21 February 2010

Charge to Vestry

Charge to Vestry

By Canon H. Stuart Pike

St. Luke’s Church

14 February 2010

As usual on our Vestry Sunday I am giving you my charge to vestry in place of the usual sermon at this time.

I do note, though, on this last Sunday of Epiphany we have the lesson of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain. Peter, James and John, though not understanding all that they saw, were able to see Jesus’ appearance change and a holy light shone from him.

We at St. Luke’s, being a Christian Church, are a part of the body of Christ in today’s world. And just as Jesus shone on that day, showing him to be more than ordinary, we too are to shine with Christ’s light. We are far more than a social club or even a charitable organization. We are called to be the body of Christ. We are called to carry out Jesus’ mission. We are called to shine.

I have now been your Rector for almost a year and a half and so this vestry is the first time in which I speak about my experience with you for a whole year, rather than just a few months.

2009 was a marvelous year. It was our 175th year and so it was filled with many activities which reminded us about our beginnings and some which helped us to imagine our future.

When I look at the history of St. Luke’s, I see a Church which was an essential part of our wider community. We were an important religious and social centre for the growing village of Burlington. We were involved in the religious education of thousands of children and adults. And we made a great difference in reaching out to the needs of community. We lived in what we could call “Christendom.” We had great relevance in our society, and we shone.

Some of the triumph of that history is reflected in what we have witnessed in our community over the last year and last several years. So much ministry and good work has been done in this community. Our faith has shone.

One of the most remarkable things is the fact that our new parish hall was built. As you know it is a beautiful structure, and it was built by this community because we believe we have a strong future and we need to have the facilities to be a more effective community of faith. Even more astounding than this is the fact that the building is almost paid-for! We closed the year owing less than $80 K on a building which cost $2.6 million. This is a truly remarkable achievement and I hope that it will encourage enough people to want to completely pay it off this year or next.

Now, in terms of finances, our focus can begin to shift from the physical bricks and mortar to securing a strong support for the ministry and mission this place was built for.

In order to do this, we need to raise up the concept of stewardship in this parish. We have started this already by forming a the Division of Resources which brings together the heads of Stewardship, Planned Giving, and Fund-raising along with our Treasurer and the Trustee of our Memorial and Trust Funds.

The main stewardship message which is the essence of all of our financial work is this: “God is the creator of the universe: God has created our physical world, our bodies, our abilities and our presence in time. It all belongs to God and yet, while we live on this earth, we have the stewardship of some of it. As citizens of the Kingdom of God in the here are now, we need to use what we think of as ours for the purpose of building God’s Kingdom. Using our time, our talent and our treasure well is how we live into God’s dream for us.

To help us fulfill God’s purpose we have had a good look at our financial picture over the past year. We have made a heroic effort in our building campaign and I cannot express how pleased and impressed I am with this community for this, but it has probably put some stress on our regular givings.

We have relied far too heavily on our Line of Credit with the Bank during this last year. Our maximum on this line is $100 K and far too many times we were dangerously close to reaching this maximum. In fact for much of the year we were late in paying our Diocesan Assessment in order to keep below this $100 K. We have had a year of very low interest rates, so perhaps we haven’t really felt the urgency of the situation. We are now at the end of this low interest period.

This is simply not an acceptable practice going forward. As one of the four biggest parishes in the diocese, we simply can’t continue to be part of the problem for our Diocese which exists only in order to serve the needs of the Church. We want to be part of the solution.

A key strategy to deal with this problem will be the formation of a new Capital Fund which we call the Capital Reserve Fund. The sole function of this fund is to have a pool of funds to draw on during the lean months so that we can both pay our fair share to support the ministry of the Diocese, without having to borrow from the bank. This fund will be raised through planned gifts and donations. Through this fund we will begin earning interest, rather than paying it.

We are also initiating another new Capital Fund as our Building Fund winds down. We will start a Capital Improvement Fund which will pay for major improvements and renovations going forward. Sooner or later roofs have to be repaired or siding redone. We will have this Capital Improvement Fund to pay for these expenses and we will be able to bring forward the case to support this fund in the years ahead as we understand the capital improvements which we will face.

These new funds, plus the strategies being developed by our Division of Resources will ensure that our financial house is in order. But why do we have such a focus on finances and the soundness of our buildings? Well, it’s because they provide us with the ability to do the real work of this Church, which is living the message of Jesus Christ. The worship of our God, our fellowship together, our mission to bring the good news of God’s love to all and our outreach to those in need is the essence of what we do, and we need the tools to do this. Stewardship of our time, our talent and our treasure provide these tools.

At the beginning of this charge I spoke about how, earlier in our history, our ancestors lived in Christendom.

Today we are faced with a much different social reality. We no longer live in Christendom. We’re in a post-Christendom, multi-ethnic society and it has its good points and its not-so-good points.

Today it is harder to just be the Church by doing the same old things we used to do. In Christendom Sundays were protected. People understood the command and the need for Sabbath time. There was a social expectation that people would go to Church. People were Christians by accident of birth. We did not have to compete with Hockey and Soccer and other activities.

Today, Sunday is largely just another day. And to choose to go to Church to worship God is decidedly counter-cultural. We live with governments which have misinterpreted the idea of “Freedom of Religion” to be “Freedom from Religion.” It is considered uncouth now to speak about matters of faith in the public square. The Church is considered irrelevant by most of our culture.

One key advantage about living in a post-Christendom society though, is that we aren’t “Accidental Christians” anymore. It is a choice which we need to make, and this connects us deeply with our faith. It is swimming against the stream to be a Church-goer now. But that can mean that those of us who are here will have a greater sense of commitment to our Church. This is good because we have much to share with a greater community which has such great spiritual need.

We live in a hurried society in which people have starved their souls because they have no Sabbath. They are held captive by materialism and by a culture of consumerism, and they need to be liberated to tend to their souls once again. I believe a large part of God’s dream for us right now is to be a community which supports the building up of souls once again.

But in order to do this, we need to reach the people we aren’t reaching now. When we look at the demographics of our Church membership, it is easy to see that we are reaching very few young people and young families. We are no longer relevant in their estimation. And yet, we could be such a support to them as they try to bring their children up to have strong values and principles and to be people who make a difference in their society.

For this reason, we believe that the time has come to hire a new staff person: a Youth and Family Ministry Worker who will help us develop and run programs which will reach out to younger people.

In addition to this, we will be proposing some changes to the way we worship so that we can meet the needs of people whom we simply are not reaching now.

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi spoke to our Diocesan Synod in the Fall and said that many Anglicans are amazing creatures: somehow, despite in all other ways appearing to be reasonable and logical, they seem to expect a better result by continuing to do the same thing!

Although we did experience a very slight increase overall in Church attendance in 2009, there was a steady decline in our more traditional worship services. We must face the fact that this service simply isn’t reaching out to new people now. We will propose a new pattern in our worship services which will still keep some traditional worship services, but which will also position us to enable new services in the future designed to speak to those we’re just not reaching.

Jesus never commanded us: “Go forth and be comfortable with familiar things.” But he did say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” He did say, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ We’re not here primarily to serve ourselves, but to serve God, and to faithfully discern God’s will for us.

The great news in all of this is: we have the people and the skills and the will to turn a corner here at St. Luke’s. I want to thank our amazing ministry team including our paid and volunteer clergy, our office staff and especially the great throng of volunteers who have made a huge difference in all the many excellent ways that we have been engaged in mission and ministry in this place. With such an excellent team which you make, I have a great hope and expectation that we will make and even greater difference in this year. We will shine again, and will be a spiritual centre in this place. May we be blessed with God’s dream for us in the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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