December 14, 2016

What are you waiting for?

Among my character traits, you will not find “waits with patience.”

Whether it’s for a table at a restaurant, on hold with customer service, or anticipating a big trip, waiting is not among my virtues.

That makes Advent really hard.

This is a season of waiting. Waiting for the angel Gabriel to appear to Mary. Waiting for Joseph to learn the news and decide whether to flip out and stand by Mary. Waiting for Mary to travel to the warm embrace of Elizabeth.

Waiting for the birth of the Christ child who will change everything.

Waiting is a big part of parish life. Anyone who has played even a small role in congregational leadership knows that change comes glacially in most churches and waiting is part of the process.

Our congregation recently installed a columbarium. The idea for it was proposed at least two decades ago. The former rector was invited to come back and offer a blessing over this long-awaited project.

Surely it shouldn’t have taken 20-plus years but in the four years since my husband accepted the call as rector, the movement toward building a columbarium has been steady but slow. In the space of some of the waiting, people had an opportunity to share their fears and concerns. They had a chance to see how it would look and fit into the aesthetic, and by the time the columbarium was dedicated, everyone (to the best of our knowledge) was on board. It took some waiting, but it was worth it.

We’re also in the midst of a construction project. Our church doesn’t have a single parking spot. It’s all off-street parking. That creates some real challenges for some of our older congregants – and younger ones, especially those with young families. And it’s a major obstacle for visitors. If you couldn’t figure out where to park (or had to walk four or five blocks), would you visit?

This also has been a pipe dream for decades but finally there is a fortuitous confluence of will, need, and money. But it’s another round of hurry-up-and-wait. Get the architectural plans to the city building by 5 pm on this date. Then wait for a month for a meeting. Then a continuance. Then the holidays. It’s a frustrating for a get-it-done-gal like me.

But in the waiting, we’ve seen an opportunity for discussions with some of the church’s neighbors. Parishioners are talking with each other and people in the community about our plans to build a parking lot and preserve valued green space – in telling this story, they are telling a story about our values as a church, about how we strive to be good stewards in how we care for members and for our neighborhood.

I don’t like waiting. But if I’m honest, there can be some real value to it, especially if there’s deliberate space for the Holy Spirit to work among us.

I suppose that’s the gracious gift of Advent too. My heart isn’t quite ready for baby Jesus. I’m still too wrapped up in wrapping, sending Christmas cards, and scheduling parties. I need this time of waiting to prepare my heart and make space in my life.

Maybe the waiting doesn’t have to be the hardest part. Dear God, please help make it so.