Sermon for Annual Meeting: January 29, 2012
The Rev. Kate Ekrem
Well, here we are. You’re stuck with me now! But I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to the year to come. This is going to be an exciting year for Redeemer. The past year has also been an exciting one, as we talked through all the things we needed to, to make our decisions. We dug deep, really deep, and we found bedrock, shared visions and values that can form the firm foundation of our ministry going forward.
Someone asked me, what’s the difference, what will be different now that we have a rector instead of a priest-in-charge. Officially, there may not be that much difference in the job description, but the job of a priest-in-charge is to look to the past, help facilitate healing, help a parish to get their feet back under them. And the job of a rector, I think, is to look to the future, to gather the vision of what can be, what God is calling us to be next.
And in the course of our discussions this year, I have heard much that affirms what Redeemer is now—a vibrant community with strong lay leaders, where children have a special place, where our worship is reverent but relaxed, a supportive place where we can find nourishment for our journey, a community that inspires and helps us to reach out to a world in need. I’ve also some desires for the future, and some plain old problems that need to be solved.
In the strategic plan survey, one of the most-often cited things was that people felt the Great Hall needed to be renovated, that came up over and over again. We lack the space for the Food pantry to be able to store all it needs to feed people. And here in the sanctuary, we do a good job with this floating altar, but the truth is that we’ve never found the right place to put it. If it’s up here, you can’t hear, if it’s down there, you can’t see, and while we know we want the kids to be able to gather around it, when they do you can’t see either. Our organ was up to its old tricks making strange noises last week, and most pressing of all is perhaps our lack of room for our children. The only reason we have enough classroom space this year is because we don’t have a 4th/5th grade class. But since September, we’ve had some families join or return to our church who have 4th and 5th graders, and we don’t have a class for them. You know, back when this building was built, the tagline for the building campaign was “for them we must”, meaning for the children, and when you look back at those old brochures, there are photos of kids having their Sunday school classes in the boiler room. It might be an idea to consider, because we don’t know where else to put them right now. And all these things are just pressing problems, without even addressing what we might want or hope for above and beyond that, or what else God is calling us to do.
The PICD committee asked me a lot of really good questions this fall, and one of them that inspired a lot of good conversation was, what would you ask of us, what would I ask of you all, if I were your rector. Part of where that was coming from, I think, was about would you ask us to do a capital campaign, would we have to do some renovations to the building. And my answer was no, we don’t have to do those things. But we do have to talk about it. We do have to have a conversation about whether or not we’re going to do those things. 2012 is the year of that conversation. Our strategic plan does point to some specific goals about putting our resources, our building, in line with what we say is important to us: formation for all ages, an excellent music program, worship that involves everyone, mission and outreach to the world. Are we putting our money, all our resources, where our mouth is? Our strategic plan does ask us to do some deep thinking, and conversation, about that.
You know by now I’m not an “everyone line up behind my 3 point plan” kind of rector. I’m much more likely to say, well, what do you guys want to do? Which may be frustrating at times, but the fact is that very often you all do know what to do, and in fact have a brilliant plan. My question “well, what do you want to do” is much more about the conversation. Because I believe that in that conversation, in that speaking what’s in our hearts and in that holy listening, that’s where God is. God is not in the 3 point plan, God is in the sharing and the listening. And in the sharing and the listening, God will move and act and lead us in the direction God would have us go. And God will make it possible for us to get there.
So what do I ask of you? Two things. The next piece of work that I think is important for Redeemer is to engage in is having that conversation. Are we going to renovate the great hall – or not? Are we going to renovate our worship space – or not? Do we need a capital campaign – or not? I don’t have specific ideas or hopes about the outcome of those conversations. But I do have hopes about what we will get out of having the conversation. We’ve been putting off these conversations, in part because we had other important things to do, which Connie will tell you more about downstairs, our vestry had a very productive year this year. But in part because they are hard, scary conversations. We don’t want to get in arguments with each other, we don’t want to fight. “Discernment” conversations have been a bit stressful in the past. But we can have these conversations in holy, life giving ways. No matter what decision we make, if we learn how to do that, if we build our capacity for those difficult conversations, it will deepen our relationships and our ability to share our real selves with one another, it will strengthen our community and help us all grow spiritually. Our vestry retreat in February will focus on helping your vestry gain some tools and knowledge for being leaders in this conversation.
The second thing, this is really, all we do here, about helping you live out your baptismal vows. In a rector search, the parish can be very focused on the clergy, what’s their role, what do we want them to do. But as the children sang last week – you are the church. Much more important is, what’s your role, what is God calling you to do. You know that I think you don’t need to look any further than page 304 in the prayer book to figure out the answer to that question. So I hope we can continue to ask each other, will you continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, and perhaps most of all, will you support each other in your life in Christ? Because the key question for Redeemer is not so much, what’s the difference between a priest-in-charge and a rector, but what is the ministry of the laity? I want to direct you to one more key page in the prayer book, page 856. Right in the middle of the page. Can we all read together the answer to this question, What is the duty of all Christians?
The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ, to come together week by week for corporate worship, and to work, pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom of God.
To work, pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom of God. May God help us all to do that in the coming year, and may God bless the Church of our Redeemer. Amen.