Pastor's Report

Pastor's Report

As pastor, my responsibilities include shepherding the various parts of the church, even the ones over which I don’t really have much direct control! I offer up a few observations (often in the light of thanksgiving):

~ The Sacred Conversation on Race Ministry Team has been a commendable organic outgrowth of the work Margaret Ernst did in leading the Adult Forum in 2014. I am excited that their leadership continues to keep issues of race and justice an overt part of our church life and quest for faithfulness. Thanks to Barbara, Bob P., Delilah, Gerry, Jackie, Lisa, Margaret, Michael J., Mimi, and Tony.

~ The new staffing with the two Johns (B. and O.)– as Outreach Minister and Program Assistant respectively — has been an incredible help to the other staff. It’s a much better solution that the unevenness of the 1- year turn-around staffing of the Young Adult Service Community or the Volunteer in service intern before that. Thanks to John-squared and the Steve W. and the Outreach SLG that rethought (with some help from Jonathan V.) job descriptions.

~ Teresa hit the ground running, and has helped us greatly by working with the Admin Team to increase efficiency and cost-savings.

~ Holly has also hit the ground running, though as I write this, I believe she’s only in her third week. We saw a providential opportunity and jumped. May it be a blessing for all…

~ Our POWER Local Organizing Committee has raised some difficult but good questions about the organizing we have been doing with POWER — basically, whether or not the efforts of Power have been moving towards a consistent building of political capacity and well trained leaders who are powerful in their communities. Thanks to Hannah and Mimi (who have been co-chairs), Barbara, Beth W., Clark, Julie, Michael J., Mike W., Steve W. and Yajeh N.

~ The Renewal Committee has done some incredible work — in between the resources the Capital Campaign will make available and the cost of all the work that needs to be done on this property — suggesting a reasonable approach for moving forward. They are helping us wrestle with important, possibly difficult to face, mission questions. Thanks to Geneva, Julie, Nancy, Griffin, Mark F. and Keith.

~ Our financial support experience is proving what was promised: that capital campaign giving, rather than decreasing regular stewardship giving, actually supports it. If this is the case, perhaps we should approach those who arrived after the capital campaign to invite them to pledge? Thanks to both CC leadership and the leaders who work on our finances.

~ When one stops to think about it, it’s incredible that we raised hundreds of thousands of extra dollars this year. Thanks to Mike and the CC Committee as well as everyone else involved in shepherding these added resources.

~ We had a long spell during 2015 when our attendance was lower and our number of visitors was off. Initially, I thought it might be a product of the attention we needed to pay to money in the run-up to the capital campaign. I also wondered if it was indirect fallout from the unsettledness with our music ministry. I cannot really explain what happened. But our numbers of weekly worshipers and visitors seem to be climbing back to the levels they had been before this dip.

I want to address this last point to offer both an answer to the question about being stuck as well as some explanation of goals.

It’s up to the Holy Spirit whether or not a church grows, prospers, serves and remains faithful. I mean, you need the Spirit in order to accomplish any of the mission objectives that the church exists for. But isn’t the Spirit freely given and always offered?

Sometimes, I think our problem is that we get ourselves in the way of the Spirit. Often, because we have enough sense of where the Spirit is taking us… and that it’s some place we’d rather not go…

Anyway, I think — for a number of reasons, we need to double up our efforts at intentional, overt growth. In our day, when church is hardly the first option people think of the for their voluntary commitments and free time, we need to keep ourselves “out there” where we cannot be missed and keep making the case for how and why church can make a difference.

Old First, to accomplish what we feel called to do… we need a bigger community support base. During my first 3 years, we were pretty intentional about “expanding the franchise,” and our efforts were rewarded.

But then we got caught up in other important tasks, primarily the Capital Campaign. Of course, some of the physical improvements and mission changes they effect may lead to growth in the size of our community. But I want to suggest that we need to keep at our overt efforts at making ourselves more visible, meaningful, accessible and welcoming.

Another reason that we need to grow the size of our community is the pattern of people’s participation. Almost all of us are increasingly here less than every Sunday. There are all kinds of implications in that for how we do ministry. We are going to have to figure that out. (Just today, I read two articles about institutions undergoing drastic changes — the Inquirer / Daily News / and Andover Newton Theological Seminary in order to assure their long-term viability. Why do we assume we will be exempt from such “forced-evolution”?)

But it also means that we need more human resources for what we mean to accomplish on Sundays and the rest of the week. In other words, we need a larger base community to have a constant congregation-size in worship. The same is true for all our other voluntary work.

And we need the material support of more humans in order to maintain our physical plant and the ministry and mission we have currently.  And more that we wish to do.

My ministry goals for this year:

  1. To figure out how to put before us again the need to grow, including getting all of our constituent bodies to make it part of their mission and portfolio.
  2. To develop new ways for people to build relationships and get to know each other. Coming to church where you hardly know anyone often doesn’t last very long.
  3. Support all our people heading towards ordination / pastoring. I believe I counted 8 people on that path.
  4. To support and develop more ways for more of our people to roll up their sleeves and become involved in doing the ministry of our church. The Outreach SLG has modeled this for us in how they have people from our community who are responsible each time for the Saturday Cupboard and Shelter Dinners. Old First, I think because our people live so far away, tends to become to staff-dependent.
  5. To do what I can to get the CC work underway and begin relating / communicating more with our CC donors.

Our questions have no obvious answers. We have our challenges. But, I offer, amidst any of our sobering realities, we also have more resources — human and material — than most of the sister congregations doing ministry in the city around us. Let us not overlook our riches, or doubt God’s provision. Instead let’s put to good use what God has entrusted to us, that the world might know more of the Gospel and love of God we know in Jesus.

As I say each year, it’s an honor and a privilege to be in ministry with you all,

Respectfully submitted,