Advent is here, and Christmas is near. This season is one of waiting, but I suspect many of us are doing that waiting… in lines! Christmas is a busy time, but it is also a time to reflect on the year about to end and the possibilities for the coming year. As your outgoing Senior Warden, I would like to share some of my thoughts on what was an “interesting” year, and speak to some priorities for New Year and beyond.
2003: A Look Back
The first news came at the Vestry’s retreat in early January, when Father Charles announced his retirement after thirty years of outstanding ministry to St. George’s and the Fredericksburg community. While we all know that things change and adjustments are unavoidable, I think we can agree that there was a certain level of comfort and predictability we enjoyed under Charles’ leadership. There was, understandably, some shock and confusion for many of us, but we did not pull back. Instead we rallied to give Charles a great send off on a perfect spring day.
We faced other challenges. On March 2nd, protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas demonstrated against St. George’s, and tried to spread their message of hatred and exclusion. But it didn’t work. I remember David Morgan, your Junior Warden, and I standing at the base of the front steps in the rain before the 8:00 service. The early hour and the foul weather were not inducements to come to the early service…but you came anyway. Indeed you did come; so much so that we had THREE times the normal attendance. That was a powerful moment for me, and I was convinced more than ever that St. George’s was the right home for me and my family.
Our challenges and disappointments did not end there, unfortunately. Our nation went to war against Iraq, and we knew that parishioners or members of their families might be put in harm’s way. We prayed together then, as we do now, for the grace, protection, wisdom, and guidance that can only come from a loving God.
We said goodbye to Father Nathan and his family. We mourned the passing of cherished parishioners. We also watched turmoil at the National Church Convention and we continue to reflect on its possible impact on the Episcopal Church in the United States and its role in the worldwide Anglican Communion. I know this issue continues to weigh heavily on the minds of many in our parish family.
Through it all, we have come together in community to pray for each other, and comfort each other, and support each other. I know that some may point to the building and say that is St. George’s, or others may say that a particular person is St. George’s. In truth, it is this loving and devoted Christian community that is the heart and soul of St. George’s; it is you.
Not all the times were hard this year. We celebrated the arrival of Father John as our Interim Rector. I also want to thank of all of you who stepped up to furnish Father John’s apartment nearby. We welcomed Joani as out Interim Associate Rector. We took delivery on the new, safer, more spacious St. George’s bus that was donated by a parishioner. The Congregational Care Commission breathed new life and energy into our parish in-reach efforts. Also the Newcomers Commission rejuvenated our efforts to welcome new parishioners and started the Greeters once again. Christian Ed and Children’s church also received fresh energy from you, the laity. This is just a short list of successes by commissions, taskforces and individuals, and my thanks and appreciation goes out to all of you who made all these wonderful things happen.
You see, despite the challenges, frustrations, and losses we faced, this congregation never lost its vision, its sense of mission, or the call to individual ministry. Yes, we are in search for a new Rector. But you have not put God’s call to ministry and service “on hold” while we complete that process. Watching you inspires me.
Looking Ahead: Wonderful Possibilities
We look forward to an exciting and challenging year in 2004. We anticipate having a new rector to welcome by around next fall. Your Rector Search Commission is working very hard to hear from each of you your thoughts on what a kind of rector St. George’s needs. Do not let this opportunity pass you by. They will also be sharing with you what they have learned so far. Remember, it is not THE Rector Search Committee; it is YOUR Rector Search Committee. They are eager to hear from you.
Our budget for 2004 has been and will be a challenge. Unfortunately, it is common for parishes in search for a new rector to suffer a falloff in both attendance and pledging. St. George’s has been no exception to this rule. However, I am grateful for the efforts of Finance Committee chairman Frank Douglas and Stewardship chair Ralph Powell for their hard work and thoughtfulness in dealing with some tough choices.
From a longer-term perspective we remain committed to the two goals of 20-20 and 50-50. The 20-20 goal is to double average Sunday attendance by the year 2020. This year, the average attendance has been 280. That means we are aiming for 560 attendees each week in the years ahead. Needless to say, some creativity will be needed to accommodate that many worshipers.
One important way we believe we will attract that many new worshipers is through our long-term 50-50 goal. This goal is to spend as much on outreach to those in need as we do on ourselves. Your Vestry knows this goal is challenging and that it will be difficult to attain even after many years. But we know that whether we reach that goal or not, the diligent effort to work toward this 50-50 goal will help keep us Christ-centered in all we do.
I would like to close my reflection by saying thank you. I first want to thank the members of the Vestry. They have been absolutely great, both individually and as a group. They spoke out on issues important to them or to share their insights, but more importantly, they listened to each other and honored the contribution of every member whether they be on the “yea” or the “nay” side of the vote. Some of you may think of Vestry membership as unpleasant and acrimonious. Those who feel that way have not seen this Vestry. I also want to thank David Morgan, Junior Warden, who has been a great source of support and advice to me throughout the year in addition to doing his own job taking care of the premises. I want to express a big thank you to Frank Douglas, Gayle Lea, Treasurer, and George Beddoe, Parish Administrator, for their diligent and faithful work on the books of the parish and for giving Father Charles the parting gift of a successfully completed outside professional audit.
Finally, I would like to thank you, the congregation of St. George’s, for allowing me to serve as your Senior Warden for the past year. It has been an honor and a privilege. I have seen the spirit and love of Christ come alive in you amid our many losses and controversies and it has only deepened my faith. I know we have challenges ahead, but after watching you this past year, I know that with God’s help we will overcome these obstacles and at the end will be even stronger.