Tools to Live By

I thank my God for every remembrance of you, always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1: 3; 9-11

Dear People of St. David’s,

I hope this finds you well, and that you are joining us in celebrating the 49th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women in The Episcopal Church. We’ve heard sermons about this event. Thomas has worn a historic chasuble in Sunday worship, and some are going on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Advocate to see the place where it all happened. All this has recalled a sweet memory for me!

Shortly after I was ordained to the priesthood, I took up my first rectorate at Grace Church and the Incarnation, a small congregation in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia. As the title implies, it had been a merger of two congregations, a large one formerly on Broad Street and a smaller local one. On one of the first days settling into my new office and trying to figure out what this particular calling was all about, I received a phone call from Nancy Wittig. The Rev. Nancy Wittig was one of the Philadelphia Eleven, one of those brave women “illegally” ordained at the Church of the Advocate in 1974; one of the only women who went into parish ministry, while the others moved into teaching and writing. She was rector of St. Andrew’s-in-the-Field in the Somerton neighborhood of Philadelphia, so we belonged to the same deanery. Nancy was calling to inquire when I would be in the office, because she had an ordination gift to bring to me.

Later that day, the doorbell rang and I went to greet Nancy. She was carrying a somewhat battered canvas bag in one hand and a brand-new book in the other one. “This is from Pam,” she said. It was a copy of Pam Darling’s book, New Wine: The Story of Women Transforming Leadership and Power in the Episcopal Church. I was very grateful to receive this autographed copy! “But,” said Nancy, “here is what you will really need.” So, she handed me the canvas bag, which had a broomstick-like end protruding between the handles. Nancy smiled broadly as I took the bag, opened it, and found that the broomstick end was attached to a toilet plunger! The bag also contained a hammer, a screwdriver with interchangeable straight and Phillips heads, and rolls of electrical and duct tape. “This is what you will really need,” announced Nancy.

Of course, we laughed! She was so right! I did use those tools at that church and subsequent ones. But Nancy knew something more important, as she also taught at General Seminary part time. She knew that newly graduated and newly ordained people have had their scholarly sides well exercised but might not be firmly grounded in the practical side of ministry. Nancy knew that having the bag of tools handy would be a reminder to be prepared to make repairs; physical repairs but also more spiritual repairs such as: helping to solve problems, offering some protective tape for a wounded soul, and assisting someone in breaking a logjam of unhelpful habits or thinking. The most important reminder of all, some electrical tape to represent our connection to God, so the tape gently applied might assist in mending a break in that connection.

All of us could use these metaphorical tools to do some repairs in our own souls. After all, the Christian life is about doing our best, being honest about the ways we have sinned, asking God’s forgiveness, amending our lives, and trying again. The tools can help us tune up by loosening what needs to be relaxed a bit, tightening what is too loose, and taping together what needs to be strengthened.

The Parish Profile is public. No doubt applications are arriving, and our hardworking Discernment Committee will be increasing their workload. It is a good time for all of us to engage in a tune-up as a way of preparing for what is coming, and that a new person might find us continuing to be engaged in making Christ known to others. What could be holding us back? What “We’ve always done it that way before!” needs a fresh look? How open will we be to new ideas?

Nancy’s bag of tools sat under my desks at several different churches in the ensuing years. St. David’s has such skilled persons on staff and so many superior tools, that I didn’t bring them here when I came, but I miss them. The battered bag of tools is a good reminder that human souls can always use a tweak. With God’s help, of course.


The Rev. Elizabeth W. Colton
Associate Rector