November 2020
Spiritual Wellbeing

Wait and Pray

Beginning this article while waiting to see who will win the U.S. Presidential election, I’m reminded of other times I’ve been forced to wait. The most powerful example took place recently, when my grandmother fell and broke her hip. Regrettably, she contracted pneumonia in the rehab process and was brought home on hospice care. As a priest, it’s my job to hold vigil with families as they wait for their loved ones to go home. It was an incredible honor to do so for my own grandmother.

Grammy’s support of my ministry surpassed that of everyone else in my family. As a devout Irish Catholic woman, she never blinked when I came out as liberal, gay, Episcopalian or an immigrant rights activist. She understood this as my calling. So of course, I dropped everything when I received word that she was in her final days and went to hold vigil at her bedside. We waited and waited as her spirit slowly left this world.

As providence would have it, soon after my grandmother fell and was on her way to the hospital, my sister-in-law went into labor. Not long after, Owen Theodore McNabb was born into the world. Before my grandmother passed from this life to the next, she was able to hold her nineteenth great grandchild. It was an incredible gift to witness this moment of generational unity – unity amidst division is a powerful balm for the soul.

Unity is something I long for within my family, my congregation and our nation. Regardless of where we might stand politically, we can all agree that the division within in our land is neither productive nor healthy. By the time you read this, I hope that our uncertainty over the election of the President will have ended. But more than that, I wait for the day when we will accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior – and not in an intellectual way. I mean the kind of faith experience that makes us turn around 180° and go towards Jesus.

What does a 180 turn toward Jesus look like?

Christianity in the United States has long focused on personal morality rather than Kingdom Building. As a result, many people in this country, believers and non-believers alike, presume Christianity is about what we do in the bedroom rather than a radical reordering of our values and priorities as they align to the Kingdom of God.

The Episcopal Church cares about morality in every aspect of our lives. While this includes sexual morality, it encompasses so much more. The Church stands with refugees and migrants, the homeless and the hungry, with the grieving and the victims of violence, with those who are in prison and countless others.

We often say the right stuff. But sometimes I wonder, where are our financial priorities?

Placing the poor at the center of our decision-making

When we as churches, dioceses and our Church at large, craft our budgets – do we keep the poor at the center of our decision-making process? That’s a deeper kind of faith – one that’s nourished in the quiet corners of our being when we take more time for personal prayer than in communal prayer. While I’m a big fan of communal prayer, without intimacy in Christ, I’m lost.

As priest-in-charge of a small parish, I struggle to balance the budget. And I am far from the kind of faith required to put the poor at the center of our spending priorities. This doesn’t mean ignoring the energy bill or neglecting to pay salaries. Instead, it’s about asking the questions of our vestries and of ourselves. What within this budget welcomes the marginalized? Is that message at the core of our budget?

Paying for buildings and staff is important. However, how do those expenses further the Kingdom of God that clearly leans towards the vulnerable and marginalized more than the wealthy and the powerful? I keep praying and waiting for the courage to live this faithfully, trusting in the word of God and the Providence promised within our holy book.

Wait and pray to love the poor as God does

And I wonder if there will never be a mystical moment of unity within me, but instead, many small choices to welcome the poor into our communities and into our hearts. It’s easy for me to write a check from my discretionary account. It’s an entirely different effort to know the names of those who are poor within my community, invite them to worship, call them by name – to dare to let my heart be broken by what breaks their heart. It’s a daunting enterprise to build a Christian community with that level of intimacy and faith, one where the poor become our guides and our teachers.

Until that faith, we wait and pray and perhaps ask God for the courage as people and as a church to love the poor that much. I hope this Advent season sees within all of us a metanoia – a turning around – to Jesus with our entire body, mind and soul. For our Church, for our faith communities and for me.

Even with the costs of such turning, I take comfort in knowing Grammy is with me, pulling for me to become a more faithful Episcopalian.

The Rev. Christopher McNabb, OSF, graduated from La Salle University with a BA in religion and served as a campus minister and theology teacher in Catholic high schools in the Philadelphia area. He went on to receive a Masters in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, completed Clinical Pastoral Education at Capital Health in Trenton, NJ, and received a diploma in Anglican Studies at General Theological Seminary. In 2017, Chris took vows with the Order of St. Francis, an Episcopal religious order, and was also ordained a priest. He currently serves as the Curate for Caritas, Justice, and Healing at Trinity Church in Princeton, NJ. Chris seeks to integrate a life of service for Jesus Christ with a contemplative prayer life. Chris has a passion for working with migrants and refugees, those held in immigration detention centers and our local first responders, all of whom endure untold trauma.


This article is part of the November 2020 Vestry Papers issue on Spiritual Wellbeing