January 31, 2010, 4th Sunday after Epiphany

January 31, 2010
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Ps 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
4th Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

In thinking about what to say today I had the notion that I could do a great State of the Parish address—a little parody, a little humor, a little seriousness. But while that would have been fun, the moment requires that we look with both joy and focus on where we are as a parish and where we hope to go, where God is calling us.

Our readings today are about transition, challenge and change in self-understanding. The Gospel is particularly hard. It is an extremely charged and violent text. The Romans weren’t the first people that wanted to get rid of Jesus, neither were the local leaders. It was his peers and kin. On another day we will delve into this story of mob violence, rivalry and envy that leads his hometown to move from admiration to trying to instigate a group murder within minutes. Hurling Jesus off the cliff and to his death was the idea. And part of what is circulating in this story is the challenge to change, to seeing things in a different way, of calling people to adjust their perspective by calling out the old way of doing things that are taken for granted. So it is with Jeremiah. Jeremiah appeals to God that he is not ready for this new task. Who is he? He is just a young one! How can he be asked to move in this new direction, a risky and very public direction? He is resistant and who can really blame him!

In a very real way, these stories of transition and the various ways we respond to it fit well with our life here as a parish. We are in a time of transition as a community for a variety of reasons. For some of us, we may have thought that now that the rector search is over, in fact a year and a half ago, we have mostly left transition time and we are mostly going through the changes of getting to know each other and the inevitable adjustments that come with that. This is true. But our parish is by definition in transition. In all those books on congregation size and life we fit into the category called “transitional”. By our membership numbers we fall squarely into that class. By our Sunday attendance we are almost approaching it. Transition parishes are either growing or shrinking. They are at the edge of needing and wanting more staff and more resources, yet still operating out of older systems and funding (that worked well for a smaller size) realities. It’s a risky time in many respects, but it also a time of great opportunity.

The vision articulated during the search process was one of looking to growth and moving forward through this transitional stage of life. One such major leap was made before: moving from mission to parish status. Part of making this next leap is adjusting systems and creating the space so that growth can fit in.

Here is part of how our leadership is doing that. We are moving into changing our structures around our common governance. Our finance team is codifying its processes and has created input mechanisms for ministries to tell of their hopes and needs. We have created a property committee that has taken on the task of long-term planning, prioritizing and shepherding of major projects to care for and improve our grounds and buildings. On the one hand, projects and ideas that have been out there for quite a while are getting done in a more focused and organized manner. On the other hand, it means ideas and implementation flow through a new process. Our stewardship and development teams are looking this year at establishing year-round programs. Our vestry is taking on the work of supporting our 5-year vision, creating stronger ties between vestry and our ministries, and living into mutual ministry reviews. The way of doing business is being shifted outward into groups and teams, which is what we need, I believe, at our size and moment of life. Part of this is widening the circle of those invited into leadership, both long-time members and people newer to our community. New ideas and new perspectives, but also change.

One large transition and change that happened to us was in our music ministry. In taking our time, discerning as a community, not rushing into a quick answer we have arrived at a new configuration. It is even more a team ministry; it has been a reconciling time. We are blessed beyond measure with our music leaders, CORAME, choir, choristers and other musicians. They are integrating the common themes and responses to our questionnaire gradually and wisely.

We have added new ministry groups and a new Sunday evening worship service. Our Sunday attendance is up and so are the numbers of members. Much good ministry is happening in and from this place. We have much to offer and offer it we do, but we also have the charge to invite people in and share all the good things that are happening here at Resurrection.

Here are some of our challenges. We need to discover as a community how we are going to support more fully our nursery and Sunday School. Our teachers are wonderful and dedicated, but they are small in number and to prevent them burning out and feeling overworked we do need to expand the number of folks participating in this ministry. It’s a great work, teaching and caring for our youngest members. We say we want to attract families, and this is one of the critical ways we make that possible.

We need to look at our long-term financial health both in terms of assets in reserve and our annual operating budget. There is a trend of roughly the last decade where our numbers are growing but our giving is declining. This is not a sustainable pattern in the long run. In order to support and have our ministries grow into the future we are asked to find how to increase our annual budget by about $15-20,000, which for a parish our size is not a huge increase. I am confident that we can do this because we love this place and we know how much comfort, community and witness to the Gospel flows from it.

We need to look at increasing our compensation for our music ministers and hopefully increasing our secretary’s hours (we could certainly use more) and therefore pay. And we are going to enter into a period of invitation around whether we are a parish that works bests with a part time or a full time rector. As of April, I will be going onto ¾ time as our finances do not support a full time position. Since my maternity leave will coincide with the beginning of this shift the effects of it will likely be most noticed come this fall. The most obvious change is that I will be here 3 Sundays mornings per month rather than four. However, during my maternity leave and beyond I intend to still celebrate the 5:30 p.m. vespers with Holy Communion each Sunday. We will also be further developing our lay pastoral ministry, and I am very excited about this.

One of the main tasks of our leadership this coming year is entering into conversation about the clergy model we want and desire. Either model, part or full time, can work well in vibrant, growing parishes. It is an opportune moment to see how we want to shape our ministries. So you see, there is much room for creative and innovative thinking as we decide how we want to shape our life for the future.

There is so much that we can rejoice in about our life here. As always there are there things to do and new directions to explore. But most importantly we continue to be blessed in so many ways by each other and to be a place that seeks with warm hearts and intention to live out the Gospel in our corner of the world. And live it out we do, of that we can be assured. Amen.