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  • Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: The icons of what brought me here-6.6.24

After two years, I’m just about finished moving into my office. Boxes that held some of my most precious things have finally been unpacked. Last week, parishioner Dave Kipphut helped me put arrangements on my walls and create displays on the bookcase shelves that are otherwise too high for me to reach.

Now I can gaze up at the icon of the Rev. Pauli Murray that my former spiritual director, the late Bettina Clowny, was commissioned to write for me. I can study her icon of St. George that was a gift. My collection of crosses and crucifixes hang nearby, along with the “keys to the parish” that I was presented with at my installation.

I’m not sure why it has taken so long to unpack these last things, to make this final claim on my space. The surface answer is that other things took priority – meetings and pastoral visits, sermon writing and liturgy -- a whole year of firsts and then another year of seconds in the life of being a new rector. It was easy to put off the act of decoration.

It was also a time so filled with becoming something new, that I set aside the icons of where I had been, the symbols of not only what I brought with me, but what brought me here.

But now, two years in, I was ready. It settled like a sigh after a busy year. I missed Pauli’s wise gaze. Some items had never been displayed. It was time.

Two plaques remind me of my peace and justice work over the years. The crosses ground me in the theology of emptying that has become so important to my understanding of the daily call to die and to rise with Christ. The crucifix that St. Martin’s gifted me with on my leaving features a black Jesus – a reminder of the racial justice work we did there and all that still needs to be done.

And there are new pieces as well. Dave Kipphut brought in a large processional cross that until recently had been in pieces, salvaged decades ago by his father, who worked in church insurance settlements. The pieces sat in Dave’s house for several years, until he recently glued them together and brought them in to hang on my wall. My bookshelves also feature items that were waiting for me when I got here – a hand-stitched seal of St. Peter’s, a commemorative plate with a picture of the church, a gavel I should probably use at Vestry meetings. There is even a full nativity display, another gift from the Kipphut family.

These pieces of religious art and symbol have a profoundly focusing effect on me in my third year of ministry at St. Peter’s. They speak to the fact that the life of church is a shared life, a collection of gifts that are loaned, found and carried. They belong where they can be seen, where their stories can be called forth, and appreciated, rather than in boxes or under bushel baskets, as they say.

Do you have boxes like this in your life, full of cherished things that got put away in a move or project? Have you stumbled upon an icon from your past that helps you remember how you got to where you are? Is there any empty space on your wall that is calling out for a sacred memory to occupy it?

I’m grateful to Dave for the prompt to get the things on the wall, for the help in using the right fasteners, and for the artful eye to their arrangement. I’m grateful to all who have contributed to the pieces over time. Gratitude is perhaps the most important part of the collection -- a very good item to have on display in this next year of life at St. Peter’s.

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1 Comment

sam hogg
sam hogg
Jun 07

your eloquent, poetic comments take me to musing about my own icons...

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