Year A, Proper 18
September 7, 2014
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Good morning, church! Here we go, the first Sunday in September. School is back in session for the younger ones and the colleges and the university are getting there; students are trickling in, and the volume of traffic in town is slowly increasing. We should be in the glorious Oregon cool down of late summer before the rains return: it’ll come. And here at the Church of the Resurrection, we are here, primed for what is shaping up to be a really great year ahead of us.
The choir is back! Lucy and everyone, we are so glad to hear you. They work so hard, up there and in this heat… We are welcoming Margaret to the organ this morning! Welcome, we have been waiting specifically for you. Choristers, our youth choir gathers the week after next. The nursery has been exciting to say the least, and Kelly is introducing some elements of Godly Play to the littlest ones. Godly Play, our Montessori-based Sunday school program is thriving, thanks to a lot of very hard work by a lot of very dedicated volunteers. Jesse, who has served as our Coordinator of Christian Education has done a fabulous job, and he is stepping down to make more room in his life for full time grad school. We are looking for a replacement, but one with a specific focus on our older children and youth for whom right now we do not have much to offer besides Choristers and acolyting. We’re going to focus our lens on the older ones this year as Godly Play takes on a life of its own. It is very exciting.
Adult Ed starts on Wednesday with a fantastic book by Karen Armstrong and Alan starts a series on St. Paul next week for the 9:30 Sunday Formation group. The Palestine study has commenced, and continues today after church. The Property Committee, Eucharistic Ministers, Hospitality Committee and Outreach Commission are back into their regular meeting schedules. The Altar Guild, the stalwarts that prepare the table for us many times each week keep on keeping on as do the quilters in the Piecemakers and our 24/7 outreach ministries; from the parking lot program to Home Starter Kits to F.I.S.H. to 2nd Sunday Breakfasts (sign up today!). We are making preparations for shelter week and the Egan Warming Center. The Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger, the Earthkeepers, That’s My Farmer and Occupy Interfaith are meeting again. It’s all good. Oh, and we are in the midst of a discernment process about what we are all doing here together and what resources we need to do God’s will in this, the 50th year of Resurrection that we will celebrate on the 5th of October. And we are working on the budget, and pledges are being collected and bills are being paid, and all along, unceasingly we keep turning that prayer wheel: taking care of one another, baptizing, marrying, healing, burying, gathering to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness week in, week out and well. We pray well together here. Jesus Christ is in the midst of us gathered here, though some days, it almost seems that even He would have trouble scheduling a room as busy as we are here. You should have seen this place on Wednesday. This is a good way to do church.
Thursday was our vestry meeting, and for the newer folks, vestry is the elected body that I share responsibility with in running things around here. Vestry… authority is vested in them, particularly around finances and calling priests. Right. At each of our first Thursday of the month meetings I give a brief Rector’s report. And this past week I laid out my impressions of what I think we need to be and do this year as a church, as a gathering of two or three or a couple of hundred with Jesus Christ in the midst of us. I want to share that with you all today, the first Sunday of the program year.
The single most important thing we must do over the coming year is to continue doing the work that we have been given to do, and well as we have been doing it. We need to continue to love and serve the Lord AND each other AND the people we share the lower Willamette Valley with. We need to continue to do all the things we are doing to preach the Gospel through our presence, our words and our actions on this side of those big red doors and on the other side of them. So the most important thing we need to do this year is to keep it up. And we can do that. This is an amazing group of people gathered here.
The second thing we need to do is a lot harder than that. We need to manage our growth and that complicated side-effect of growth: change. We’ve experienced some very rapid growth these past few years, not only in the gathering here, in the membership roles of the parish and in our budget, which has been significant in both cases, but we’ve also experienced rapid growth in the scope and scale of the ministries emanating out of Resurrection. The people of Eugene know about this church in ways they did not just a few years ago. Collectively we are making an impact on the world around us, which further grows the size of this body and so on and so on. And all this growth, in scope and size, means one thing: change.
We have grown into a very busy, mid-sized church but we continue to have a decidedly small church structure. There are a lot of technical churchy-development terms for it, but basically, we do not have a very broad base of decision makers. Currently, like in most any smaller church, many (even most) decisions about substantial activities here at the church come across clergy’s desks. Decision making authority is rather concentrated in the office of the priest and with a few key, long term leaders. We have a core loving and dedicated people who have shouldered the burden of running this place for a long time, some since we opened in 1964. In the early 80s we were down to 14 pledging families, and these mothers and fathers of this church kept it running, but consistently, we continue to struggle with bringing others into substantial leadership. Authority is concentrated also because we do not have much of a policy infrastructure (we do most things either as they have always been done or in an ad hoc kind of way, not in some mutually and “officially” agreed upon manner). So managing our growth and the accompanying change… that is the next goal or task that we have laid before us this year.
Finally, and this goes hand in hand with the growth and change we have been blessed with, we need to discern what it is that God has gathered us here to do. Then, we need to discern and decide upon what resources we need to accomplish that work. How do we take care of this building and land? How do we fit all of these people and programs? Do we expand the building, and if so, how? And how to we raise the capital. The scale of our work is changing very organically right now; we need to become more mindful, intentional about our mission. We can concentrate fabulous resources, human, financial and physical (this building, this land); so we must ask, “How do we best bring them to bear in the service of God and Neighbor?”
We began this process in the Days of Discovery with Rob Voyle. It was great yesterday, again. And we will continue with as many people as possible here on Sunday the 28th, when we have one service at 9:00 and all (most) of us will go downstairs with Rob for a session of discerning our collective vision, our collective purpose. Then on the heels of that conversation, on Saturday the 4th, Rob will gather us again to discern what we need to do God’s and what we are willing to do to that end (i.e. a capital campaign). Discernment… why are we here together and what do we need to be here together. Good stuff. So that’s our year. That is the collective work that I see before us. And that is where you come in.
So what can you do? Number one: keep showing up. Remember, presence constitutes at least two thirds of holiness. Your presence here on Sundays, in the choir, at classes and potlucks and special services and outreach ministries matters. It matters to everyone here and to God. So that’s the most important, show up, and if you don’t, do you know what will happen? You will be missed and you’ll like miss us. So keep showing up.
Second, and related, maybe crassly, show up with your check book. Seriously, as we grow in scope and numbers, it takes more resources, more money to keep an operation like this afloat. We have significant financial resources in this parish, but they become truly significant only when they are shared, so please be prepared to share. More on that during stewardship.
What else can you do? Get involved. You will receive from this community (and from God, even) exactly what you put into it. That is not some prosperity gospel drivel. If you put love and hard work and prayer and intention into this place and the people you share these pews with, you will discover a pearl of great price. You will learn that offering your self, your effort, your energy, your time, it is it’s own reward and God’s abundance returns thirty and sixty and one hundredfold. Read deeply. Pray hard. Make your voice heard in the next two discernment days; that is what they are for and no matter if you have been here three weeks or 50 years, everyone has a place at the table. What else… If you don’t have small children, talk to Kelly and volunteer in the nursery: the kids are a blast, they need your love and their parent’s need the respite. Serve at the 2nd Sunday Breakfast: it is amazing down there. Get involved in the launch of our youth ministry. Offer a ride to someone to church. Help host a coffee hour. Be the treasurer. Stand for vestry. Learn to serve at this table in one of many ways. Take some of the authority that is being spread around in this time of change. We need to take the joyful burden of Resurrection off those who have carried for so long. Your offering here is its own reward and it is a sweet reward.
I am thrilled to be here at Resurrection in our 50th year, and I know a lot of you all are thrilled to be here, too. It is pretty wonderful, no? The church is the Body of Christ, it is us, gathered here in Christ’s name and He is in our midst. Let us continue to take up that mantle, to take up the crosses Jesus Christ has laid before us that we may know His presence in our lives and make Him known in our world, together. AMEN