It’s not too hard to find a church in El Paso. There are many to choose from: Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, and the list goes on and on.
However in some churches, it is becoming harder and harder to find a priest or minister on staff. The Catholic Church, for example, has many churches that share priests – the priest will be on staff at one church, and then say mass there, and then at another parish as well.
So, when there is a new minister being installed in any church, it is a time for celebration.
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in central El Paso has just installed their seventh priest in long and storied history. The Rev. Dr. Lin Lilley was installed as rector by the Right Rev. Michael L. Vono, D.D., the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande.
For close to a century, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church has stood watch in Central El Paso. Founded as a mission church from St. Clements’s in 1921, and becoming a parish in 1939. Rev. Lilley is the first woman to be called to be parish priest at St. Albans.
After ordination to the priesthood, Rev. Lilley said that she went on to train as an intentional interim priest. She has previously served as an interim priest in charge of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Albuquerque and of St. Mark’s in Durango, Colorado. At both churches, her role was to help the congregations prepare to call new rectors and then move on to another assignment.
“Even though I enjoyed interim ministry and moving around,” she says, “I am so content to call El Paso and St. Alban’s home.”
Having spent years within the Episcopal Church, I have come to love the ceremony of instillation of a new minister. The pageantry, the incense, the music, and the feeling of God moving and working within an ever-growing congregation.
As the Bishop and Rev. Lilley made their way to the chancel, in procession, they led by the choir, with the refrain of “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” The censer swinging back and forth, incense rising, my mind was drawn back to the long history of literacy and prior visits by Bishops.
To me, when a congregation, any congregation calls a new minister it is a sign of growth both within the church and the community in which the church serves.
During the “induction” portion of the service members of the congregation presented Rev. Lilley with gifts that represented her calling as a priest within the church, and based on the ministry everyone performs within St. Albans.
Some of the gifts were a bible from Jim Tolbert and Sal Saldivar. Bishop Vono shared with Rev. Lilley water for baptism. Ballard Coldwell and Pat Cunningham gave a stole. Bread and wine were presented by Loretta Lopez and Michael Borunda. Julia Garcia gave a crystal cross.
The sermon, delivered by Bishop Vono, was a message of love.
“You are surrounded by a great love,” Bishop Vono told the congregation during his sermon. “That great love is on all sides. Certainly, it’s on God’s side, that God in Christ Jesus loves you dearly. And, it is also on the Church side, the whole Church loves you as well.”
“This ministry is not just Lin’s, which Lin knows very well,” said the Bishop. “This new ministry is hers and yours.”
“Don’t be focused on the turbulence out there,” the Bishop said during this sermon. “Be focused on me [Jesus].”
I’ve come to notice that in churches across the country we are beginning to focus on what is not important or ascribing more importance to trivial matters than we should. An example would be the old saying of WWJD – What Would Jesus Do.
Far too often we look at someone who is engaged in some activity and ask that question, what would Jesus do?
The answer that I’ve heard, time and again, is that Jesus would condemn that person for their actions, their beliefs, or lifestyle choices. But, I wonder if that is true? During his sermon, the Bishop was calling us to focus on Jesus.
In my talks with the Rev. Lilley, she tends to say the same thing, that we should focus on the love of Jesus. It’s not a love that seeks to marginalize someone because of who they are or where they are from. No, it’s a love that seeks to embrace you with open arms, and without judgement.
“We will get through the storms; we will get through the uncertainty, we will get through the unfamiliar.” Said Bishop Vono. And we will if our focus is in the right direction.
Rev. Lilley is focused in that direction, wanting to bring peace, love, forgiveness, and mercy to a people in
After Bishop Vono’s sermon, after the induction and gifts were given, the Rev. Dr. Lin Lilley was very warmly welcomed by the congregation of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.
“Oh Lord, my God,” Rev. Lilley prayed, through the beginning of tears. “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; yet you have called your servant to stand in your house.”
She is more than worthy.
“I feel incredibly honored,” says Rev. Lilley, “to be serving a wonderful congregation. St. Alban’s is home to an especially warm and welcoming group of people who love the Lord and who love St. Alban’s and its traditions.”
For the future? “I’m looking forward to 2021,” Rev. Lilley said. “St. Alban’s will celebrate the hundred-year anniversary of its founding as a mission of what was then known as St. Clement’s Episcopal Church. It’s wonderful to learn the congregation’s history with an eye to re-telling the story of its first 100 years. In the meantime, parish leaders and I are working to get the word out about St. Alban’s.”
“Since the church is a half-block off Piedras at Wheeling and not visible from Piedras, we’re something of a well-kept secret in the heart of the old Manhattan Heights neighborhood. Our plan is to do more to reach out to the neighborhood through events such as the traditional St. Francis Day blessing of the animals, starting occasional mothers’ mornings out where we can get to know our neighbors, and offering special programs for children around Advent and Christmas,” Rev. Lilley continued.
After Mass, everyone gathered in the parish hall to congratulate their new rector, meet with the Bishop, and share a wonderful lunch.
“My special thanks go to women from St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church who cooked the great fiesta meal for brunch and to parishioners who hired the all-woman Mariachi Femenil Flores Mexicanas to play at the brunch. What a way to cap a joyous celebration!”