Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rector's Report--Annual Parish Meeting 2012

Rector’s report—Annual Parish meeting
January 29, 2012
First, of all, I want to thank you for being here today. Today we do much of the business of the church, the nuts and bolts of our common life together, and your presence here and your participation in that is very important.
I’d like to thank everyone who has supported the work and ministry of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea this past year—those who have given money, energy, ideas, physical labor, those who have offered your prayers, those who have shown up, for worship, events, offerings. Together, we have accomplished so much this last year, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
I’d like to thank those who have completed their terms as Vestry members. [Sometimes I think being a Vestry member is truly a thankless job. They are certainly “the few and the proud”. (Did you know that out of almost 20 people we asked to run for warden or vestry this year, 4 accepted?)] One of my joys of working closely with the Vestry is to see how each person brings their own unique gifts and offers them to contribute to the good and the work of the whole. These folks are no exception to that.
Judy Joest has a wonderful sense of humor; she’s someone who can tell a story and have me laughing so hard I’m crying, and that is truly a gift. She would often bring some levity to our work, and she has steadily and consistently for the last three years, spearheaded our pastoral care efforts. I can’t tell you how many times I have been to the hospital to see a parishioner, and either Judy Joest has been there right before me or is coming in as I’m leaving.
Alan Jones has been a quiet presence on Vestry for the last three years, but this year, Alan has exhibited an amazing insight into the heart of matters and an ability to cut to the heart and articulate key truths that often get lost to the rest of us. It has been truly a gift to our work together.
Doug Singletary is so very rooted in the Episcopal tradition and in the life and history of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea. As someone who has been active in leadership in this church for many, many years, he helped keep us grounded in these key identities of what it means to be Episcopalians in this particular community.
And Bob Wolford, who has completed his second year as Junior Warden…Bob is someone who gets things done. I can’t tell you how many times I would come in on a Sunday or a Monday, and something new had been accomplished by Bob’s quietly working at the church on Saturday or a Sunday. A clock is hung in the parish hall; my ordination and ministry certificates (that have been under the ledge of my desk for almost 2 years) are hung on the wall of my office; the sexton’s supply closet is reorganized and shelving has been added. These are all things that probably didn’t make it into Bob’s report, but his tenure as Jr Warden has been full of these small, quiet projects that, once completed, improve the life and the workings of this parish. Thank you to each of you for your service, for your willingness to share your gifts in leadership in this church, and for your love and support of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea.
I would also like to thank those who are continuing to serve on the Vestry this year; I’d like to thank Margaret and Neely who continue on as Clerk and Treasurer, respectively, and who each bring a good, strong dose of pragmatism with them. And I’d like to thank Marie, for her incredible leadership and her steadiness as senior warden. Marie is so very sharp, and I think that she and I have both grown and changed in this last of year of working closely together. I deeply value her leadership, her friendship, and her support.
The Vestry of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea is an amazing group of people, who deeply love this church and try to make the most faithful decisions possible in the circumstances. I cannot tell you how much time they put into the work that they do, but it is a lot, and I know that they do it for love of you all, and for love of this church. Please, do what you can to support them this year. Do what you can to love them, to be kind to them, to follow them, and to trust that their actions are always done through prayer and in faithfulness, trying to lead St. Peter’s to continue to bear fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God.
Be mindful that every criticism and complaint beats them up at least a little bit and erodes the fabric of our common life. We are all flawed human beings, and we are all doing the best that we can and trying to be faithful to following our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’d also like to thank the Vestry and the committee chairs for their written reports that are in your packets. We slightly shifted our focus as a Vestry this year, with our new system of quarterly parish meetings, and to do this, we are asking that every group keeps track of whatever way is appropriate to count or measure growth in that area. The statistics and information provided in these reports in your packets is both enlightening and amazing, and I think it gives us a wonderful picture of all that we have accomplished this year. There are just a few things I’d like to highlight.
First, last year, one of my visions for 2011 was to start a hospitality time after the 10:30 service. The hospitality and new members committee, under the direction of Helen Graham and the energy of Kerry Hudson quickly acted to meet my vision and started offering a hospitality time, solely through the donations of people willing to do it, and it now serves at least 50-60 people in attendance each week (and many more on special occasions). In addition to providing food during this time, Edwin Graham has been creating a new, multi-media slide presentation each Sunday that is on at both hospitality times. These slide presentations provide information about upcoming events, feature a mystery person every week, and they help us all stay better connected.
Another goal for this year was to maintain excellence in music and to continue to build our music program. Under the leadership of JT Anglin, Donna Hutchings, Barbara Blanchard, Debbie Anglin, and Keith Ballard, all three of our choirs are flourishing. The chancel choir is now up to 20 members (the largest since I’ve been here). The bell choir has 10 ringers, and the children’s choir has 11 children enrolled (the largest number since each’s inception). And we continue to work together to provide worship that is a fit offering to God, that is accessible to the people in the pews, and that offers the full breadth and beauty of our Anglican heritage and our Episcopal identity.
Last year I also spoke about our need for more parking on sight. This is an item that the Vestry has talked about at great deal, and it is currently on our “wish list” for things we’d like to work on in the future when more funding for such a project becomes available.
We continue to offer solid offerings for Christian formation of all ages. The children’s Sunday school program is thriving under the direction of Debbie Anglin and a number of dedicated teachers. The recent surveys about the Adult Forum indicate an overwhelming response to continue those offerings. The lectionary class, the Young Adult Sunday school, the Wednesday night seasonal offerings, and the short term studies have all been of outstanding quality. Truly we offer something for everyone who desires to be formed and shaped in the image and likeness of Christ through study and discussion together.
We’ve also had a lot of fun together this last year. We’ve broken bread together in small groups around each others’ tables in our Common Ground Groups, which we’ll hear a little more about later. We’ve learned to dance together; we’ve barbequed together; we’ve celebrated special events, major milestones, and ordinary days together, and through all this, we have strengthened the bonds of our common affection.
And we’ve helped a whole lot of people. We’ve served more than 4,050 meals at Feed My Sheep. We’ve made and delivered 650 sack lunches to hungry people on 2nd Sundays. We provided 70 thanksgiving meals to needy individuals and families in our community. We gave 42 outfits for girls coming through the Harrison County Children’s Emergency Shelter. We provided dinners for the residents of IHN for 24 evenings. We bought Christmas gifts for 30 children of the Women’s shelter this past Christmas. We sent three of our Arts Academy students to Camp Bratton Green on full scholarships and provided partial scholarship assistance for parishioners. We worked with other churches of this diocese and helped build a Habitat House in Smithville, through the loan of our equipment and the labor of members. We gave $2,688 out of our budget to local agencies, and then we raised an additional $7548 to go to other charitable organizations. By my rough calculations, we have improved the lives of around 5,000 people who have been in need this past year. That is amazing, and I am so proud of you all!
Just a few more numbers about this past year, and then I’ll move on to plans for the coming year. This summer, I started keeping up with the number of pastoral encounters that I make in a given week. Now this number is just during the week, because I’ve found no possible way to keep up with this on a given Sunday (other than having a vestry member follow me around with one of those clicker things that they have at events for counting…). And some weeks, I’m so busy, I forget to write it down and count it (so this is hardly scientific). But on average, I have 29 pastoral encounters during the week. This can include calls, visits, notes, emails, Facebook messages, texts—any encounter that I consider to be primarily of a pastoral nature, and the numbers vary greatly in an given week. Usually on shorter weeks, when I’m not in the office, it can be as low as 16. On crazy weeks, it can be as high as 72. But 30-40 is usually a normal week.
Also, our average Sunday attendance has grown this year from 131 to 148. On normal Sundays, we have about 40 people at the 8:00 service and about 100 people at the 10:30 service.
So, briefly, my goals for 2012: to do all that we have done this year and more. We are moving in the right direction; we’ve got structures to support our continued movement and growth in this direction, and we need to keep it going.
This year, we’ll have a rebuilding year for pastoral care. With Judy Joest rotating off the Vestry, we are going to look at new structures to support the continued life and development of pastoral care in the church.
Margaret McCrary has agreed to help me by leading the project to preserve and display the fullness of the history and life of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea by collecting, framing, and displaying pictures to hang on the walls of the hall way from the church back to the parish hall (which has been named in Memory of Buddy Hopkins). Soon, we will be calling upon some members of the church to help with this, and we ask that if you have any pictures which express the fullness of the life and history of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea such as baptisms, weddings, special events (Easter egg hunts, pageants, etc), historic events (building consecrations), or history of the church, that you share them with us. We may not be able to use all of them, but Margaret and her committee would like as many options as they can get as they decide how to tell the story of the life and history of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea on that wall in there.
We will be taking on the bishop’s challenge to read the four gospels with him during Lent, and we will be providing some structure to help make that meaningful for you to be provided on Wednesday nights as our Lenten formation offering.
I will be working with a small group of volunteers who want to help realize our dream of hosting a reception to honor our senior citizens of this parish, and it is my hope to make that a reality this spring.
In closing, I’d like to share what I learned about you, about us, this past summer. When Sue Cassady and I were completing our 2nd year of the Congregational Development training, one of the exercises that we had to do was to look around at the people who were visiting and joining St. Peter’s by-the-Sea. In that exercise, we were supposed to learn about what kind of people we are attracting and what that says about our community and our identity. As Sue and I did this work together, we realized that we were attracting an incredible diversity of people to St. Peter’s. We could not identify one single demographic or other characteristic to help us further understand our identity and what people are finding when they come to St. Peter’s and decide to stay.
But then, as we delved more deeply into what we know about this wide diversity of people who are newly attracted to St. Peter’s by-the-Sea, we realized what it was that attracts them. We are a resurrection community. In this world where so much is marked by death and destruction and corruption, we are both a place and community that places our hope in the resurrection, that says we shall not be overcome by hardship or adversity, by death or destruction. We are a church and a people who put our trust in the resurrection of our Lord that shows, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than anything that this old world can throw at us. We are a church and people who are an outward and visible sign of the hope that the Kingdom of God is already with us, even now, and we are going to work to continue to bring it to fruition. We are a church and a people that welcome you, regardless of where you have come from, and we will try to help you bind up your broken heart as so many people have helped us do for ours.
We are a resurrection people. May God give us the grace to continue to grow into this truth in the coming year and the hope to be truly worthy of that name.

4th Sunday after Epiphany Year B

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany Year B
January 29, 2012
Today’s readings all have something to say about authority. They talk about how we know the mind of God (which is the definition of authority in the life of the church), and how we then follow where God is calling us. In the Old Testament reading, we see the question of who the children of Israel will follow after Moses is dead? Who will be the prophet, the leader, the voice of God’s will and authority in the common life of that people?
In the epistle, we see Paul writing to the troubled community in Corinth about how authority comes not through knowledge but through love, and how, as a part of a community, sometimes we are called to sacrifice our own preferences for the good of others.
In the gospel reading, Mark shows us Jesus’s first act of ministry after he has called his new disciples to follow him. Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum and teaches there, and he is noted as one who speaks with authority. As a result of that, an unclean spirit challenges him, and he heals the man of the unclean spirit, thus proving his authority even more to those who are watching, including his new followers.
It’s important to note that the Greek work that our reading today translates as authority is not power (that’s a totally different word). But authority here is more about a willingness or even a right that has everything to do with seeing justice served. This is the Way that Jesus walks, on which we follow: the care for the poor in spirit, the mournful, the lost, the sick, the hungry. It is what we sign onto as his followers and what the ministry of the church is all about.
This question of authority--of how we know the mind of God and what way do we follow--is one that is still present with us now, especially on this day as we prepare to have our annual parish meeting. For us, the mind of God is always revealed in community. It is why we are all here, because knowing the mind of God in our own individual lives is hard work, and we have found it is much easier when we do it together, as a community. Sometimes, someone can hear something from God that we haven’t ever heard before, and it can help us along our way.
A few years ago, I was reading the book called The Meaning of Jesus by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright, and I was struck by Tom Wright’s writing about what it means to follow the call of discipleship to Jesus. He was writing about the call to “repent and believe in the good news”. Wright says that we often hear that call with our modern ears as a call to “give up personal sins and accept a body of dogma or a scheme of religious salvation” (38). But in reality, Wright says that Jesus is issuing a call with a political bend saying to people to “Give up your agendas and trust me for mine.”
“Give up your agendas and trust me for mine.” In the church this is a key point in how we follow Jesus. It is also a Key point in how we are the Church together. At different times in our common life, some are called to lead, and some are called to follow. It is the dance that we all choose to dance when we join the church.
I recently read a fascinating article in the The Christian Century titled “How to Follow the Leader: Five habits of healthy congregations.” It’s an interesting article that talks about the call of members of a church to not just follow Jesus but to also follow the leaders of the church. In fact, the author writes that following is crucial. He writes of the term “followership” which is defined as “the discipline of supporting leaders and helping them to lead well. It is not submission, but the wise and good care of leaders, done out of a sense of gratitude for their willingness to take on the responsibilities of leadership, and a sense of hope and faith in their abilities and potential…Good followers remain free to think for themselves but recognize a responsibility to help leaders lead well.”
For Christians, good followership is hardly a foreign concept. “After all the gospels begin with Jesus saying, “Follow me.” To be a Christian means “following Jesus”—listening to him, learning from him and doing what he does.” It is giving up our own agendas and trusting him for his.
The early disciples are very clearly works in progress when it comes to being good followers, and so are we. But “by becoming mature and engaged followers of the leaders we call and elect in the church, we demonstrate one aspect or expression of Christian discipleship.”
It is the job of good leaders to help a congregation to identify its most pressing problems and important challenges, and then to mobilize the faith and the resources to take on those challenges. “Followership requires an overriding commitment to the good of the organization regardless of whether there is complete agreement…Good followership entails a commitment to the mission of the church. Good following means knowing what tasks and business have ‘your name on it’ and which ones don’t. It involves a respect for the roles that help govern a congregation and not overstepping them.”
We are called by our Lord, every day, to let go of our own agendas and to follow him. We are called to grow more deeply and more fully in how we trust and how we follow in our own lives and in the life of the church.
Let us pray. O Lord our God, teach us to ask for the right blessings. Guide the vessel of our life toward yourself, the tranquil haven of all storm-tossed souls. Show us the course we should take. Renew a willing spirit within us. Let your Spirit curb our wayward senses and guide and enable us to our true good, to keep your laws and in all our deeds always to rejoice in your glorious and gladdening presence. For yours is the glory and praise of all your saints for ever and ever. (Basil the Great 330-379)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Epiphany 2B sermon

Epiphany 2B
(slightly reworked from 1/18/09)
January 15, 2012
It was a Sunday like any other Sunday. The pastor stood in front of his congregation and greeted them with open arms, saying “The peace of Christ be always with you!” A little boy leaned over to his mother and asked, “A Piece of Christ? What am I supposed to do with a piece of Christ?”
It’s an innocent question that gets at the very heart of who we are as Christians. And it especially powerful when we remember the baptisms last Sunday, the bishop’s words to them and to us about how in baptism we are marked as Christ’s own forever, and it is the church’s job-- it is your job and my job-- to help each other remember that.
So what am I to do with “a piece of Christ”?
Our readings for today give us three different looks at what it means to respond to God’s call in our lives. Samuel, whose mother so longed for a baby that she promised God she would dedicate that baby to God’s service, is eager and ready to serve. But he doesn’t recognize the voice of the Lord until gentle but flawed Eli, whose own sight is growing dim, understands and tells Samuel how to answer God. Paul chides the people of the church in Corinth for their gluttony and fornication and reminds them that their bodies, their lives are not their own; they are a member of the body of Christ, bought with a price, and a temple for the Holy Spirit. Philip responds to Nathaniel’s skepticism with an invitation to “Come and see.” And when he does, Jesus’s recognition of who Nathaniel really is, Jesus’s ability to see into his heart, seeing who he is at his very foundation, immediately transforms him into one who is passionate and eager to follow. These readings remind us that the call of the Christian is best heard in community. They remind us that our call must start from an understanding that “I am not my own” but that I am God’s and have been even before I was born.
So what am I to do with “a piece of Christ?”
In the face of the world saying God has nothing left to say, the prophet says to reply: “Here I am Lord. Speak, your servant listens.”
In the face of the world saying that you are your own person, you can do whatever you want/need to find yourself, the poet says, “God has always known you; you must seek the knowledge of yourself in and through God.”
In the face of the world saying you can find meaning and fulfillment in food and sex, the teacher says, “Don’t you know that you are not your own and you are called to glorify God who dwells in you in and through how you use your body?”
In the face of the world who asks, “Can anything good/new/surprising come out of the middle of nowhere?” the friend replies, not with argument or justification, but with an invitation and a smile: “Come and see!”
In the face of resistance and skepticism, our Lord replies: “I have seen inside your very heart, and it leaps with joy as it recognizes me, its deepest desire. Come and follow me and allow me to give you back your life in a way that only I can.”
God’s call to each of us (as individuals and as a church) is a reminder first --that “you are not your own” and second --that we are to “glorify God in all that we are and all that we do.”
We are called, like John the Baptist, to testify to the light, to surrender our lives and our very selves to God, to whom we already belong, allowing that awareness and that surrender to transform us. We are called to help each other hear the call of our Lord, trusting the wisdom of others to help us recognize the call of God in our own lives; not judging but inviting others to go back and try answering a different way or inviting them to join us and to “come and see!” We are called to live our lives differently, as those who are holy, set apart; to confront the world by shining the light of the Son on the world’s excesses, on our own systems of evil and injustice.
Do you know that [you] are members of Christ? Therefore, a piece of Christ will always be with you. Now go forth, and let it shine into the world!

Martin Hood's funeral homily

Martin Hood’s funeral homily
January 14, 2012
When I sit down with families to plan a funeral service, I make it a point to ask the family members of the person who has died, to share some stories with me. I’ve found that sometimes, some of these snapshots of a life can be woven into the funeral homily in meaningful ways. Yesterday, when I was sitting with Kylie, Lee, and Fran, I asked them to tell me stories about Martin. I told them that I was looking for one that could be used in this homily, and each one thought about a story; and the stories began coming in rapid succession, each one funnier than the one before. But as each one of those women told their stories, they would each preface them with the caveat: “but you couldn’t tell this one in church…” Finally, we decided that everyone who is here today probably has a Martin story. But none of them can be repeated in church…
There’s a prayer, a collect in the prayer book, that has been rattling around in my head these last few days. It starts off with the words: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…” There’s a lot under the surface in those few simple words: the agony, the despair, the defeat, the humiliation of the cross…the absolute worst of humanity, the absolute worst choice we could make—to choose to put to death God. As the family and friends of Martin, we all know a taste of that darkness on this bright, sunny day.
But we also know the rest of the story, the reality of Jesus’s arms of love; how God’s love proved to be stronger than our darkness and despair in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We remember, especially today, how God takes the worst decision that we people could make and uses it to accomplish our salvation, redemption, and restoration into God’s kingdom of love.
Today we remember together the cross and the resurrection: the ultimate bad decision, the deep despair of humankind and the surprise of hope—that God’s love is stronger than anything, stronger than our grief and sadness, stronger than our despair and bad decisions, stronger than anything and everything. Even death.
It is no secret that throughout his life, Martin wrestled with the darkness, with depression and anxiety. But what you may or may not know is how throughout his life, he also encountered the surprise of hope—how the first time he held his niece, Shelby, he made the decision to be different, to live his life differently, and he did it. He was surprised by hope in meeting Kylie and in their life together that was filled with so much laughter. He was surprised by hope in his passion for his work and his brilliance at programming. He was surprised by hope as he became a father to Olivia, in the way that he quietly and faithfully loved her and provided for her.
In his life we remember and give thanks for the hope; and we are confident that he is once again being surprised by hope in eternal life in the loving arms of the God who created him.
So this day, even in our sadness, we give thanks for the life of Martin Hood. We remember all that was so wonderful about him—all those stories that we can’t tell in church; we hold tightly to one another, and we hold fast to the surprise of hope that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ: that God’s love (for Martin and for each of us) is stronger than our grief, our despair, our anger, our loss, our bad decisions. We hold fast to the hope that God’s love is stronger than anything and everything.
Even death.