Rector’s Annual Report (1-24-2016):
I want to begin by telling you a story about an Episcopal Bishop named Angus Dunn. Bishop Dunn served as the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of Washington DC from 1943 to his retirement in 1962. Bishop Dunn was a strong advocate of the ecumenical movement and served (for 10 years) on the central committee of the World Council of Churches. During his tenure as Bishop of Washington DC he also served as President FDR’s spiritual advisor. Bishop Dunn had a reputation for being quick witted, colorful and, at times, slightly irreverent. One evening Bishop Dunn was attending an ecumenical dinner at a hotel in downtown Washington. Seated next to him at the head table was a fiery young Baptist minister who happened to be the head of the Temperance Movement in Washington. The Head Waiter came to the head table and asked the young Baptist teetotaler if he would care for a glass of wine with his dinner. Sensing that this might be an opportunity to proclaim his message, the young minister dramatically turned his wine glass upside down and in a voice which could be heard by everyone in the room he said to the waiter, “Sir, I would sooner commit adultery as drink a glass of wine”. Bishop Dunn is said to have replied (in a voice which could be heard by all) “well, so would I…I didn’t know we had a choice”.
Now, the point of the story is NOT to suggest that adultery is somehow an acceptable alternative to wine with dinner…but to remind you that we do have a choice when it comes to the kind of church…the kind of Christian community that we will be. We are NOT the helpless victims of circumstance, or of our past history, or of anything which is beyond our power to control…We can CHOOSE the kind of church we will be as we move into the future.
Today marks the 62nd day of my ministry as the 23rd Rector of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church. It has been a great joy and delight to begin my ministry here. In addition to preparations for the celebration of Christmas, I have spent my first days as your Rector listening and praying and beginning to develop a specific plan for what will be the central focus of my ministry over the next 12 months. It has been my observation (and it is my conviction) that there has been a significant and serious EROSION that has taken place in this faith community over the past several years. The erosion began in the final year of Fr. Chandy’s ministry and it continued during the interim following Sunil’s departure in September of 2014. I think this erosion has been experienced in three areas of congregational life…first, there has been an erosion in the number of people involved in the life of the parish; secondly, there has been an erosion in the financial health of the parish (which is directly related to the first) and finally (and perhaps most significantly) there has been an erosion in the spirit and passion of the people for the mission and ministry we share together.
If I am correct in my analysis of the situation, then it seems clear to me that, before we can begin to plan and dream about the kind of church we will be over the next ten years, that we need to invest time/energy and resources over the next 12 months in the necessary work of reversing the erosion that has taken place and rebuilding the fabric and foundation of this faith community. And, friends, that will be the primary focus of my ministry for the next year.
Usually the Rector’s annual report is similar to the President’s annual State of the Union speech. But my report this year will be more like an inaugural address! I would like to briefly outline what I feel must be our congregational priorities over the next 12 months. My report to the 2017 Annual Meeting will be more of a State of the Church presentation and a review of how we have done in the rebuilding task. I am absolutely convinced that 2016 will be essentially a “rebuilding year” for us. First, let me say that this will not be easy work and it will require us to be focused and to patiently work together. I am confident that if we do this important work together this year we will be well positioned to move forward with our long-term ministry strategy beginning in 2017.
So, it will be my intention to focus time/energy and attention in three ministry areas over the next twelve months. Now this does not mean that other areas of my pastoral responsibilities (like preaching and teaching and providing pastoral care) will in any way be neglected. One of the things I have learned in nearly 30 years of ordained ministry (I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of my ordination on June 6th of this year) is that, in parish ministry (and in just about every aspect of life) “the most important thing is keeping the most important thing the most important thing”. In other words, in the midst of all the distractions and all of the urgent needs of a busy parish to maintain a clear and consistent focus on what are THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS. This will require me to be disciplined about maintaining a sharp focus in these three areas of ministry:
The first area is Christian Education for our children. I believe my number one priority over the next twelve months will be to rebuild our SUNDAY SCHOOL program: On Sunday, January 10th we had two children attend Sunday School here at St. Andrew’s. I believe that the erosion of our Sunday School is, perhaps, our most serious challenge which must be addressed if we are going to be successful in rebuilding the fabric of this congregation. I attended (and received my Master of Divinity degree) from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. And there were many things about the Baptist way of being Christian that I disagreed with and could not embrace, there were two things that I learned which I have carried with me for nearly 30 years of ordained ministry. The first is the centrality of preaching and proclamation of the Gospel of Grace in the work of the pastor/priest. The second is the conviction that the way to build the church is by building the Sunday School. When Baptist’s go into a new geographical area with the intention of developing a new congregation, the first thing they do (before scheduling worship services) is to build a Sunday School. I am convinced that the key to our success in rebuilding the fabric and foundation of this congregation will be in rebuilding our Sunday School program. And I have a plan about how we will do exactly that!
Did you know that, over the past three years we have baptized 30 children here at St. Andrew’s (including two of my seven grandchildren). I believe these 30 children represent the future of our Sunday School and we must take steps to immediately provide for their Christian Education needs. I have written a letter to the parents of these 30 children (which will be mailed next week). The letter is a reminder of the promises that parents made when they brought the children to the church to be baptized…a serious and sacred promise (every bit as serious and sacred as the promises they made when the parents were married) to nurture their children in the Christian faith (the faith of their baptism). I will also remind the parents of the promises we made as a Church community to these children (and to their parents) to “do all in our power to support these children in their new life in Christ”. In order to fulfill that sacred promise, I am proposing that, beginning on Sunday, February 28th, we offer a robust Sunday School opportunity for children 2-4 years of age here at Saint Andrew’s. We will, of course, continue to provide for the Christian Education of all of our children, but we will be focusing our efforts on these 30 children over the next 12 months. My dream is that soon our classrooms will, once again, be filled with children learning about God’s enormous love for them and for the world God created!
The second ministry focus over the next twelve months will be in the area of STEWARDSHIP: It is absolutely essential that we work to rebuild the financial health of the congregation. The trend of “living beyond our means” and spending money we do not have is, in the long run, unsustainable. Did you know that, over the last three years we have taken more than $61k from the endowment to fund the ministry of the parish? The 2016 budget (adopted by the Vestry on January 11th) requires an additional $41k infusion of cash from the endowment. This practice cannot continue. As I told the Vestry at the January meeting, “we are not the federal government…we cannot spend money we don’t have”. I firmly believe that the solution to our financial challenges lies in the area of Stewardship. It will be my intention, over the next year, to introduce a new stewardship paradigm (what your Diocesan Stewardship Commission calls Transformational Stewardship). At the February meeting of the Vestry I will be presenting a comprehensive proposal for the introduction of the new Transformational Stewardship paradigm here at St. Andrew’s. I firmly believe and am confident that if we, as a parish community, embrace the foundational principles of Transformational Stewardship, we will no longer have to be anxious about the financial health of this parish. My dream is that soon we will be in a strong and healthy and sustainable financial position, so that we can use a portion of the income from our endowment, not to help pay the operating expenses of the church, but to provide resources for exciting new outreach ministry to those in need in our community!
And that brings me to the third and final ministry focus over the next twelve months…SERVICE to this community. Someone once observed that the church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of people who are NOT currently members! I believe that is true…we have no purpose for existence except to serve this community and the people who make this community their home! I am convinced that a key component of any rebuilding strategy will be to expand and intensify the church’s outreach to the most vulnerable in our community. The solution to our problems will not be through an unhealthy introspection…a focusing on ourselves, but in looking beyond the walls of the church to the needs of this community. O Saturday morning, January 16th (at the men’s breakfast which was attended by 19 men of the parish) we had a great discussion about exactly that…what are the needs of this community and how can we, as a Christian community, respond. We discussed the possibility of serving a community meal which would extend hospitality to members of our community who may be challenged in the area of food security. One of our new members (Gerry Doran- who is an RN and works for the Moorestown VNA) mentioned an urgent need for adult daycare in this community. Shortly after I began my ministry, I scheduled an appointment and met with the Mayor of Mt. Holly. I asked him what he thought was the “most urgent social need” in the community. Without hesitating he said, “We have many families in transition and the children of those families need to know that somebody cares about them”. My plan will be to establish an “Outreach Task Force” which will work to identify several areas of urgent need in our community and to suggest ways that St. Andrew’s can respond. Friends, I am convinced that the church is at its best is when it is proactively responding to the needs of the community we are called to serve, sharing the love and the light of Christ with our neighbors who are in need. My dream is that soon St. Andrew’s will have the deserved reputation of being the most caring and the most compassionate and the most generous church in Mt. Holly!
Friends, everything we desire for this remarkable faith community is within our grasp. We can choose the kind of Christian Community we want to be…we can move boldly and confidently into the future. We can have a strong and active Sunday School. We can have a church which is financially healthy and provides adequate resources for the ministries of the church. We can be a vibrant and compassionate church courageously reaching out to the most vulnerable of our neighbors. Friends, everything we desire and dream about for Saint Andrew’s Church is within our grasp. But priority #1 this year must be the work of rebuilding the fabric and foundation of this faith community. To that end, I am totally, enthusiastically and unhesitatingly committed. I am confident that, working together in a spirit of love and mutual respect and with the guidance, inspiration and energy of the Holy Spirit, we can do the rebuilding that needs to be done. I invite every member of this church (and those who are not currently members but who share our passion and our vision for mission and ministry) to join me in this holy and urgently important work. Thank you and God bless you and God bless this Church and this Community…
Faithfully, Fr. Dave Snyder +