On my first day at St. John’s, I made a pretty big mistake, unforgivable actually. I was presiding at the Eucharist in the small chapel on a weekday. There were about 25 people there and it was my first time to do something official here. I wanted to get off to a good start but there really wasn’t much pressure. That, I thought, would come in a few days on my first Sunday here. So, I felt pretty relaxed as the service began. Still it was a new space to me and an important new beginning. We had just moved our whole family to a new city and the whole thing felt very risky.
As I walked into the chapel, I saw some faces I had met from the search committee but mainly people I had never met. Sitting right there, almost in the doorway as I entered, was a woman in a wheelchair who had a soft, gentle demeanor. We smiled at each other and I walked around her and up the center aisle to begin the service.
Things flowed pretty well. The homily was effective enough. I felt connected with God and the small congregation as I offered the prayer of consecration over the elements. The people came forward for Communion and their eyes revealed receptive spirits. It all felt like a good start. I pronounced the blessing and processed out of the chapel.
And then I saw the woman in the wheelchair, still soft and gentle, but a little hurt. Oh no. I had forgotten to give her Communion. She hadn’t come forward and I had just overlooked her, so wrapped up was I in trying to make a good first impression on the congregation.
She didn’t hold it against me, which surprised me frankly. I told her to stay afterwards and we would consecrate more elements for her to receive Communion. “No, that’s okay. I’ll be back next week and we’ll do it then.”
As I had moved my family and started this big new job, I had considered all the risks involved for me. The church, by all accounts, wasn’t doing all that well and I felt like I was putting my career on the line. I had worried about what I was facing but I hadn’t really stopped to consider that I might make some mistakes. I just assumed I would do things well.
Making what I considered to be a big mistake on my first day proved helpful to me. It gave me a little dose of humility, much needed obviously. Plus it helped me relax. I had made a mistake but still something very positive had begun. The person I had overlooked forgave me and we got pretty close. It all helped remind me that success wasn’t going to be determined by my competence but more by grace, humor, and establishing relationships. Surprisingly, something was in the air that day that allowed me to forgive myself quickly and move on. Things here weren’t perfect but it helped me to remember that I wasn’t so perfect either. Maybe that allowed me to see this place with a little more compassion instead of approaching it as my next project to perfect.
Lent has just begun. It’s an important new beginning for all of us. So much depends on our faithfulness. A good discipline can bring so much deepening and renewal. Our effort is so important. But it’s been a week and, probably, you’ve already made some mistakes. I’ve always heard that ventures can be no better than their beginnings. But that may have more to do with our attitudes than our performance.
We really don’t have to do things perfectly, just faithfully.
Mistakes don’t reveal simply that we are less than perfect. They reveal an abiding grace which makes all things good if we can see beyond ourselves. In all that you do, work hard. But remember that so much more is at work than you. Faithfulness involves looking beyond ourselves to the hope which our Savior brings.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.