We arrive at our end of year story Sunday when we celebrate the achievements of our last program year. The success of our financial appeal this time last year has freed us this year to focus on a theme of giving thanks for the enlivened passions of the members of our various ministry teams. During the coffee hour, Laura Bartsch will present a slide show in which we will also recognize ministries and ministry leaders by name. In my overview here, I have not included the music or education ministries because I will speak more directly about these in the coffee hour presentation.
An organizational vision of ministry
In speaking of our achievements over the last program year I want to make the point that all our ministry activities align with the fruits of the RenewalWorks Program out of which three key priorities have emerged to guide our future direction of travel. These are:
- Embedding the Bible in community life,
- Getting people going,
- Developing the heart of the leader.
As part of our first core priority of embedding the Bible in community life, we completed the yearlong reading of The Story. This was at best, a mixed experience but it achieved its purpose of placing engagement with the Biblical narrative at the heart of our spiritual growth. Following Easter, we began to deepen this process as we embarked on The Bible Challenge – a 365-day program for reading the entire Bible. I view this initiative as a multi-year program because reading the Bible is a tough sell among Episcopalians. Thus it will take time for a commitment to daily Bible reading to become a priority for us.
The Bible Challenge will continue over the summer months and as we move into a new program year in September we will give particular emphasis to the formation of small discussion groups to provide venues for sharing our experience as a major element in strengthening our identity as disciples.
Embedding the Bible contributes to a deepening of our lives of spiritual practice. In addition to public morning prayer said in the Church, we have an active virtual Daily Office group whose members commit to saying the Daily Office at home in the knowledge that others are doing likewise. The Thursday Meditation Hour is a gateway for the spiritual but not religious folk. The big discovery for me is how the Meditation Hour seems to be offering a valuable space for traditional religious but not spiritual members who seem to relish exploring the hitherto mysteries of meditation.
Our second priority getting people moving covers the greater number of our ministries.
- An example is the arrival of the Welcome Table at the back of the Church. Working with the greeters and ushers, and increasingly by ordinary members of the congregation without greeter portfolio, we are seeing a steady stream of new arrivals being welcomed and successfully incorporated into our community journey.
- The Women’s Spirituality Group has continued from strength to strength and is a model for passion-led engagement that is building a robust experience of discipleship. This ministry has a wider ‘neighborhood’ aspect as another non-Sunday church gateway for involvement in the St Martin style of community life.
- The Knitting Ministry has blossomed into a major nexus where fellowship interfaces with the crucial ministry of praying for healing. The Knitting Ministry neatly dovetails with the commitment of the members of the Pastoral Care Team who on a weekly basis serve in the liturgy as well as visit on average as many as 10 folk, either housebound or in supported living. The team also supports Linda+ in her monthly visits to Wingate and Bethany care facilities, and regular visits are also made to Laurelmead. Those who offer healing prayers on Sunday during Communion have also become more linked to the wider Pastoral Care Team Ministry.
- The Hospitality Team continues its well-established ministry of food as a core aspect of our communal life. Hospitality Team members work tirelessly around the high points of celebration throughout the liturgical year. No other parish throws a party like our Hospitality Team and as one diocesan official commented, St Martin’s events are a style act!
- The Thrifty Goose Ministry teams – Wednesday and Saturday – devote a great deal of time to their passion. The thrift shop and Cloak ministries represent important aspects of community outreach. However, the Thrifty Goose has the additional distinction of being a crucial revenue-generating ministry. Revenue generation has not traditionally been embraced as a ministry. We will need to change this attitude as our future will rely increasingly on our ability to use our resources in revenue-generating ways. As a consequence, a new Additional Revenue Think-tank has formed to address this particular area of increasing importance.
- Outreach is an umbrella term that covers a variety of ministry initiatives. We have a grant-making group that distributes our outreach budget among applicants from the wider community. The Rector’s Discretionary account makes grants to a number of community organizations as well as responding to parishioners and others at points of crisis need. Each year folk work tirelessly to support the DCYF, St Mary’s Children Home, and Amos House appeals. Episcopal Charities, May Breakfast and Thanksgiving Lunch are key elements of our outreach as is the Epiphany Soup Kitchen as is the annual Good Friday Walk. As in the recent past, the men of the parish took responsibility for Shrove Tuesday, which this year morphed into a highly successful and outreach focused Mardi Gras celebration.
- Worship infrastructure ministries cover Ushers, Greeters, Readers, Eucharist Ministers, Acolytes, and Altar and Flower Guilds. Most of these ministries are well supported, however, this program year we have struggled to maintain three acolyte teams, and going forward we will increasingly need to rely on adult acolyte support. The Altar Guild remains a ministry most in need of new volunteers. The Flower Guild continues under strong leadership.
- The Memorial Garden Group continues its good work. This year we had a change in leadership in this ministry and Laura will refer to this in her presentation.
- The Buildings and Property Committee has been greatly strengthened this past year. Working closely with our buildings supervisor, Gordon Partington, the committee has developed a rolling prioritized buildings maintenance program.
To many developing the heart of the leader may seem the most mysterious key priority. The word leader and leadership are interchangeable and this last year this priority has focused largely on developing leadership vision within the Vestry, and its all-important Finance subcommittee. Traditionally, the Vestry is charged with clear responsibilities for finance and buildings. Yet, today much more is needed from our lay leaders, and we have streamlined review and discussion of routine monthly matters and earmarked more time for spiritual reflection and leadership visioning. Currently, under the leadership of the Church Wardens, the Vestry is becoming a more inspirational leadership forum. Laura’s very competent meetings management has meant that I no longer feel the need to chair the Vestry, releasing me the spiritual leader to become more of a participant-observer.
Going forward, a key initiative, which I invite the Vestry to give more serious consideration and commitment to is the development of small group leadership skills as part of any plan to seed new small group structures in the parish.
More individuals are now stepping forward and showing a desire to take leadership on specific initiatives. An example of this was the Carol Sing before Christmas and the Mardi Gras party, both new initiatives resulting from individuals stepping forward to take leadership responsibility.
A theology of ministry
In the E-news, I commented on the phrase every member ministry community. It requires the investment of each and every person to ensure our community continues to be fit for the purpose God calls us to be.
The New Testament has a simple word that encompasses every aspect of being fit for purpose. The word is disciple. I increasingly draw a distinction between two terms often used interchangeably – member and disciple.
Members are concerned with supporting the organization to which they belong:
- Members see themselves as supporting the clergy and others to whom they look to perform ministry.
- The demands of membership are intentionally kept low so as not to discourage people from joining, and to encourage people to remain.
- Members notoriously vote with their pocket books and ultimately with their feet, when they don’t get what they want or feel their specific needs are not being met.
Disciples see themselves as active participants in the Church’s ministry and not just supporters of the organization:
- Disciples are invested in their relationship with God.
- For them building a strong church is the most effective way of making a difference in the wider world with which they feel deeply involved.
- Disciples practice lives of prayer, study, and reflection.
- They experience deep gratitude for the good things they enjoy, seeing them not as things to own, but hold in trust.
- Disciples express their sense of gratitude in generous lives of service.
The contours of discipleship vary from person to person because God not only calls us as we are as we are in the process of becoming. Our temperament, our gifts, our passions, and concerns are the lenses that illuminate God calls each of us to service in the world. We respond to our call through loving God and loving the people in whose company we live out our lives, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, one breath at a time.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus could well have been addressing the current plight of our own experience. Most of us feel harassed by the pace of life and it’s increasing level of demands. Our ability to respond to the rapid pace of change and the level of demand is decreased by the seeming unstoppable rise in our levels of anxiety. We are now sorely afraid in the world in which we find ourselves, and Americans, who enjoy higher levels of prosperity than any other nation, seem to be the most afraid of all.
Spiritual community offers release from both fear and a sense of futility, because it provides a way for us to work together to become the change we long to experience in the world around us. Our community however, is currently operating at the outer limits of our capacity, continuing to run a program that is too large for the pool of disciples on hand. We find ourselves in the situation Jesus describes in: the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.
Our continued high-level priority is to grow. I have outlined the ways in which the need for growth is currently being supported as together we become a more magnetic community; a community shaped to attract others who long to grow more in love with God and thus be equipped to make a greater difference in the world.
We have a job to do and we have done it well in 2016-17. I firmly believe that only when we do our part is God enabled to do God’s part. So with all that we’re currently doing, and with the new directions that will undoubtedly open up in 2017-18, we must not neglect the second have of Jesus statement:
Then he [Jesus] said to his disciples: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
Jesus then called his disciples and sent them out. He sent them out in teams, two-by-two. It’s together that we become equipped for ministry in the world. There’s no such thing as a ministry of one.