Sermons

Good morning, church!  And welcome to the one hundred and sixty ninth annual meeting of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline.  

This is my ninth Annual Address as your rector.  As is my practice each year, I want to start by reminding you how much I love you, and how much I love being your rector.  I have been here long enough now that whenever I pop out of town for some R&R or a conference, at least one or two of you ask if my stated reason is the real reason, or am I off seeking a new community.  I assure you, I am not.  

And, while I cannot predict what God has in store for you or for me in the next year, I can tell you that it is my every expectation and hope to be here for the one hundred and seventieth Annual meeting next January.

I feel deeply grateful and privileged to practice my ministry alongside you as you practice yours.

I am also in awe of the talent, passion and heart of the staff we are blessed with here at St. Paul’s.  

I could talk about each one in depth.  But this morning, I want to single out James Santagati, our Sexton.  James is our “behind the scenes” saint and his love and dedication for this place and this community is why it looks the way it does day by day, week by week, all year long.

James, we are so grateful for who you are and what you bring to the work you do here.  It is clear that, for you, it is a ministry, and we are inspired by your faithfulness.  Thank you.

(when this report was read, there was a well-deserved and sustained standing ovation for James)

This year, we welcomed five new members to our staff; Maggie, our Director of Children and Youth, Kristina our Communications Assistant, Christine our Finance Administrator, Pat our Deacon and Elise our new Associate Rector.  

While bringing five people on to a total staff of only nine made for a busy year, as each person came on board, it felt like a slot machine coming up with star after star after star after star.  Elise, our newest star, completed the set resulting in our current jackpot of a staff.

Last year at this meeting, I charged the congregation and the Vestry to make the implicit nature of our welcome and commitment here at St. Paul’s an explicit message that would hang on our front door.  The hope was that people might get to know what we are about before having to cross the threshold.

When it was posted, the statement was as beautiful as it was bold and the reaction was swift and profound.  People were seen stopping to read it, to take pictures of it and the comments have been moving to hear.

The next step in that process is to create a permanent version that will withstand the elements and serve as continuous message to the community, and reminder to us, of who we are and what we are about.

Five years ago, we created a Strategic Plan that takes us through the end of this year.  Happily, we have achieved many of our stated goals and have realized many of our dreams.  Far from an idle document, the Strategic Plan has helped us get to the place we are now, and helped to guide the brave decisions we have made to get here.

A year from now, our lower level will be finished, the backyard will provide access to the lower level and a multi-purpose area for our children, for worship and for deepening our relationships with God and one another.  The initial urgent repair work on the organ will be complete and the tower will have received major repair work.  Perhaps the scaffolding pergola over the sidewalk will have been removed.  And our new partner for the lower level, Pine Village, will be up and running -- our building will be alive during the week, once again, with the sound of children and laughter, which I miss.

This is a very busy place, on Sunday mornings and all week.  In reading all the reports in our Annual Report for last year, I was overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of service, ministry, seeking and learning that happen here all week, all year.

But two sets of figures jumped out at me, and helped me to understand, perhaps, why things tend to feel so, shall we say, dynamic here.  

The first was our historians list of activities, outside of regular Sunday morning meetings and things like Vestry meetings, that totalled almost one hundred events in 2017.  Add Sunday morning and special services, vestry and discernment committee meetings, choir practices, building and grounds meetings and pastoral visits and the number is somewhere around three to four hundred.  A special event or offering for just about every day of the year.

The other number came from Jill’s space use report.  Each week, 12 community groups use space at St. Paul’s for everything from A Capella Group rehearsals to 12 Step Group meeting to a Jewish Congregation who meets here for their High Holy Day services.

That number doesn’t include the 28 concerts we hosted or the Brookline Food Pantry who uses our Great Hall, Middle Room and Kitchen each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

A quick calculation of the groups who use our space indicates that over 800 people a week come into our building.

That is something of which we can be very proud.  Far from a relic of a building, this place is bustling with people who are seeking all kinds of healing in their lives; spiritual, physical and emotional.

So while I look forward to the relative calm that I hope will come with the renovations complete, and to the joy of using our space to its fullest potential, I would be kidding myself to say this place will be quiet when the last construction vehicle packs up and leaves sometime this summer.

“So, Jeff” you might be nervously wondering.  “What’s the work for the year ahead?”  Well, as always, that’s up to you.  But let me invite you to consider the vision I have for 2018.  To sum it up, we might say, “Hey, what’s your story?”

We’ve paid a lot of attention over the last many years to figuring out how to get the story of who we are as a Community of faith out into the world where people are longing for just such a word.  Of course there is always work to be done in this area, and our work won’t be finished until all who seek what we have to say about God’s love and hope for us find us or our found by us.

We are getting better at answering the question, “You go to St. Paul’s?  What’s their story?”

But one of the defining characteristics of a congregation our size, particularly one that has grown as rapidly as we have, is a sense among many of us that we don’t know as many people as we used to, or as we’d like to.

The research shows that most people in a congregation our size know just as many people as they always have but, as the congregation grows, there are more people not to know than there used to be.

Opportunities to get to know one another exist, but they aren’t as plentiful as perhaps we’d like, and we balance them with the many other demands of our lives.

The knitting ministry, book group and scripture group, Yoga Class, Sunday Lunch Bunch, the 20’s and 30’s Group, the Parish Retreat and Lenten House Church -- all of these exist to grow deeper in relationship with God through our relationships with each other, and I invite you to try one of those groups out, if you haven’t already.  

But in the time after our physical plant gets its long-awaited renewal, we’d like to pay particular attention to the renewal and strengthening of the relationships in this community.  As you look around the congregation this morning do you see someone you don’t know, or don’t know well, and wonder, “What’s their story?”

I hope that, over the next year, there will be lots of opportunities to share our stories with one another, to grow deeper in our relationships with each other so that we might be better equipped to serve God with another, to be Christ’s hands and feet for one another.

We’ll start today over lunch.  Our Annual Meeting Activity will launch us into these conversations.  Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask you to go too deep, not yet.  Baby steps, my New England Episcopalians, baby steps.

This morning, Paul Daigneault has agreed to offer a brief story from his own life, which I should have reviewed, but have not.  Then we will take some time talking about our own stories.

Because we have great stories to tell.

The story of our faith is a great one to tell.  It is a story of love and hope, of sacrifice and renewal for the sake of God’s vision for the world.

Our story as a congregation is a great story to tell.  From our beginnings to the fire, to today, this place has had an amazing story to tell, and we are getting better at telling it year by year.

And each one of us have a story to tell.  And each of our stories is sacred, even if we do not think it is worthy of such an adjective.  Your story is sacred.

So let us look to a future together in which we know one another’s stories better, so that we might tell the story of this place better, so that we might better tell the story of God’s yet to be realized dream for the world.  

The world desperately needs to hear the stories we have to tell.

So, “What’s your story?”  I can’t wait to find out.

AMEN.

 

© 2018  The Rev’d Jeffrey W. Mello

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