Sermons

2018 Annual Meeting Rector’s Annual Address

January 28, 2019

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

This is my tenth 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.  It is a privilege to walk your journeys of faith with you and I am humbled by your faithfulness and your trust.

 

At each Annual Meeting, I like to leave the year-in-review to the Annual Report.  Hopefully, you received it in your email. If not, please let us know. It is something to behold.  I encourage you, in particular, to see the presentation by our gifted Parish Historian, Pat Dunbar. A large version of her artful representation of 2018 is on display this morning.

In the Annual Report you will find facts and figures about what life in this community looked like last year.  It is a 50 page documentation of how St. Paul’s worshipped, served, learned, laughed and, yes, cried together. But, more than the numbers, it is a vision, a snapshot, of what it looks like to follow the Way of Love together, in a world in which it often feels like we’re swimming upstream.

It is tempting, then, to bask in the glory of what we accomplished last year.  There is much to be celebrated in those 50 pages; from completion of the tower and lower level renovation and restoration to the creation of a new ministry caring for those in prison, last year was yet another year in which we stretched to reach, just a little bit further, than we could the year before.

It was also a year of deep sacrifice and courage.  Starting new ministries, spending the unrestricted portion of our endowment, speaking out for God’s justice in a politically polarized environment and, did I mention, renovating the lower level and restoring the tower?  

Most importantly, I think, the Annual Report serves as a powerful reminder to me each year of just how many people it takes to make the sacrifices and celebrations possible.

Each year, at their last official meeting, we ask the outgoing members of the vestry to comment on their experience serving the church as an elected leader.  This year, I was struck by the theme that many people on the vestry, some of whom have been a part of this community for years, had little idea of just how much went on behind the scenes to make this community of faith possible.

We ask enormous things of our staff, each of whom offer their gifts with us not because we are the best paying gig in town, but because they share in the vision of what we are about, and because they love this place deeply.  They work more hours than they are paid to work, and they meet each challenge they are given with grace and joy. They inspire me and they make me laugh while they’re doing it.

But the staff is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.  There isn’t anyone here who isn’t needed, whose gifts can’t be put to use to help us stretch further yet again in the year ahead.  We are gifted here with strong lay leadership and members of this community who give sacrificially of their time, their talent and their treasure each and every year.

If you submitted a report for the Annual Report, please stand and accept our thanks.

I am indebted to all of you who lead and share in the ministries of St. Paul’s.  

There are three folks I would like to single out this year for their work on behalf of this parish.

Steve Morrissey steps down as our Treasurer this year.  As I said to him at our Vestry meeting, he is a Treasurer of any Rector’s dreams.  He has a careful eye and patient spirit, a love of this place and a passion to help make the mission and ministry of St. Paul’s happen.  He helped us to understand that the numbers are another way of telling the Good News of who we are and who we hope to be. Thank you, Steve.

Leah Rugen finishes her term as Senior Warden this morning.  As our Warden, she has served as leader, spiritual guide, passionate steward and trusted confidant, mentor and coach.  Leah has helped me to become the priest and rector I am today. If I get anything right in my work as your priest, Leah is one of the people you have to thank.  Thank you, Leah.

Finally, I want to thank Jim Batchelor.  I looked at my email to see how many emails Jim and I have exchanged since the last Annual Meeting. 533.  Jim has consistently championed our Capital Project through all its triumphs and its challenges, even to this day.  On those days when 15-20 messages about the project cross my desk, Jim’s voice on the other end of the phone always sets me right and keeps me at the table.  

 

Jim’s signature ending to our phone calls has been, right from the beginning, and I’ll do my very best Jim Batchelor imitation here, he’ll say, “I think this is good.  We’re in a good place and headed in the right direction. Thank you, sir!”

In the last year, we said goodbye to Jim’s mom, Joan.  Jim, while I miss your mom, I am assured that her spirit and tenacity lives on in you.  Thank you.

There are so many of you who gave sacrificially this past year.  Steve and Leah and Jim are examples of the spirit of this place that sustains it and propels it forward.

Which brings us to this moment in our shared life as a community of faith.  Looking at the year in front of us, we need to ask ourselves, “what will sustain us in the year ahead, and what will propel us forward?”

Organizations (and churches are no exception) are always in one of three modes; shrinking, sustaining or growing.

For 10 years, we have been in a constant state of growth; in the numbers of people who consider this place their spiritual home, in the numbers of ministries, programs and service opportunities we share; in the number of people on staff, the number of groups to whom we open our building -- you name it and it’s grown.  Most recently, of course, we took the leap of a 2.1 million dollar renovation that stretched from the highest point of our steeple to the lowest point of our basement, and even lower.

I am looking forward to having fewer conversations about heating systems and flooring options and more conversations about things I actually studied in seminary.  

It is tempting to want to stop. To say we are where we desire to be.  To believe we are finished growing.

But I don’t think that’s who we are.  And I definitely don’t think that’s who it is God needs us to be in this world.

Should we rest, absolutely.  Sabbath isn’t a suggestion, it’s a commandment.  

But we rest in order to return to the work God gives us with a renewed sense of energy, passion and commitment.

As the Annual Report attests, it takes a great deal of energy, passion and commitment even to simply maintain.  St. Paul’s is a transient community. It is a gift of this place that people can find a home here for as long as they are in the area.  But with every new person who finds their way in, someone else moves away to continue their journey of faith somewhere else.

And, we know, the same is true for our Stewardship.  If we were to do nothing new in our programming one year to the next, our expenses would still climb 5-7% each year.  In order to provide the ministries and support for which we long, our support of the parish as a whole needs to grow at least 5-7% each year, simply to maintain doing what we have always done.

 

And our ministry leaders need their opportunities for sabbath.  While our elected leadership rotate off predictably, our ministry leaders can often feel like they are serving life sentences.  And so we need new leaders, all hands on deck just to keep things moving as thy have been.

It’s a lot of work to maintain.  

And I’d like to see us continue to grow.  And, if I’m bold enough to speak for God, I think God would like to see us continue to grow as well.

But I want to be clear about why I would like to see us continue to grow.

I don’t have visions of St. Paul’s as a mega-church or a place with seven services on a Sunday.  

But I know there are people out in the world, in Brookline, Newton, Boston, Cambridge, Framingham, Essex, where ever it is you come from, there are others like you who are longing, who are hungry for this banquet on which you feast regularly here at St. Paul’s.

That young woman in the office next to yours?  She’s lonely and seeking connection to a community and to the God who loves her.  She’s been burnt by the church of her childhood and doesn’t know there’s a place for her here.  

That guy in the scrubs who you see sitting alone in the hospital cafeteria?  He’s longing for a way to make his life about something bigger than himself and the work that demands everything from him.

 

And that person who you see some Sundays here, but you can’t remember their name and you’re too embarrassed to admit it?  They’re wondering if there’s anyone here going through what they are. They’re wondering how you break into what seems from the outside like a very active community but they can’t seem to figure out where the door in is.

Or how about that long-term parishioner who served faithfully for years, who’s wondering what the next phase of their life looks like, or what they have to offer the church at this point in their life.  Who’s asking them what God might be inviting them to consider?

Who is hungry and needs us to feed them?  Who is lonely and needs us to visit? Who is a stranger and needs our welcome? Who is longing for what we have to offer, but doesn’t know we exist?

That is my vision for our next year together.  Now that the hard work of major renovation and building disruption is increasingly behind us, what difference will it make it the long run?

What child belongs rolling on the carpeting of a light filled Sunday School room listening to a teacher tell them about the God who loves them?

Whose Spirit needs lifting by the sound of our choir or the warmth of a stranger’s greeting at the peace.  Who might want to be sitting in that empty chair next to you, but doesn’t know it’s waiting for them?

Who could use a prayer for healing, or a prayer shawl to wrap around their exhausted shoulders?

Who is waiting to be asked to share in the ministry that feeds you and keeps you coming back?

Too often, churches think about growth with the ends in mind -- to balance a budget, to keep a building open, to grow a program.

What I’ve learned in my ten years here is that the things that matter happen in response to growth that happens.  Growth isn’t a means to an end, it is the very sign that we are telling the story of the Good News we have found in this place, which is what Jesus asks us to do.

Growth means change, and change can be scary.  But we don’t have to be frightened.

Ten years in, I can promise you that, if we get more people involved in our shared ministries, I’m sure we can find a place for them and figure it out.

If we get more people offering their time and talent and treasure to the work of this place, I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

If we find ourselves running out of seats on Sunday mornings, or Tuesday evenings at Scripture Group or Wednesday nights at Choir practice, I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

Each one of you has Good News to share.  Each ministry has Good News to share and we as a community have Good News to share.  

My challenge to each one of us in the year ahead is to share the Good News that is in us; share it in here, and, yes, share it out there.

St. Paul’s, we have a story to tell.  You each have a story to tell. And there is somebody somewhere who desperately needs to hear what you have to say.

We have done much in this place.  And, thank God, there is more for us to do.  So, this morning, let us celebrate what we have accomplished and let us commit ourselves to the work ahead.  

Or, as Jim Batchelor would say, “This is good.  I think we’re in a good place and headed in the right direction.  Thank you, all!”

 

AMEN.

 

© 2019  The Rev’d Jeffrey W. Mello

 

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