Friday, January 22, 2010

Rector’s Annual Report - January 10, 2010

This past year at St. James’ has been characterized by one word: recovery. Just as the nation was rocked by financial crisis over the past year-and-a-half to two years, so has St. James’. We have felt the pain of lost revenue through the stock market. We have felt the pain of reduced income from rent. We have felt the pain of parishioners who no longer can afford to pledge.

I will not deny there have been times when it has been hard to keep a positive outlook. Our inability to pay our diocesan assessment for three years in a row has been particularly difficult to stomach. We are part of a national church which in turn is part of a world-wide communion, and paying our share, taking part in the national and world-wide community of Anglicans is in our very blood.

But recovery is in the air. Our Wardens, Vestry and treasurer have worked very hard to not only keep this congregation afloat but to bring it up to date on the vast array of physical plant issues that never seem to end. They have not chosen the easy option of deferring necessary work but have moved us forward bravely and ably. I hope you can appreciate the innumerable hours they give this place, especially our wardens and treasurer. I invite you to join me in showing your appreciation to them with a round of applause.

I would not like to give you the false impression that we have emerged from our financial rough waters. The boat is still being tossed about, but it has shown itself to be strong and buoyant. We will weather this storm as we have weathered many others before it.

More importantly, St. James’ has shown itself to embrace its mission all the more in times of difficulty. We as a congregation have jumped into our work more fully, especially in the area of outreach. We give our time, our talents and yes, even our treasure in order to alleviate the suffering of others. I will let the Outreach Committee’s report speak for itself, but through creative and dedicated fundraising, they have not contracted their work but, if anything, expanded it.

I am pleased also that our Reading Adventures program thrives at Hyde Park Elementary. So also, our Youth made its sojourn to North Carolina this summer for Towel Camp. I assure you, they worked hard and, strangely enough, played hard, too. Thanks to Liz Handman for serving as the female chaperone.

We still are unsure who this year’s female chaperone will be, but the youth begin Towel Camp fundraising today. You will note the container for “Coins For Camp,” where you can deposit your loose change from now through June. Also, we have updated our paper Towels which you have bought through the years. To reflect the work that we do, this year we are selling houses. Given the state of real estate, this is the cheapest house you’ll ever buy but also one of the most helpful.

Regarding other Christian education issues, we are ever thankful to our Sunday School teachers, Rick Schroeder and Saira Shahani, Jackie Jennings, Wendy Urban-Mead and Mike Fenwick. They are a vital part of our life together. This year, we switched the order in which students would be in church. Previously, they started in church and left at the Peace for Sunday School. Now, the children start in Sunday School and join us at church during the Peace. This way they can receive communion with us.

Youth Group has also gotten going this year with renewed energy. We meet nearly every week to pray, study, eat and play together. We recently went on a trip to play laser tag but are also exploring ways to serve the local community.

One area where we have not recovered what we need is in Adult education. It is important for us as Christians to ever delve deeper into our faith. We have an ongoing bible study which serves a small group, and we recently completed the Advent study class on Parables – regrettably to an equally small group. Realizing that we live in hectic times, it is still a worthwhile goal to have every adult member involved in some form of study.

In fact, I would like to call upon members of this parish to commit themselves in two areas for the coming year. One is in education. I would like to have parishioners suggest, attend and even teach more adult education programming this year. We have the ability to do more, even if it is a brief little forum each Sunday between services. I am always willing to on this type of programming, but it requires everyone to step forward and take part.

The other area is in attendance. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve with large attendance. Some Sundays however, there are more than enough empty pews waiting for someone to use them. We are a religion all about sharing our faith, and if we renew our commitment to sharing it with our neighbors, we can not only spread the Gospel but increase the size of this congregation. I have said it before and will say it again: When there are more people here, the energy is palpable, the joy increased.

Therefore, I would like to invite each of you to invite friends to church. This may sound trite and small, but it is with small steps that journeys are completed. Our goal is to make Christ known through St. James’. By simply bringing friends or family to church, we open up to them the scriptures and the grace of God. If you want a New Year’s resolution, let it be to bring at least one non-member to church this year.

The timing is right. We are coming out of a long dark period and entering into recovery. We are entering into a period of celebration of our Bicentennial. What better way to ensure that St. James’ will have two hundred years than to increase the number of parishioners.

There are many other ways to celebrate this tremendous event, mind you. We are forming a Bicentennial Committee for which nearly twenty parishioners have already signed up. There is still room on the committee if you would like to be part of this.

And what an exciting time it will be! If you have not heard by now, the Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts-Schori will be with us for the formal Bicentennial Ceremony on October 30, 2011. There are many other events and activities in the works for the celebration which could take the entire year. If you want to be part of it, please look at the committee list and consider becoming part of it.

The final few bits and pieces of 2009 consist of transitions. In this past year, one of our co-winners of the 2009 St. James’ medal exchanged this life eternal life. Will Jones was former Senior Warden, choir member, usher, and lay reader. We miss him.

Less permanently but with equal thanks, we bid farewell to two Vestry members who are rotating off of Vestry today. Dean Caswell and Justin Bohlmann have provided much introspection and valuable insight in our deliberations, not to mention comic relief. We thank them for their contributions even as we look forward to the work with new members.

And on a final note, it is appropriate to mention new staff members as well. This September we welcomed a new secretary and new minister of music. Dyan Wapnick is our secretary and comes with years of experience at IBM. She has slipped seamlessly into our office and is making it hum with good natured efficiency.

Peggy Stern became our Minister of Music at about the same time, and already we can tell the difference in our worship. All we have to do is remember how glorious the music was at Christmas, and we can see her impact. To both of them, I say a heartfelt and warm, “Welcome, and thanks!”

With all this taking place in our parish, it’s hard to believe that we are in difficult financial circumstances. We have done much with little, and we have done so with faith and trust that God is guiding us in our mutual ministry. Recovery is our word this year. Let us recover not only financially, but in our zeal to bring others to faith in Christ and our desire to grow in our own faith. Thank you.