From the Rector: reflections on 2016 and some thoughts about 2017: Rector's Report 2016

God bless St. Luke’s Church and all who worship within its walls. With God’s help may we ever seek to grow this fellowship of love through our prayer, our friendliness, and our unceasing labor with Christ.  Thus may God’s will be done through us on earth as in heaven, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we come to the beginning of a new year, it is my pleasure to share some reflections on the past year and some thoughts about the year to come.

As for several years now, the 2008 Comprehensive Building Plan for renewing the physical fabric of our building an grounds, and the companion 2010 Learning Team initiative to renew the human fabric of the parish, provided direction for St. Luke’s in 2016 and should remain relevant for the coming year.

Including the abiding sense that, despite the many challenges to accomplishing it, God is calling us to grow into a program size congregation of about 225-250 ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) with 200 households contributing to our operating budget.  We currently remain on the plateau between pastoral and program size, about 180 ASA with about 150 households contributing to our budget.

Our belief in God’s call to grow is not simply about getting bigger.  One of the things so many of us love about St. Luke’s is that we are a small enough community that we can actually recognize most people if we make the effort.  In fact our enjoyment of life in our current context is probably the biggest obstacle to growth.  We like the way things are.  Life is good at St. Luke’s.  But life as it is falls short of what we should be able to accomplish, what God is calling us to accomplish.  Our recent Stewardship Campaign is an example.  The campaign was fabulous.  Through Tom Hargrove’s leadership and the work of the stewardship Committee, Vestry and staff, we articulated a clear case for why we needed more resources: Grace, Kate, and Susan.

What wonderful new energy and vision have been brought to us through Grace Pratt, Kate Weber-Petrova, and Susan Bentley.  The joy they each take in their work increases our joy as a parish.  Keeping joy in God’s service alive and bright is perhaps the single most important work of every Christian.  It is essential spiritual work for all parish leaders and members.  

Being able to more nearly compensate our clergy and lay staff for the work they do posed a great challenge.  And nearly 150 households stepped up to that challenge because, I believe, they share joy in God’s love and the desire to expand that joy into the lives of others making the world and our lives better.

St. Lukers don’t need to grow in numbers to do this work.  We already have many wonderful vital ministries that give full expression to God’s purpose among us.

The scope and vitality of our Outreach ministries under Zelda Shute’s joy filled leadership is unparalleled. Our ministries are hugely important to so many in our community.  Many of our ministries include people recruited from outside of St. Luke’s.  And I hope we all appreciate the importance of this.  For as important as it is that we help those in need, there is no work given to human beings that is not better accomplished with friends than it is alone.  It is so important that we expand friendship with God and each other and help others find their purpose as active, contributing partners in God’s community of love and prayer. 

Our Christian Formation, Fellowship, and Worship ministries, including Choirs, Worship Guilds, Sunday School, Day School, and Boy Scout Troop, study groups such as St. Catherine’s Guild, Saturday Bible Study, Thursday Morning Prayer, Old Town Irregulars, Historical Jesus, Life, Community, and Faith, Ladies First, Men’s Steak and Beer,  Fish Groups, flower and meal delivery teams attest to our ability and desire to organize around our faith that God wants every person to be supported in a safe, loving environment and to grow into the full stature of Christ: in the knowledge of God and in fulfillment of their promise as a human being made in God’s image and set in a community. 

Even so, many of our ministries struggle to find the people necessary to fully accomplish their goals.  A few more Sunday School teachers and a few more students would make Sunday school less of a duty and more of a joy.

$50,000 more in our annual budget would allow us to give health care to our organist and secure the help of a part time sexton to help with some of the elements of managing our building and grounds.

Another $50,000 would enable us to fulfill a 10% pledge to the Diocese, 1% for our local Episcopal Mission, and 1% for theological education without compromising on the compensation of our staff.

We could certainly ask existing members to dig deeper for that money.  To give more of their time and talent.  But the better solution is the one God is challenging us to achieve – include more people within the fellowship of love we share at St. Luke's, expand the circle of friends.

50 more active households in the parish would provide the human and capital resources to more fully accomplish our ministries, and with some intentional effort we could still recognize, know and care for each other. 

The single most important factor in parishes that grow is the broadly shared commitment among the members and leaders of the parish to consider and care about people who are not currently members without neglecting to inspire, organize and care for those who are.  

Once we have done the heart and soul work that refocuses our attention on people who are not already here, the growth that inspires and eludes us might be as simple as a broadly shared commitment from every small group of friends and every existing ministry team to reorganize to include one or a few new members, especially members who are new to St. Luke’s, and to keep an opening in the system, an open chair at every gathering, and open eye and heart for the person that might be willing to join the group if asked and encouraged and made welcome.

Growth might be something as simple as each of us taking the time to meet one new person each month and really care about who they are, what makes them tick.  It might be as simple as inviting one friend, neighbor, or family member to church with you with enough persistence that one day they say yes, and then you ask them to come again with enough persistence that they say yes. And to ask them because you truly believe they will make St. Luke’s better and St. Luke’s has something to offer that will enrich their lives as well.

Earlier I mentioned the 2008 Comprehensive Building Plan which provided the basis for the last Capital Campaign, the renovations of our Kitchen, Day School Classrooms, and the building of the beautiful reredos. The Building plan is rooted in the belief that beautiful, gracious, useful, efficient, safe and secure facilities are a great strength from which we perform God’s ministry and inspire others to participate in God’s work.  

We have long known that the next steps in the plan include the Parish Hall renovation to provide more appropriate and gracious spaces for the many groups that want to meet for work, fellowship, and celebrations at St. Luke’s.  Upgrading building envelope, lighting, heating and cooling systems will ensure continuity of ministry and efficient use of resources.  Lighting our parking areas and grounds will make the facility safer, more attractive and inviting for our many evening programs.  Redesigning and resourcing the median in the parking with power and water will support existing programs and inspire new ones. And I agree with our Vestry that it is time this year for us to seriously consider taking these next steps.

Finally, a word about the Sabbatical. The Sabbatical ahead of us is for deepening our experience and reservoir of joy.  My time away, beginning the day after Pentecost, June 5 and concluding All Saints Day Sunday November 4, will include the opportunity to take a couple of silent retreats to reconnect with God who waits in the silent solitude of our souls.  I will take time to loll around with my family, my wife and children.  I will spend nearly a month in Jerusalem, my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  And through all this I will be keeping my mind open in search for living saints, people in everyday life who seem activated and alive to the joy of the love of God. 

It is my deep hope that every member of St. Luke’s will likewise stay awake to and reconnect with their joy in knowing and serving God. Let’s encourage one another to discover and follow joy.  And let’s continually look for ways to include others in our joy in worshipping and growing in understanding and service of God’s love.  St. Luke’s is populated by so many living saints – exemplars of contagious joy, including Grace, Kate, Susan, and people like vestry members Judy Bryan and Joe Manous, outreach chair Zelda Shute, stewardship chair Tom Hargrove, wardens Don Hazen, and Cathy McPeek.   There are so many others.

Rooted in the joy of God’s love, I know we can realize God’s call to us to revitalize our mission of faith and incorporate vital new members into our historic fellowship of love, prayer, and service.  In 2017 let’s recommit ourselves, and our lives to connecting with and expressing the joy of God’s love and finding ways of including new friends in the work we love.

May God continue to bless St. Luke’s Church and all who worship within its walls. With God’s help may we continue to grow this fellowship of love through our prayer, our friendliness, and our unceasing labor with Christ.  Thus may God’s will be done through us on earth as in heaven, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.