Unseasonable Year and The Vines

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July 2, 2019

What's Happening in The Vineyard?

Life in the vineyards is typically a vibrant and comforting cycle, with predictable things happening at regular intervals. Vines hibernate, awaken, stretch their arms and propagate. They endure drought and humidity, fend off insects and bacteria, gestate and produce fruit. At the end, they're given a figurative pat on the back and allowed a winter’s rest before the next go-round.

The vineyard is a parable for our time.  It is the church, that we said yes to in our baptism, our confirmation and still every Sunday at the celebration of Eucharist. 

‘God created a vineyard on a fertile hillside, spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines.  Within it he built a watchtower and hewed out a wine press. Then he waited for the crop of grapes, but it yielded rotten grapes.’ (Isaiah 5:1)

This scripture reading speaks of irresponsibility and injustice in all kinds of vineyards, including our own.  The Roman Catholic roots run deep in the soil.  We have experienced diseased vines and rotting grapes; and this year we were halted once again for stories of sexual assault on children from years past. Every story worse than the last.  Cardinals, Bishops and Priest misusing their power and authority.  The tender vines, our children, were sexually violated and given great pain.

The prophet Isaiah ascribed to God a love song about the beloved vineyard.  Though planted on a very fertile hill, and carefully tended, it yielded wild grapes.  God destroyed this vineyard.  Why?  What went wrong?  Scripture tells us that God expected justice in the vineyard but saw bloodshed.  The Eternal One wanted right relationship, but instead heard the cries of pain.

‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ Mt 20:4

Over the past forty years the church has formed lay ecclesial ministers to be co-workers in the vineyard, and they have served in religious education, administration, social justice, liturgy, music, pastoral care and community building.  Their jobs may come and go as we face the economic challenges and fallout from this scandal, yet they are faithful to their vocational call to serve in the name of the Church. In 2005, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops promulgated a hopeful document:  Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord:  A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministers.  It paved the way for Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary to host sustained conversation and national symposiums to advance the national will toward the authorization of lay ecclesial ministers.

Pope Francis has named the recent clergy sexual abuse scandal an "open wound" and it requires the church to be "firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice". "We need to change." Healing is organic, it is our birthright.

In this spirit, we will gather at the vineyard and create a space for co-workers to pray, listen and prepare for an uncertain harvest. We will turn our eyes and heart to God, the real owner of the vineyard that has been leased to us as stewards.  How will we respond as public religious leaders call to tend the vineyard?  How will we generate the support we need from one another? How will we put into action ways to redeem the tragedy we experience?  What will we do with the vineyard we have been left to tend?  How might we develop a vineyard, a ministerial workplace that is good for all?

August 14th marks the one year anniversary of the Pennsylvania report, a monumental reminder of the Church's ongoing sexual abuse crisis.

Join the School of Theology and Seminary Alumni Association and faculty for a late afternoon dialogue on this important topic, which will be held at 7 Vines Vineyard in Dellwood, MN. Here we will pray, experience the wine-making process, the art of wine-making, explore the open wound of the sexual abuse scandal in the church through the experiences of co-workers in the vineyard, and dialogue about a ministerial workplace that can be a great place for all. We will conclude with wine tasting (non-alcoholic beverages will also be served). 

 This event is geared towards Pastoral leaders, Chaplains, School of Theology and Seminary Alumni, Students, and others preparing for church ministry.