This article is written by the Rev. Shelly Banner, on the announcement of her transition to Priest-in-Charge at St. James, Pulaski, beginning March 23, 2021.
In your Word, O God, show us heaven. By your spirit, show us truth. Through Christ you show us the living Word, in whom we can see your face.
These words are something I came to formulate in the home of my parents, refined over years of my life experiences. I spent most of my youth on my parent’s farm, where everyone had been given chores to complete each day which contributed to the wellbeing of the whole family. After college I taught music in several districts. In 2005 I was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Gladstone “Skip” Adams. I served as a deacon in the parishes of St. John’s, Marcellus, the Church of the Resurrection, Oswego, and my final and longest placement, St. Matthew’s, Liverpool from 2010 to 2020.
In a rather unusual development, and untypical for ordained vocational Deacons, several years ago I felt this nudge toward the priesthood which truly became a push. As it became a force unto itself, it left me praying the famous Thomas Merton prayer, which begins “Lord, I do not know where I am going…” I sought out clarification with a Spiritual Director and talked with Bishop DeDe.
Again, and again, the importance of discerning direction through community allowed me to have the courage to pursue a call to the priesthood, and also in my continuing and new role as a priest. Doing this in the midst of a pandemic has provided some interesting challenges. In faith and in grace, I know God’s presence delivers guidance for me as an individual and for the people of St. James, Pulaski as we grow together and strive to be a vital, if small, community. One thing that I have learned about leadership roles: you will be ministered to in abundance, even when you think you are doing the ministering. One such example happened while I was working toward preparing to take the required General Ordination Exams, (required for candidates to the priesthood in our Diocese) which at the time was a stressor for me. As I was still also working as a teacher and had much less time to study as I would have preferred, I often carried a couple of books with me, and would do some reading in between active parts of Sunday worship. One of my junior high church school students came into the room, noticed me intently reading and said “Deacon Shelly, did you forget that God is going to be with you and you’ll be okay?” Whoosh- a smile, a tear and stress dispelled. It was a wonderful reminder that ministry is always a two-way path, offering and receiving.
Going forward, through the surprise and wonder of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with the innovations of Zoom and Acapella, worship has moved out beyond the many parishes in our Diocese, and into a larger vista, where folks can sing and praise God in the safety of their home and still be together through the digital world. It can also exponentially expand what and who we define as “our parish.” Though our buildings are starting to again be used for worship, our ministry efforts grow ever stronger continuing to use digital sources as additional tools to proclaim God’s love for this world. It gives access to those at home who cannot or should not come into the building and still keeps us connected. It is stretching people beyond previous confines and we are learning new skills, learning the names of those we have seen before but did not know, and the Church, who may look different, grows stronger. It has given St. James, Pulaski, the opportunity to add further substance toward living more deeply into the Diocesan Vision Statement, “A world healed by Love.” I focus on it in my morning prayers, not so much as a reminder, but as a driving force behind things done and left undone, or words spoken and unspoken. My hope is that in all we do together, this will become our community focus. It is heady stuff, yet truly it is at the heart of all that matters. Each opportunity within the Diocesan Rule of Life buoys the efforts to ultimately be able to answer, “Yes, this is one more thing that will help heal the world with Love.” May God continue to give each of us the strength and will to do so as we walk our journey together.