January 26, 2014
Once again it is time for the annual State of the Saints Report. It is our time to look back over the past twelve months and ask where God has been present among us and to discern where God is calling us to go in 2014.
There is no doubt, 2013 was a difficult year for us. We sadly had to say good bye to some of our oldest and dearest members. As I put this report together, it is hard for me not to think of Bob Cudworth in particular.
Bob was the epitome of loyalty and dependability. In the ten years I have been your rector, I can remember very few Sundays when Bob was not helping out at the eight o’clock service either as a lay-reader or as an acolyte, often times, it was as both. Bob’s faith and commitment went far beyond the walls of St. Luke’s. He was, in many ways, the definition of faith into action. He came and prayed on Sundays, and then went out into the world to proclaim through word and action the Good News of Christ. He was a tireless and well-loved volunteer for the Red Cross, Echo Meals on Wheels and The St. Charles Food Pantry. Not a Christmas went by that he wasn’t an integral part of the Marine’s Toys for Tots drive. What made Bob special is how he did everything with great compassion. He truly loved and cared about the people he served. He always spoke of those in need with great care and respect. He was one who served many without a hint of judgment, his only concern was for everyone to be fed and for every child to find Christmas presents under their tree on Christmas morning.
I was concerned without Bob’s leadership and without Marnie O’Hern to hand knit the countless sets of mittens this year, our Giving Tree would go bare. But as is always the case, the compassion and generosity of St. Luke’s is boundless and not tied to one person. After being up for three weeks, the Giving Tree was as covered with hats, gloves, scarves and mittens as it had been in years past. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives were as bountiful as ever, and our community continues to be the largest contributor of non-perishable food to St. Charles Food Pantry. Somehow, through the grace of God and our generosity, as the need for food continues to grow in this community, so does the abundance of what we give.
Our outreach continues to grow in other ways as well. Thanks to Eileen Robertson and the Outreach Committee, our relationship with ECHO Meals on Wheels continues to deepen. As an institution and as individuals we are known at Meals on Wheels. We continue to have many of our members serve as volunteer drivers, kitchen help and office help. Our Seeds of Faith Garden, under the loving direction of Kyle Bova, Debbie Kazabinski and Mary Jane Olson, continues to be the only source of fresh produce their participants receive each year. And this year, as your rector, I was invited to serve on their board. An honor I gladly accepted.
Feeding and clothing the poor is an integral part of who we are as a Christian Body. At baptism, we vow to respect the dignity of every human being. The work we do through these food ministries provides a foundation which allows many to continue to live independent lives with dignity in the houses they have lived in for decades. The food and clothing we provide St. Charles, allows many of our children the ability to arrive at school each day warm and ready to study and in turn allows many of our parents the dignity and satisfaction of knowing, with our help, they are providing for their children’s needs.
Respecting the dignity of every human being is but one of the vows we make at baptism. We also vow to be regular in the fellowship of the body, the breaking of the bread and the teaching of the Apostle’s. I believe 2013 has been one of the richest years for us in terms of worship, fellowship and formation.
Thanks to the work of the Worship Committee and Church School, we have had several memorable, multigenerational services. Our Lent and Holy Week were enriched by the Stations of the Cross made by members of the congregation. Our Palm Sunday contained what will most likely be the most memorable procession in my ten years as your rector. Our Lenten time was also enriched through the meditations offered each week by Bambi Carkey. I am grateful to Diane Curran, Sedona Brown and Kathleen Hart-Zavoli who have all taken the time this year to become licensed to lead Morning Prayer, and to Diane, Bambi, and Kathleen, Chelsea Swan and Sam Leitermann for having taken on the daunting task of offering homilies while I have been away. Their work along with many others continue to make our liturgy truly a work of the people and not just the priest.
In terms of Spiritual Formation, 2013 has seen the advent of on-line Christian Education of which five members of our congregation are participating. We have also seen offerings in Science and Religion, a Book Club focused on issues of social justice and a re-offering of our course on the sacraments. Many have taken advantage of these adult offerings and I am excited to report the success of the Body, Mind and Health Symposium thus far. Our Sunday school continues to struggle with inconsistent attendance, however, this is not due to the lack of a good program thanks to Debbie Dilg and Lori Boeglin, but due to the busyness and challenges young families face in today’s world.
As we plan for the future, we have to be honest with ourselves and accept that Sundays are no longer reserved for church and family as they once were. How we do Christian Formation on all levels will have to be more creative and flexible as we move into the future. I want to thank Chelsea Swan and Sam Leitermann for demonstrating flexibility in how they have directed our youth ministry. In October our youth ministry partnered with St. Mark’s, Syracuse. We were blessed with talented youth leaders and a handful of youth. St. Mark’s has a myriad of youth but not enough leaders. Together we have a strong, vibrant youth program now serving 12-16 youth each week. We are still working out the kinks in our communication, but this is the first of what I hope to be many ways resources are shared between congregations as we work to strengthen our presence on the West Side of Syracuse.
Finally, thanks to Sedona Brown and Diane Curran, we have had a great year for fellowship. Our first annual pancake supper last February had us busting at the seams as people from far and wide came to enjoy the last of Mardi Gras. We have had countless breakfasts, and bi-monthly coffee hours. As a community we cannot bond if we don’t make the time to get to know each other. If you are one to run out of church as soon as the service is done. I ask you to reconsider your rush and take time each month to commune with your fellow St. Lukers over a cup of coffee and a sweet or two.
I also want to thank Diane and Sedona for organizing the eight funeral receptions we had this year and to each and every one who provided sandwiches and/or baked goods. Your efforts to care for the bereaved was greatly appreciated and was a source of comfort to family and friends alike.
Before leaving hospitality, I also want to thank Jerry Wright and all who have worked hard to help maintain our buildings and grounds. How we keep up our buildings is part of how we welcome others. I want to thank everyone who weeded, pruned, and painted. Because of you, our buildings and grounds offer a warm welcome to all who enter our doors. I also want to thank the men’s group for their time and devotion to restoring the exterior of the rectory to its original splendor. It is a pleasure to arrive home each day to its beautifully refreshed exterior.
Among our many successes in 2013, we have had our challenges as well. Our finances continue to be our greatest challenge. We are not alone in this. Very few congregations have what they think they need. But we are told, God provides in abundance. This we found last spring when we began to face a twenty plus thousand dollar deficit. As in years past, when the need is there, St. Luke’s rises to the occasion. As Diane will point out, 2013 ended with a solid deficit. However, with the income your generosity provided, we overcame what would have been a deficit three times greater. And, as we face 2014, we again are projecting another solid deficit, but one we are planning to manage though focused fund raising. As the old stewardship saying goes, the good news is, “God has given us all we need to fund our budget, the bad news . . . . it’s still in your wallet.” The good news at St. Luke’s is many of you have increased your annual pledge and deepened your commitment to this community and each other.
As I look forward to 2014, I know St. Luke’s will continue to make strides in its mission to bring all people to God’s healing embrace. And I know we can be even more successful if everyone makes the effort to live into these simple rules.
You are the best advertisement for St. Luke’s, if you are passionate and enthusiastic about being part of this community, others will be as well.
People are looking for communities that are filled with excited, positive and passionate people.
Inviting and welcoming new people is everyone’s job. Remember, if you don’t take the time to speak with someone, most likely no one else will either.
We need your support. Many of us enjoy organizing events and classes, but we need people willing to attend. Resolve to support everyone at St. Luke’s, not just those you already know.
Invite friends to attend social and formation events. Just because they are part of another denomination does not mean they won’t be interested in one of our formation classes or social events.
Commit to being part of Sunday worship whenever you are in town. Without you, our worship is diminished.
Follow through on what you commit to.
If you are frustrated or upset by something, talk directly to the person involved. Friends cannot solve the problem you have with someone else.
If we can live by these eight simple rules, I believe St. Luke’s will continue grow and be a vital community for many years to come.
The Rev. Craig Swan,Rector