To my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ at St. Dunstan’s:
It is my great honor and privilege to write to introduce myself, officially, as your new Rector. Over the past several months of prayer and conversation with members of the Search Committee and Vestry, as well as with Bishop Mariann Budde, I have discerned a strong sense of call to minister to and with the people of St. Dunstan’s – a call that at once humbles me and brings me deep joy. I see God’s fingerprints all over our new relationship, for which I am so very thankful.
My acquaintance with St. Dunstan’s actually began over twenty years ago, when I was a first-year student at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. At that time my classmates and I were charged with visiting a number of parishes in the greater DC area, with an eye toward finding Field Education placements for our second and third years. I worshipped with many local congregations over that fall and winter, but I found myself returning, time and again, to St. Dunstan’s. I was drawn back by the warmth and welcome of the congregation, by the beauty of the liturgy and music, and by the preaching and teaching of the Rector, the Rev. John McDuffie. It took little time for me to realize that St. Dunstan’s was where I felt called to serve and to learn for the next two years.
However, it seems as though God had other plans: over that summer, John responded to his own strong sense of call to another parish, and he invited me to join him there. And so it was that I wound up serving not at my beloved St. Dunstan’s, after all, but at a church of which I had never even heard, much less visited, before. (This is but one of the many ways that God has surprised me over the course of my walk with Christ...)
That decision proved to be the right one for me at the time; nevertheless, St. Dunstan’s always has remained in my heart. It has felt like “home” to me from the very beginning – which is why I have been so happy to fill in for Jeff McKnight as supply priest a few times in recent years. On those occasions I have been delighted to witness, first-hand, the myriad ways in which God has sustained and nurtured the parish since I first crossed the threshold in 1997. Specifically, I have been inspired by the ongoing commitment to worship, welcome, pastoral care, formation, and outreach. Having said that, I also know that St. Dunstan’s is not the same place that I experienced twenty years ago – which is a Very Good Thing. As the Body of Christ, churches are dynamic, living entities that are meant to grow and change; may God help the parish that clings so assiduously to the past that it cannot lean in to the promise and challenge of the future.
So here we are, you and I. After serving in parishes and schools in New York, Virginia, and – most recently – up the road in Potomac, my journey in faith now has led me back “home,” to St. Dunstan’s. And as I’m sure you will hear me say more than once in the weeks and months ahead, I firmly believe that God has brought us together in this beautiful place at this time for a reason. We may not yet perceive, fully, what God has in mind for us, and that is okay. Actually, it’s more than okay: it’s exciting, it’s life-giving, and, I will admit, it’s a bit scary. That is as it should be. Stepping out in faith always brings a measure of fear and trembling…but we do not lose heart, because we know that we do not step out alone.
As you may be aware, with the Vestry’s blessing I am taking a few weeks off this summer to prepare for this new call. I am grateful beyond measure for the incomparable gift of time, as I only just concluded my ministry at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School days ago. I look forward to this unofficial sabbatical to rest and refresh, as well as to enjoy some much-needed vacation with my husband, sons, and dogs at our “happy place,” the Outer Banks. And mine is not the only impending transition in our family: in late August our eldest son, Will, begins his freshman year at Elon University in North Carolina. I ask your prayers for all of the Alexanders as we navigate these uncharted waters. Likewise, please be assured of my prayers for St. Dunstan’s as you take some essential transition time of your own.
I wish you all deep peace and every blessing for the remainder of the summer. I can’t wait to join you on the Trail beginning on September 1st!
Yours faithfully and joyfully,
The Rev. Patricia Phaneuf Alexander
Rector, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Bethesda
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).