Monday, January 23, 2006

3 Epiphany B

Actually, this was my report at the Annual Meeting on 3 Epiphany B

Mark 1:14-20

When I asked Greg what I should talk about that wasn’t already covered in my written report, he suggested I reflect on what it has been like to be the Curate at St. Paul’s this past year. Now, most non-Episcopalians and more than a few Episcopalians smile politely but curiously when I tell them that I am a curate. It’s one of those funny old church words that actually no longer appears in our prayerbook or in the Constitutions and Canons of the Episcopal church, but many bishops still place their newly ordained priests as assistants in congregations much like this one, and they call us curates.

The word ‘curate’ is drawn from the Latin curatus, which means “entrusted with the care of something.” Originally, the curate was the priest in charge of a geographical area, called a ‘cure’, and he was entrusted with the care of the souls living within that cure. In fact, the word ‘cure’ is related in derivation to the word ‘care’. Over time, the priest in charge became known as the rector or vicar, and the name curate was given to assisting priests.

You know how funny old church words go – we don’t like to give them up, so that newcomers find themselves having to learn a new language when they join the Episcopal church. Where else does the curate wearing a chasuble remove the burse and veil from the chalice and paten before receiving the ciborium from the acolyte?! Last weekend, I attended a conference at Gray Center for priests who are newly ordained, as well as priests who have recently moved to a new parish. The conference leader wrote the words ‘cure’ and ‘curate’ up on the board, noting how they were related, and how those of us at the conference were thus related, all of us taking up new responsibilities, new challenges, new relationships, new journeys.

The next morning, another word had been added to the board, in a different handwriting – ‘c-u-r-i-o-s’. ‘Curios’. It was added anonymously, but I think in good humor and with some insight. Every now and then, when I have to explain my funny old church word job title, when I’m walking up the 23rd Avenue sidewalk before church wearing layers of vestments, when I tell yet another person that no, I’m not a nun, I feel like I belong in curio cabinet, odd and on display.

We all get that feeling sometimes, though, right? When our lives as people of faith, and particularly as Episcopalians, take us in a different direction from the lives of people around us? What a lovely collection of curios we are!

On the last morning of the conference, another anonymous contributor completed the list on the board: cure, curate, curios, curiouser and curioser.

These of course are the words Alice says, deep inside the rabbit hole filled with things labeled “Drink Me” and “Eat Me”. Alice marvels, “This is getting curiouser and curiouser!” as she samples the fare and finds herself growing and shrinking and growing again. Just as she thinks she has gotten the hang of things in Wonderland, a new surprise awaits around a corner or up a tree or at a tea party table.

It’s kind of like being a curate….this Wonderland is filled with people and with things and experiences that call out, “Read Me”, “Study Me”, “Pray Me”, “Pray with Me”, “Visit Me”, “Knit Me”, “Teach Me”, “Hear Me”, “Help Me”, “Preach Me”. Some days I try these things and I get the results I hoped for; some days I don’t. Some days I grow; some days it seems like I shrink. But every day I learn, and every day I discover something new. Just when I think I’ve got the hang of things, a new surprise awaits around a corner or up at the altar or at a bedside or at a vestry meeting.

I looked up the word ‘curious’, and found that it, too, is derived from the Latin word for ‘care’. ‘Curious’ today means ‘eager to learn,’ and it can mean ‘odd or strange,’ but an archaic meaning of the word is ‘extremely careful’. Eager to learn, a little odd (maybe!), extremely careful….curiouser and curiouser is a good description of the life of a curate!

But not just a curate. We are all in this wonderland together, a collection of curios, just trying to get the hang of things before we round the next corner. In a little while we will hear the story of Simon and Andrew, James and John, just getting the hang of a fisherman’s life when around the corner comes Jesus calling out “Follow Me”….and like Alice, they were just curious enough to try. Some days it was everything they hoped for; some days it wasn’t. Some days it seemed everything was going to be okay; some days it didn’t. Some days it was easy to be a disciple; some days it was very, very hard. So it is with us, with Jesus’ disciples in this time and place. “Follow Me,” he offers, and we’ve been just curious enough to try.

I may be the funny old church word ‘curate’ around here, but as much as this is my cure, so have I found myself to be yours. Indeed, we are all in the care of one another, and as disciples of Jesus Christ, all the world is our cure. In this curious, odd, strange year filled with construction dust and growing pains, waves and wind and driving rain, life together has not always been easy. Sometimes it has been very, very hard. But always at the center of our life together is Jesus again, calling “Eat Me,” “Drink Me,” and we kneel side by side to receive what we already are – the Body of Christ.

As the curate, I plan to keep learning this year. Sometimes I will feel fulfilled, and sometimes I will feel frustrated. But at every St. Martha’s Guild and every Senior High Bible Study, at every Prayer Shawl meeting and every budget meeting, at every Healing Service and every Morning Prayer, at every hospital visit and every home visit, I will learn about caring for the soul of another, and I know I will learn how my soul is cared for as well. St. Paul’s has curates because St. Paul’s is full of curates.

The call to discipleship is a call to holy curiousity, the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works. In this year may we be curiouser and curiouser together, turning new corners, eager to learn, and full of care. Amen.

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