It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you today as your Rector at this 147th Annual Meeting.
The theme for 2015 was “Keep Calm and Transition On.”
No one likes change, not your leaders, and most certainly not anyone sitting in the pews. Times of transition can bring out both the best and the worst a community can muster. With good leadership, the interim period can be a time to pull together and to work towards defining who we are as a people of God as you look towards finding a new leader. The interim period is also a time of uncertainty as roles and expectations change.
Despite the uncertainty and hard work needed to call a new rector, St. Peter’s appears to have handled this past year with both calm and grace. Divine providence worked in your favor as Both Fr. Locke and Fr. Mead calmly and confidently guided you through the rough waters of transition.
I would, however, be remiss, if I did not include the efforts of your lay leadership. During the interim period, the role of the Sr. Warden increases two-fold as he or she is forced to take on more of the day-to-day administration of the congregation while maintaining an exterior of calm in the midst of, what at times, may have felt to be chaos. Again, divine providence was on your side in providing a vestry and two skilled wardens who steadied the course while you transitioned from clergy to clergy, from Interim to Rector. With grace, white knuckles and a firm hand, our Sr. Warden, Beth DiPanni, with the assistance of Tom Utterback, skillfully guided this congregation through the storm and into safe harbors. We are in debt to Beth for her perseverance and calm, and most of all, for her commitment to us, the congregation of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea.
By Memorial Day, the light shined for all of us as it became known our searches had come to an end. Now was the time to prepare for Maureen’s and my arrival.
If I had to identify St. Peter’s greatest strength, it is your ability to welcome others. I cannot thank Barbara Coughlan and the Welcome Committee enough for the thorough job they did in welcoming us both to St. Peter’s and to Rhode Island. Your attentiveness to our needs is greatly appreciated. Maureen and I are grateful to all who have made us feel so warmly welcomed here at St. Peter’s, and to all who have welcomed us into your homes and lives as well. All of your efforts have made our transition from Central New York to Rhode Island easier than we could have imagined.
Since my official start on September first, I have used the past five months to get to know St. Peter’s on both an individual and corporate level. What I have found is a healthy, energetic, enthusiastic and growing congregation in a time and place when the Episcopal Church, along with most of Christendom, is shrinking. This is, in part, due to your ability to welcome others along with your commitment to serving Christ in the world. It is also due to your talented and hard working staff.
I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to be part of the professional team here at St. Peter’s. Not only is each member of our staff talented and creative, they all work above and beyond expectation. Under the direction of Carol Stuart, our Pre-School is a place where all children experience the unconditional love of God. Our 10:15 liturgies are glorious because of Cheryl’s hard work and ability to make even the most rudimentary of singer feel welcomed and an essential part of the choir. Our family programs and our outreach ministries could not even begin to aspire to the level they are at without John Lord’s tireless efforts and his ability to juggle multiple tasks at once while promoting St. Peter’s throughout South County. And then of course there is Linda O’Neill, the voice and often the face of St. Peter’s, who on a daily basis sets the tone of welcome for all who enter our buildings or call on the phone. She is our receptionist, head of communications, staff secretary, building coordinator, staff counselor and advisor, bookkeeper, and the list goes on and on. All of these tasks she performs with calm, grace and good humor. While the rule of thumb says no one is indispensable, Linda, John, Carole and Cheryl have proven themselves to be the exception to the rule along with Anne, our deacon.
Anne is tireless in her oversight of our pastoral care. No one slips through the cracks because of Anne Burke and the Pastoral Care team. If you are sick, or in need of pastoral assistance, because of her and the Pastoral Care team, somebody is always there ready to visit or bring communion within a very short period of time.
As wonderful and as welcoming as St. Peter’s is, our growth and our sustainability at this level is being supported on a financial foundation which is deteriorating. After reviewing the results of this year’s Stewardship Campaign, I told the vestry I see a lot of love for St. Peter’s, but I question if the commitment is equal to that love. Later this morning, our Treasurer, Roxanne Melchiori will explain how St. Peter’s has been supporting its growth the past few years on the generosity of a few, and a finite endowment fund. This cannot continue, especially when we are drawing down the endowment at a rate of $70,000 a year. The math is simple, at this rate, our endowment will be gone in less than 10 years.
The fact is, we cannot sustain our buildings and our ministry as long as our mean annual pledge remains below $2200. I know I have returned to New England. Statistically, we live in one of the wealthiest areas of the country while our per-capita giving is the lowest in comparison to the rest of the country. In fact, I recently read our diocesan giving is on par with Navaho-land, one of the poorest dioceses of our church.
I recognize there are three factors that affect our stewardship;
First, many of us come from the Roman Catholic tradition. We were taught stewardship meant throwing a few dollars in the plate each week. This works for the Catholic Church. Most catholic congregations are comprised of over a thousand families. So a little from each family coupled with maintaining an under paid staff can and does sustain the church. The Episcopal Church is different, we tend to be smaller, we pay our staff living wages and therefore the financial obligation of our members is greater.
Second, I have heard the misconception from a handful that St. Peter’s was well off and therefore what we give is not important. St. Peter’s is blessed with a combined endowment of approximately $1.5 million dollars. Last year we earned an income of $60,000 from the principle. The earnings we received were applied to a total budget of approximately $540,000. While we have spent several thousand dollars on capital improvements in the past few years, all of these projects have been financed “off budget” through special campaigns and the generosity of a handful of individuals who chose to do more.
Third, being New Englanders, we are culturally a frugal people. I learned the value of being frugal from my Grandfather. As my uncle used to joke, at 95 years old, Grandpa still held onto his first dollar. While my grandfather was known to be frugal, he was also generous. As a stock-broker, he understood the value of investing in what he felt was valuable. If anyone read his check book register you knew what my grandfather valued the most, his family, his church, Trinity on the Green in New Haven, and the Red Cross. His spending reflected this with expenditures for luxury and travel being less than what he spent on the top three.
We all need to be like my grandfather and make our financial giving to St Peter’s a priority! We need to accept that as members of this congregation, we are obligated to sustain our existence into the future. If we want St. Peter’s to continue functioning at our current level, then as a congregation with just over 200 households, every household has a financial obligation of $2200 a year for the ongoing operation of this congregation.
Yes, you heard the number correctly, approximately $2,200 is how much it costs per household to keep St. Peter’s operating budget in the black. Membership is synonymous with obligation. If your pledge for 2016 is less than $2,200, I must ask you to raise your pledge to $2200 if possible. $2200 is what I have come to call a fair-share pledge.
I realize there are some in the congregation who just cannot give at this level. This is why I am asking anyone who is pledging $2200 or more to move from giving your fair-share to percentage giving by rounding up your pledge from what ever percentage of your income you are at now to the next percentage point.
Ultimately, we are all asked to strive towards 10% giving, better known as tithing.
I know we can shore up our finances, I know St.Peter’s can reach sustainable giving, but only if we turn our love for St. Peter’s into our commitment to St. Peter’s and the greater glory of God.
Now to look towards what I hope will be accomplished in 2016.
First, we need to be intentional in our planning for the future. Jesus taught us to take care of today and tomorrow will take care of itself. This means we need to be better stewards of our resources and how we manage them. It is unfair for our Treasurer, Roxanne Melchiori, to be saddled with all the financial responsibilities. By this spring, I hope to have in place a finance team who will be responsible for developing future budgets, managing our financial resources and anticipating our financial needs well into the future.
Second, by Easter I hope to have a Stewardship team in place to begin a year round stewardship program. This team will also be responsible for planning an every-member canvass to commence in September. The best way to encourage others to give generously is through one-to-one contact and personal appeal. Letters, dinners etc. are not as effective as open, honest and frank conversations about money. Personal appeals are what motivate people to give. In the handful of conversations I have had preparing for this morning, I have consistently been asked what has happened to the Every-Member canvas. It is time to return to past practice.
Third, I am not convinced we take advantage of the summer months in the way we should. I know the myth many Episcopalians hold to. “God loves Episcopalians so much, God gives us July and August off. “ For communities in places like Florida, this makes sense. For Narragansett, a beloved New England summer community, to take July and August off, makes no sense. This is when our streets and beaches are filled with summer residents. Our population doubles, if not triples, during the summer months. It doesn’t make sense not to take advantage of this fertile time. I have asked John Lord to begin generating ideas for ways we can program for all who live here during the summer. I have asked Kelli Impagliazzo to form a team to plan what will be called the St. Peter’s Festival. I am thankful for the success of the Bazaar and all who helped with it in December. The St. Peter’s Festival will be very different. The Festival will take place on the last weekend in June. It will be a multi-day, multi-faceted event. The adult formation committee is discussing ways to bring an internationally known retreat leader to lead a three day retreat in August here at St. Peter’s. Spring is the time to plant, summer is the time to tend, fall is the time to harvest. And based on the ebb and flow of our population, winter, January and February are most likely our months to be fallow. Let’s start following God’s calendar and not the academic calendar to order our life at St. Peter’s.
Finally, we will fill the gap! Beginning today, your vestry and I are asking each of you to help out, to commit to filling our total budget for 2016 by increasing your pledge. If you only give when you attend, consider committing to a weekly donation of $10 a week, less than a movie ticket or two Grande Mochas at Starbucks. If you are in the $1000 to $2000 category, commit to raising your pledge to a fair-share of $2200. For most that would also be an increase of just $10.00 per week. This is less than any burger you can order at Crazy Burger. We are not asking a lot compared to all the good we receive from this wonderful church by the sea.
While the unofficial theme for 2015 was to keep calm and transition on, lets make our theme for 2016 to be “keep calm and fill the gap!” If we commit to this, all that we accomplished in the name of Christ this past year, will pale to what we will accomplish in the future.
The Rev. Craig Swan, Rector
It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you today as your Rector at this 147th Annual Meeting.