For those of you who were unable to be there, here is the report I gave at the Annual meeting on February 12.
It has been an extremely busy year, focused mainly on the work of Blue Horizons. We have completed that process now, and this is where we are:
First, let me say that all of us want this church to be full – we would love to see it back like it was in the golden years, with many children and youth and young adults. Whether that happens or not depends more on you than on me or the Vestry. We can govern the church, and create programs that we think will interest people, but the way churches grow is through personal invitations. If you want the church to grow, take the responsibility to invite people to church. They may come, they may not. But continue to invite people. Continue to stay positive. Continue to promote the ministry of St. Thomas’ – offering Christ centered nourishment for body and soul.
I wish I could promise you that St. Thomas’ would always be here, as we know it now, or even as we knew it before. I can’t promise any of that. In talking with retired priests who had successful churches, they saw them begin to change, to become smaller. One of them said to me, “Ministry is very different now than it used to be. Its much harder. People aren’t coming to church like they used to. The church needs to find different ways to do things, because what used to work doesn’t any more.”
Second, one of the things we will begin this year is small groups – dinner groups, lunch groups, home bible studies – so that people can get together on a regular basis with like –minded others, share fellowship, prayer, and study. If you are asked to host one of these groups, please prayerfully consider doing so. Home groups are known as the one of the main ways people come into the church. You might have neighbors that don’t want to come to church – but if they have a desire for spirituality, they may come to the group that meets in your home. You can be a gateway for someone else into a life with God. What a wonderful way to be the light of the world.
Third, our two committees, FOG, and Sharing Space will continue to explore options for renting our space, sharing our space with another church, merging, and selling or developing part of our land. We will continue to seek a way forward that brings some financial stability.
Fourth: I hear people say, where is so and so? Why aren’t they in church? This church a community. I usually call people when I don’t see them. But I am not the only person with a phone. Pick up the phone. Call someone you don’t see, or if you hate phone calls, email them. People want to know they are missed by more than the priest. Your phone call or email could make a difference today.
Fifth: Our adventure this year will be to write a grant to begin a mobile feeding ministry. Did you know there are over 300 families at Parkville High School that are living under the poverty level? Did you know there are many homeless children at Loch Raven High School and Hampton Elementary? What if we had the means to go into the neighborhood on a Saturday, and feed people? Pray for them, spend time with them? We are looking into different ways to do this; it is our hope that this creative way of feeding people will begin in 2017.
As I said in my sermon, God has a plan for this community. We don’t know it yet. We are in that Cloud of Unknowing, not sure what the future holds. But guess what – God’s plans are for the good of his kingdom, and we are part of that kingdom. No matter what change our future holds, we have today. Today, Let us as a church embrace life – embrace the life God is bringing to this church. Today, Let us embrace the great adventure that God has in store for us – to give nourishment to body and soul to all who come through these doors, and to those who are afraid to enter, and might need a different way in.
Today, Let us remember that this is not my church, it is not even your church – it is God’s church – and through God we can create a strong future if we are willing to step out into the darkness, into that cloud of unknowing, and seek the abundance God has for us. It may never be an abundance of money, but with or without, God can give us abundant life. God has plans to prosper us, not to harm us. God has plans to give us a future and a hope. Today, let us move into that future in faith.
The Reverend Loree Penner, Rector