|Photo Credit: Stuart Pike on Flickr.com|
Today is Vestry Sunday so, in keeping with our tradition, I will now give my charge to Vestry rather than a regular sermon that you would hear on most Sundays.
I still do like to draw something from the Sunday lessons though when I do this. There is usually something serendipitous about the readings on a Vestry Sunday, no matter the date we set it.
The Gospel reading from Matthew is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount coming to a climax of sorts as Jesus says the words, “Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly Father is perfect.”
Wow, what a commandment to follow. Is this even possible, we might ask? Can we really be perfect? Does Jesus expect that of us? Should we even try?
There are two temptations here: One is to simply give up with this. Just say, “Jesus is just telling us this to point out how impossible that is and we should just give up trying and, instead, just turn to Jesus knowing, in his infinite mercy, we will be forgiven.
The other temptation here is to think that we are actually capable, on our own, to actually be perfect, and to understand that if we are anything less than that, then we are unworthy – even cast out. And not only this, but to demand it of everyone else and to judge their worthiness as well.
I think it is important for us to understand that the Greek word in the Gospel which is translated as “Perfect” here is the word, “Telos” This Greek word mean less moral perfection, than it means reaching the intended outcome. As homiletics professor David Lose writes, “The telos of an arrow shot by an archer is to reach its target. The telos of a peach tree is to yield peaches. Which means that we might translate this passage more loosely to mean, “Be the person and community God created you to be, just as God is the One God is supposed to be.”” Endquote.
So when we look at it this way this seems less of a command of Jesus than a promise.
Jesus is telling us as individuals, and us as a Church to be what God has planned for us to be. God sees promise in you, in us. And Jesus is telling us to keep discerning what God’s purpose is for us and follow through on that purpose.
This idea of discerning God’s will can seem very daunting, but we do have the scriptures to guide us, and given today’s reading we know that much of God’s purpose for us is to not return violence for violence or evil for evil. Our purpose is not to perpetuate negativity and violence and fear – even if this seems to be the way of so much of the world right now. No, our promise is in being agents of change, of meeting evil with good, violence with peaceful resistance and even hate with love.
Remember Martin Luther King’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
So how do we practice this, God’s promise in us? How can we be change agents in a world that so desperately needs change? We must press on in living the Gospel of Jesus in our lives: as individuals and as a Church.
There are so many things which are happening here and which I have seen developing in the 8.5 years that I have been here.
St. Luke’s is a vibrant community with people of faith who are deeply committed to making their faith determine their actions, and make changes for good in our community.
I will not give an exhaustive list (we would be here all day), but these are some of the things which I especially wanted to mention which have happened over the last year which indicate to me that this is a community of faith:
We continued with our very successful Downtown Community Lunch program which is a combined effort of four Churches which we host the 1st, 3rd and 5th Wednesdays from September to June. Many of our own people volunteer for this lunch which served 1386 meals over 2016.
Our Food For Life program served more people than ever and we added a very successful program which provided stocking stuffers just before Christmas to over 70 families, thanks to the generosity of parishioners.
We continued to participate in the Christmas Dinner programs with East Plains United Church on Christmas Day.
We sent another team down to El Hogar this year, and followed Erika Skafel’s progress as she continued for another year in mission there, and we continued to support the Madagascar Mission and Mary Sherwood’s work there along with the dedicated staff of the two orphanage centres there.
There are many other outreach projects, but a common theme among them all is partnership. Many Churches come together to feed the hungry. Group “A” donates things for the children of El Hogar and a parishioner in her 90s crocheted 70 pocket crosses as stocking stuffers for the clients of Food For Life. One of our Pastoral Care volunteers pianists plays not only for Senior’s Home Communions, but also for the Downtown Community Lunch program.
Why do all these partnerships happen? The answer is because all these activities are guided by people following the message of the Gospel: and Jesus’ prime message: Love God, love your neighbor as yourself.
All of our regular Worship happened, of course, but we also added seasonal evensongs which were met by enthusiastic attenders, as well as a very meaningful Tenebrae service, which we will be offering Holy Wednesday this year as well.
Small groups continued to happen, including 3 bible studies every week, centering prayer and several book studies led by Marjorie Latimer. Knitting and needlepoint and quilting groups continued
Pastoral Care activities happened, of course: bereavement support groups, home communion, hospital visiting, prayer shawl ministry.
More partnerships happen in all of this. The prayer shawl ministry now provides a white prayer shawl with a special prayer for the babies who are baptized, as well as the regular shawls to sick the dying and bereaved. Love your neighbor as yourself. The people for whom the intercessors pray in Sunday worship are also prayed for by the men’s prayer group each Saturday.
A joyful event for the parish was the welcoming, finally, of the Syrian Family who we sponsored, in partnership with others in the community. Many of you were able to meet them at a coffee hour one Sunday and were charmed by the enthusiasm and joy of those four children and their parents.
As I say, these are just some of the many things which have gone on here over the last year that show our love for our neighbor. In a world beset with hate, fear and distrust, we choose Jesus’ revolutionary way of love, faith and great hope.
We have also faced challenges. We completed our new roof for the Church on budget and are well on our way toward paying off what we borrowed from our memorial funds. A small but might Capital projects committee made that happen and now is turning its eyes to improving our kitchen, given all the things that we are now using it for.
Last year we formed a new Committee, proposed on the floor of Vestry, called the Membership Committee to try to face our challenge of shrinking membership and especially address the dearth of younger parishioners: millenials and their families. Under the chairmanship of Bryan Cox, this group has conducted two surveys: the Natural Church Development Survey, plus telephone, and sometimes face-to-face meetings. We are planning to conduct focus groups for more in-depth conversation and the members of the group are attending other Churches as ecclesiastical spies to get more information about what we might be able to adopt here.
We faced a very challenging year financially, though the Stewardship Committee has worked very hard and has helped us be very successful in our Raise the Roof Campaign, this challenging financial year had the Executive working very hard with many extra meetings and late nights struggling with discerning our way forward. We, along with the Stewardship Committee kept the congregation well informed about this great challenge, in the end giving bi-weekly updates on how givings were going. We were very grateful to all who gave a 13th month of givings to help us, but in the end we realized that it would not be enough.
Declining membership is part of the picture, and increasing it will definitely be a great part of the solution, but that doesn’t happen overnight. We all need to work together to help bring more people into this amazing parish.
It was not only the 2016 financial year, but much more so, looking ahead to 2017 and 2018, the executive realized what several parishioners had been saying over the year as our request for more givings continued throughout the Fall. We have been living beyond our means. We also heard loudly and clearly: we’ve got to stop asking more and more frequently for money.
The significant shortfall for 2016 and even more significant projected shortfall for 2017 clearly showed that we couldn’t solve this through photocopying less or changing lightbulbs less frequently. The most significant part of the budget is salaries, and we would have to do some cutting there. The most significant part of salaries was clergy salaries and we would have to do some cutting there. All lay positions have had some reduced hours for 2016, but we also had to drop from 2.5 clergy complement to 2.
When looking at who to cut we had to look at function and needs going forward, as well as what has happened in the immediate past. When I arrived in this Parish 8.5 years ago there really was a remarkable enigma about St. Luke’s. It was a parish almost 3 times the size of my last parish, which had probably less than 1/3 the children in it. That’s a factor of 9 times difference!
We decided 6 years ago to hire Elliott as a full-time Youth and Family ministry director, knowing that it wasn’t a full-time job, yet, but that the job was to build it into a fulltime job. We were basically stepping out in faith and hiring before the curve. The curve didn’t really happen. After three years, e had to move him to half and half Family-and-youth and pastoral work. Still no curve. After six years we have given this a double or triple measure of the old college try.
Elliott’s greatest gifts are with children and youth. He’s magic with them! We’ve all seen him in this role. But somehow we don’t seem to be a parish (at least right now) that is responding to that in the way we had hoped.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that we are giving up on children and youth in this place. But we are going to need the help of volunteers in this year and going forward. My hope is that after this transitional year we will be able to hire a part-time layperson in 2018 to help us move forward, along with volunteer help. Children and youth are part of our future going forward and we will not let go of that.
I appreciate all that Elliott has done in ministry over these six years and I know that it is entirely an understatement to say that he will be greatly missed. My great hope is that his considerable gifts with children and youth will shine brightly as he finds his ministry in another place where it will all come together.
I want to express my great appreciation for all the staff here at St. Luke’s. To Elliott Siteman for whom we will pray in the months going forward (for his family as well.)
To Holly Klemmensen, Sheila Plant and Carole Langlotz who make my life so much easier as we work shoulder to shoulder in pastoral care and liturgical ministry. Great thanks to Jennifer Goodine, for the many times when her gift of music has quickened my spirit and made me glad.
Special great thanks and homage (to borrow a phrase from Stuart MacLean) to our long-suffering Parish Administrators, Chris Hughes and Sandra Tiernay and their volunteers receptionists, Jackie Maver, Marilyn Barnes and Elizabeth Flett as well as to our bookkeeper, Carol Pryluta. I can never be grateful enough for Ray Payne and his work in keeping our buildings in working order. Special thanks to Jody Balint who in a few short weeks has already made a difference to our work.
Special appreciation go to our Parish Executive: Tim Tiernay, Cecilia Taylor-Clare, Colina Magee, Bob Osborne and Chris Miller. We have worked hard all year and we have worked as a team. We have faced the challenges and made the toughest decisions together, knowing that we have the responsibility for the health of the Parish into the future, and for the mission of Christ in this place. I look forward to also working with Veronica Richards-Miller and (if you elect or acclaim him) David Beck in the next Executive.
I am ever thankful as well to my long-suffering wife, Katherine and our daughter Louisa who support me every day of my life and allow me to serve this parish to the best of my ability.
I can’t even begin to mention all of the volunteers who are living up to the promise God has placed in them. In Worship, Outreach, Parish Life, Pastoral Care, Finance, Property and Christian Formation you give this place its specialness.
The members of parish council and especially our outgoing secretary, Donalda Walker have been great assets to the leadership of this parish.
We have a future. God sees promise in us as a community. It won’t always be easy. When was anything really good just easy?
But it will be good – or at least full of goodness. God sees promise in you as well. Let us, together, discern how we can live into God’s great purpose for us. Discern your place in all of this. Amen.