In Seminary, I applied for a work/study job for financial aid. The clerk gave me a list of jobs behind a desk and computer, with the one exception being groundskeeping. There was a sudden excited curiosity about doing yard work in sunny gorgeous Berkeley, CA. I took the job, and discovered it was one of the best training opportunities I had for the priesthood. I started timidly pruning plants, till I realized how overgrown all the grounds were! I remember removing TREES of ivy off fences. I uncovered a potted jade plant, invisible under overgrown lantana. My time in Seminary earned me the nickname “The Mad Hacker” by my boss. Mind you, I was a total amateur. That said, there hadn’t been groundskeeping staff tending the campus for 15 years, so anything was an improvement.
In other parts of the country, I might have killed more plants by that approach. Fortunately, 99% of the plants grew in leaps and bounds, looking healthier than before. I got consistent compliments on how much better the campus looked after I’d started. The energy around beautifying and taking pride in the campus became contagious, both with students and faculty. It also was my sanity through Seminary. Having physical labor connected to the earth and stewardship of my school was very satisfying and cathartic. This combination of catharsis, transformation, and stewardship became a framing metaphor for what I see my job as being as a priest.
Rev. Audrey has asked us to do an inventory of our purview so we have a better understanding of what we have to work with and what we might want to add to what we have. This excites me more than it might other people because it’s a chance to cull, clean up, discover, and refresh St. Paul’s. Like my work at CDSP, clearing the scene is a jarring experience at first. My boss Steve said once, “You’re taking away all the green!!” (He wasn’t really big on change.) In a couple weeks, once he had a chance to adjust to the new thing, he said, “Ya know, at first I was angry about what you did, but now that I see what it is, I do actually like it better the way it is now.”
What is it about St. Paul’s that makes it worth tending? As with the grounds at CDSP, we are fertile soil. Unlike the years prior to my time in Seminary, our St. Paul’s gardeners here take exquisite care of our grounds. Learning from their stewardship, what pruning and clearing process is helpful in our lives today? What is being crowded out, and what is crowding? What can we do that would inspire others to join in the reshaping process? I’ll be curious to see what we discover together in the coming months, particularly as we begin to move forward with the Rector search. May you have a wonderful 4th of July weekend!
Rev. Jeffrey A. Dodge