Remarks by Council President at Annual Congregation Meeting (2/5/12)

Well, we’ve gotten ourselves into a fine mess.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many wonderful, beautiful, and even inspiring things happening at St. John, and I thank all of you, and I mean all of you, for making them happen. There are so many things to celebrate. . . our successes, our joys. But, still there’s always that 800 pound gorilla in the room. . . . the budget.

I’ve been on Council for a number of years, and every year we’ve had to borrow from Memorial Funds to cover the annual budget shortfall. And, every year we say, “One day we won’t have enough.” That day is today. Our Treasurer, Dan Mulloy will go into much more detail later when he gives his report about the 2012 Spending Plan, but suffice it to say, unless something changes, we’re going to have to make some uncomfortable decisions, and we’re going to have to start making them, now.

We’re not alone, mind you. Every mainline church in the country is running into problems. We’re not the only ones with empty pews on Sunday mornings. It’s happening to Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, even Roman Catholics. Heck, you can’t open the newspaper these days without hearing about another Catholic school closing.

That doesn’t mean I’ve given up, oh no, and you shouldn’t give up either. What you need . . . is to be ready for change, because we can’t continue doing the same thing we’ve always done and expect to survive. If we don’t want to become the next Kodak, a much-loved company with a long history that failed to change with the times, then we need to think differently.

I know change can be difficult, but change can be necessary. Somebody once said, “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.” We need to look at things differently, with fresh eyes. Trust me, you’re going to see some new things tried here at St. John this year. Some may fail, but others will succeed. Change . . . true, lasting change . . . will require vision, will, courage. . . and a lot of hard work.

They may not know it yet, but council will be working hard this year. We have a number of initiatives to try to stem the budget shortfall. Most of you received a phone call from a member of Council reminding you of today’s meeting and asking about your church support pledge. That’s a start. We will be looking at new ways to utilize our church building. For instance, we’ll be reaching out to other faith-based groups like El Tabernacula who worship in our church every week. You may see a new kind of music service, outside of Sunday mornings. We’ll be doing much more outreach in the community to get the word out. . . the good news of the gospel, and the good news about St. John.

You see, ultimately, it’s not about money. I’ve heard it before, and I’ll hear it again, in fact, I’ll probably hear it at some time during this meeting: “If we’re short on money, why do we have $20,000 set aside for Mission Support in the 2012 Spending Plan? Why are we sending that money to our parent church when we need it right here at St. John? Why don’t we keep all the money from the Rummage Sales and the Oyster, Ham and Chicken Dinner?” Why? Because if we do that, we cease to be a church. If we stop supporting those causes, those missions, we would just be the Club of St. John that happens to meet on Sunday mornings to discuss some religious topics, hear some music, give our kids a diversion for an hour, and afterwards we’ll discuss the weather over some pastries and coffee. We are not the Club of St. John. We are a Church. And, the church of St. John has a mission: to worship God, to spread the Good News, to feed the hungry, to nurse the sick, to clothe the poor, to follow Christ in word and deed, every day of our lives.

These are hard things to say, but they are things that need to be said.

When times are difficult, we could put our head down and give up. . . or we could see this as a great opportunity. . . an opportunity to succeed! You may ask, “How can we find that opportunity? Where do I start?” Well, let me ask you a question: How is God working in your life? Today? Right here, right now? Keep your eyes open for God in your life. Learn to pay attention to the things Christ is doing in you, through you and all around you. When you see things that make God smile, jump in and help. When you see something that breaks God’s heart, use what you have and who you are to do something about it.

A few weeks ago, as we celebrated the baptism of our Lord, and remembered our own dedication to Christ, a certain Lutheran pastor, named Bruesehoff, said these words: “The Baptized bring the Good News! The Baptized stand up for those who cannot stand on their own! The Baptized are called to change the world! The Baptized are called to show the way, to speak the truth, to live the life! The Baptized are called to follow Jesus out of the water and into the world.”

We must go out into the world, and help those in need. You know, Jesus never told people to go to church. Nope, you won’t find that in the Bible. What he did say, over and over . . . he told his disciples, he told his church . . . to go out. I’ve thought about that. I’ve prayed about it. I’ve done quite a bit of research over the past few years, and you know, there are churches that are thriving, even in these hard times. There are some right here in town, and some in nearby communities. We all know them. I’ve been trying to figure out what makes them successful so we could do that here at St. John. Like maybe if we had guitars in church, that would do it. That would fix things. What I found was that, those churches, they don’t have just one thing they do that makes them flourish. That would be too easy. But, they do have one thing in common. The churches that are thriving today are the ones who reach out to help people in their community. The folks in those churches feel a real connection and satisfaction and purpose, and yes a mission, in helping others in a real, tangible, “in your face” way. They change lives.

We need to change lives, and we need to change things at St. John in order to to that . . . starting right now. How do we start? We start by remembering that it’s not my church or your church, St. John is God’s church. . . we are here to serve and worship God. If we profess that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and really mean it . . . . if Jesus is Lord, not you, not me, not the Music Director, not the Pastor, not the Synod, not the ELCA. . . . if Jesus is Lord, what are some of the things we will have to give up . . . what are some of the things we will have to take on . . . what are some of the things we will have to do differently?

It’s time to roll up our sleeves, and get to work. . . all of us. This is not a time to ask, “What has the church done for me?” This is a time to ask, “What can I do for my church?”

With all this talk of change, you might be worried about where all this will lead. To be honest, I’m not sure. What I am sure is . . . we must have faith that God’s will, wherever it leads us, whatever shape it may take, will not fail us.

I’d like to close by quoting a passage from Psalm 62:

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:5-8, NRSV)

Trust. . . in ourselves, trust in our church, trust in God.

In the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” I ask you to stand with me, stand by me. Together, we will face the future.

Thank you, and God bless you.

—- Glen Stewart, Congregation Council President

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