Submission by Rafael Rodriguez
In transition to the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
A year ago, the lockdowns resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic left me with a lot of time to think and pray. I made several major life decisions during this period, one of which was to return to the Episcopal Church. Space does not permit me to delve into why I left in the first place or all the reasons that led me to return. I will only mention that I was a transitional deacon in a break-away Anglican jurisdiction who realized during the height of the George Floyd protests that the Episcopal Church’s ability to speak so powerfully to that moment was in part due to its rich tradition of social engagement and theological reflection. These were the Christians I wanted to serve alongside once again.
Fast forward to July of 2020, I had a rather detailed itinerary for how my life would play out over the next few years. I met with Canon Rich and Fr. Sam to go over my plans. Bishop Doug did not yet know this, but I would be starting seminary in the fall of 2021 under his oversight, and would eventually be ordained a priest and serve in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Canon Rich recommended I reconnect with my home parish in Clinton. I was living in California, so the 3-hour time difference meant I was logging on to Zoom at 7 AM for Sunday worship.
Canon Rich eventually recommended Loving the Questions. I remember thinking, “Loving the questions? What is there to ask? What is there to discern? I know I’m called to the priesthood. But it would be nice to make some new friends in my future diocese. Sure, sign me up!”
Loving the Questions found me at a time when the lockdown and Covid restrictions were putting me under serious stress as a high school teacher. It seemed like everyday I was being redirected; a new policy, a new guideline, new curriculum, new teaching strategies---it all put a strain on my own spiritual life. I was tired and isolated. The Northern California climate and local wildfires left me feeling stuck and depressed. I began seeing a therapist for the first time in my life.
As we began meeting together for our Loving the Questions sessions, hearing the conglomeration of New England and Dominican accents brought me right back to my childhood! However, I was a bit skeptical that a Zoom-based discernment program would be worth the time investment. I could not have been more wrong. To my surprise, time-and-time again, at the conclusion of each session, I found myself more grounded and spiritually aligned.
I began to look forward to catching up with my small group and hearing about the latest episode in their lives. We were introduced to amazing guest speakers, from monks to political activists.
Rev. Jenny’s silent spiritual meditations gave me that quiet space that I both longed for and feared during this season. It was the medicine I was so hesitant to accept. Craig’s spiritual autobiography reminded me that prayerful attention at the feet of Jesus is the ‘one thing needful.’ Indeed, to quote from Coptic Monk Fr. Matthew the Poor, since our ultimate purpose as God’s creatures is eternal communion with Him, then prayer becomes “our supreme concern, our main preoccupation, which outweighs all other cares; our duty, which challenges all other duties; our pleasure, which surpasses every other pleasure.” I had fallen into my own trap of seeing my Christian calling as primarily service. Holy service to be sure, but service nonetheless. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” My focus was on the second part. But the imperative here, the ‘follow me’, is where Jesus invites me into his presence. It’s in His presence where I find that our relationship isn’t characterized through a mere student-to-teacher dynamic. No, what I’ve seen is more beautiful than that. It’s inner healing. It’s God choosing to make God’s home with me in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s this same Holy Spirit who, through baptism, brought me into the Body of Christ, where we all drink from this one Spirit. And if I have any ministry to offer on behalf of God to the world, it’s simply an overflow of this Trinitarian love, a love that compels me to go and “fish for people.” In other words, I found that my calling is first to a life in God before it’s a service to my neighbor. Not in order to give God my best and the left-overs to my neighbor, but in order that my neighbor can hear and see “Gospel” when I show up in the world. Communion with God in prayer is my first calling as a Christian. Everything else in my life flows from that.
Since joining Loving the Questions, I’ve gained some great new friends, especially in my small group. They’ve supported me as my seminary plans and ordination timeline turned upside down. My wife and I decided to move to Boston for her to pursue a career in nursing. I’ve recently accepted a teaching position working with at-risk high school students in Plymouth. Our cross-country move is scheduled for the last week of June. Everything's falling into place--thanks be to God! And yet, my dream of going to seminary as a postulant seems to have been postponed once again. However, instead of panic and frustration, I feel content, trusting I’m exactly where I need to be in this season. Thanks to Loving the Questions, I was given a coach to help me with this transition. We met biweekly to discern together what lay ministry will look like for me as I transition into the Diocese of Massachusetts. Currently, I’ve started an inquiry with an Episcopal religious community whose charisms seem to align with my passion for teaching, preaching, theology, and the Daily Office.
Ultimately, Loving the Questions helped me discern God’s ‘wait’ regarding ordination, as well as God’s ‘yes’ to lay ministry. It helped me really believe that by virtue of my baptism, I am a minister of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.