As some may already be aware, my wife and I will be moving on from St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church in Islamorada. This December we would have celebrated four years of ministry here in the Upper Keys. While we could never be certified as true Conchs, we have certainly come to know and love many Conchs, as well as would-be Conchs.
The reality is that life in the Keys is a very unique experience. We came to know this throughout the four years, but especially during the last number of weeks in which we experienced our first “official” hurricane. While we and many others are still recovering from this crisis caused by Irma, my wife and I marvel at the cohesiveness of a community that gathers round its brothers and sisters (regardless of race, religion, economic background, etc.) and just gives a helping hand.
I must admit, though, I have lived in other areas where similar experiences occur. We are all called to reach out in loving kindness and compassion to all of our brothers and sisters. This is what has always motivated my ministry, and I pray that you will offer intercession to our loving God, that such will continue wherever my wife and I may find ourselves. I will never forget early in my ministry as a Roman Catholic priest (certainly prior to meeting my precious and adoring wife Isabel), I was deeply touched by another group of island people.
My first assignment after ordination was in the Dominican Republic, working in the mountain villages surrounding Santiago. There was a phrase that they taught me early on as I lived and worked amongst them. The phrase was, “No es facil, pero todo es posible con Dios” (translation: It may not be easy, but all is possible with God.) I do believe that this is true, and it has certainly led my wife and I as we have raised our three daughters, relish in our three grandchildren, and continue to move forward in faith attempting to be faithful to God’s call.
As we ready our plans to leave this beautiful Island and continue the journey our gracious God has in store for us, I wish to share a poem that I wrote many years ago called God’s Call:
“The voice breathes gently Then slowly, but surely Yet with strength supreme; You let God’s word in, Questioning the heart, And in this resolve Creating the dream. You finally begin.
The option is yours, At first it is slow. I shall not demand; You are not quite sure; Yet this is the life… But with each new day. I place in your hands.” Grows feeling secure.
At times it seems perfect, God’s call filters peace, At times quite insane, Through searching indeed. But all of these feelings You come to acknowledge Are part of the same. God’s will and your need.
For moments in time, Your need to follow, You feel it is true. God’s will in your life; Convictions you have, Be able to grow, You must follow through. And push through the strife.
Yet gently, and sweetly For only in this, God’s voice enters in, In facing each day, “Finish all this, Can you be certain And then we’ll begin. To discern God’s way.
Begin with the plan, The process is slow. That I have for you. It takes much time. Begin with the work Rewards are many; I want you to do.” God’s peace sublime.”
Please know that you are all welcome to attend my final service at St. James the Fisherman Church this Sunday, Oct. 29, at 10 a.m. (a reception to follow afterward). It has been an honor and a privilege to minister in this community over the past four years. You will all remain much in our thoughts and prayers, and we pray that you continue.
Rev. Thomas Graf is the outgoing pastor of St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church in Islamorada.