Epiphany 3C / Annual Parish Report
January 27, 2019
In today’s gospel reading we hear one of the three Holy Spirit stories told by Luke. In the first story, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove when he is baptism. In the second story, the Holy Spirit fills and leads Jesus into the wilderness for a time of testing as Jesus refuses the pathways that are wrong for his servant ministry. And in today’s reading, the Holy Spirit fills Jesus with power for ministry as he reads a text that will be his mission statement as Messiah. And then preaches perhaps the shortest sermon ever, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Now don’t get your hopes up – my sermon is going to be longer than usual today, because I am combining the annual parish report and sermon so you only have to really listen to me one time!)
Robert Brearly’s essay on this passage from Luke is insightful: Jesus is called to be “an agent of mercy to the downtrodden: to be good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and new beginnings for all who have failed.” In other words, Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is sent for everyone, for don’t we all fit into one of these categories at some point in our lives or another?
Then experiencing the love of Christ by the power of the Spirit, we are called to do and be something in return. We need to know our mission and understand what God has given us to do. That is as important for us as it was for Jesus. Luke wants us to know Jesus’ ministry began when the Holy Spirit claimed him in baptism, tested him in the wilderness and filled him with power for “an urgent ministry of grace…” The Holy Spirit came and taught Jesus what was real: to say yes to God’s good purposes for all people; to help the poor and captured of all kinds; to say yes to working for God with urgency and compassion.
And the Holy Spirit gives us something to do for God as well. In this era of declining church attendance, the question I often hear is “How we are doing as a church?” but a better question might be “As a church, what are we doing for God?”
On this Sunday of our Annual Parish Meeting – I’d like for you to imagine church as theater -- a stage play; worship as a drama – not acting, but a Spirit-led movement in which we all fulfill a role, in which we all participate. (Now this analogy may not work if picked apart too deeply, but just humor me and play along….)
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
The church is God’s spirit-filled stage, inspiring worshippers upon it. And all kinds of worshippers are needed to fulfill God’s mission in and through this sacred place.
Let’s say the Altar Guild are the stage hands, making sure the set is just right. Their work makes our worship space beautiful, from the polished silver vessels to the polished brass on the doors. They make sure we are in the correct colors for each liturgical season and that all the linens and vestments are properly cared for and presented. Much of their work is behind the scenes, but with careful attention to details, they make our space a worthy offering to God. An interesting statistic for the Altar Guild is that they count each wafer to be consecrated during the Eucharist which totaled 3,538 wafers in 2018. (Altar Guild – please stand.)
Supplementing the beautification process for our stage – our worship space – is the Flower Guild. Your honorariums and tributes fund the flowers and a small team of volunteers make them happen every Sunday (except Lent and Advent), every funeral and reception. (Flower Guild – please stand). Thank you for sharing your talent and time in this fashion!
No theater is complete without Ushers. The Ushers are not only responsible for handing out our programs – our Worship Leaflets, but also for checking lights and sound equipment, securing oblation bearers each week to bring forward the bread and wine, and collecting our gifts of tithe and offering. For funerals, which totaled 10 this year, ushers make sure pews are reserved for families and assist with seating and welcoming guests. They have many jobs, which I am still discovering even after 4+ years of being here. The ushers keep a head count for every service as well, which totaled 4,131 noggins in 2018. (Ushers, please stand.)
Another important aspect of worship life is music. Do we not have an amazing choir and organist??? (Applause!) Often after their anthems, I find I wish I could clap to show my appreciation, but it doesn’t seem to work as Tony so quickly takes us to the doxology. This music department works very hard, practicing every Wednesday night 10 months out of the year to present us with 56 anthems during worship for 2018. And Tony is a master at choosing anthems and other music that work well in our setting and for our choir. He also takes great pride in playing our Kilgen & Son organ that is 110 years old this year. The choir is here for every service during Holy Week, Advent and Christmas, including TWO services on Christmas Eve! Choir, Tony – Thank you!!!
The other “players” upon this stage, if you will, are the Lectors and Readers who share in worship by orating the scriptures of the day. Some read with great expression, others with a sense of reverence, but all offering themselves to God in worship. We have heard many voices reading in our services the past year. Please stand if you have given of yourself in this way.
And finally, the acolytes who physically lead our worship and make my role look easy. They lead the procession into worship with reverence and grace. They accompany the Gospel proclamation, receive the gifts, set the altar, assist with the distribution of communion, light candles, extinguish candles, and help all around with the worship experience. We have new people on our teams and are always eager to train new leaders. I would be remiss not to give a special thank you to Eleanor for schedule, organizing, re-scheduling, training and leading the acolyte teams – Thank you, Eleanor! And all acolytes, please stand… Thank you for sharing your time and talent to help our worship of God.
In order for Sunday morning worship to happen, there is a lot that takes place during the week. We are 5 years into volunteer office help from 9-1 Monday-Thursday. That is 832 hours a year of volunteer time put in primarily by 4 folks – Pam, Suzi, Gary and Patti. You four save the church thousands of dollars a year with your devoted time! Please stand… thank you!
The generosity of this parish continues to amaze me! You support every outreach opportunity thrown your way – from school supplies to stocking stuffers, from Thanksgiving bags to food pantry extras, from angel tree gifts to Eastside Ministry requests. And that is not counting the nearly $2,000 given to help 12 local families with rent or utilities, to help 1 family with funeral expenses, bought 7 coats for children who had none, and helped one gentleman get an ID card which in turn helped him get a job. The brain and passion behind managing this Ministry Fund is Carolyn Brannen. She is careful and thoughtful with the funds you generously share to give away from ourselves. Thank you all for your generosity to the Ministry Fund and thank you Carolyn for your compassionate and discerning service.
Not only are you generous with your time and gifts, you are generous with your space. St. Luke’s in the Meadow is in use 7 days a week which is a great sign of life and spotlight of hope to our neighborhood. Most everyone here has played a part in this great parish and I appreciate you all. And there are two people who have been driving forces behind St. Luke’s doors remaining open through all kinds of ups and downs.
First, Sr. Warden Patti Callahan. Patti has believed in this church and its mission on the Eastside of Fort Worth. She has put in countless hours as Sr. Warden for the past 5 years. Patti has done everything from building renovation and restoration to grant writing to food pantrying. She has been a great Sr. Warden to get a new Priest-in-Charge trained and eventually to become the Rector. Patti’s has been a great stage manager, up to whatever drama, comedy or worship opportunity God has put before her. Patti, thank you!!!! Enjoy a break from Vestry…. And run again before too long!
Now, before the music starts and you kick me off the stage, there is one more person I want to recognize. Let’s just say the Holy Spirit has been doing all kinds of amazing things around here the past year. And I think it is God’s tremendous affirmation to one man who has given so much to make sure St. Luke’s stayed financially afloat. We still have work to do to get to a balanced budget, but we are making progress. There were a record number of pledges made for 2019! Thank you for that! Thank you for taking that leap of faith! Our operating budget is about $220,000 and our receipts are projected to be about $215,000, a short-fall of $5,000, which I trust will appear somehow. I recall a year ago at our parish meeting, in response to our financial needs, Katie Sherrod said, “We do not know what God has planned.” And boy was she right! Katie ran a GoFundMe Campaign in Gayland’s Memory that brought in almost $12,000 for our church! Most of it helped balance 2018’s budget and the remainder is in our memorial fund. Thank you, Katie… and thank you Gayland Pool – your memory lives on!
And then, not knowing God’s plan, another surprise came along – a surprise that I think was in part God’s way of affirming the great gift of money management given by Jay Andrews for many, many years. Jay has pinched pennies, stretched dollars and miraculously made ends meet. The Holy Spirit gave Jay a “miracle” to retire on from his Treasurer role. The Connie Wood Endowment of $723,000 will give life to this parish for many, many years to come. It will take a couple of years for the interest to accrue enough to supplement our Operating Budget, but it will give us a little breathing room and take some of the financial pressure off. I truly believe this endowment is God (and Connie’s) wink to you, Jay, saying, “well-done, good and faithful servant!!!” Please stand and come to the front….
Jay, we promise to continue your conservative approach to spending. and we have a gift to honor you and to remind us of the importance of giving and conserving. And as a reminder to us that “We do not know what God has planned for this place,” but we can be sure the curtain is not closing any time soon!
The Holy Spirit filled Jesus with power for “an urgent ministry of grace…” The Holy Spirit has filled this parish with faith, hope and love. The Spirit has given us courage to say yes to God’s good purposes for all people; to help the poor and captured of all kinds; to say yes to working for God with urgency and compassion.
I’d say that as a church we are doing well! As for what we are doing for God…. I’d say we are doing whatever God puts before us to do! I am blessed beyond anything I deserve to serve as your Rector! May the Holy Spirit fill us, the love of Christ flow through us, and the power of God direct us on the stage of sacred purpose and mission. Amen.