Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Annual Meeting


Matthew 4:12-23

Epiphany 4 / Year A

It strikes me today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew is particularly appropriate for us on this Sunday when we hold our annual Congregational Meeting (the first in-person gathering in three years).  Jesus’ call to Simon, Andrew, James, and John is his call to us: “Follow me.”  And just as these four dropped their nets and left their boats in order to respond faithfully, we too sacrifice much for the work Jesus calls us to do.  And just as Jesus brought a great light to a region which dwelled in darkness, so we too are called to bring the light of Christ to our to our world.

Reflecting back over our church life in 2022 it is clear much has changed since the onset of the pandemic and yet much has remained the same.  What hasn’t changed?  Well, we are still God’s people with the same values we have always had: love of God, care for one another, and concern for our community.  What has changed is how we express and live out our values.

We worship now at one service held at 9:30.  We have an intergenerational approach to Christian Formation which takes place after the service.  We take communion kits to parishioners who cannot be physically present with us, but who participate by watching the service through a live-stream.  While our Food Pantry is no longer operational, we support financially the feeding ministry of the Suffolk Christian Fellowship Church just a few blocks away.  We are partnering with For Kids to serve dinners and we generously donate to their back-to-school, Thanksgiving meals, and Christmas gift drives.  We made a significant contribution to support Ukrainian Refugee Resettlement. 

We are blessed with a wonderful, dedicated staff.  Cindy Cowan continues to function at a high level and warmly serves every parishioner who contacts her.  Thom Robertson has brought his considerable talents to our worship life and formation events and has instituted a very popular noon-time organ concert series.  Wanda Rector brings creativity, skill, and dedication to her work as our Christian Formation Director.  Janice Roberts continues to keep our finances straight and our reporting accurate and timely.  We have contracted with a cleaning service that seems to be working very effectively.  We also employ Macey Olenjack to fill in the gaps during the week and she has proven to be worth every penny and then some.  Kimber-Lee Defreeuw and Lisa White serve as our nursery attendants.  The staffing is in place for our parish ministries to thrive.

And our membership is doing its part.  From the Altar Guild to the Kitchen Queens, from bible studies to the Chancel Choir, from Vestry leadership to office volunteers, you all give of your time and talent in so many different ways and without these gifts our common life would be impossible.  And you give of your treasure.  We began the year with a projected deficit of over $40,000.  We ended the year with a small surplus.  In our diocese, financially speaking, we are the exception, not the rule.

Perhaps the most obvious change in our common life is attendance at Sunday worship.  If you want some good news, our average attendance at the 9:30 service rose by 25% in 2022 and that is fantastic!  If you are a realist you will note we went from 40 to 51 and 51 is still a far cry from where we were before the pandemic.  Our church is typical of what Bishop Susan is seeing throughout our diocese.  She refers to the pandemic as a time of pruning.  A significant number of people have not returned, but those who are here are more committed than ever.  She says now that we have been pruned we are ready to grow and bear more fruit.  She has a hopeful and encouraging perspective.    

And speaking of pruning, the single thing that keeps me awake at night is a concern about leadership development.  In spite of our best efforts, we are able to identify only two people to come onto vestry this year.  In addition, one member – Terry Mottley – lives in town only part time and another – Beau Holland – will be moving to Wilmington sometime later this year.  

When you look at the membership statistics in the Annual Report, you will note some significant changes.  There are 479 people associated with our parish.  These are folks we might expect to reach out to us if they need the services of a church. 

The significant shift is our reporting of Confirmed Communicants in Good Standing (members confirmed who received communion at least three times during the year and made a financial contribution of record).  In 2021 we reported this number to be 166.  Last year it was adjusted to 75.  Some of this dramatic change has to do with how the figure is calculated (or perhaps miscalculated in the past).  As I look around, 75 feels like the right number and it begins to explain why we struggle to fill twelve spots on the Vestry.  It also highlights the challenge we face to muster the human resources to we need to do all the things we did and how we did them prior to the pandemic. 

I am now in my 16th year of serving as your rector.  The building is still standing, barely.  I continue to be grateful for all the ways you love, support, encourage, and tolerate me.  I will turn 64 this fall and recognize I most likely will retire from here sometime after I turn 67.  I am still energized by the work God is giving us to do.  I am still open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  I still hear Jesus calling me to follow and to shine his light.  I invite you to drop your nets and join me.