great growth times for myself.
And so growing to recognize our Oneness with all people, I am so thankful for the inclusive trend you allowed to happen here at Wayside. Why, we have experienced so many people coming to us from other traditions and leading us in discussions and new experiences of the Divine. We’ve had Native Americans, Roman Catholics, Muslims speak to us about their history and faith, Hindus, Buddhists, and Spiritualist teachers. Who among us can forget those wonderful, sensual appearances of Mysha Webber-Eakin! I’m sorry she can’t be with us today. Those among us who attended the Dalai Lama day at the University of Buffalo can’t forget that wonderful experience with one of the world’s masters of the ancient way of Enlightenment. Why, Wayside was the only Christian Church listed on the big board as a sponsor of his holiness’ visit! We’ve had healers, traditional and modern holistic programs, complete with massage tables and healing yoga instructors. And last fall we had those wonderful Pasipalooza Musicians from the Unity Church! What a treat that was! As you know, I’m still singing their songs! Yes, music itself has become so much more inclusive over the past years….just look at the musicians among us! Oh yes, I’ve missed others for sure. Did I mention the belly dancing classes? How can my heart say “Thank you!”
Our growing understanding has been that God is everywhere in everyone. We want to hear from everyone! We have grown to be as Paul described the church, “a ground and pillar of truth.” We are willing to take everything off the table; bring it on!
My advice or encouragement for the future is “keep it going!” Love one another as Christ among you. Keep making and allowing Wayside to be a laboratory of love. Remember, how you do the business of church is much more important than the business. How you do the business of church displays your levels of wakefulness and willingness to trust the Higher Self of your own God-Self over the limited, time bound ego self.
Deep love for one another with a spirit of forgiveness and forbearance will never lack for followers and supporters in this community. People crave such a group. As Jesus said, “By this all will know you are my followers, with your love for one another!” Remember, there is not a way to peace and love; peace and love are the way! First things first.
So my prayers and spirit will remain with you. And I feel good about your coming Interim Pastor. He will be arriving in September. I have read his profile and papers with the members of Session. They have approved his coming. I sense he has such an open, kind spirit. And even more, he seems to have good organizational skills! (Never a forte, I must say, and you all know, in my own life!) He will be a great interim leader until your next so-called “permanent pastor” will arrive.
Meanwhile, give thanks for each other, for the wonderful journey and years we have had together, through the 36 years of foundational building with Walker Brownlee, and now with the blessed 33 years I have had among you as learner, seeker, and sharer. The best is yet to come; the visions we have shared will be deepened and broadened much more. New mountain peaks will be seen and climbed; new oceans crossed, and in the end, we will meet where we all began, in the Mind and Oneness of our Creator, whom name God, Father, Spirit, Buddha, Jesus, Lord, Great Mother, Baha’ulla, or whatever! Amen.