Into the Woods: installation of a Vicar

by Anthony “Bud” Thurston

I’ve chosen some words from the Broadway musical, written by Stephen Sondheim, entitled, “Into the Woods.” This musical is essentially a parable about foreboding wilderness and bright hilltops; about superficial deceit and deep human compassion; about terrifying wolves and giants and warm and engaging children—and at one and the same time this musical has dark implications as well as a sweet simplicity.

In other words, “Into the Woods” is a musical about what it means to be an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church and what it means to serve the people of God in this community. What is happening to all of you tonight—vicar and parishioners—if we’re willing to tell the truth–brings with it both foreboding wilderness and bright hilltops, superficial deceit and deep human compassion, terrifying wolves and giants and warm and engaging children—both dark implications and sweet simplicity.

Remember the words sung by the whole cast at the end of the play? It goes like this:

Though it’s fearful,

Though it’s deep, though it’s dark,

And though you may encounter wolves,

You can’t just act,

You have to listen.

You can’t just act,

You have to think.

So it’s

Into the woods

You go again,

You have to

Every now and then.

Into the woods,

No telling when,

Be ready for the journey.

In many ways, Patricia, I think this installation puts you into the woods…and, as the song says, at times “the way is dark, the light is dim, but now there’s you, me, her and him…so you are not alone. No one is alone”.

What I have to say to you and to this community gathered here tonight is nothing fancy, nothing pious, nothing really very new. It’s just some good advice from a friend, a fellow priest and a person who wishes you all the best in your ministry…and someone who has come to know you and appreciates your many unique gifts and talents –and someone who personally and professionally admires you.

So here we go…….

First, be who you are. There is a lot of mythology in our church that says you are a “role” before you are a person. You are not here to be a thespian or actor—this parish is not theater—this isn’t make-believe. This is real life. And you are the right person to be able to give who you are to this congregation and community.

Secondly, a lot has been said about the importance of clergy providing leisure time for themselves. My suggestion is that you worry less about leisure time and concentrate on hard work. Edison was right: Genius is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. This parish will take work and all of the skills that you posses to decide which issues are the most important. Since the church is only the church in community, it will take effort to know how this church can continue to be alive in the community of Nehalem/Manzanita and beyond. I’ve already said that you have some particular and special talents to use in being a co-creator with God, but it will take much work and effort on your part and the part of the people of St. Catherine’s.

Third, related to this…you have to pick your battles. Probably enough said on that one.

Fourth, don’t waffle on the issues. Doug Fontaine who used to be the Dean of St. Mark’s in Minneapolis told me more than once, “Often wrong, but never in doubt.” Unlike the Apostle Paul, we can’t be “all things to all people” without speaking out of two sides of our mouth. Call ‘em the way you see ‘em…be loving (and I know that you are), but be clear.

Fifth, everybody will tell you that you are called as a vicar to be a prophet. It’s important to be a prophet. But a modest caveat: I’ve found that it is prudent, for the most part, to reserve your prophetic instincts to when you have been invited to preach at someone else’s parish. So invite “visiting prophets” here…and do it around the issues that you, yourself, wish everyone to be clear about.

Sixth, don’t take yourself, or anyone else, too seriously. When people tell you that you are the greatest priest they have ever know, thank them, and remember the sinner that you really are. Then, when people rail at you and suggest that you are the singular curse upon Christendom, thank them, and remember that you are made in the image of God, you are absolutely unique, and you are intimately and forever loved by God. I know that you have a wonderful capacity for fairness and humor. God knows this place will need it, you will need it, and this community will find it refreshing.

The musical, “Into the Woods” concludes with these words:

Into the woods—

You have to grope,

But that’s the way

You learn to cope.

Into the woods

To find there’s hope,

Of getting through the journey.

Into the woods—

Each time you go,

There’s more to learn

Of what you know.

Into the woods

Into the woods

Into the woods

And happy ever after.

Patricia, this is what I hope and pray your journey here at St. Catherine’s will be like: “Into the woods, then out of the woods and happy ever after.”

I say this with full recognition that all of the woods are not necessarily bad; and that to emerge from the woods is not always necessarily good; and “happy ever afters” are sometimes far between.

But let me offer a final word”

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise…think about these things.

God bless you my friend, on this new journey. And know that you have blessed each of us by your calling and by your love and friendship.


Excerpt from a sermon preached on the occasion of the Celebration of Ministry and Installation of a Vicar at St. Catherine of Alexandria/Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Nehalem OR by the Very Rev. Anthony “Bud” Thurston, former Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Portland OR and currently serving St. Barnabas Episcopal Church as Interim Rector.

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