High atop a steep bluff at the edge of the Pacific Ocean on an island that you can barely see from the front deck of my childhood home, there is an ancient obsidian quarry. Over the centuries the original peoples of that watery corner of the world dug and carved out the volcanic glass to be used for arrowheads, knives, and other implements of war and work. To get to the quarry you need an agile boat and a quick-witted captain. At low tide you can enter a narrow canyon by timing the sea swells and gunning the motor at the right moment. To access the shore you must jump from the boat to a nearby shelf and then slog through a tidal pool and squeeze under a stone arch. The climb to the obsidian is a short distance but almost straight up and you have to hang onto branches and roots as you go. The reward for your effort is a stone hardened by intense heat, razor sharp, and the color of deep night. Anthropologists say the rocks were a kind of currency for the first peoples of this continent and you can find obsidian from this quarry all the way up and down the Pacific Coast.
Being something of an archeological treasure, the location of the quarry is not widely known now, just as it was likely a guarded secret in its own day. To give away the coordinates would be and would have been an invitation to thieves and rogues to steal the stones and desecrate a sacred space. When I first visited the quarry I was surprised how many times my boat had puttered past the entrance of the canyon unawares that inside was a real treasure. I wondered what sorts of other finds I had wandered past in my years of fishing those waters.
In some ways we’ve treated our places of worship, our sacred spaces, treasures that they are with vaulted ceilings and stained glass, as if they were to be guarded like that quarry. I can’t tell you the number of parishes I’ve visited over the years that were hidden off the street, signs barely visible, no person to greet you at the door and no invitation to come inside. I’ve talked with Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others who feel that the church where they worship is “theirs”, their own special treasure. I’ve listened to folks describe church in terms like “we like it just the way it is – we don’t want too many visitors or newcomers because we want to preserve the intimate and comfortable community we already have.” Churches of all stripes can put up barriers, intentional and not, that require folks to work extra hard just to get through the door – let alone figure out what’s happening once they’re in.
One of the joys of working at St. Alban’s Parish has been that we believe our treasure ought to be shared. Our signs are clear, our invitation unabashed, and our welcome genuine. If our parish were the quarry, we would hold your hand, guide you through the door, and walk you right to the source and help you fill your basket. There is a sense here that we understand the bottomless well from whence our treasure comes. We can say “have some more” because we know there’s more where that comes from. In fact, far from being “ours” to begin with, the treasure we’ve been handed in the people, in the place, and the Good News we’ve encountered at St. Alban’s, belongs to the God from who comes all good things. Once we let down our guard, and invite as many as can come, to this treasure of infinite worth (the knowledge that God loves, welcomes, embraces, and saves each of us) we may find that like that obsidian, the Good News will start to change hands, passing from person to person to places we’ve never even expected.
But the hard thing is when we have to let one of our own pass back out through our gates to go on his way into the world. We will be grateful for all that he has brought to to enrich our lives. We will be pleased for the opportunities he will have to serve and to develop his considerable talents. However, we will miss him.