The Breath Of The Lord Is Upon Me

And Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth on the sabbath. But it’s not just any sabbath. As Richard Swanson points out the accurate translation from the Greek is the day of sabbaths, surely a reference to the day Jews refer to as the Sabbath of Sabbaths -Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. So, on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Jesus comes to his home town and standing up in the synagogue he reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah proclaiming his understanding of his mission from God.

It’s a stretch for me to suggest that the day of the parish’s annual meeting is in any sense an equivalent to the Day of Atonement. Yet Annual Meeting Sunday is a time for reflection on the year passed, and a time to rededicate ourselves to meet the challenges and embrace the opportunities of the coming year.

For those of us relatively new to the Episcopal Church, the Annual Meeting is the important anchor the holds our Church governance secure from year to year. It is the best expression of how we as a community hold ourselves accountable to one another. For me, transparency and accountability are not always comfortable concepts but are at the end of the day, essential values to cherish and protect.

Have we been a welcoming community in 2018?

The first signal to the wider world that we are a welcoming community is found when strangers visit stmartinsprov.org. It’s here they encounter the tone of our community.

Physically, a visitor’s encounter with us is set within the first seconds by the warmth of our greeters and the supportive efficiency of our ushers. This year 38 families and individuals completed visitors’ cards. Every completed visitor card was followed up by email or letter during the following week.

Because church going patterns are more variable and flexible these days the traditional measurement of the average Sunday attendance (ASA) is no longer an accurate measure of our size and commitment. Yet, overall impressions from 2018 are that the numbers of new faces we are seeing week by week is an indication that we are becoming a more magnetic community. Yet, our magnetism is only as good as the quality of our welcome and outreach. In 2018 we had increased attendance at both Easter and Christmas services; a measure of our increasing impact in the wider community of fringe church attenders.

Our magnetism is only as good as the quality of our welcome and outreach, and we have to work hard to ensure that the caption The Episcopal Church Welcomes You does not remain our best kept secret.

The contribution from some newer members to the planning and implementation of the St Martin’s Feast this year contributed fresh ideas to the enormous success of this celebration.  It was good to welcome Rabbi Howard Voss Altman from Temple Beth-El as our guest preacher at Choral Evensong.

2018 has seen continued growth among families with young children. The Children’s Ministry flourishes thanks to Linda’s+ leadership and the amazingly strong commitment of parent involvement. The Christmas Pageant this year was certainly evidence of the fruit of this pudding, as was also the Children’s involvement in putting together toiletry care packs for distribution at the Epiphany Soup Kitchen – a ministry where serving growing numbers of the working poor has steadily increased over the past 12th months.

2018 saw the launch of a new men’s fellowship ministry, recently renamed Gander. We have all been astonished by the speed and strength of Gander’s development. You can read more about this in my Gander report in the AM pack.

Have we explored new avenues for sustainability in 2018?

In 2018, the Thrifty Goose, our thrift shop in the basement has undergone a complete makeover. The makeover is a reflection of a transformation in ethos from one of the traditional church charity shop to that of a right livelihood enterprise. Right livelihood enterprise is a term I have imported from The London Buddhist Center which over the years has sponsored a host of RLE’s. These are spirituality -values-based initiatives with a commercial priority as a key objective. I appreciate for some of us, and certainly for some who have given long service as volunteers in the Thrifty Goose, making a profit can seem a jarring concept. Therefore, let me make three comments in this regard.

  1. The primary objective of the Thrifty Goose as RLE is the repurposing of high-quality clothing. Where else can you get a Brooks Brothers shirt for $15, or an article of women’s designer wear for a fraction of its original price tag – not to mention the unearthed treasures from 1950’s and 60’s that have languished at the back of many a wardrobe. Repurposing is not only a spiritual value, it’s also great fun!
  2. The Episcopal Church universally, and not just at St Martin’s is facing a painful revolution in its economic model, which has since 1945 been based on the member pledge. In 2018, our pledge income remained strong; slightly increasing – and thank you for that. However, the longer term stats show our numbers of pledging members growing smaller and will continue to do so as the boomer generation passes-on to God’s greater glory. At this point in time, there is no clear picture of whether millennial and post millennial generations will recover the same level of commitment to the church as a vital institution that contributes to the greater good of our society.
  3. The signals are mixed, and so we need to be open to new ways of thinking about our financial sustainability.

How have we benefited in 2018?

  1. In this last year, Thrifty Goose profits together with that of two estate sales enabled us to devote 10% – the Biblical tithe – of above budgeted profits to outreach, increasing the budget for outreach grants to community projects from $5,000 to $7,000.
  2. In 2018, we gave away $129,615. This is a remarkable achievement, thank you!
  3. Goose profits also enabled us to begin the refurbishment of the Great Hall. The Great Hall is another important potential source of additional income. If you want to know the importance of upgrading our rental facilities just take a visit down city to see Grace Church’s, new state-of-the-art Pavilion. Upgrading and making our church plant accessible for wider community use is a right livelihood activity. My thanks to Brigit Timpson and the team of volunteers for transforming the Thrifty Goose into – if you will excuse the pun – a goose that lays the golden egg.

One big change in 2018

I want to draw attention to changes in our music ministry. Music is a vital component of the way St. Martin’s positions itself in the religious marketplace. We revived the Carol Sing just before Christmas, filling the Great Hall with so many new faces as the wider community came to enjoy the experience of community carol singing. In 2019 we will seek more opportunities to make community music and singing, in particular, part of our programed events.

The Episcopal Church maintains its strong commitment to the Anglican musical tradition in which music regulates the steady drumbeat of the liturgy. A series of developments in 2018 led me to make permanent, the interim arrangements separating the roles of choir director and organist. It’s timely that on the Sunday of this Annual Meeting we have the good fortune to commission two highly accomplished church musicians into each of these roles.

I want to make three additional comments about music.

  1. Under Gabe Alfieri the adult choir has regained much of its strength and through making more use of our paid singers we have been able to reintroduce Evensong (sung vespers) as part of our monthly liturgical schedule.
  2. Gabe has also begun to build a growing and enthusiastic children’s music program, which expanded this last fall from three to ten children regularly attending rehearsals at 6:15pm on Thursdays. This remains an exciting area for our commitment to a children’s ministry outreach in the wider community.
  3. With the arrival of Steven Young as our new organists, I look forward to Steve’s and Gabe’s visioning as together we explore the way the Anglican musical tradition can speak appropriately to our distinctive combination of traditional worship and radical theological messaging.

What have been the challenges faced in 2018?

  1. We are blessed with a beautiful stone building, that as one wag remarked was designed to leak. Beautiful though stone churches may be, they are an increasing burden for modern day communities such as ours. In 2018 the Buildings Committee embarked on a systematic survey of the sources of the multiple water leaks we see all over the church. As a result, we have a better idea of a strategy of staged repairs to fix multiple problems. I am grateful to Peter Lofgren for bringing his architect’s professional knowledge, experience, and network of contacts to bear in charting a way forward in this area of daunting challenge, which with Gordon Partington’s retirement is likely to become more so.
  2. As you will all appreciate, the repair and upkeep of a church like ours is a very expensive affair. Fortunately, our forebears have left to us a moderate endowment to help us with major buildings upkeep. Unfortunately, it’s not large enough for us to feel complacent, and Fla Lewis, chair of the Finance Committee continually warns us against eating our seed corn. Therefore, another gratifying development in 2018 has been the implementation of a Planned Giving strategy. Thank you to the team led by Fla that has opened up our understanding of the variety of ways we can all regularly contribute to the strengthening of the Endowment in addition to contributing to routine running expenses.
  3. We cannot function without the generosity of all our volunteers. However, in 2018, despite some of us devoting serious time and talent to supporting our community life, we are experiencing a volunteering crisis, as there seems to be fewer people than needed to do what needs to be done.  The sharp decline in our volunteer culture is complex and multifaceted, a reflection of wider societal shifts, with the church playing a less central role in our social lives. We must guard against an assumption that there is always someone else to do what we choose not to do; someone else who will be prepared to plug the gap left by our lack of engagement. Let me emphasize, there isn’t!

As your rector, I see my role as one of nurturing healthy community through the stimulation and encouragement of lay-led ministry initiatives. As ministerial priests, it is Linda’s+ and my role to call all of you into the fullest possible participation in the New Testament’s vision of the responsibilities of all the baptised as a royal priesthood of all believers.

You have heard me say many times that it’s important to follow your passion in choosing a ministry to participate in. But this statement is also a double edged sword for its corollary is – if you wait to be gripped by passion then you might end up doing nothing at all. We no longer have the luxury of carrying members who do not participate in strengthening this community with their generous giving of time, talent, and treasure. Commitment to action is not an optional choice for Christians.

Jesus accepted God’s mission for him as he read from the words of II Isaiah.

He stood up to read.
       It was given to him: a book of the prophet Isaiah.
            He opened the book; he found the place where it stood written:
                 A breath of haShem (the Lord) upon me
                           because of which he anointed me
                                to bring good news to the poor.
                      He sent me,
                           to proclaim
                                to exiled captives:
                                     release;
                                to blind people:
                                     seeing again;
                           to send those who have been crushed into release,
                     to proclaim a year of haShem acceptable.
        He rolled the book. He gave it back to the attendant.
            He sat. The eyes of all in the synagogue
                      were staring at him.
        He began to say to them:
                  Today it has been fulfilled,
                       this writing, in your ears.

Richard Swanson

As members of Christ’s body in the world we are Jesus’s followers in this time and place and therefore our intentions and actions matter to God!

By any measurement 2018 was a fruitful year for our community. On behalf of all of us let me thank you! I especially want to thank those members of the Vestry who are rotating off from their three year commitment. As we begin 2019, let the year of the Lord’s favor be fulfilled in our lives. God’s love makes claims; claims that render us accountable to God and to one another.

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