Institution of Fr Mark Evans at Trinity, Lincoln
Tonight is about the completion of a journey, on many levels. The Wise Men from the east, “bearing gifts,” have “traversed afar…following yonder star…,” crossing “field and fountain, moor and mountain,” and now arrive at the destination to which the star has been leading them, and they lay their gifts at the feet of the infant Jesus before making the long trek back home. Trinity Church also marks the completion of a journey tonight, a journey that began two calendar years ago when Father Cravens announced his retirement. There have been no literal moors or mountains involved in this journey, though it may have sometimes felt like that to members of the vestry and search committee! Of course, Mark Evans has also been on a journey, a journey of discernment and formation and more discernment, moving from the world of finance, to being a seminary student, to being a priest and seminary staff member, and now to his first full-time parochial cure. Even the Diocese of Springfield, with its new bishop, is marking the completion of a journey tonight. For me, that journey has been of the nature of a learning curve, as this was the first parish-in-transition that it fell to me to work with as a bishop. So I probably owe a word of apology to Stacey Wachtel and Jan Dickerson for any rookie mistakes I may have made along the way. Thank-you for being patient with me!
St Matthew’s gospel tells us that, after having followed the star to Jerusalem, and conferring there with King Herod, the Wise Men completed their journey when the star finally stopped over the nearby village of Bethlehem. And Matthew tells us that “when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” Take a moment now just to absorb this, to rest in that instant of time when they realized that their long and arduous journey had reached its fulfillment. Now, on balance, I think I can still truthfully say that I enjoy travel, which I guess is a good thing, given what I do. There are certainly some aspects of travel that I enjoy less than I used to, but I’m usually excited about the prospect of taking a trip. But there are trips … and then there are trips. When I know precisely where I’m going, and exactly how long it will take me to get there, then, when I reach my destination, I may be glad to have arrived, but it’s really no big deal. However, where those factors are “to be arranged,” when the thing being sought is elusive, and where there are multiple side excursions down dead ends—have you ever had a trip like that?—then, when the destination is finally identified and in sight, there is great joy, great joy indeed.
Tonight, our job is to celebrate the fact that the star has stopped. The star has stopped. It stopped for the Wise Men over the place where the Holy Family was staying. It stopped for Father Evans over Trinity Church and Lincoln, Illinois and the Diocese of Springfield—and the particular people who populate those places. And it stopped for Trinity Church over Mark Evans, and his particular set of gifts and challenges. It’s a package deal. There are gifts that come with living in Lincoln, Illinois and there are challenges that come with living in Lincoln, Illinois. Trinity Church has some impressive assets and Trinity Church has some rough spots. I think Fr Mark and Sandy are aware of this, and tonight their work is to embrace the whole package and rejoice that the star has stopped right here and right now. And I also suspect that the members of Trinity are aware, at least in concept, that Father Evans is not the perfect priest, that he will disappoint some of the people most of the time, and most of the people some of the time, and that the job of Trinity’s members tonight is to embrace that package, and rejoice that the star has stopped right where it has, and over whom it has.
The Wise Men invite us to emulate them, and rejoice that the star has stopped. Unlike the Wise Men, however, who left their gifts at the feet of the infant Jesus and returned to their own country, Trinity—along with the entire diocesan community—and Fr Evans and Sandy, get to hang out with one another until, in God’s good time, the star moves again. Tonight, Mark Evans and Trinity Church share the gifts they have brought to one another, and that sharing will go on as we discover who and what God has called us to become. I personally rejoice greatly that the star has stopped. I have stood where Fr Mark is standing tonight in three different parishes during my time as a priest, and I have participated in many other such occasions as friends and colleagues have begun new ministries. So it is an honor and privilege to be presiding at this service tonight. Mark, welcome to the flatlands! Welcome to the Diocese of Springfield. I look forward to your taking your share in the councils of this diocese, and I look forward to this Eucharistic Community moving forward in pursuing the mission of Christ’s church in Logan County. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.