Monday, January 11, 2010

2010 Opportunities and Obstacles

Seek first God’s kingdom…then all other needs will be met. Matt 6:33

At the end of a decade and the start of another, retrospectives of all sorts seem to be in order. If there is a single word that captures the mood of the times, it is “anxiety.” These are troubled times. The economy, national security, social trends… life seems to be spinning out of control.

My ongoing anxiety is for the vitality and even viability of our parish family. How to keep the roof over our heads? How to keep the lights on and the doors open? Over the last decade the answer has been too easy – sell off assets and eat into the principal to cover a chronic deficit. But while the short term solution has been easy, the long-term prospect is particularly problematic.

What to do? Or more to the point: What would Jesus do?

Let’s start with what Jesus would not do. He would not despair. He would understand why we are here – to joyfully, confidently, energetically praise God and serve our neighbor. We are not here to assume a defensive crouch and try to keep the flame of our faith alight under a bushel. We are here to shout from the mountains that our God is great. We are here to serve the least among us with love and energy, respect and sacrifice. In that light, the great obstacles that we face are really even greater opportunities to truly witness his love in the world.

That’s what happened at St. Peter’s in 2009. God rose up champions among us. Our weekly worship has been a fountain of sanctity and joy. Our magnificent music ministry glorifies the Lord. Our worship ministries surround us with beauty and smooth running harmony.

I’m particularly grateful to our wardens, vestry and ministry leadership. You’ve made our ministries robust powerhouses of Christian virtue. To cite only one example, our new Faith and Light ministry to children with special needs and their families is very close to my heart, as I know it is to the heart of Jesus. Scripture tells us specifically that the profoundly challenged, those least among us, and those who love and sacrifice for them, will be first in the kingdom of heaven. Anne Perry has thrown herself body and soul into this ministry. And the fruits of her labor are a delight to behold. Almost by definition, special needs children generate distraction and confusion. But the loving, healing hand of God is never in sharper focus than when our special friends and their families gather at St. Peter’s to meet him and to praise him.

Stewardship in 2009 ran the gamut from the heroic to the anemic. The champions among us ranged from the powerful and compassionate to those of limited means but a great sense of responsibility and an even greater gratitude for God’s goodness. The common thread is their decision to live in Christ and to accept the priorities that decision involves.

By the grace of God and the response of the committed, our chronic deficit was closed this year without depletion of our reserves. Thank you to those loving brothers and sisters for standing with St. Peter’s and making all else possible. Blessings on your great goodness. You are the strong, beating heart of the body of Christ.

For others the implications of Christian commitment remain a more distant abstraction. The obligations of church and charity fall far down a long list, well past necessities, somewhere between impulse purchases and whims. In the attached work sheet we have some guidelines to help us all reexamine our priorities.
Among my greatest anxieties and least favorite duties is this essential need to plead for responsible stewardship. But after much prayer and reflection, I’m confident in Christ and confident in you. I’m not here to cajole, but to project what Jesus would do. He would face facts and speak the truth --- especially the inconvenient and uncomfortable truths. Christianity is not a spectator sport. While there is no arbitrary price of admission, we have to be in it to win it.
That’s because our stewardship response is inseparable from our faith. It is our affirmation that we are a full member of our parish family. It testifies in a very tangible way that we really mean it when we pray: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our stewardship proclaims that to see his will be done, we will gladly share not only from our prosperity in good times but from our necessity in troubled times.

Available in the office is a summary of some of the relative financial information about what makes St. Peter’s possible. Please study it. Discuss it in your family. Prepare any questions you may have for our annual meeting. And finally, please pray on your stewardship and how it projects the strength of your commitment to your church and to your God. I will too.

Yours in Christ’s love,

No comments: