Welcome to all of you on this our Vestry Sunday. As is our practice here at St. Luke’s on this Sunday, I will give my charge to Vestry in place of the usual sermon at this time. Following our Eucharist together we will proceed to the parish hall for some refreshments followed by our Annual Vestry Meeting. All of you are welcome to come join in with the refreshments, and members of the parish who are of the voting age of 16 and over are welcome to attend and vote at vestry.
Although this is not a sermon, I was struck by the Gospel reading which tells the story of Jesus healing a leper. The leper has faith in Jesus and says to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And Jesus says, “I do choose, be made clean.”
Jesus does choose for the spiritual and physical healing of people today as well. It is Jesus’ choice is that we be made whole in body and mind and spirit. And because that was what Jesus was about, that must be what we are about today. It is the task of every Christian to do the work of Jesus in our world today. We believe that every baptized Christian is called to ministry in their daily life – no matter their occupation. For we are baptized into the body of Christ and, working together, are the hands and feet and the voice of Christ in our world today.
As Jesus was interested in the whole person – body and soul – this is also the interest of the Parish Church of St. Luke the physician as well. Body and soul.
Today it is my privilege to have been your rector for exactly 5 months. It has been a great time of learning for me, and I feel that I know much more about the body and soul of this Church.
When I think of the body of this Church, I think of the physical nature. There has been so much effort in this parish to maintain and to build up the physical part of this Church. A massive effort was made to put up our amazing Parish Hall which we are enjoying today and which is serving us so well in our ministry.
We know that we are getting closer to our goal of paying off the cost of this great project, but we are not there yet. For this reason, we will be asking parishioners to push a bit further in supporting the Building Fund – to go just that extra bit past your pledge, so that we can be free and clear and can focus our efforts more on the ministry which this hall was built to support.
The leadership of St. Luke’s believes that investment in St. Luke’s Church is a very good investment indeed, because of the excellent rate of return. Your investment in St. Luke’s might be through your annual financial givings, or it could be through the transfer of capital, or a planned financial gift, or it might be a legacy which a member has left in their will to continue to be engaged in the living work of Christ, even after the member has themselves passed on to greater life. Your investment in St. Luke’s will hopefully also include the giving of your time and talent to help in one ministry or another that St. Luke’s does.
However you give to St. Luke’s Church, the return is measured in ministry. While the vagaries of financial markets might put into question the strength of the world economy, the constancy of St. Luke’s ministry ensures, as I said, an excellent rate of return no matter what the stock market is doing.
When I think of what a wonderful job we have done building the physical body part of our Church, it leads me to think more about the soul part of St. Luke’s. There is an amazing amount of ministry here which feeds the soul, not only of our Church members, but which reaches out to care for the souls of others as well. I want to give thanks for what we are doing in this way and to lead us on to do even more. We’ve got the beautiful body – now let’s work more on the soul. While the body is about bricks and mortar, the soul is about people.
I want to thank all the people of St. Luke’s who have made this last year a truly successful year in terms of the quality of ministry that happens at and through St. Luke’s. It is truly amazing the sheer numbers of hours of work which St. Luke’s people do in order to reach out to the people of the parish and the wider community.
St. Luke’s makes a difference to the lives of countless people. This includes what we do for the education of both young and old through our Sunday School and nursery, library, archives, Vacation Bible School, Book Studies, Bible Studies, Retreats and other spiritual programs. We will continue to do these and are planning to offer more opportunities for spiritual growth and learning through new programs. In my vision for our future, St. Luke’s will be known as a spiritual centre in Burlington, which draws more people who are seeking for spiritual development in their lives.
St. Luke’s reaches out to the most vulnerable of our community in ministering to the very old, the sick and the dying. We also reach out to help the poorest in the wider community of Burlington, our Diocese and even in international missions. This includes a large part of my ministry and of the paid and honorary staff of the parish. I thank God every day for such a terrific group of colleagues to work with including priests and deacons as well as the office staff who simplify so much of my life. It also includes the ministry of dedicated lay people who work in many groups from bereavement ministry to funeral receptions to prayer shawl makers to ACW missions and El Hogar trips and so much more.
St. Luke’s reaches out to all sorts of people of all ages through our worship services. We are one of the few churches which still offers traditional Anglican Sunday worship not only at our early service at 8:15 a.m., but also most Sundays at a later “prime-time” service at 11:15 a.m. I think that this is for many an undiscovered jewel that we need to get discovered quickly in order to reach out to more people whose souls could be fed in this way. Along with our traditional worship services, we also need to grow our contemporary 9:30 A.M. service. Particularly pressing is our need to welcome new people and particularly young families to our Church. This is, I believe, one of the biggest challenges facing us today.
In order to address this challenge, we will be looking at how we welcome and integrate new people into our parish. We will need to be doing some new things, and, as is so often the case, we will probably find that some of them are things which the Church community did long ago.
I will ask each member of St. Luke’s to be part of the welcome that opens up our Church to new people. You can participate directly by getting involved in or suggesting new initiatives as well as indirectly by keeping an open mind and supporting us as we risk doing some new things. The fact is that this parish is a wonderful community of people and we need to share this with others, especially in a society and culture that very often leaves people feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. We have recently started a Young Families Working Group that is looking at ways to especially attract young families into our midst.
Our older members are, like all of us, getting older. They represent such experience and wisdom and we need to value these gifts which they bring. We can do them no greater honour than ensuring that their wisdom is passed on to the next generation. This is the spiritual legacy that they give to us. Their participation with a growing, younger population of new members, will give them a sense that their work and their values will go on. Although younger members might do things a little differently, the values of commitment and faithfulness transect all age groups.
In these difficult economic times it is especially important that we continue to be a Church that is making a difference. There are more and more people who come to this Church for help and, because of the generosity of St. Luke’s parishioners, I have been able to respond on behalf of the Church. I think that this type of need will probably grow in the months to come as more people lose their jobs and face other financial stress.
We as a Church are experiencing some of this stress as well. One of the ways in which we will cut back this year is by not hiring a new assistant curate immediately after Paul Tinker has completed his curacy here. This will mean more pressure on the parish vicar and myself as we continue to do the significant pastoral ministry which will need to continue. I want to emphasize that this needs to be a short-term situation. If we are to grow, we will need to hire more staff as soon as we are able to do so.
Our new bishop has a vision for this diocese which is outlined in a document which is circulating in the Diocese. Most of us are familiar with Bishop Michael’s watch-phrase, “excellence in ministry.” This is certainly the idea that is contained in his vision. But when he is using this phrase, he doesn’t only mean excellence in my ministry. He means excellence in your ministry as well. How can we, all of the people in the parish, be best engaged in ministry here?
Bishop Michael proposes five main thrusts, which we will be reflecting and acting upon in the future. These are: Prophetic social activism, Effective resource management, Life changing worship experience, Outstanding leadership for ministry and a Flourishing culture of innovation. What will support this vision will be spiritual discipline, valuing diversity, honesty and integrity and passion and hard work.
In order to support all of our ministry we have made a few changes to our parish structure including the creation of two new divisions: Property and Resources, and we are just about to form a new group called the Vision and Mission Group which will draw from each division to enable us to synchronize the work that we do to support our bishop’s vision and our own.
It is an exciting time to be part of St. Luke’s parish. Our future is bursting with possibilities. I am so very grateful to be part of this Church which has been very supportive of me in my first five months. A great thank you to everyone here who is engaged in the mission and ministry of St. Luke’s. You make my work a dream come true.
A special thank you to our two retiring wardens, Chris Lamb and Bryan Cox. They and the rest of the Executive have made my transition here go smoothly. We wish them well as they continue in ministry in other ways through St. Luke’s. We welcome our two deputy wardens who will shift into the outgoing warden’s chairs: Marilyn Barnes and Bev Alexander. Following our appointment and election of officers we will welcome two new deputies to take their place in the Executive.
Lastly, I want to thank my wife, Katherine and our daughter, Louisa. I simply could not do my ministry without their support.
I believe that this next year will be both challenging and good for St. Luke’s. There will be much that we will do together. I think that we will continue to engage in the ministry and mission which is Christ’s own. Like Jesus, we will choose to act, for the healing of those who come to us, and for the healing of ourselves: body and soul. And to that I say, Amen.