By Donna Olendorf
Lent begins for me with the imposition of ashes at a quiet Wednesday service that leaves me feeling humbled and blessed. “Remember, Donna, that thou art dust and into dust thou shalt return,” says the priest as she dips her fingers in ashes to make the sign of the cross on my forehead—the same sign the priest made many years ago to seal me as Christ’s own forever at my Baptism.
This year especially I feel the tension between those two concepts: the impermanence of our physical bodies compared to the eternal life of our souls. Last Sunday, I read the list of the sick and shut-in’s in our weekly bulletin and recognized names of people who only a few years ago were still attending mass, still vibrant with life. How long, I wonder, until I join this list, fading from flesh into memory, from existence into dust?
Foolish questions like this commonly plague me on Ash Wednesday, but this year they have brought me to the edge of an existential funk. My job as Youth Director is ending on February 28, and this is my last Sunday as a member of the Grace staff. For the past two years, I have defined myself professionally through my job as a youth minister, and for the three years before that through my work as the Grace clerk and senior warden, so I am feeling cut off from duty, unmoored from my niche in the world.
I recall the Parish Profile we prepared in 2016 shortly after Daniel left. “Charting our Course,” it was called and featured the mast of a ship on the water, the focus aiming up to a blue sky with a compass pointing north for guidance. That image is already two years old, but it is remarkably similar to the painting created at this month’s vestry retreat – a ship rocking in the waves upon the open sea.
Like Grace Church, I am headed out into open water, forging ahead, but uncertain of my destination. Who am I, now that I am not the clerk, not the senior warden, not the Godly Play teacher or Youth Group leader, arriving early on Sundays to make sure everything is ready? Who are we, the members of Grace Church? What will the future hold? What is God calling us to be?
As I step away, it is a new beginning for us both. This is a new chapter for me—will I travel, become a yoga teacher, start a blog? And this is a new chapter for Grace—transition under the guidance of an intentional interim rector with a vision and tools to facilitate meaningful change. I remember that I am dust and into dust I shall return. But I am also a beloved child of God, an Episcopalian, and part of a 150-year-old legacy that is beginning anew.
Thank you for letting me serve and may God Bless each of you.