13 February 2011

Charge to Vestry

By Canon H. Stuart Pike

St. Luke’s Church

Mark 1: 14-20

13 February 2011

As is our usual practice, this being our Vestry Sunday, instead of preaching a sermon today, I will now give you my charge to vestry and also invite all of you to attend our vestry meeting which follows this worship service in the Parish Hall.

I would like to make some small comment on our Gospel lesson today. This simple story of Jesus calling the first disciples is filled with spiritual power. Firstly, what kind of compelling presence did Jesus have that, his simple words “follow me” resulted in the Disciples literally dropping what they were doing and following Jesus?

What kind of compelling words does Jesus have for us? And how are we to discern what he is calling us to do? Jesus said to Andrew and Simon Peter, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

What does it mean to fish for people? How can that be done effectively? And what do we do with them once we’ve “caught” them?

But perhaps the most meaningful thing to me in what Jesus says to us today are his words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” Elsewhere, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Jesus preached that God’s Kingdom wasn’t just some pie in the sky place, far removed from our reality, or far, far into the future, or something that might happen only after our death. Jesus preached that the God’s Kingdom is in the here and the now. And when we realize that God’s Kingdom is also in the midst of us, that can really change how we make our goals and live our lives.

As followers of Jesus, then - as Church – our goals, our vision and our plans will look very different from other types of organizations. Our inspiration is very different. Its source is the one who can call us to drop everything to follow him and the one who can keep us looking for God’s kingdom and being builders of it right here and right now.

This is what Jesus calls us to do today, even as we meet as a vestry to plan our way forward into this new year.

I have seen many signs of God’s kingdom amongst us this past year, and I have seen how the people of this parish have been engaged in proclaiming or building God’s kingdom in the present day.

It is impossible for me adequately to express how grateful I am to be here in this parish, ministering alongside of you in this place. I often pause to reflect on the sheer quantity of parishioners who are engaged in the many ministries of St. Luke’s.

You understand that the ministry of a parish is shared with all the members of the parish. My role is as Spiritual leader, and supporter of your ministry. Together we can and do make a great difference. But it is not the quantity of volunteers here that makes the difference, it’s definitely the quality!

Our ministry together includes: providing for children in need; providing for ministry in Canada’s far north and overseas; directly providing food for the hungry right in our community and nearby as well as overseas; knitting, sewing and quilting to provide physical warmth and spiritual solace; reaching out to the bereaved, the sick and the lonely; advocating for social justice and for affordable housing; learning together about our faith and experiencing God in new ways through worship and spiritual practices; advocating for refugees; providing a caring and nurturing place for children and helping them to learn and to teach about God; bringing new people to faith; keeping our Church building open so people can find a spiritual oasis in a busy world; extending a welcome to everyone; celebration in so many ways; providing a social and caring place for seniors; supporting orphanages in Madagascar and Honduras; preparation for baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage; youth events; adult’s and children’s libraries; a prayer circle; Advent and Lenten Studies and other book studies; communion for people in their homes, or in nursing homes and senior’s residences; spiritual guidance and counseling; stewardship of our resources, our time and our abilities; parish dinners; special events; entertainment; Christmas Market; music; creating a space and time where people experience holy awe.

You might be getting the general idea of where I’m going here. And I’m only scratching the surface with this list. There are plenty of times that I find it hard to keep up with you. This is an exciting place to be because of the ministry which happens here and we are all blessed to have each other. Some of you work in the forefront and have your share of the limelight in this place. Many of you work away in the background, some of your work is almost invisible and known perhaps only by God. All of you are valued and I want to thank you.

Because all of you are so valuable, and because there are so many of you, you need to let me and the other staff know when you or your family need pastoral care or any other support. It is impossible for me to always know what is going on with everyone. I consciously try to make myself as available as possible. Please communicate with me and help me to do the best job I can to support you.

Last year we had some dreams and goals for the future. Some of those goals were about our finances. We wanted to be able to keep up to date with our diocesan commitments. I am so pleased to say that we were able to do so for the whole of the year, thanks to the excellent leadership of our treasurer and our division of resources and, of course, your stewardship. We were able to just squeak through December 31st in the black, though it was with the very slimmest of margins. A goal I would like us to have for this year is to end up ahead of budget so that we will be able to clear some more of our historic accumulated deficit from previous years.

Although we started last year owing somewhat less than $80 K on the new parish hall, now we have less than $20 K owing. This is a remarkable accomplishment and I hope that this gives us the impetus to completely pay off this debt and to celebrate it in true St. Luke’s fashion sometime in June.

This year, the Diocese of Niagara is partnering with the National Church to form the Annual Appeal which will share the funds raised one third to the National Church, one third to the Diocese and one third to the parish. This will be an opportunity for us to support justice and outreach programs at each level of our Church.

We had a dream about reaching out better to our children, our youth and families. A key strategy in this goal was to find someone who could be the Director of Youth and Family ministry here. This goal has taken a lot of time on my part and the part of a search committee which finally led to our hiring Elliott Siteman last month. Many of you have already seen or experienced how he is reaching out in this critical new ministry.

It is so important for all of us to understand that his presence alone is not the solution to fulfilling our goals, but that we all need to support this ministry by giving our time and abilities to it. He will provide the much needed leadership and support, but we must all be engaged in this ministry. He will remind us continually that our children are not only the future Church, but that they are an essential part of our present. We value our kids not only for whom they will become, but for who they are right now.

I have been very impressed with a relatively new direction which we have taken under the stellar leadership of Sharyn Hall. While we have continued all our charitable work, we have also been learning about advocacy and justice work, which not only responds to great need, but asks the tough questions of what are the root causes of the problem and tries to address those. I cannot say enough to adequately praise the work of the Advocacy Information Group and the breakfasts which they have hosted.

I have been deeply grateful for the ministry of two wardens who have been a great support to me over the last two years. Janice Skafel is the first Rector’s warden whom I chose myself. She and Terry Raybould, together have shown great faithfulness and leadership in a busy time in the parish. I have always been able to count on them for support. I consider them both to be friends. Although they are leaving their wardens’ positions today, I am grateful that they will continue on in other ministries in the years ahead.

And this brings me to my next point. This is the year that we welcome Elliott and his family, but it is also the year when we say goodbye to our Vicar, Sharyn Hall. Her ministry, wisdom and guidance has been invaluable to me in my first two years of ministry among you. I am so grateful to Sharyn for helping me find my feet in this place, because it has been a steep learning curve. Sharyn, you will be greatly missed by this parish and by me. Although it will be impossible to replace Sharyn, she and I will be reminding you that this Parish is big enough to need three Clergy on staff, along with our volunteer clergy. The wardens and I will initiate a process to find an additional clergy staff member. But, Sharyn, I must say that I don’t know how it is going to be around here without you. Without a doubt, though, God has more dreams for you and for us to live into.

In our vestry meeting which follows you will see a budget which will enable our plan to move forward in faith and to respond to Jesus’ call to us to follow him and to fish for people. Essential to this will be our need to be open to new people and new ways. Let us always remember that we exist primarily not for ourselves, but for others, and to share the message of God’s great love for all people, and shown to us through Jesus. May God bless this year to us that we might be builders of his kingdom. Amen.

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