Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mizpah

I may have written about this years ago, but I don't remember, and maybe you wont either.  I once knew a rector who ended every vestry meeting by having everyone join hands in a circle and recite in unison, "The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other," to which they would all append, "Mizpah."  He would smile a benign smile, and I often wondered if it hid a slight smirk.  Most of the vestry assumed that this little ritual was supposed to be a sign of the Christian love that bound them together in shared commitment to the work of the church.  And if that's what happened, good for them.

I doubt if it occurred to any of them that it was the oath sworn between Jacob and Laban, two charlatans who distrusted each other for good reason, as Jacob departed Laban's land to return to Canaan.  Mizpah (a watch tower) was the heap of stones they set up as testimony to their oath and a boundary marker that neither was to cross.

It was like saying, "Alright you difficult people, let's part for another month doing our best not to hurt each other, and try to play nice out there."

Vestries can be a troublesome collection of competing egos: some were cajoled into serving, some are there to keep an eye on the rector, some because it is their God given right to run the place, and some are there to protect their guild or group from incursions by others.  And each of them is there to do God's work, at least superficially, if they remember that's why they are there.

OK, I agree that not all vestries are like that, perhaps not even many.  Moreover, I'm certain that such problems as may from time to time arise happen only in Episcopal Church vestries, not in parish councils and sessions of  other denominations.  But I always wondered if my friend's monthly ritual was something of his own private joke, with the added bonus that, over many years, not a single member ever raised a question about it.

In any case, it seemed to work, and I've often wondered whether, instead of opening invocations that are common among legislative assemblies, this  Mizpah ritual might be a good way to end each day.  "It's time to go home.  Every body gather round and hold hands.  Let's try to leave here without causing any more damage or hurting each other while we are apart, and let this pile of the revised statutes be a sign of our oath and a boundary we will not cross; dismissed."  Just a thought.

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