Letter from the Rector
November 6, 2020
My dear friends in Christ,
Almost exactly 16 years ago, Susalee and I entered a season marked at once by great sadness and genuine excitement. We said goodbye to a parish family we loved in Jacksonville, Florida, entrusting our lives to God’s call to new ministry with you here at St. George’s in Nashville. We have been so incredibly blessed in this long season with you. God has confirmed this call for us in countless ways surpassing our expectations. Yet we find ourselves again obediently trusting God’s invitation into new ministry. I write to inform you that I have accepted the call to serve as rector of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, beginning in January 2021. My last Sunday as rector of St. George’s will be December 13, 2020.
I am filled with tremendous sadness writing this communication. I have never harbored any desire to leave this parish family, taken initiative in seeking new employment, nor yet felt anxiety about overstaying my welcome. These past 16 years have been the most rewarding and happiest of my adult life. The great friendships, the significant ministries, and the major events we have experienced together in Christ will remain a part of us forever. We love it here and we love you very much. I believe you know that. Hence my genuine grief in saying goodbye.
I am also always excited about new ministry possibilities wherever the Lord is on the move. I am now 56 years old and blessed by good health. I am as energized by parish ministry as ever, believing quite strongly that the local congregation is where the kingdom “rubber hits the road” in the church’s mission to embody the gospel in our troubled, post-Christendom era. I now have 20 years of experience leading corporate Episcopal Churches as rector. I have clarity that this is my particular calling. And this too do I love.
It seems important for me to share that I initially turned down overtures from St. John the Divine to enter their search process. But in recent weeks the Holy Spirit surprisingly cracked open a space in me to consider anew God’s next chapter in ministry. Of course, Susalee has been an essential part of this discernment marked by deep prayer and much conversation. St. John the Divine is among the top ten largest Episcopal parishes located in the country’s fourth largest city. It is a robust congregation well-formed in biblical Christianity that, given the state of the world, discerns a strong calling to more entrepreneurial mission and evangelism for the city of Houston. It may be the only parish in the denomination that could possibly draw me out of St. George’s.
A supreme irony in this transition for me personally is that I have never been more grateful, happy, or proud to be at St. George’s than in the past year or two. The tremendous success of our recent major capital campaign followed by the excitement of large new construction projects and a newly renovated nave and chancel have been among the most rewarding times of my ordained career. But I may be even more thankful for our shared life during this past year of coronavirus. It has called forth the very best in us to remain connected, to adapt in creative ways, to develop new ministries quickly, and to continue to nurture familiar and important ministries that make us the church we are. I cannot thank you enough for your support, courage, and faithfulness in this most challenging year.
I dislike causing disruption to the church in any way. But I am highly confident that St. George’s is among the strongest Episcopal parishes anywhere. Given our incredible people, our substantial resources, our expansive and beautiful facilities, and our current highly gifted staff, there is absolutely no reason to doubt that the parish will move from strength to strength. I especially wish to highlight once more and with gratitude our wise and committed vestry, as well as the best staff with whom I have ever had the privilege of working!
As presumptuous as it may seem, I have always perceived of my ministry as being a missionary into the mainline church. At times I have been surprised remaining at St. George’s as long as I have. But now as we prepare to move on again after a lengthy, blessed ministry, I am reminded that Abraham would not have provided a pattern for faithfulness if he had remained in Ur of the Chaldeans. St. Paul would not have left us a model for mission if he had remained in only one city.
You are now being called into a new chapter of ministry as well. I trust my leave-taking will invite St. George’s to look at herself afresh, to consider new possibilities and opportunities to grow in grace and bless the world. I will be praying for a season of growth in mutual responsibility and gospel faith building on the strengths developed over the past.
We shall be intentional in saying our goodbyes over the coming weeks. But lastly here I remind you yet again of God’s never-wavering faithfulness. Our Lord loves you and St. George’s Church eternally. By his grace, the conditions have been created for future flourishing as never before. Have confidence in that grace and believe you can do whatever you will that accords with his will. Words escape me in articulating well just how deeply Susalee and I will miss living among you. But as you have also heard me share before, those who belong to Jesus never say goodbye for the last time.
Yours forever in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. R. Leigh Spruill