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Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light!

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light!

by The Reverend Dr. Roman D. Roldan on March 20, 2024

TLDR: Today is my fourth year anniversary at Saint Dunstan’s and I find myself in a pensive mood. Read on for some thoughts on what we have accomplished and the road ahead.

Today is my fourth year anniversary at Saint Dunstan’s and I find myself in a pensive mood. I have been reading and re-reading two poems about endings. One is about aging and one about dying, but they are very useful when thinking about all sorts of conditions related to the future.  In the poem, Autumn -Resignation the poet Humbert Wolfe has an older speaker say, “Come! Let us draw the curtains, Heap up the fire, and sit Hunched by the flame together, And make a friend of it. Listen! The wind is rising, And the air is wild with leaves, We had our summer evenings; Now for October eves! The great beech-trees lean forward, And strip like a diver. We Had better turn to the fire, And shut our minds to the sea, Where the ships of youth are running Close-hauled on the edge of the wind, With all adventure before them, And only the old behind. Love and youth and the seabirds Meet in the stormy weather, And with one bright flash of laughter Clasp into the dark together. Come! Let us draw the curtains, And talk of other things; And presently all will be quiet- Love, youth, and the sound of wings.”[1]

 We have accomplished a great deal in four years and I am now 58 years old.[2] Perhaps Wolfe is inviting me to celebrate what is, enjoy the fruits of our labor, and settle for a quiet rhythm of liturgy, pastoral care, and prayer. No one would blame me if I draw the curtains and enjoy the quiet rhythms of a healthy church. We have had our summer evenings, and perhaps I now need to be happy with my October eves. There are times when the cost of caring is indescribably heavy, and at times I grow weary. My dreams for us are ambitious and grand, but perhaps it is time for us to celebrate our October eves and settle for a quiet existence amid the hustle and bustle of a growing, sprawling town around us. We are a congregation where members truly love each other. Perhaps we can just concentrate on loving the ones we have, the remnant of who we once were. We could be quite happy doing this, until “presently all will be quiet.” Eventually, I will move on and I will leave the dance to someone else. I could really enjoy the rest of my ministry in peace if I just settle for what is and draw the curtains.

But there is another poem occupying precious real estate in my brain. Irish poet Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” invites me to rebellion against the drawing of the curtains. “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The dying of the light is a metaphor for death, and we are by no means dying, in fact we are growing. How I interpret this poem to speak to our present church condition, in light of this anniversary, is rather personal. I believe there are only two ways of existence in a church: either we continue to grow or we start to die. To settle and draw the curtains is comfortable and easy. To set the systems in place to continue to grow, on the other hand, is terrifying because it requires that we ask questions about space and master project build outs, fundraising and capital campaigns, and disruptions to our common life (as dirt will be moved around.) Now, let me remind you briefly of the needs over sixty parishioners voiced when our architects conducted a week-long round of interviews: We don’t have a parish hall large enough to gather together members of our four services for fellowship, funerals, wedding receptions, etc. We don’t have a licensable industrial kitchen and various ministries would love the opportunity to cook onsite. We were denied a license to operate a food bank because we do not have enough curvature to allow 18-wheel trucks to enter our campus. Our sacristy and clergy vesting rooms are postage-stamp rooms that are completely insufficient for a church of this size. We have aging, unusable playground equipment that is not attractive or hospitable for our growing young families. Our worship space is in serious need of updating (pews need refurbishing, carpeting is in poor condition, choir is at full capacity…) Various ministries need additional closet space to store their supplies. We have no appropriate sacristy or vesting room for the 9:01 service. We are running out of space for our staff in the Lennard Administration building, we need additional fencing and security systems for a campus that has become fairly unsafe for staff and parishioners over the last four years, etc. The proposed Master Project addresses these and other issues.

I believe today what I believed four years ago: Saint Dunstan’s is primed for growth and these last four years have shown this. Our Average Weekly Attendance has grown from 222 in 2020 to 263 in 2023 (Parochial Report 2023.) The better news is that this number does not include the average 156 people who watch us online every week. Together (in person and online) we have over 400 people who attend our services weekly. And this number will only continue to grow, but only if we continue to rage against the dying of the light. Many lament the reduction in attendance across the Church, the serious shortage of priests, and the reductions in giving, and I agree that these are problems, but I also believe many churches have settled and drawn the curtains. We cannot afford to do this. We must continue to evangelize and preach the Gospel, even as we prepare our campus and ministries for the Church of tomorrow. We must make courageous decisions to continue to grow.

But here I want to make a clarification and I want to be encouraging. Someone said to me the other day, “I am praying for you, father. I see how important this Master Plan is for you!” I want you, Saint Dunstan’s, to make a decision on the excellent Master Plan we have developed over the last year-and-a-half because it is the right thing to do for your future, not because your Rector believes it is a good idea. You have to do this for yourselves. Rectors are transitory, but you remain. Do not do this because I want it; do it because you want it! Your Rector’s future is in God’s hands and I will not be responsible for funding the project or paying down the debt (If any debt is incurred.) This will be your responsibility. Having said this, you and your children will reap the benefits of a more vibrant congregation: our new neighbors will continue to find us, we will continue to evangelize the unchurched, our 9:01 service will explode, and Sunday school will be at capacity. Already, it is very exciting to be in the BEC on Sunday mornings and witness the children’s laughter, but please do not take my word for it. Talk to our incredible Sunday school teachers and staff, and come visit us any given Sunday.

Do not draw down your curtains. Rage, rage against the dying of the light! Thanks for your support these last four years. May our Lord continue to bless you,

Fr. Roman+

[1] I left the Capital Letters that mark a new line of the verse. I wanted to save some space in this blog by not giving you the six-line verses of the poem.

[2] We improved our relationship with the Diocese and have been able to get two Curates back to back (a difficult task.) I wrote a grant and obtained Diocesan funding for an Associate Rector for ministries to Spanish Speakers and we planted a Church service for folks who speak Spanish. We created a livestreaming system that has over 150 viewers every week. We started funding a “Legacy Fund.” We welcomed back a number of parishioners who had left us years before. We grew children’s chapel from one service every other week to
All 9:00-9:01-11:15 services, every week, all-year round. We created weekly blogs for clergy and key staff. We realigned our service times to create a Sunday School Hour and created 4 new studies. We started a Facilities Master Project to assess space utilization. Your rector was appointed to the Board of Trustees of Seminary of the Southwest and chosen as one of 14 leaders nationwide to form a search committee for the school’s next Dean and President. We started a monthly Bible study at the Village at Gleannloch Farms. We have grown our budget and our congregation, etc.

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