A view from 30,000 Feet

In St Martin’s, 2016 was a year of steady progress. Having completed RenewalWorks in 2015 we began 2016 guided by three key priorities distilled from the data gathered during our participation in the RenewalWorks program. Because we don’t talk so much about RenwalWorks now, some may feel that it has simply become one more in the long line of new initiatives to disappear from our community life. This could not be further from the truth and I want to take some time to outline how RenewalWorks continues to guide our movement into the future.

Our distillation of three key priorities begins with Embedding the Bible in parish life. Under its impetus, we completed a full community reading of The Story –The Bible as one continuous story of God and God’s people. Our monthly discussion in three chapter sections took place at the adult forum on the 3rd Sunday of the month. The purpose of this program was to allow many of us to gain an overview of the broad sweep of God’s presence in human history. This is an epic, i.e. a story that unfolds through history. Our lives are shaped by the stories we tell, both to ourselves and the wider world. Our formational story of faith comes to fruition in our lives when we know how our formational epic story begins and develops throughout history, shaping our encounter with Scripture in the present moment.

With reference to the Bible, encountering is the verb I use in contrast to understanding or believing.  We encounter Scripture as the key element in our spiritual deepening individually, and as a community through its power to shape us as we face into our lives in the here and now of the early decades of the 21st century. Our encounter with the ancient tradition of Scripture always has a quality of immediacy, for the Scriptures can only address us from within the contexts in which we actually live. In 2016 embedding the Bible as a spur to our spiritual deepening led to a number of developments:

  • As a community, we are growing in the practice of Lectio Divina, an ancient and yet amazingly novel way of letting a passage of Scripture speak into the intimacy of our everyday experience.
  • Over the summer to my invitation to form a virtual Daily Office prayer group. This continues as a practice for a number of parishioners who pray at least one of the daily options of Morning, Evening, or Night Prayer offices in the knowledge that others are similarly doing so each day. Praying the Daily Office links us to a global circuit of continuous prayer. Each month a prayer list is circulated for people to use to aid the sense of our local connection in the virtual reality of prayer.
  • On Thursday evenings we have started an essentially lay-led meditation practice. Four experienced meditators take turns to lead the weekly session. Our practice has an inclusive, interfaith approach to meditation as the cultivation of a deeper capacity for listening and mindful observation, anchoring us in an experience of ourselves that is more than our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Meditation becomes a new portal through which outsiders may enter into the experience of what is offered within our community.

In 2017 embedding the Bible will spur a renewal of the healing ministry with the development of a regular healing service. Completing The Story forms a foundation for embarking in 2017 on a more focused exploration of the Bible together as a community. Watch this space.

The second key priority Engaging our Passion – Getting People Going has resulted in the establishment of a more robust and effective greeting ministry on Sunday mornings with the creation of a welcome table, each week staffed by a member of the Vestry. Our welcome and new member incorporation now has a much higher profile in our community consciousness. Yet we still struggle to successfully impart that this is an every member responsibility. In 2017, the focus going forward needs to be on empowering people with the confidence and skills to know how to speak about the importance of their faith when the context makes this appropriate. We are not going to blanket convert our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. But we are going to learn how to be sensitive to those moments of inquiry when we sense another’s restlessness with life as it is. When we discover how our church membership helps us with our own longing for that mysterious more in life we are then able to share our experience with others who are similarly searching.

Our third priority – The Heart of the Leader has been amply demonstrated by a growing confidence and clarity of leadership purpose within the Vestry. This was amply demonstrated when all Vestry members stepped up to increase their pledge giving in preparation for our End of year Story at the end of July. Their example encouraged many others to also do likewise because when the leadership demonstrates confidence and resolve it encourages others to feel that St Martin’s is a community worth the investment of time, talent, and financial resources. Yet, strengthening the heart of leadership has also shown itself in all those instances when individual members have stepped up and taken initiative both within the congregation and in the wider world.

2016 has seen the following significant developments:

  1. Settling into the new Sunday morning schedule where the 8 and 9:30 services continue to offer the contrast between quiet early morning worship and the vibrant worship involving choir and sermon. Moving from 10–9:30 a.m. makes space for the adult forum running alongside children’s formation allowing parents a new opportunity to gather with other adults to attend to their own formation. When children see that life-long formation involves their parents they are less likely to grow up with the mistaken idea that church is what you do only when you are growing up. It’s possible to worship and then attend the forum, or worship only or simply arrive in time for the forum hour, esp. when the complexities of family life might mean limiting the time commitment on Sunday mornings. The forum offers an easier portal of entry for spiritual seekers unfamiliar with our complex style of worship.
  2. Retirement after 30 years of Jay MacCubbin as Music Director and the appointment of Nick Voemans as our new Minister of Music.
  3. The new Temple-Church Conversation revives in a contemporary form the earlier Abrahamic Accord between the churches and temples on the East Side. The first in this new series of conversations happened in September. Our focus is on the relationship between our shared Jewish-Christian tradition and the issues facing us in our civic life together, notably issues of empowered citizenship, and protection of our democratic and civic institutions. How do we as people of the Abrahamic faiths (which now must include our Muslim Communities) learn the confidence to speak with authority into an increasingly pluralist civic arena, where often our voice is not at first recognized? For instance, the Temple-Church Conversation gave new impetus to the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, which we hosted on the theme of refugee resettlement, bringing out the deep historical connections between migration, welcome, and gratitude. As we face into a revolution in our political life that will continue to create huge division and disruption in the civic space, we need our religious communities of Temple and Church to be places that empower and support us as we seek to go out to further the expectations of God’s Kingdom on earth.
  4. A third significant development in 2016 has been the design, building, and dedication of a new nave altar and altar rails financed from the generosity of memorial gifts. With this, I feel we have completed a 30-year process of finding a suitable alternative to the primary focus of the high altar. The high altar dominates the architecture of our building. We remain committed to keeping this architectural integrity. Yet exquisitely beautiful though it remains, it no longer functions as the focus for our Eucharistic worship. Eucharistic worship now focuses on a theology of community gathering around the table. Our new nave altar and communion rails intentionally reflect the architecture of window tracery and woodworking evidenced in the sanctuary, creating a seamless stylistic and aesthetic movement from the east window down through the choir to the nave where the focus of our worship now takes place. I want to express our gratitude to Peter Lofgren for the design, Jim Eddy for the construction, and Luis Sosa who built the platform. I also wish to acknowledge the leadership of John Bracken who facilitated the request for memorial gifts from a number of members in the congregation.

The dictionary definition of flourishing is: to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as a result of a particularly favorable environment. As we look forward, because the future often appears uncertain, we don’t always notice or feel that our environment is particularly favorable to us. For me, a favorable environment is not the same as an easy one. A favorable environment is one that challenges us to create new and innovative opportunities for responding to issues we face.

All the challenges facing us can be rolled into one which in last year’s report I identified as the need for greater spiritual depth in our lives. One year further on we are clearer that part of our spiritual deepening requires us to be more convinced and adventurous with our faith and to move from welcoming to an active invitation. Active invitation requires us to live our faith more openly in the different contexts of our daily lives and not keep it a secret for Sundays and the St Martin community only. The fruitfulness of our lives results directly from the nature of the stories that inform and empower us. This comment takes us back to the importance of embedding the Biblical epic as the guiding story in our lives. Reaching-out must now be our number one priority!

Our ministry groups evidence our health with an explosion of energy across all our community ministries. The outreach ministry continues strong with commitments to feeding and clothing those in need as well as ongoing support for Amos House, and St Mary’s Home for Children, the only agency offering therapeutic support for children and families experiencing the trauma of many kinds of abuse, and DCYF’s Christmas gift appeal. The Women’s Spirituality Group has blossomed and now operates not only as a wonderful support for our women members but as a portal through which new members are being continually invited and incorporated. The Knitting Ministry continues to be a place for fellowship and active prayer expressed through the creation of prayer shawls for those who are sick and suffering. The Hospitality Committee continues to facilitate our community celebrations with flair and style. Altar and Flower Guilds, Vergers, Ushers, Acolytes, and Choir continue to form the backbone of our worship life.

Matthew records the call of the first two disciples, mirroring the version we read from John last Sunday. In John, Jesus simply extends the invitation to: come and see. Matthew’s version has Jesus say: follow me. These simple commands communicate that Jesus is not asking any of us to go where he is not prepared to go. Yet, life in the church is not a spectator sport. We don’t watch from afar, we come close and take responsibility for acting. Everyone has both the freedom and the responsibility to pursue his or her own spiritual growth. Yet, the nature of pursuing our own spiritual growth means more than an individualistic response to follow Jesus. It also means that we must become visible to one another as signs for others, pointing towards the path to follow.

In 2017 may we take the courage to embody in new and more dynamic ways the change we long to see in the world (Ghandi).

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