Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2001
Sermon: "Parish Address: Annual Parish Meeting of St. Thomas'"
The Rev. William D. Oldland

Parish Address: Annual Parish Meeting of St. Thomas'

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost - November 11, 2001

Bill, a priest in Christ's Church, to God's beloved in St. Thomas' Reidsville, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. At last year's annual meeting I addressed this congregation as a deacon in charge of this parish in a year of training for the priesthood. Now I stand before you as your priest, the one you helped train. I don't think we want to get into a discussion of how we did in the training process. I do believe we want to look at our life together over the last year. Today, we have the opportunity to review who we are and how we are doing. I would like us to look at who we are and how we are doing through the lens of ministry.

As we look through the ministry lens we see a congregation whose gifts in ministry are currently realized in worship, Christian Education, and Hospitality. Over the past year this church has experienced some incredible opportunities in worship. We had great celebrations of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. During Lent we added an evening prayer service. In June we had a wonderful ordination service. Recently, we combined with Zion Baptist to have a truly worshipful experience for All Saint's Day. We have also made a few changes in our worship. We have combined Morning Prayer and Eucharist. We have added the Gospel Procession which brings the Word of God among the people. We now use a honey based communion bread instead of wafers at 11:00 am. All of our worship events could not occur without the ministries of a wide variety of people. The choir, the ushers, the altar guild, the acolytes, the layreaders and the chalice bearers are just a few of these ministries. More effort goes into worship in this parish than any other activity. The high level of effort is where it should be. Worship of our Lord and Savior is and has to be our first priority.

Another area where we have seen an increase in the ministries of the church is Christian Education. For the first time in several years we are having Sunday School, mid-week Bible studies and Sunday night youth group. We have people involved as teachers, as leaders of worship for Tiny Saints, as nursery help, and as youth advisors. As a result, our youngest children have dedicated people who teach them about worship. We have good attendance for every class as people of all ages are challenged to learn. Please remember Christian education was one of our challenges for this year. We have met the challenge and we are continuing to grow. Currently, we are waiting to hear about a diocesan grant. We are third on the list as recipients for the grant. This grant would help us make the next step in the continuing development of our Christian Education program. With these funds we would be able to hire a part time Christian Education Director. We have an opportunity to really increase our educational program in a major way. Other than worship there is no greater priority for the church than the education of all of its members in the knowledge and love of God.

The third area where we have seen incredible strides in ministry is hospitality. We have greeters at the 11:00 am service. These greeters help visitors feel welcome. They also carry a loaf of bread and some information to the visitor's home. We are blessed to have this ministry. Even more so, we are a friendly church. Visitors are welcomed by several people. As a result we have new people involved in a variety of ministries in this church. We have new members involved in the choir, in worship, in baking communion bread, in Christian Education, in the Men's Club, in youth work. I'm sure I have even left a few places out. Our hospitality helps visitors to our door find a home.

In these three areas, worship, Christian Education, and hospitality we are doing well. However, we also have two areas of challenge for the year ahead. These two areas are our style of leadership and our outreach. Now, please note, I did not say we needed a change in the people in our leadership. Our people are great. We do need to address the issue of our style. At this time we are operating under a hierarchical style. The hierarchy begins with the rector. Then the next level is the vestry. In our present style the vestry members also wear the hats of the Committee chairs. This means each vestry member is now responsible for vestry business, chairing a committee, building that committee, making reports to the vestry from their committee, and even making sure the work of the committee gets done. How many hats can one person wear at one time? This structure for leadership leads to burnout. Not only does it burn out the vestry members elected, it has the added bonus of burning out priests. Therefore, our challenge is to find another model for leadership. Our challenge is to build a model where everybody has an opportunity to use their gifts for the good of the parish. Every member of this church, young or old, present or homebound, has gifts to offer this community. We as the Body of Christ can create opportunities for all of us to use our gifts to help each other, to feed each other, to love each other. I heard a story about the descriptions of Heaven and Hell. In Heaven and in Hell there is an incredibly large oval table. All of the people sit around the table. On the table there is a banquet. Wonderful foods, delicious desserts, and flavorful wine and drink are available for all. However, everybody has seven foot arms and no elbows. They have regular size utensils. There is one major difference between Heaven and Hell. In Hell everyone is so busy trying to feed themselves that no one is fed. Everyone goes hungry. In Heaven, the people reach out with their long arms and feed each other. Everyone is fed. We have all the gifts necessary in this community to do all the work God has for us to do and not burn anyone out. When everyone steps up to the table and their gifts are used we can be assured everyone will be fed.

Our other challenge is outreach. We are very good at greeting people at our door. We are also very good at supporting the Soup Kitchen, Habitat and other needy groups. However, our challenge is to be bolder. In the last year, I have noticed many new people moving into our area. I have also seen new construction. How do these people find us, get to know us, and come to be with us? Right now, we wait for them to come to our door. Our challenge is to learn to be proactive in our outreach. Jesus did not say to the disciples Wait. Wait here in Jerusalem and let the crowds and people come to you to be baptized. No!!!! Jesus said, Go, You go into the world and teach the people all you have learned, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What I'm describing may sound like evangelism and it is. This type of evangelism is not scaring people. This kind of evangelism is reaching out to the poor and needy. This kind of evangelism reaches out to the homeless. This type of evangelism invites friends and neighbors to come and see, to come and worship, to come and be in God's presence. We look for opportunities to use our gifts and invite others to come to God's Holy Table where all are fed.

I asked us earlier to look at ourselves through the lens of ministry. Through this lens we can see some really neat pictures of this community. We can also see some exciting challenges for this community. One thing I have learned about us is that we know how to celebrate the good things we do well. We also are not afraid of stepping up to the plate and meeting our challenges. Today is the day we celebrate our good work. Today is also the day we face new challenges in the year ahead. Through the grace of God we offer praise for our gifts and our work. Through the love of God we gather the strength to face our challenges. Each time we face the challenge and continue to use our gifts and abilities to God we can hear the words, Well done, good and faithful servant, Come into the joy of your master.


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