The Parish Annual Report is an opportunity for us as a Christian community to hold up a mirror and take a look at ourselves – from God’s perspective, as well as our own. Part of the image we see is the information we get from figures and statistics, finances and worship attendance. Part of the image comes through the various ministries we engage in and what is reflected back to us by the wider community. And the last part of the picture comes from our own experience of our life together: worship, prayer, growth, death, friendship, challenge, joy.
When I look back over the past year, I see All Saints’ in transition – just as our culture and society are in transition. Being in transition means some things are changing, and change can be both exciting and uncomfortable or scary. Probably the most noticeable change is Sunday morning worship attendance and Sunday School patterns. I have said before that Sunday mornings are no longer protected time and so all churches face the reality of very strong time demands on parishioners that include children’s activities (sports, parties, dance, etc.), work, family obligations, travel, leisure activities. Lower attendance on Sundays means that it is harder to build relationships with one another, to have a sense of vibrancy in our worship, and to have a consistent diet of spiritual formation – for adults and for children.
At the same time, our food pantry and the Veteran’s Dinners continue to be well received and make a difference in the lives of those we are serving, as well as building fellowship among those who make those ministries happen. I continue to hear gratitude and appreciation for All Saints’ from people in town for our hospitality and willingness to be open and put ourselves at the service of the wider community. Our three neighborhood walk-abouts this past summer were a fun way to get to know our surroundings in a different way. Our Rummage Sale is our largest parish event: fundraiser, community builder, fall festival. We have about a dozen people at Bible study on Wednesday mornings, and another five in the Monday night Pilgrim group. The Altar Guild shares service and friendship, and our Choirs continue to offer their very best, both in helping to lead the congregation’s singing, and in their anthems – although I know Alison would love to have additional people sing in Choir – especially men!
Our Church buildings and property are a gift from the generations who came before us. They are also resources for doing God’s work. The stewardship of our buildings is an on-going project for the Vestry – just like our houses are. In 2017 there were a number of improvements and concerns that were addressed. Take a look at the list of capital projects on page 23of the Annual Report. The Vestry moved ahead with all these projects with care, practicality, and prayer.
One of the biggest transitions for All Saints’ this year was the retirement after fifteen years of our book keeper Molly Faerber, as she left to care for her husband Ken, who then died in December. With Molly’s departure it was time to change accounting systems from Church Mouse (an antiquated, cumbersome system) to Quick Books On-Line. This change took far more work than anyone thought it would, but Barbara Barbeau made it happen – with help from Susan LeVan and Carol Prasa. There are still a few details to iron out, but we are light years ahead of where we were with our financial record-keeping and reporting. Thank you, Babara!
Transitions in a parish are often both personal and congregational, as people move or die. It may sound odd to say, but All Saints’ does funerals really well, providing care and hospitality not only to the families who are grieving, but also to those who attend. This year we had two very large funerals - for Louis Berry and for Tony Prasa, and we did something new by holding the wake/visiting hours in the Church on the evening before the funerals, which enabled the families to be wrapped in a sense of God’s love and care. Well done, Saints! Louis and Tony made their mark – Louis on our church community, Tony on our civic community; they are both greatly missed.
When I look in the mirror for All Saints’, the reflection I see is a congregation and staff that is really good at caring for others – both in the parish and outside it. We have a willingness to work hard, to take good care of what we have, to take prayer seriously – even if we are not always sure how to do it. We also have a desire to follow Jesus and listen to the Holy Spirit, although that seems very nebulous and confusing at times for some.
That is no surprise; our world is very confusing right now, and the changing nature of our culture is fluid – even chaotic. But rather than hunker down and keep our fingers crossed, hoping others will find us and want to join us, I think God is inviting us to keep listening and pay attention to this new reality, knowing that God can and will use us – both corporately and individually – to do God’s work in the world, to be beach heads of hope, joy, faith, and peace.
Some of this may require a culture change of our own. We may need to examine some of our habits and patterns of parish life and gathering and formation and see if they continue to serve us well and strengthen us for Christ’s mission. I don’t have any specifics about this, but a series of conversations amongst ourselves where we can identify what is life-giving from our past and present, so that we can be sure to take those things into the future with us will be very useful in discerning together the future to which God is inviting us.
It’s a very strange time to be a Christian in our context. It’s a very strange time to be an Episcopalian in our context. Forces in our culture keep pulling us to the extremes, to polarizations – political extremes, religious extremes, extremes of opinion with no middle ground. And the loudest voices keeping telling us that we have to choose one way or the other. But we don’t have to make that false choice. We can choose Jesus, and we can choose the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition. The Anglican tradition has always been about the “via media”, the middle way – neither fully Protestant nor Catholic, but both. We don’t pit science against religion, nor prayer against intellect. We value all of that and we know that God continues to call us to faith, to send us in mission, and travel with us every step of the way. That is our foundation, but it’s not bedrock, it’s more like a surf-board, with the waters flowing under us and around us, and our job is to learn to find our balance, and ride the wave of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer for all of us is that we will continue to develop an awareness of God’s daily presence, and a willingness to be led by God in surprising paths of love and peace.
It is an honor and a blessing to be your priest. Thank you.
Victoria Geer McGrath+
2) Wardens’ Report Tom Hackett & Roger Kosempel
On behalf of Mother Vicki and my fellow Warden Roger Kosempel I would like to thank our Vestry members for their active participation in all of the issues that we have faced this past year.
To Barb Barbeau, Wendy Clarkson, Linda Kestler, Steve Kowalik, Janice Lettieri, Susan LeVan, Anthony Saitta and our Clerk Patricia Vovchansky, we owe a debt of gratitude for your service, wisdom and positive involvement in all that we have done as a team.
I will not go into all the minute details but instead present to you some of the headlines for the year.
Surprising sinkholes, failing drains, neighboring property issues, crumbling steps at the side door and sacristy, the never-ending story of parking lot lights, bushes to cut back, trees to take down, railings to be replaced, a septic tank to fill in, stained glass windows to be checked out, wi-fi to be explored, construction companies to be reviewed and…BBQ with the Bishop.
And this was just the first half of 2017. The back half was concerned in fixing all that needed fixing and again I commend the Vestry and Roger for taking charge.
But a year in the life of All Saints' is more than dealing with grounds and property issues. As Wardens and Vestry we are stewards of our church and have a responsibility to work with Mother Vicki in looking to the future of the community we live in and explore how we can serve it and find God in it. Cultural change and demographic change are happening around us at an unbelievable rate. And I should add technological change, too.
I wish that understanding and managing our journey in all this change was as simple as fixing a hole in the road. But the more we recognize and talk about it the more we will be guided by Holy Spirit to find our way.
I am proud to be working with our Vestry members and Roger and Mother Vicki as we look forward to the challenges and opportunities for the year ahead And I thank the congregation for your continued faith in us all. Amen. ~ Tom Hackett
3) Dwelling in the Word: Acts 16:6-15 ~ adapted from the New Revised Standard Version
for All Saints’ Annual Meting 2018
6 Paul and his companions went through the region of Virginia and Maryland, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Delaware. 7 When they had come opposite New Castle, they attempted to go into Cumberland County, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Wilmington, they went to Philadelphia. 9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Morris County pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Morris County and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Morris County, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Philadelphia and took a straight course [up the river] to Easton, the following day to Morristown, 12 and from there to Long Hill Township, which is a leading town in the county of Morris and in the Watchung Hills. We remained in this town for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went down by the Passaic River, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Reading, and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
The passage will be read twice. After the second reading, notice:
- As the text is read a second time, where do you stop?
- Are there words, phrases, ideas which grasp you?
- How do you think the Spirit of God might be nudging you through what you read/heard?
Share your partner’s answers with your small circle – one minute each.
We’ll then ask for a few responses to the group as a whole.
4) Comments, Insights, and “Nudges” from Annual Meeting 2017
Mostly from the Dwelling in the Word (Acts 16:6-15) Sharing Time
- Changing the place names (from Biblical to local) helped me find myself in the story.
- Paul and his companions walked really far!
- When we hear in the Bible that the Holy Spirit acted, how are we to understand that – through physical human circumstances? Intuition? Something else?
- When we get up in the morning we all have a “to-do” list. Maybe we need to be willing to have our list interrupted by God because God has something else for us to do.
- Lydia welcomed Paul and his companions to her home. Maybe we could substitute the word “church” for “home.”
- Changing the places names threw me off.
- I like to read the Bible in several different translations because I get different shades of meaning from each of them. Reading this translation made me feel like God was saying: Keep doing what you’re doing.
- What were the women doing by the river?
- Where were the men?
- In Paul’s vision the person with the message/invitation was a man. But when he got to the river the person he met was a woman.
- God opened Lydia’s heart and led her to offer hospitality to Paul. Maybe we should be open for hospitality.
- ..... What else do you remember from the comments/report-out time that you would add?