Rector’s Annual Report
Rev. Adam T. Trambley
January 28, 2018, St. John’s Sharon
Psalm 111 says Hallelujah!, I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. At its core, what we come to St. John’s to do is to give thanks to the Lord with our whole hearts, to give thanks in this assembly of the upright, to give thanks in this congregation. While we have our programming here at St. John’s -- our liturgy, our fellowship, and any number of activities to accomplish and tasks to perform – in the end what really matters is bringing the lives that we live outside of this place and offering them with thanksgiving to God who created us and sustains us and loves us. What we are as a parish only begins in the moment after we have come in thanksgiving with the gift of ourselves and all that we offer in thanksgiving to be the Body of Christ.
We come to give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart, but we do not come by ourselves. We come to give thanks in the midst of one another. Our thanksgivings to God are made together so that we can receive each other’s witness of the joy and wonder of God at work in our lives. As we receive that witness, we share in our thanksgiving, and in that act of thanksgiving the Holy Spirit moves among us and begins to create something that is fulfilled in the act of our Great Thanksgiving when we encounter Jesus together in the Body of Christ of the bread and wine as the Body of Christ here at St. John’s. If our church is built on the great foundation of Jesus Christ, the building takes shape as we give thanks to the Lord with our whole hearts in this assembly.
One way we continue to build the church is by giving thanks to God for each other. We have much to be grateful for as a parish and many people to be grateful to. This sermon will serve as my own annual report to the parish, and I do have some pieces to highlight later. Yet, the best report I could give would probably seem like a frenetic academy awards acceptance speech, where I read a couple hundred names off of note cards until Ron starts the next hymn and Jennifer Aniston and Harrison Ford come and drag me out of the pulpit. While not many movie stars show up here, at least not since Patrick Swayze played basketball in the old gym while filming Tiger Warsaw, the list of thank you’s to be read for just the past year would number in the hundreds. Hundreds of people financially supporting St. John’s. Hundreds of people coming to worship. Hundreds of people volunteering in different ministries. Hundreds of people using our buildings in ways that build up the community, support our facility costs, and extend the reach of our relationships. Hundreds of people praying for what we are doing here. Thousands of people receiving the witness we offer of thanks and praise for God in our lives and being at least in some small way transformed by what God is doing here. I give thanks for every one of you here today because I am grateful for the thanksgivings you offer here, for your support of this congregation, and for your work for the kingdom of God. Whether or not your name is specifically mentioned in some way, what you do matters greatly to our church and to our mission and ministry.
I would start by thanking our parish staff, which works very hard and very effectively at keeping our worship, our facilities, and our programming on track. They regularly go above and beyond out of love and concern for this church and its people. Tina has again been a rock, and continues to learn and try new things as technology and communication changes. Ron leads our music in worship, but also does a wide variety of other things to nurture and sustain our church community. Fred works to keep the buildings clean and in good order so we can welcome the many people who use the building each week, from our community lunch guests and ECS clients to Cana’s Corner Coffeehouse to the Girl Scouts to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church plant that meets here Sunday afternoons to the Mental Health Commission to twelve-step groups to people taking music lessons to the model club to the Relay for Life to cooking classes to birthday and anniversary parties. Deacon Erin and her family have been a blessing to St. John’s in a number of ways, including her continuing work exploring how we can engage younger families who don’t attend church but are seeking to find a faith community in the midst of busy and often overwhelming lives.
Thanks for helping us with our facilities also goes to Jesse Fiske and his crew for their work on the building over the past two years. In addition to repointing our buildings, they have installed storms for our office windows that have made a big difference this winter, built a base for our new sign, repaired and protected the stained-glass windows in the choir room, cleaned out the narthex tower, put an awning over the ECS staircase, and completed a few smaller projects. Thanks, too, for all who contribute to our Believe and Prepare Capital Campaign that has made all that work possible, and to Donna and Angelo Stamoolis who have headed up that work.
Thank you, also, to all who support to St. John’s generally. As you can see in our Annual Report, we received more contributions in almost every area than we budgeted. That generosity has allowed us to finish another year in the black. We also should offer our thanks to those who have gone before us and made final gifts to our parish. The bequests made by many, of all sizes, at this point provide an income of about $100,000 a year to support our parish. Wills and other end of life planning documents are important for you and your family, and as you do that work, I would encourage you to consider leaving a gift to St. John’s to support our ministry over the long-term.
Because people are so generous to this church, financial transparency and accountability are important. St. John’s has a long history of prudently and responsibly caring for its resources, but technology and software changes, so we have signed up for a new database and accounting package. We are taking it one step at a time, and every step is slower than might be hoped, but we expect over the next year to allow people to make on-line gifts as well as check their own giving records and their church directory profile on-line through their own password-protected account.
This new accounting software was one of our goals for this year that was initiated by Gary Funderlich, who in a short time at St. John’s touched many lives deeply. A significant part of our work this year was saying goodbye and commending Gary and others of our parish and family into a fuller life with God. We conducted sixteen funerals at the church this year, in addition to a number of former parishioners whose funerals were elsewhere, and there were many other funerals of family members of parishioners who were truly part of our extended parish family. I have never been a part of this many funerals in a single year. Our witness to the resurrection of Jesus as we give thanks for the lives of our loved ones is an important part of the life of the church.
We have had other transitions this year, as well, as we continue to welcome new members and say goodbye to people as jobs or other opportunities take them elsewhere. This spring, Bishop Sean confirmed seven people at the Easter Vigil, including four adults, and many others have become part of our congregation since.
In addition to our facilities and financial software, we have focused on a few other projects this year. Our Natural Church Development Team looked at ways to deepen the loving relationships within the parish. We spent much of Lent exploring ways to deal with conflict in a Christian way. We learned about emotional triangles and overcoming resentments, and worked at talking across differences, while also developing a guide for Christian conflict resolution. The NCD team initiated the “Person of the Month” and the “thank you” box in the lounge, as well as the specific recognition of some of our ministries during our services this year. Thank you to the NCD team, which includes Tracy Schliep, Hannah Hancock, Katie Tingler, Ron Gracilla, Sandy Geiwitz, Debbie Gibson, Cleo Myers, Josh Herald, and Michael Wachter.
The vestry this year spend some time exploring where we are as a church generally, and whether there were any major course corrections that needed to be made. We spent a meeting with a consultant on strategic planning, and we thought about what St. John’s means to us. While we know that there are always areas to work on and improve, and we would like to develop a more specific vision for the future of St. John’s, we believe that we are on track. Our purpose statement, that we Worship God, Care for People, and Grow as Christians, still rings true, and our guiding principles are still the basic values of our congregation.
The vestry also had some robust discussions about best practices for caring our community, especially as we have become more engaged with our changing neighborhood over the past few years. A sermon series this fall shared some of the dilemmas that I have had determining how best to help people coming with significant needs, as well as raising questions of vocation and goals for our outreach work and sharing some best practices. The parish alms fund which we use for direct emergency assistance has been well funded this year, in part because donations to me or the church from weddings and funerals go into that fund. We have given out about $10,000 in emergency assistance this year, which is almost double some past years, and working with people in crisis has been a larger portion of my work this past year.
This summer during my doctor of ministry residency, I took a class on community engagement and these issues with my colleagues. I also completed my ministry project for my thesis this fall, which was taking eight community leaders on prayerwalks to help them see their community through God’s eyes. One of the people who is helping me with my thesis work is the consultant we engaged for our parish Seeing Through New Eyes process, Dave Daubert. I am currently working on writing and editing the final thesis, and will share some of what I’ve learned that at an appropriate time later this year when I’m finished.
I want to thank the vestry for all of their very good work this year. Thanks to Madge Tamber, Barb Lipinski, and Tracy Schliep who are finishing their terms, to Keith Rowlands for stepping into the role of Senior Warden mid-year, Nick Baron who came on the vestry to become treasurer mid-year, to Al Seladi for his work as Junior Warden, and to Linda Hauk and Robert Barletta. Thanks too to Matthew Ciszek who served as secretary, but who has moved to Erie for a new job. He and Michael will be missed.
In many ways the annual report is the time to highlight what has made this particular year different or significant. Yet the primary work we do here is the steady, consistent work of worshipping God, caring for people, and growing as Christians that happens week in and week out. I want to thank all those who help us with the crucial work of worship, including the altar guild, the choir, our ushers, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, greeters, acolytes, and those who decorate for our special services. So many people care for so many others, and I want to thank those who work with and support Episcopal Community Services, with our Saturday lunch, the ministries of the Episcopal Church Women, our fellowship opportunities like the morning munchies, and our Eucharistic visitors who take time to care on many levels to our parishioners that can no longer make it to church. I also want to recognize those who help us grow as Christians, including the adult Sunday school group and our tween and children’s Sunday School teachers. This parish does wonderful ministry on many levels that touches many lives, and whatever gifts you offer, they are appreciated. I finally just want to say thank you for the continuing privilege and joy of being your rector. This parish is a great community that I am grateful to be a part of, and I look forward to our ministry in 2018!