Annual Meeting Address 2014
The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge
January 26, 2014
They say that honesty is the best policy and I have to be honest, I feel like the new preacher who was called to serve a new congregation in a new town. Not soon after he had moved there he was walking the downtown streets in search of the post office, when he spied a little boy. “You look like a knowledgeable young man” said the preacher to the boy. “Perhaps you might give me directions to the post office.” The boy did so and the preacher thanked him. But before he turned away to head to the post office, he said, “You know young man, you should come to my church this Sunday and I will show you the way to heaven.” And without missing a beat the boy said, “How are you going to show me the way to heaven when you cannot even find the post office?”
A good question. And in like manner, how on earth am I supposed to deliver a report to you on the state of the health of the church when I have not yet had first contact with so many of the ministries contained in this booklet? So please receive my comments today as a work in progress.
Actually a work in progress is probably a good way to describe each of us on our respective faith journeys. And a work in progress is a good way to describe this congregation.
Yet, let me begin by saying that given the stress and the transition that you have gone through in the last few, actually many years, you are in remarkably good shape. Many of the ministries here are well organized. Could they be better? Of course– like most congregations it seems at first glance that 20 percent of the congregation is doing 80 percent of the work. And that takes a toll on much of your leadership and your faithful workers, since indeed, St. John’s strives to be an active parish. Many things seem to be happening here all the time. I am in and out of this building at odd times–day and night–and nine times out of ten, someone else drops in to do something or the other. But having said that– with lots of individuals and small groups attending to their own business, often the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. We run the risk of duplicating efforts, stepping on one another’s toes, while other things fall through the cracks. But these are easy fixes and just require some closer attention to management.
As for the actual ministries, I see ministries that need to be revitalized–ministries that we must be doing as the Body of Christ. I see that some ministries need a decent Christian burial. More than once, I have heard the phrase, “We used to do this until such and such happened….”. It’s okay to lay down some ministries. It does not mean failure. It means death and resurrection. Most often it is better to give thanks for what was, pay attention to what is now, and release ourselves to move in new directions.
And speaking of new directions, I am aware of new ministries that need to come into existence. We need to find innovative ways to reach out into the community by upgrading the website, using social media more, and for heaven sakes let’s improve this sound system! We might think about developing a mid-week service geared to attract seekers. We really should develop a marketing plan, articulate a clearer vision for the future, and I think that our mission statement could be tweaked. And then let’s not forget the coming capital campaign, updating our building use policies, and brainstorming ways in which the assets of our buildings can better serve us and the community at large.
And I am glad to say that none of that is my job, at least not alone. All of this needs to be your work as well. And what about the new vestry we have called, elected and commissioned today? Together, vestry members and I will be spending time evaluating and reshaping our ministries so that we do not overemphasize some areas while neglecting others. So let’s be clear about the role and function of the vestry.
As a board of directors they are not responsible for the day-to-day operations of the church, nor is it their job to make sure that specific projects happen. But it is their job to set priorities and evaluate whether or not our ministries and activities are building our congregation or diminishing it. We will ask the hard question, ‘Do our current ministries reflect our mission statement and the core values that are important to this congregation?’. I invite you to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest these reports.
That said, however, I am much more interested in the business of God. I hope that together as a church we can deepen our experience of the presence of God, making it clear to the world that all of our work begins and ends with the desire to know God and to make God known to others. Yes, that sounds simple, even simplistic, that we exist to know God and make God known to others. But it is not simple because here is what it could look like.
It would begin with a covenant, even as God has taken us by the hand, can we take one another by the hand, making a solemn agreement that we embrace the call to be a spiritual center where prayer and meditation, confession, testimony and discernment are practiced and taught. This spiritual center could offer a variety of means and ways for people to worship, which includes an ample place for the arts, recognizing that we all have different sensibilities when it comes to beauty, music, the words we use, and the ways in which we use our bodies.
The covenant could include our commitment to become a community learning center, one that offers programs and resources to train ourselves for ministry in this time and culture. And I am not talking about grooming more church mice. But what if we offered classes for ourselves and for others in not only spiritual matters but also in life matters? What if we offered classes in personal financial planning, classes that would help us put own financial houses in order so that we could in fact all practice the biblical standard of tithing to St. John’s? What about classes that would help individuals to have healthy bodies and joyful spirits? What about becoming a training center that would enable us to develop the tools to be change agents in God’s world?
Of course we need to engage in more outreach ministry. Of course we need develop a prophetic voice which preaches peace in a violent world, restraint in a culture which values greed, and sustainability on a planet that loves to consume and consume mindlessly with little thought for tomorrow. But we are going to have to learn how to be a dispersed center for mission. By that I mean that the mission field lies outside this building.
I know that this church can be a place where we are trained and equipped for mission. But God’s mission is already on the move, taking place beyond this campus. Our work is to discern where we can best use our talents and resources; to go to the places where the hurts most need to be healed.
We know this, but like all churches, we do not practice what we know, effectively. I think we need to re-discover the ancient paths of spiritual practice that will help us become a more inclusive, realistic, contemplative center focused on inviting others into the transformative power of the Spirit of God. If we can show these qualities to the world, that our life in Christ makes a difference, that we offer resources for the spiritual journey, and that we have relevant ways to help people live life abundantly, we will grow, spiritually, numerically, and yes financially.
Journeying with Jesus means to become part of the alternative community of Jesus. I hope that you want to join me in that effort. Let us follow Jesus, not as doctrine but as a discovery, as we equip ourselves to be a spiritual center for worship, prayer and formation, and a community center for mission and service in God’s world. Amen.