A few days ago I said I might write about Holy Innocents in Lahaina. Here it is.
Holy Innocents, Lahaina. We’ve worshiped here off and on for twenty years or more. It’s an old parish with a rich history. Once it had a large and vibrant congregation. In time it began to flounder, at least in part because it couldn’t decide what it was besides a good solid Episcopalian church. Why was it here and who was it to serve? After a while it began to depend on a succession of six month interim clergy, which was an easy sell. The church is not only in an attractive location, Maui, but the rectory is a beautiful manse sitting right on the beach. Six month clergy were not hard to find. Who wouldn’t want a six month vacation with free rent? I’ll leave it to your imagination to consider how that went.
What changed was Bill. He came on vacation; they asked him to come back for six months; he did. But he also fell in love with the people of the struggling congregation. They asked him to stay another six months and then another and one thing led to another. Bill stayed, and he loved the spirit and the Spirit back into Holy Innocents. That was five years ago. This month the congregation will cease being a mission of the diocese and resume it’s place as a full parish; Bill will become its rector instead of it’s priest-in-charge.
The story of Holy Innocents illuminates several of lessons for clergy and congregations. First, in an age where we sometimes celebrate the priesthood of all believers by denigrating the role of clergy, Bill’s experience says something about the importance of clergy leadership. Second, no one ever accused Bill of being the world’s greatest preacher or finest liturgist (although he’s good at both), but his love of the gospel, and through it his love of the people of God in that place, illustrates the power of what it means to be bearers of the light of Christ, regardless of imperfections and limitations. Third, Bill immersed himself in the history, culture and language of this place to become a kamaaina, a person of the land, who belongs to the land, who treasures the land. That’s a good word, kamaaina. Wherever clergy find themselves, in what ever part of the world and in what ever culture, one must become kamaaina if there is to be any authenticity in one’s ministry. What does it matter if the congregation is mostly Anglo? The point is to show respect for the history and culture of the land and to remember that we are “guests” in it. Isn’t that true for every place? There’s another local word, malihini. A malihini is a a newcomer, a stranger, a foreigner, a short time visitor. How many clergy can be in a place for years and still be a malihini?
Love God, love the people, love the land, and see what happens.