Wow, what a year. In some ways it seams like 2014 has been but a blink of the eye, but in other ways November 2013 seems like a lifetime ago. This year we saw many things begin to take shape, we welcomed new members, and had great impacts in our community.
I am constantly amazed that over the 3 years ago, we have gone from having to figure out which bills to pay based on what was in the bank to now having all of our funds paid back and we have a month reserve, though we really should get that up to two months, next year’s goal!
I guess I bring that up to highlight just how far we have come as a congregation. Through openness, priorities, and a lot of sweat equity we have taken what to many congregations would see as an insurmountable problem and made it into an asset. As Jim will remind us at Stewardship nearly every week, many churches are living off their rentals or endowments, and we have been able to do rentals. What I think is really cool about our rentals is that all of our full time rentals are programs or organizations that we are proud to have with us and all of our part time or weekly rentals are supplying real needs for our community. OK, maybe not the wedding receptions, but those are really a very small part of our rentals.
I won’t go any further into the financials, but I think we need to really give a lot of credit to our finance team for the work they have done. Sandy, Jim, Pam, Ed, Ron, Charles, all added their parts including for some their vacation time and sleepless nights so that we could do everything that you will hear about in the rest of my speech.
There were two areas last year that I said were our goals for growth in 2014: Outreach and evangelism to our neighbors, and Christian Education.
I love the quote Barth’s Church Dogmatics: “The peace of God experienced in the community and by its members could only be a false peace if limited to this circle and enjoyed only within it.” In other words, if we live only to serve ourselves and our comfort, we have problems. So we spent a good amount of time thinking about others.
Thanks to the Gathering grant we gained some different data and understandings about our community and the needs within. It was interesting to learn that demographically our neighbors are quite diverse; in fact, the largest group were middle-aged single “confirmed bachelors and bachelorettes;” in other words, me. But that was only by a few points. We learned that we have a very well-educated, though economically and ethnically diverse community surrounding the church including many immigrants.
Some have pointed out that we have not spent money on mission like we have in the past. This is true. In 2012 a letter was sent out to all missionaries requesting information about what they were doing and what type of support they needed. We only received two responses. At the end of 2013, Olga began sending letters to members trying to populate a committee. Unfortunately, there were no takers, even after many individual calls. Olga did not give up on her mission goals, and began to work with the denomination and presbytery to think and get some training on new ways of doing mission that are connected to our community. This will be a big focus in our leaders’ training next year, but really asks: “how can we be a stronger missional and multi-cultural community?”
This really is based, though, in the reformed understanding that everything that we do is mission, from worship to handing out hotdogs at the Fourth of July parade. Think about what it means for us to welcome our neighbor? Honestly, you might ask Loraine. She said when she joined a few weeks ago that one day trying to figure out how she was going to do an Easter Egg hunt for her daughter, she looked up and saw our sign, an answer to a prayer? Well, she came and has become a very active member of our congregation because we extended a ministry of hospitality and kindness.
When we look back over the year, almost every month we had one, two, or even sometimes three different large activities, all pulled off with professionalism and tact. Some of my favorites were the Great Hot Dog Give-away on the Fourth of July. Kris Carrarow took the charge of the kitchen, on a very hot day cooking just shy of 1000 dogs! The Stroll the Alameda, the All-Church picnic, and even the very rainy Halloween Trunk-or-Treat, all of these using the support of our relationships with both the Shasta-Hanchett Neighborhood association and the Alameda Business Association. We all have to be thankful for Betty’s long-time work nurturing those relationships!
But the team of Betty and Kris in evangelism was spectacular! They brought fun themes to our game nights and helped continue to challenge us on how we are connecting with our neighbors and reconnecting with our members.
I was telling Ross and Charles after the Stewardship meeting how unique our ministry is since we are relatively small in our membership, but we have such a large footprint in our community. We definitely do not suffer from not being known anymore!
The other area that we focused on is just as missional and that is how we connect with children. This year we hired our new Christian Educator, Chris McKee, as our Director of Children’s Ministry. Chris has brought a renewed energy, along with Elder Christy Frost and all of the parents and members of the Christian Education Committee we continue to see steady growth in all of our CE programs, including Sunday School, and my favorite, Vacation Bible School. We are also seeing some old programs coming back with a new twist like movie night and Trunk-or-Treat.
We also have our much-needed Family respite area which is fully stocked for all family needs and now staffed, by our newest employee Csarina Tabor.
In addition to Chris’s CE program, Mary Anne has assembled two children’s choirs with her directing the older ones and Jenifer Seguin, the younger. Together with Chris they gave us one of the most moving Children’s Sabbath services I have been to. But this is not new to Mary Anne, who continues to amaze me with what she can get our very small choir to do.
It has also been really neat to see how Howard, who this Sunday has been with us for one full year! Howard has grown as an organist and enlivens our congregation with his passion for music and willingness to serve.
Nancy and her ministry of care continue to be a very important aspect of our church. Through her loving care and phone calls she lets us know we are all part of God’s family. Nancy also makes sure that the needs of our women’s ministries are met, which is a big part of our congregation’s ministry.
We are lucky to have two very good men’s ministries. We have the wonderful, but very early 6:30am men’s Bible Study, which also doubles as our facilities committee. Did you know every week they pray for our congregation and if you are on the prayer chain they are praying for you too? Also, thanks to them and Ed’s leadership they keep our facilities operating and well kept up!
Since 6:30 am was too early for many of us, we started a new lunch time men’s study. Granted none of the people that picked the time ever came, but those who have, have really enjoyed it and over the year it has grown from 3 to 5 regular members. Personally, I think it is fun with the diversity of this group, which leads to some very interesting discussions and debates!
In the less fancy areas I need to give credit to Rob, who has set forth to create a new committee for our session focused on technology. It is always hard to be new to session, but pulling together many different working groups into a cohesive and active committee is really great.
I also have to lift up Joel who has stepped into his full time position, making the adjustments and doing his best at what is a very difficult and sometimes scattered job.
Granted, I did not set out to write this as a thank you letter, but I guess that is what happens when you realize that were are the community together and we need each other to make it work. I continue to be honored to serve as your pastor and I look forward to the coming year when we will see our children’s programs expand into youth, as we continue to reach out to our neighbors and minister to the needs God places before us.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen