I would like to begin by saying what a privilege it is to have served these many years with the finest Associate Rector I know of anywhere. Deb, when you retire at the beginning of March I hope you will carry with you my deepest appreciation for your gifts, your passion for Christ in this Episcopal Church, and for your collegiality with me a fellow priest.
It is a privilege as well to work with the other members of an incredibly gifted, creative, and hardworking staff; and such a deep, talented, and smart bench of lay leaders. I count every day serving here as a blessing.
I thought this year that rather than trying to give an exhaustive overview of our ministries, I would just focus on few key or even signature elements of our life and ministry as the people of St. Barnabas Episcopal Parish.
It has been quite a journey for the people of St. Barnabas these past few years…and 2016 not least among them.
After more than a decade of living both with a building whose systems and spaces were long ago overtaxed and with hearing God’s call to renew and restore this base for Christ’s ministry we, finally, were able to answer that call.
In a courageous act of faith, in both God’s call and each other, we put together teams of people and put together the means to get the job done. With tremendous financial support from John and Jane Foster years ago (and again recently) and then the amazing support of Rhondda and Peter Grant, we found the grace and inspiration, each of us, to dig faithfully and deep. Thank you each and every one.
People stepped up at the right moments with the right gifts, experience, and energy to take on the tasks required by such a monumental renovation. It is not possible in this moment to thank by name everyone who gave from their heart in the practical, shoe leather, roll up your sleeves tasks. But, as you know, there is one person who cannot be thanked enough by us all. Drawing together the inspiration and efforts of well over 100 members of St. Barnabas Jim Hayes incarnated all that in managing this project. He devoted thousands upon thousands of hours to making this project run as smoothly, professionally, and economically as was humanly possible. Our deepest gratitude goes to you Jim. Our deepest gratitude goes to Claire as well for her commitment to her and Jim’s commitment.
Now, after 14 months away, we have returned and we are gathering in understanding of what God will ask of us as we journey though both this new year and the next 125 years in the life of this parish.
Even before we returned a lot of work was undertaken by members of this parish to envision both hope and paths to further our ministry and mission. Visioning groups were convened to pray and look to the future. Certain priorities began to be sensed for both near and long term effort.
The Communications Committee continued their work looking at how we might more effectively and efficiently communicate among ourselves as a parish but also might communicate to the community around us our amazing story of welcome, inclusion, and commitment. Their efforts, lead by Helen Baron, combined with the energy and expertise of David Millis and Robbie Hobine, have resulted in our having an amazing new website. For some this may not mean a whole lot but the website is a nexus for sharing news, information, invitation, and coordination of much of what people put their hearts and shoulders to here. We have also begun to make use of “Google for Nonprofits” which will, among other capabilities, make coordination of calendars among staff, clergy, and parish groups a breeze.
The Communications Committee has also received a draft Communications Plan that offers a road map for sharing the Good news of Christ as we live it here at St. Barnabas. And now Robbie Hobine has stepped forward as our new Director of Communications.
We also have a new position of service in our midst. Who knew the apotheosis of Timothy Hepp would be as Verger! The joy Timothy brings to this office of servant leadership is wonderful!
I believe with the possibilities our renewed spaces offer, with the information we have generated about St. Barnabas over the past three years, combined with a demographic analysis we have of the neighborhoods around us, coupled with the communications plan and the tools we have now acquired we are in a position to do something we have not done in a decade, perhaps more. We are equipped to formulate and articulate a strategic plan for St. Barnabas. Not only can we ask but we can give a clear answer to such questions as what do we want to look like in five years time? What is God calling us to be in five years time? And, of course, how will we get there?
That is exciting! But of course our life of ministry and service isn’t located just in the future it is a living reality in the here and now.
While we were away and now that we are back we have continued, with Tina, in our ministry to children, youth, and families. Adult formation continued in the Adult Forum and the Wednesday bible study and 25 years of EFM. We continued to support the WHI and CCN. With Deb’s guidance Caring Companions and Share the Care reach out to those in need among us. Yes, in this past year some have have said goodbye, and we mourn and miss as well others who now live that greater life in God through Christ. At the same time we joyfully we have said hello to new brothers and sisters in Christ. We have, as one colleague puts it for the love of Christ worshiped, fellowshipped, baptized, married, and buried. For the love of Christ we have taken our place in the beloved community of the Holy Spirit. And much, really all of it has been deeply personal and most don’t even know what we have done.
A few samples: near Christmas, during that deep cold spell, we helped a struggling young man and his mother to relocate for work. A night in a motel, shuttling belongings, and a couple of bus tickets helped two of our country’s economic refugees retain some dignity. During that same cold spell of course the WHI was hosted but another individual was helped to shelter out of the cold. A woman facing relocation received tremendous help in cleaning out, clearing out, and landing in a new place to live. A person who has struggled with age discrimination in finding work and has battled throat cancer found encouragement and concrete support. A grandmother raising her grandchildren, whose husband just walked away with all their possessions, was able nonetheless give her grandchildren their Christmas because of St. Barnabas.
Closer to home, we supported those in our midst who are deeply hurting, facing family crises, facing spiritual crises, and even their own mortality and you don’t even know we have done so.
Granted, these, and many more, weren’t flashy, trumpet blowing, “look how good we are” actions but they are certainly consistent with Christ saying: “when you give to the needy don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing”. And again to those gathered before the throne: “In so much as you have done this to the least you have done this to me.”
While this is the Rector’s Annual Report to the Parish this is the sermon time and I would be remiss in not speaking of the gospel…specifically today’s gospel from Matthew and that portion of the Sermon on the Mount we call “The Beatitudes”.
I don’t know about you but when I read the Beatitudes I get a little queasy. I remember one of Teve’s conversations with God in “Fiddler on the Roof” where he says, “I know we are Your chosen people, but, once in a while, can’t You choose some one else?”
By that I mean, the poor, those who morn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for water, food, and righteousness, the persecuted…their very condition means there is something deeply wrong and disordered in human relationships. Teve is complaining to God of the poverty and ill treatment of his people and village in Tsarist Russia. Human institutions and a will to power are disordered and the havoc they create finds over and over again the same targets for oppression, scapegoats for destruction. Even the seemingly benign or even positive beatitudes indicate the disorder of human relationships…mercy and purity of heart can only really be seen in contrast to what is not, peacemakers are needed where there is no peace.
In this disorder, this pain, this nightmare it is sometimes hard to grasp what is that blessedness Christ asserts is to be found there.
In the third chapter of his gospel John, as narrator and theologian, explains that the fundamental, pre-existing condition of everything, the reason anything exists at all is love. We all, I’m sure, can recite some version of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
John sees God as the God who loves and gives…unconditionally. In a wedding when, less often now than before, the question is asked, “Who gives this man, or woman”, or, as I prefer it, “these two to be married”. Those who give are giving for love; giving these two to one another for the beauty of love.
Yes, there is a foreshadowing of death in that word “gave” but the gift of God in Christ to the world was the gift of love and life. If there is condemnation and death there as well… it is not from God but from us. For John then goes on to say, “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Saved, I insist, for love and life.
God so loved the world that God gave the Son, the Christ. And Christ so loves the world that Christ gives the world the church.
Dietrich Bonheoffer, Lutheran Pastor, martyred by the Nazi’s, in his slender book “Life Together” says “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ…We belong to one another only through and in Christ.” This, he says, “clarifies the goal of all Christian community they…[are] bringers of the message of salvation.” That is a fine definition of the Church.
Christ, gives the world the Church for the same reason that God gives the Son…for love. Even in the deepest darkness of this world God gives the Son to the world for love and Christ gives the world the Church…for love.
In the end the blessedness in the beatitudes—for the poor, the meek, the mourners, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted, for those who know no peace, or whose purity of heart has long since been shredded—that blessedness isn’t pie in the sky when you die…it is us. Their blessedness is to be found in the Church, through us, in as much as we belong to one another, in and through Christ, and are faithful messengers and agents of God’s love.
To close, we have 125 years of experience in being those faithful messengers and many of those years were dark indeed. But, as we were reminded at Warren UMC, “There is not enough darkness in the whole world to put out the light of a single candle.” St. Barnabas is being called, I am convinced, to be the light of Christ’s love here on this corner, in the city and world around us, and there may be more dark years to come where that light is desperately needed. It is no small vision. It would be preposterous if there weren’t so much evidence that it is already happening right here and now—but it is a vision which is neither more nor less than Jesus’ instruction to both Peter and to the Church he gives to the world: “…if you love me, feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.”