Saint Brigid’s Community began as an idea while I was on a retreat in Glendalough, Ireland. In 2004 The Rev. Daniel Richards and I were rooming together on an eight-day retreat. We had stayed up very late and drank way too much from a bottle of Jameson.
One of us said, “Hey, when we get back to Phoenix, we should start a group.”
The other one said, “Yeah, for young adults.”
“We should name it something provocative.”
“Yeah, something Irish.”
“And it should be about questions.”
“Yeah, even, the God question. You know, is there a God?”
“And when the thing, the group, is over, done, dead, we’ll know it.”
“Yeah, and we’ll let go.”
“Yeah. Good night man.”
“Yeah, good night.”
The next day we learned that the Gaelic word for pilgrim is peregrini. A new group was born. We started meeting once a month at Fair Trade Café next to Trinity Cathedral in downtown Phoenix. Soon we were meeting once a week, cooking a meal, and gathering pilgrims who placed their stones in the water of transformation.
In 2005, the bishop hired me to be the chaplain for the Episcopal Campus Ministry at Arizona State University, Tempe. Chad Sundin and I started a Sunday night worship service on campus at Danforth Chapel. Daniel and I continued Peregrini for a while at Fair Trade Café. Then Daniel decided to take his stone out of the Peregrini water. He moved on, but left a stone as a marker of being with us on the journey.
In 2006, I went on another Irish pilgrimage. This time I walked from Dublin to Kildare, the home of Saint Brigid. I fell in love with all she stood for—strength, bold inclusion, and service. When I came back from Ireland, Chad and I morphed the Sunday night gathering with Peregini and changed the name to Saint Brigid’s Community. In the meantime, I was also appointed vicar at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Parish. Saint Brigid’ Community was moved to the parish. We experimented with several types of services, formats, days, and times.
For the next few years, Saint Brigid’s Community grew in vibrancy, mission, and number. Often we had over forty people show up for worship and conversation on a Thursday night. We had outreach ministries to children, the homeless, and immigrants. As with all young adult communities, the group was transient. People moved on, got tired, confused at times, even angry. Those who left took their stones out of the water of transformation. Those stones joined Daniel’s as a marker of walking with us on the journey.
Then in 2012, I went on yet another pilgrimage. This time I walked across Ireland, 353 miles. My soul went through significant shaping, intense transformation, a soul-morphing. As I walked, I listened to Spirit about what life would be like when I returned home. In the dark forest of Ireland I heard the word that Saint Brigid’ Community would come to an end. Honestly, I didn’t want to hear that word. I ignored what I heard and kept doing the work. I was violating the commitment Daniel and I had made in 2004. I could not let go.
Now its 2014, and in a few weeks I will leave again to walk the Wicklow Way in Ireland, this time with some of the Saint Brigid’s Community. The trip will be a part of a four-month sabbatical for me. I decided a month ago that while on pilgrimage in Ireland I would walk with the question of whether to let go of Saint Brigid’s Community and let it come to its end. But, I had already been given the answer two years. Now is the time to let go.
As I prepared for the final gathering of Saint Brigid’s Community I walked around the church grounds gathering stones for the closing ritual. I got a five-gallon bucket. Listened to the stones and put the ones who wanted to be a part of this ending ceremony into the bucket. I found a very large bowl to set on our altar in which I was going to place the stones in water. I counted the stones as I took them out of the bucket to make sure I had plenty. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9…44. Synchronicity. Without knowing it, I had gathered 44 stones. Four—the four directions—completeness—44—double completeness. Indeed, this would be the final night. The work was done.
Thursday night, Saint Brigid’s Community prayed and celebrated the Eucharist together for the last time. We prayed the prayers of Saint Brigid. We remembered those who have been a part of our journey. We gave thanks for those who had discerned their call within our community. We wept over those who had died among us. We took our stones out of the waters of the transformative work of this community and we built an Ebenezer, a reminder that we have walked this way with God. God changed our lives. While God is not done with us as individuals, the cycle of life has come to its completion in Saint Brigid’s Community. Through this ending, something new will be born. This we do believe. It is time to let go. Good night.