June 4, 2023, Trinity Sunday, Retirement Announcement Sermon by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year A; Trinity Sunday; 6.4.2023

Retirement Announcement, The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund, Rector, St. Paul’s, Brunswick, Maine

            Today is Trinity Sunday, an ancient Christian Feast Day that emerged from the great ecumenical councils to give words to the mystery of God in Christ. This is my promise to you this Trinity Sunday: I will not read the 9 pages from the “Theological Dictionary of the Christian Church” that describes the councils, the philosophies and the controversies of the early church. Whew!

But I will read the one sentence in the dictionary that is relevant to us: “…the purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity is to point to the presence and action of God in this world in Jesus the Christ.” People of faith long for things that point us to the holy, the sacred, the divine.

            And so, I have brought some things today that point us to the Trinity, the divine.

            Last Sunday I announced that we would be making S’mores after today’s First Sundays, Life Together service. I said, making S’mores was truly a Trinitarian activity. First, we have graham cracker. Second, we have heated marshmallows and third, we have chocolate. What is the Trinity? You can answer: “The Trinity is ‘Three in one.’” The delicious “one” of S’mores that go to one place. Right here in my mouth!

            Another symbol of the Trinity came to me from Terry Howell. Terry mentioned to me that she ponders the Trinity sometimes. One time, while she was baking in the kitchen, the recipe called for a whole egg to be separated. As she took the egg and separated the yolk from the egg-white, she says that she immediately thought of the Trinity: the shell as a whole containing the yolk which to her is the symbol of Jesus. And the egg white as the fluffy Spirit.

            Notice today that Randy Day has planned some hymns that have “3’s” in them. “Morning has broken” is in 3 quarter time, like a one-two-three waltz. We sang “Holy, holy, holy,” “holy” three times for our Gospel hymn. We also pared it down to three verses. And every Sunday, the priest always blesses us in a triplet blessing: “The blessing of Creator (God), Redeemer (Jesus) and Sanctifier (Holy Spirit) be with you…”

            The Celtic people, ancient and modern have brought their divine triads to the Christian faith. Even before Christianity, they saw nature and creatures as holy in relationships of “threes.” Something in this sacred number pointed them to the divine. And now, we have them to thank for the beautiful prayers and hymns we often use in the Episcopal Church.

One Celtic prayer is a meditation I say every morning that points to God, the three in one. The prayer goes like this:

            “I arise today in the strength of the mighty Creator;

            In the strength of the rising Savior;

            In the strength of the life-giving Spirit;

            In the strength of the mighty Three whose Love is One.”

            “In the strength of the mighty Three whose Love is One” is how I start my day. The Trinity is all about God’s love in relationship and this Celtic prayer points to that.  Sometimes I start to cry because the prayer surrounds me with everything that I need from God each day; God’s love in relationship with the Savior, the Spirit, you, me and Creation.

            “The mighty Three whose Love is One” points to our relationship as a faith community here at St.  Paul’s.   One of the joys of being the rector of St. Paul’s is that I am in relationship with brilliant and faithful leaders. Just last week I was speaking on the phone with our Senior Warden, Cliff Ruprecht. I think we were discussing church matters. But somehow, we launched into the deep theology of the Trinity and concluded that, as difficult as this doctrine is, it points to relationships and love, simple as that. I remember sharing in my journal the amazement that the Wardens and I can have conversations like that with each other.

Later, Deborah Goodwin, Cliff Ruprecht, Katie Holicky and I met in our weekly leadership meeting and I mentioned that it was the Feast of Justin Martyr, second Century Saint. Immediately, Deborah Goodwin our Junior Warden joyfully summarized Justin Martyr’s incredible influence on the early church. Her joy in sharing her faith and knowledge with us was infectious. Again, a weekly meeting to discuss church affairs turned into a “the mighty Three whose Love is One” moment! Love in relationship!

            I believe that it was the mighty power of the Trinity, “Whose Love is One” that brought me to St. Paul’s. Ten years ago this month, you invited me to interview for rector here. My spouse John had died two and a half years before that. I had never been to Maine. Maine was NOT on my list when I dreamed of my next move. But I heard God say, “Why wouldn’t you go to Brunswick for the interview?” So, I went for the interview.

Coming in to town I had seen a large colorful banner hanging from the St. Paul’s building that invited people to the 9:30 am Family Service. Charla Spann told me later that the banner spoke to her and her household when they moved into town from Illinois, and that they immediately felt welcomed.  

I met with the Vestry for the interview in the Great Hall over dinner catered by the late Caroline Russell. We had an energetic conversation about outreach, nurturing families with small children and youth, and reaching beyond the doors of the parish into the neighborhood.  The Vestry and I talked about the commitment St. Paul’s had made to add a third worship service that was located upstairs on the second floor. It was a non-traditional service designed for those who had never stepped foot in a church and those who had children and needed something more accessible than the traditional service in the Nave. I was inspired by that vision.

            I was also inspired by the deep, generous commitment that St. Paul’s has to the greater community. I learned that St. Paul’s was home to daily 12-step groups and had been for decades. One Vestry member said, “And they have their own key.” I knew immediately that St. Paul’s love for community extended beyond this building.

            And you extended your love to me. In this 10th year we’ve had together, our “love in relationship” is central to my ministry and I’m grateful. We have a truly Trinitarian love relationship, joined together by God, Jesus and God’s Spirit.  I have been reflecting on our magnificent time together these 10 years; the joys, the sorrows, the pandemic struggles, our mission of justice and outreach and the love that stretches way beyond you and me to the rest of the community and to God.

            I’ll be 68 in August of this year. St. Paul’s is in a place of strength, clear mission, generosity and love, led by incredible leaders, clergy and staff. I have had conversations with the bishop for his counsel and have decided to bring my ministry with you to a holy conclusion this fall, October 1 when I retire as your rector.

            Two weeks ago, our deacon, the Rev. Mary Lee Wile shared with me that she too had spoken with the bishop and had chosen December 3 as her retirement date. I have loved working with her these 10 years. With the Rev. Katie Holicky as our assistant rector, Mary Lee and I have experienced a clergy colleagueship that is truly Trinitarian, “the mighty three whose Love is One!” I have loved working with them both.

            My years with you couldn’t have been more joyful and filled with friendship, love and amazing ministry together. You have made me a better, more patient, generous, joyful and loving Christian. Thank you for the most fulfilling years of my life.