On Sunday we will hold our annual meeting after the 9:30 AM service and I hope to see you there. This will be the last day of service as a vestry member for Joan Baker, Chris Johns, Glen Pacher and Mary Sweeney. Each of these people has made a contribution to St. Dunstan’s and I want to take this opportunity to thank them.
Joan Baker has been a willing and enthusiastic leader in the areas of communications, Christian Education and Community Engagement. Joan attends our weekly staff meeting as the editor of the Highlights Newsletter. We have repeatedly turned to Joan for new graphics, for posters, and for photographs for bulletins, brochures, postcards and banners. She is always learning new skills and she has been a great contributor to the work of the vestry and this congregation.
Chris Johns was the leader of our communications committee and helped to get the new web site launched. Chris shows up. He is there to help with financial decisions and he is there to help move chairs. In several situations at vestry meetings Chris has been the one to help us find the best path forward. I appreciate his kindness, insight and commitment.
Glen Pacher stepped in to fill a two-year term as Junior Warden. Little did he know that our sexton would be retiring and we would not be hiring a replacement! Glen has done a great job keeping our facilities in repair. Our buildings, their systems, and the grounds are in better shape for Glen’s careful and energetic care. In the next year we are going to replace Glen with three people. That’s what it will take.
Mary Sweeney has shown herself to be tirelessly committed to the careful oversight of the St. Dunstan’s budget. Every month she goes through the Treasurer’s report with a fine-tooth comb, making sure we have not made any errors in accounting. This has been particularly important in the first year we work with a new accounting system. Finance is one of the key responsibilities of the vestry, and I thank her for her attentiveness.
St. Dunstan’s Church is growing and thriving because of the work of these people. Their faith, vision and energy have seen us through the transition to a new rector. We have just finished our second consecutive year in the black, and the first year in which we were able to pay all our bills on time throughout the year. We are seeing more visitors to our services and we have a dozen new members in just the past year. I thank Joan, Chris, Glen, Mary, and all the members of our vestry who make this possible as members of our vestry.
Every year on January 17th I get a phone call from Bishop Sandy Hampton. January 17th is the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Bishop Sandy has made it his practice to pray for the priests of this diocese on the anniversary of our ordinations as a part of his morning devotions. Each year when I get this call I am reminded of my vocation and the journey it represents. I think it is helpful to celebrate anniversaries. They give us a chance to appreciate what we have accomplished together and, most importantly, anniversaries are an opportunity to raise our eyes from the immediate issues of the day and take the long view.
When I worked in the software field I was a part of a large team that was building a very complex product. There were over 130 people working directly on the product and even more people in other groups who were contributing in their own way. Planning work with that many people for a product as large as ours was daunting. One day, as we started a planning meeting the head of our product group said, “We can never do as much in a year as we would like, but when we look back over three or five years we are astounded at how much we have accomplished.” P.G. Wodehouse expressed a very similar idea talking about writers: Success comes to a writer as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.
In a month or so we will come to another anniversary. I will have been here at St. Dunstan’s Church as your rector for two years. At this very moment we are working hard to balance the 2011 budget. Our noses are down in the details of running this congregation. I would like to invite us to take a moment to take the long view. God is at work among us and the blessings are very evident.
Over the years St. Dunstan’s Church has excelled at many things. We are particularly good at throwing a dinner party. The Shrove Tuesday dinner is always well attended and great fun. We have Oktoberfest and other meals together as well. We are a congregation that loves to show our hospitality over a great meal. At St. Dunstan’s Church we create a safe place where individuals can come together. Over a plate of spaghetti or German food we experience connection to one another in a way that embodies the Eucharist. We come together to share in communion, both formally at the altar and informally over meals. Both of these strengthen and inspire us to go into our lives and our neighborhoods to be a blessing to others.
As we work out the final draft of our budget and then gather for our annual meeting on January 30th, I pray that we will take a moment to appreciate all that we have done as a congregation over the years and all the blessings that God has given us. St. Dunstan’s has been a blessing to so many people in our 60 plus years. May God continue to bless our worship, prayer and service to our community so that we may be the heart and hands of Christ in the world.
I am very happy to be able to report that we finished 2010 with a positive balance in our finances. Your vestry and staff have worked diligently all year to manage the resources of this congregation. Payments on pledges for 2010 have continued to come in and as of Tuesday morning the income for 2010 has officially exceeded our expenses. That is a great accomplishment for all of us as a congregation and a great testament to the work of our vestry and staff.
When we make a budget we are trying to anticipate and plan for the expenses of the year. We make educated predictions based on our priorities and our past experience. The budget then becomes a tool to help us manage our spending to best meet our goals and priorities. We can’t always anticipate all the expenses in a year. Sometimes we are hit with unanticipated problems, like the need to replace a water heater. Other times we find that to meet our goals we need to spend more money than we planned. The budget allows us to make these decisions wisely.
For the past two years we have been working on three goals. The first is to build a vibrant Sunday School and Youth Program. The second goal is to get to know one another and our neighbors. The third goal is to improve our communications, both internally to members and externally to our neighbors and to people who may be seeking God but are not here yet.
In the two years we have worked with these goals we have learned that to achieve them we will have to grow as a congregation. Through our signs and banners, our web site and mailings we are attracting and welcoming a growing number of visitors and new members. We have learned that to grow our Sunday School we need to reach out to new families, so our communications become even more important. We have learned that our music is a strength that helps us grow. We greatly value quality music in our worship and many of the new people who have come to worship with us have come because of the quality of our music program. We are continuing to learn new ways to reach out to people who are hungry to know God.
We are seeing many signs of vitality, yet we have more work to do on all of our goals. God has given us the gifts we need to do the work God has given us to do. Finishing 2010 in the black should give us courage and confidence as we take on the new challenges God will give us in 2011. I give thanks to God for the generosity of the members of this congregation and for the leadership of our vestry and staff.
Tuesday morning I sat down to begin planning the next week and, really, the next year and I was happy. I think back to this time last year and I am thrilled with what we have accomplished. Last year at this time we were facing a significant budget deficit, we had years of past assessments that were unpaid, we needed to hire a music director, and our administrator had also just given notice. There was a lot to be optimistic about, to be sure, but we had a lot of work to do, and a lot of that work involved fixing things from the past or getting the staff and procedures in place that we would need going forward.
Now we have just finished a year in which we paid all our bills, including our diocesan assessment, on time all year long. It looks like we are going to finish the year in the black (final figures aren’t all in yet but it looks good) and we are working on producing a balanced budget for 2011. We have a wonderful and gifted new music director, Tim Drewes, who is calling forth even more beautiful music from our choir, our organs, and our congregation. We have a great new administrator in Linda. She is a life-long Episcopalian and an experienced church administrator and she is helping us get our systems and procedures into great shape. Early last year the past assessments we owed were forgiven by the diocese as an investment in the growth and vitality of St. Dunstan’s Church.
As we go into the New Year we are working on projects and supporting new programs that will build and enhance our congregation. We have been blessed with many visitors and new members. I can think of 14 people just off the top of my head who have begun attending St. Dunstan’s since last summer. Two of them have joined the choir and three of them are attending our services at the Henry Chapel. I realized just a couple of weeks ago that we now have three families with 3-and-a-half-year-old little girls. We have truly been blessed in the last year.
The energy and time that we were investing at this time last year to hire a new musician and a new Parish Administrator can, this year, be spent on programs that will further build and enrich our congregation and our worship. We are launching an exciting project to create, as a congregation, with our own hands, a stained glass window for the window over the Guild Hall. (See the article below for more about this project.) We are launching an innovative program called Care Teams that will allow us to take care of one another in new and meaningful ways. We are hoping to have an evening study program for Lent. There is so much good work ahead!
That is not to say that we don’t face challenges. As you can see from our Sr. Warden’s letter this week, we still have some work to do on the budget for 2011. Whatever happens, with God’s help and your support we will again bring another balanced budget to the congregation at our next annual meeting on January 30th.
I am very hopeful and enthusiastic about our next year together. God is certainly working among us at St. Dunstan’s. May God bless each of you, and continue to bless our congregation in the coming year.