Rector’s Annual Address
January 29, 2017
Good morning, church! And welcome to the one hundred and sixty eighth annual meeting of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline.
This is my eighth Annual Address as your rector. Each address has been different, as each year has been, but one thing has remained steadfast; My love for you. My love for you as a community, and my love for each and everyone of you in this community. Though, from time to time we may disagree, disappoint one another or fall short of our expectations of each other, my love for you and for this community has never been deeper, or stronger. I love being your Rector, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
This has been quite a year, indeed. As if the Capital Campaign weren’t enough of an accomplishment for one year – and it isn’t over yet – In 2016 we shared in more ministries doing more work. We welcomed Megan into her new role as our Priest Associate, and Michael as our Interim Associate Rector. More of you have joined ministries and joined in shared leadership. Our desire as a community to move to a snowflake model of collaborative leadership has born great fruit, and that work continues.
I could go on and on, but that’s what we have the Annual Report for. If you didn’t get a copy in your email this week, there are copies here this morning and it is available on the website. In it, you will find the reports of over thirty separate ministries. I commend it to you, particularly if you’ve ever asked yourself what happens at St. Paul’s between Sunday mornings.
But this morning, I want to ask you to help the vestry; to help me and Michael, Megan and Andy and the rest of the staff, to help our lay leaders and to help each other answer a question we are being asked by the world outside our doors.
The question is “why?” Why do we do what we do, and why does it matter? Why do it here? Why do it now?
We’ve done great work as a community developing a strategic plan and implementing it. We cast a vision for a Capital Campaign and are now working to fund it.
But are we clear on the “why” that is behind it all?
You’ve heard this before, but asking you this question, “why” reminds me of the report from the consultants who interviewed many of you in preparation for our campaign. In their report, they found that as a congregation there is nearly 100% buy in to the vision of St. Paul’s, which was remarkable they said. However, they continued, no one is entirely sure what, exactly that vision is.
Why do we do what we do?
I am not proposing developing a mission or vision statement. We already have those. I’m talking about what you would say to someone who asked you why you give this place your hard-earned resources, why you lend us your hands, and feet and voices, why you let us hold your heart and why we let you hold ours.
And, with all due respect to our amazing hospitality team who are busy at this very minute preparing lunch for us, the answer to this “why” has to go past “we like to eat.”
I like to eat, too. But I really like doing it here. Why?
The answer must go deeper than “I like the community.”
Why? What do you like about it? Why this community? I have plenty of groups of people I like, but why I am I in this one?
Maybe you have an answer to the question “why” or maybe you have several. Perhaps, though, you didn’t discover it until you were already inside this building. After a while searching in this community. Maybe your answer to the question “why” has changed over time. Maybe there was a time you weren’t so sure “why”. Maybe that unsure time is now.
I do not think we, as a church, have the luxury of not knowing the answer, or not know our answer anymore. I do not think, in the days, months and years ahead we can afford the time or the resources to navel-gaze and wonder why God has gathered us here in this particular place at this particular time.
We will be challenged. We will be questioned. We will be called into action and we will need to know how and why we will answer.
I have never been prouder to be a part of this community than I am right now. Not just because of what we do, but because of who we strive to become, as individuals and as a community.
However you might be feeling about the current state of our country and the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that communities of faith such as this one are needed. We are needed to stand against the power of fear, and we are needed to proclaim the Gospel truth of a Loving God against the rhetoric of a vengeful, spite-driven God professed by those who call themselves Christian.
I am quite certain we will be called on to do bold and courageous things as individuals and as a community. I expect it will not be enough to go to a mosque, Boston Common or Copley Square for a rally. We will need to be explicit in our articulation that our brothers and sisters of other faiths; hindu, muslim, jewish or no faith at all deserve our respect, our love, our understanding and our solidarity.
We will need to do the same for our brothers and sisters who are immigrants and refugees, reminding ourselves and others that welcoming the stranger is an ancient scriptural mandate and that Jesus was a refugee.
We will be asked whether, here at St. Paul’s, Black lives matter. We will be asked to answer that question not only with our lips, but in our lives. Not as a simple political statement or a box to check on a cultural competency quiz, but because we believe it’s true and we are prepared to do the work to make it true wherever it is not.
I believe this is the time for which the church was made. I believe this is the time for which St. Paul’s was made.
Because we follow Jesus Christ, I believe we will know how to do this work. Because of the urgency of this time, I believe we will know when. Because we never lack for ideas, I believe when the time comes we will know what to do.
But to do any of the work ahead of us, we will need to be as clear as we can be why we are doing it.
It is time for us to be explicit in our understanding of who we are and for what we are willing to work.
On the door of Coventry Cathedral, there is posted a wonderful message of welcome. It reads,
"We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, confused, filthy rich, comfortable or dirt poor.
"We extend a special welcome to wailing babies and excitable toddlers.
"We welcome you whether you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself.
"You're welcome here if you're 'just browsing', just woken up or just got out of prison.
"We don't care if you're more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven't been to church since Christmas ten years ago."
The message continues: "We extend a warm welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.
"We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters.
"We welcome those who are in recovery and those who are still addicted.
"We welcome you if you're having problems, are down in the dumps or don't like organized religion."
"We offer a welcome to those who think the Earth is flat, work too hard, don't work, can't spell or are here because granny is visiting and wanted to come to the Cathedral .
"We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both or neither.
"We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throats as kids or got lost in the city centre and wound up here by mistake.
"We welcome pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters... and YOU!"
I like it because, well, it’s funny. And I like it because it is explicit. It is hard to wonder, standing outside of the Cathedral, whether or not you are included in their message of welcome.
And while I love our Capital Campaign theme; Preparing a Place for All, I know that often times an invitation to everyone can be an invitation to no one at all.
What do we mean when we say “all”, and what are we prepared to do to back that up?
“God loves everyone, no exceptions” our banner says, but I know some walk by and wonder what we mean that God loves them, no exceptions. God loves them, but wants them to convert? God loves them, but not their “lifestyle”?
And what does “welcome” really mean? That all are welcome to come in, and change to be like us, or all are welcome to come in and change us so we all might be fully who God made us to be?
We can’t really answer any of these questions, if we don’t know the answer to why. We can’t be concrete in offering a vision of Christianity or of church, if we don’t know exactly what that vision means. We can’t proclaim the Gospel truth, if we are not prepared for what we as a community, are prepared to do to make that Gospel truth a reality.
And so, this morning, I am calling on the Vestry to create a formal statement of welcome and commitment to be placed on the Aspinwall Street doors, the website and into the hands of everyone who calls St. Paul’s their spiritual home. I am asking the vestry to produce this document, including community input and comment in time to be placed on our doors by Easter of this year.
And I am asking those of you able to stay for the rest of the Annual Meeting to help us begin that work, with an exercise we have prepared for our time after lunch.
There is, I hope, hard work ahead for us. I look forward to doing this work, because I will do it with all of you.
2016 brought many challenges and blessings to this community. 2017 holds hope for more blessings and more challenges. This is the time for which we were made.
May God give us the courage and will to act boldly in God’s name.