January 25, 2015
The popular Chinese symbol of Ying and Yang represents crisis and opportunity. It tells the world crisis and opportunity are both tightly linked and dependent on each other. In western culture we are told necessity is the root of all invention. Both remind us that within every organization there needs to be a certain level of tension or sense of tension in order for the organization to remain vital, pliable and open for change and growth.
For St. Luke’s, 2014 was a year of accepting crisis as opportunity for growth.
Our year began with the departure of Christie Knowlton after the vestry redefined the role of our parish musician based on our music needs at the end of 2013 and our finances for 2014. Many of us wondered if we would be able to find a new musician of Christie’s caliber, and to what extent our 10:30 worship would be impacted. We even wondered if congregational singing could survive without the support of the choir we had depended on for so many year.
As we began 2014, we didn’t know what to expect, who we would find, or how we would maintain music as part of our worship in the years to come. We had crisis, and we had the opportunity to rethink and to reflect on our core needs in terms of music. In the end, we developed a simpler job description, opened ourselves up to a wider range of options, and finally God provided the answer.
It was already here among us. The answer came in the form of Rob Synakowski. A professionally trained organist who is simply interested in providing instrumental enhancement to worship. On many levels Rob has been a God send for this parish. He arrived with a solid understanding of Anglican worship, a deep spirituality and an ability to quickly assess our musical abilities as a parish. In the year Rob has been with us, congregational singing has become more robust as he has tempered our repertoire with old familiar hymns and newer, more modern hymns that are easily accessible to the least skilled of musicians. This year, with Rob’s help, we have increased our use of music by chanting the psalm and adding a sung Gospel Acclamation. The addition of these two element to our liturgical repertoire adds greater variety to our worship throughout the year.
A second area of crisis and opportunity came in the form of our finances. As we entered 2014 we faced a solid deficit for the first time in years. Like every moderate sized church throughout the United States, increased costs coupled with shrinking wages has made keeping income and expenses balanced a monumental task. Gone are the days when the congregational patrons paid the majority of the parish expenses. Gone are the days when our incomes grew faster than inflation.
Last year our finance committee came to accept that a majority of the congregation was giving sacrificially and our rental income was no longer going to be enough to cover the gap. A new stream of income needed to be explored. With this, the Fundraising Committee was reinvigorated. New members were added and creative ideas flourished as new and successful events were added to our calendar.
The benefits of fundraising did not end with the monies raised. There is something special that happens when people choose to work together towards a common goal. . .connection and fellowship. Whether it was a chicken barbecue, the Lasagna Dinner or the Book, Bake and Treasure Sale, those who were able to participate felt a sense of connection and unity with each other and the congregation. Beyond our walls: many discovered St. Luke’s really is an active and energetic faith community within the context of Camillus.
Our fundraising efforts also helped us increase our understanding of what outreach can look like. As part of our success, we planned to give half of the proceeds from our raffle to Meals on Wheels. Because of everyone’s efforts, our raffle netted over $7000. This allowed us to present a check of over $3000 to Meals on Wheels. Our decision to give so much away surprised many in Camillus and garnered a new sense of pride within the congregation. I pray we can do the same this year.
As a congregation who values bringing all people to God’s healing embrace, I hope and pray Camillus will come to see us as the generous congregation with a welcoming heart. We are well on our way to becoming that within this community.
A third opportunity we embraced was living fully into our understanding of baptism. Yes, we still believe in baptism as the washing away of original sin, and, we have come to affirm baptism as a moment of commitment into the service of Christ. This has come about after many years of conversation, education, and a growing desire on your part to administer this sacrament with greater integrity. But what do we do for the families in which the parents are spiritual but not religious, who wish to have their child publicly acknowledged as God’s own, but do not wish to be committed to the vows baptism requires? With the help of our worship committee, a service of blessing was developed, and had the Bishop been able to be with us last February, he would have inaugurated it on our behalf. However, despite the Bishop’s absence, two children were publicly blessed and recognized within the context of the full liturgical solemnity only our church can muster. I am glad we have found the option to offer parents who call seeking baptism for their child but are not ready to make the lifelong commitment baptism requires. This move will strengthen us as a community of faith in the years to come.
Not all crisis or opportunities come as the result of negative tension. Crisis, or as one friend used to state, good problems occur because of positive growth or opportunity. 2014 presented us with two such opportunities.
Our first came because we have seen a growth in millennials joining St. Luke’s. Current research indicates millennials are seeking two things from their churches. 1. Traditional liturgical worship and 2. Authentic communities committed to living the gospel. (I hope you noticed what I said did not include anything about contemporary music.) For the past few years these young adults have blessed us with their talents whether it has been Sam, Chelsea, and Nicole and now Sam, Nicole and Peta assisting with our teen ministry, Hannah with Sunday school and Josh as a lay reader. They have also shared their talents by sharing their thoughts and theological reflections through occasional homilies, and their vocal talents during Sunday morning worship.
While these young people have enhanced our life as a community, I have had to ask, are we as a community providing for their needs. And, what are their needs? They are as different and as diverse as any group within this congregation. Two are young mothers who have the support of large family networks close by. Their needs are very different from the college and grad students studying far from home. And what about the student who has grown up in this parish but now feels alone with many of his or her friends away?
For part of the answer to these questions I am thankful to my wife, Maureen. God has blessed her with a natural affinity and ease in relating to young adults. Not only has she intentionally built a relationship with each of these young adults, “Momma Swan” as she was once known among the West Genessee Marching Band members, has intentionally provided regular opportunities for these young adults to gather for fellowship, support and connection at the Rectory. What was started as something we simply called “family dinner” has begun to grow beyond what was once just Sam and Chelsea, (literally family dinner) it can now include any number of millennials for a simple dinner at our table, or a lazy afternoon eating hors devours and watching football, the Patriots, of course. How long can we maintain this ministry at the Rectory? Who knows! Perhaps this is why God led us to buy a large sectional that always seems to have room for more.
In August, the vestry and I asked the question, how we can invite more students from OCC to join us at St. Luke’s. Through the organizational effort of Josh and myself and the culinary efforts of Jerry Wright, thirteen students joined us for dinner and a study break in December. The evening was filled with youthful energy and appetites to say the least. I believe we achieved our goal, which was to introduce these young people to a place that is truly open and affirming. If we did that, then there is a chance that these young people will eventually find themselves open to becoming part of a community of faith. My hope is to have one to two more of these dinners in 2015.
A second positive opportunity in 2014 was the receipt of just over $100,000 in bequests and gifts for an endowment fund. This pushed our finance committee towards planning for the future. Thanks to their efforts, these gifts are the beginning results of our work through the Heritage Foundation. Our finance committee, through the tireless commitment of Barbara Puchalski, guided our vestry and this congregation though a process that led us to investing with Solvay Bank. I cannot have been more pleased with how the finance committee and the vestry worked together, sharing ideas, concerns and most of all information. How the finance committee and vestry worked through this decision being mindful of who we were as a people of God with the values and concerns this brings to the table. I feel the decision the vestry ratified in December is solid and well thought out. The process we followed demonstrated how decisions can be reached even when we start with varying opinions and options. Good decisions are made and conflict is resolved when all parties enter the conversation with open minds and hearts. This is what happened in this situation.
Finally, a third opportunity presented itself without tension, online learning. Our growth curve on this was long, but this past December we got it right. Through Churchnext, we have access to learn from some of the greatest minds our church has to offer, and all can be done from the comfort of your home or church library. In December, ten members participated in two courses either in person, or on line. A third course is planned for some time soon. During Lent we will offer three more courses. These courses are great opportunities to deepen your understanding of faith. These courses are offered in ways that are convenient for everyone.
As I look towards 2015, I see many opportunities ready for us to embrace. If we are to continue growing, it means we need everyone’s continued commitment to making this community as welcoming and generous as possible. We need everyone to see hospitality as their primary ministry. When you see a visitor, take a moment to introduce yourself and others to them. Be their host at coffee hour, etc. Be part of pastoral care. Keep an eye out for who is missing each week and try to call them to let them know they were missed. If you haven’t already, consider volunteering to be an usher, greeter, or a member of the Altar Guild or volunteer to host coffee hour on a regular basis. These ministries are vital to our continued growth and the welcome of newcomers. If you can, consider ways you can further assist in the financial well-being of the parish. Our primary income stream is through pledging and like any institution, we too have growing bills to pay. Finally, commit to being here on Sunday mornings when you are in town. Just being present on Sunday mornings adds to the positive energy so many are seeking in a church community.
If we all commit to the future of St. Luke’s in these simple ways, then the ministry of St. Luke’s will easily be sustained well into the future as more experience God’s healing embrace through us.
The Rev. Craig Swan