When I joined the vestry two years ago, Hillary told us that we were entering a critical period in our congregation’s history (and in that of the broader church, but that’s for another Hump Day message). We were growing rapidly and would soon undergo a phase shift in which our previous modes of operating would need to be scaled up or even replaced due to our size and the scope of our many burgeoning ministries. This shift would bring with it challenges but also presented opportunities many modern churches never encounter.
The challenges, common to every church that has ever, ever existed (ever), included ensuring adequate financial and staff support for the various ministries, all of which were performing at a high level and seeking to have an outsized impact on our community-a drive that has come to characterize Epiphany’s culture. We all sought to do a lot with a little, and we dreamed of doing even more with a little more. The challenges also included growing through these challenges quickly, for although transitions are necessary, they are seldom an enjoyable place to stay for very long. Therefore, as a vestry, we have strived to make decisions that prioritize our growth and that will, in the long-term, provide us with even more flexibility and resources to do that which God has called us to do. We will outgrow this phase, and, indeed, we are already outgrowing it at a pace that the vast majority of churches in our nation could only dream of. We should rejoice in that growth.
Moreover, the opportunities we see before us now greatly outweigh the challenges, for we are witnessing the transformation of countless lives as we continue bringing Christ’s message that “God loves you, no exceptions” to a broken and weary world. God has granted us the opportunity not only to see what miracles God has in store for our community but also to take an active, prayerful part in building the congregation that will carry forth the good news. We have – all of us – been invited to imagine what Christ can do through our not-so-little-anymore church, and in response to that invitation, you have all exhibited the resilience and can-do attitude we inherited from the small group that reestablished Epiphany. Our collective level of commitment has grown even more than our attendance, and even when faced with the financial challenges caused by the loss of a major tenant, you rose to the occasion and demonstrated what faith is supposed to look like. Whether in the feeding and sheltering the less-fortunate, in the cultivation of our young people, in the engagement on tough social justice issues, or in the care and concern you have shown for one another, you have lived your baptismal covenant. Moreover, you have developed innovative solutions to persistent challenges and continue to explore new ways to reach those who would otherwise be left behind. It is truly remarkable. We on the vestry have been inspired by the ways in which you have allowed Christ to work in and through you, and we aspire to make decisions worthy of the work you’re doing.
To that end, your vestry has spent the better part of a year prayerfully crafting a strategic plan – one that articulates not only the role we believe God is calling us to play in the community but also the steps we need to take to get there. This plan, which is undergoing final revisions based on input from the various ministry teams and which we will present at the annual meeting, will enable us to make decisions with that vision in mind and will also enable us, as a congregation, to better integrate and coordinate our activities as we continue seeking to have an outsized impact on our community. Our goals are ambitious, yet with the abundance God has blessed us with, we believe that, so long as we trust in God and are faithful to God, blessings will continue to rain down like manna from heaven. God willing, we will, over the next three years, grow in attendance, in faith, and in impact. You will also soon see our 2018 budget, which we believe reflects (in a sustainable way) the ambitious goals articulated in the strategic plan and which we believe will enable us to build upon an already solid foundation.
Having said that, I hope you’re not fully satisfied with what you see.
That’s right. I hope you’re not fully satisfied. We all want to do more, and that is a good thing. I hope and pray that we never lose that drive, and I believe that God has much more in store for us, though we will never be satisfied that we have done enough. This, I believe, is at the core of what it means to be a Christian, and it is what you remind me of each and every day. So much is happening through Epiphany right now, and it is striking when you step back to look at it. More and more, I see amazing discipleship exhibited by our parishioners, and it is this discipleship that is going to help guide those who are suffering to the healing that only God can provide. I want to take a moment, therefore, and say “thank you” for the gifts you all bring to Epiphany and which you have offered in service to our Lord. Thank you for being a blessing in the lives of so many. It is an honor to serve with you, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.