Transitional Priest in Charge Report

Transitional Priest in Charge Report:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Let me begin by saying thank you for the warm welcome extended to me and David as I came on board in June.  It is a pleasure and privilege to serve God alongside you. It is very apparent that St. Luke’s is a place filled with love and that it offers a healing and welcoming environment to all who walk through its doors.

I also want to say thank you upfront to the vestry and staff who work hard every day to keep things running. Dagny, Stephen, Mary, Lara, Patty, Tim and Brandon are wonderful to work with and I appreciate all they do for St. Luke’s. While there is always uncertainty in a priestly transition, it tends to be more anxiety producing for staff. They have all risen to the occasion. There is laughter in the office and that is a good sign.

Good things continue to happen at St. Luke’s.  The Turkey Trot was again successful, raising $79,000 for Licking County Food Pantry.  Vicki Reed stepped down as Market Street Pantry Director and a team approach to that role continues the ministry to feed our hungry neighbors. Three teams feed homeless men at St. Vincent Haven and a new feeding ministry has begun for homeless women and children who are victims of domestic violence at The Center for New Beginnings. Our Outreach Committee continues to make grants for ministries both locally and globally. Adult Education continues its excellent programming and children continue to be formed in our faith by our wonderful teachers. I thank each and everyone of you, for your dedication and care for this place and for our neighbors.

It has been a busy time with staff turnover and additions in the music department. Stephen has added the chorister choir to his duties and Tim Utterback came on board as St. Luke’s Organist in August after being the summer supply organist. It is wonderful to see Stephen and Tim and how they work together to create the beautiful music that St. Luke’s is known for. On Sundays I always look forward to hearing the choirs.  The music they make touches my soul. And I am deeply appreciative of all their efforts.

Our campus continues to delight and challenge us. Being in two buildings that are not attached and used for programming has unique considerations to it. Our 1837 building is a source of pride and needs to continue to be a beacon in Granville. This spring you will see scaffolding going up and the front of the church will be painted. A contract has been signed and as soon as the weather turns warmer, we should be seeing some progress in this area.

Another project that has seen progress is the noise abatement in the undercroft. Test panels have been in place since this summer and the noise level has been greatly reduced. We can now have groups of people engaged in many different conversations and be understood. A huge thank you to Steve Mighton who is working on plans for the permanent panels and who has patiently worked with the vestry through this planning process.

The sanctuary saw repairs to the flooring making it safer for parishioners and kudos go to Bill Wilken for overseeing that project and making it possible. The property has also seen the dedication of St. Luke’s Meditation Garden by Bishop Price in August. This lovely garden, open to all of Granville, is kept beautiful by an intrepid group of gardeners, watering, weeding, cutting back-all of it is a visible sign of love for creation and St. Luke’s. It truly is a gift to the whole community. I am grateful to all those who work behind the scenes on these quirky, frustrating, wonderful buildings and grounds. Thank you, Shelly, Bill, Mark, Geoff, Athena and Dave for all your hard work.

Another project being planned this spring is a day to clean out the parish house and to determine and reorganize what continues to be necessary for programming. Churches have a propensity to store away items that are no longer needed or are part of its on-going mission. With space at a premium, it is a good thing every few years to look at what continues to be needed and what is not.

Much of my time over the last six months has been spent getting to know you, putting together a discernment team, and training them for their work in calling St. Luke’s next rector. They have been hard at work. This is a great team. They work together well, and the congregation can be very comfortable with the integrity and diligence with which they approach their task. Part of their work has been to put together a short video introducing St. Luke’s not just to possible candidates, but to the public at large. We had planned on sharing that with you this morning, but Mother Nature had other plans the day it was to be shot. It will, however, be forthcoming and we will send out an email when it is done and up on the website. All of us owe the discernment team a debt of gratitude for stepping into the very time intensive and difficult yet holy task of discerning who God is calling to St. Luke’s. Thank you, Mary, Harriet, Tamra, John, Ginny, and Dave. It has been a privilege to work with you in this endeavor.

There is tremendous good happening throughout St. Luke’s. There is much we have to be thankful for, and the good certainly outweighs the difficult. Every church has its points of pride and every church has its challenges. St. Luke’s is no different. Ministry is challenging, perplexing, frustrating, and at the same time it is wonderful, joyous, holy work. Here are some of the challenges I see in the months ahead:

First and foremost is the budget. As you have been told, there is a substantial deficit.  Fr. Applegate left in September, right before most pledge campaigns begin. As is normal, there was a drop off of pledge income with some individuals not renewing their pledges, and some converting their pledges to plate income rather than pledged income.  This drop was more than usually occurs at the time of transition, however. The pledges this year saw an increase in the amount pledged by the same pledging units from last year of almost $30,000. That is a good sign. The number of pledging units, however, is still down from years past in a year when there will be additional expenses as a result of the search.  

A search period, however, is NOT the time to panic and cut programs and staff in search of a balanced budget.  It IS the time to make proactive and thought-out plans in response to what is a temporary situation.  In other words, it is important to be responsive and not reactive. Here is what I have suggested to the vestry as part of our response:

I am proposing that there be several task forces set up that will look at certain areas to address larger issues than just the balance sheet, but all will have an impact on it.  I am suggesting task forces on finance, fundraising, facilities, stewardship, marketing, and membership engagement. These are time limited to approximately nine months. In that time each task force will work on creative ways to address their area and how it will impact St. Luke’s going forward and they will present their recommendations and actions taken to the new rector in the fall.  

There is overlap and teams will have to work together in implementing their suggestions.  Finance is not the finance committee, which will be monitoring every day budget expenses, but rather another group that will be charged with the development of long-term financial goals for the parish and suggested ways to meet them.  

This will have an impact on Fundraising. There will need to be an event or events planned for this year.  We need to find additional ways of raising operating income. This task force will look at those ways and possibilities and this is a directive; they must have fun doing it.

The Facilities task force will not address the everyday issues that arise, but rather will look at how we use our facilities, what efficiencies we can implement, and how we can decrease the cost of running the church and parish house.  

The Stewardship Task Force is not the Every Member Canvass in the fall, but a group that will look at how St. Luke’s can live more deeply into the discipleship and spiritual discipline of engaging in stewardship as a way of life and an extension of our worship.  Living a life of stewardship rooted in gratitude and generosity is literally transformative. It is transformative to the congregation as well as to the individual.

The Marketing Task Force will look at how we tell our story, with what vehicles we do so, and will make recommendations as to how we may become better at it.  Episcopalians are reticent about blowing their own horn. We need to be much better about telling the world why the Gospel and how St. Luke’s proclaims it is important.  

Membership Engagement is not only about how we attract new people into our midst but how we plug them into the good work and ministry that St. Luke’s is engaged in internally as well as externally. Internal ministries support, encourage, and make possible external ministries.  Membership Engagement will ask the question: How do we integrate every member of St. Luke’s and encourage them to use their gifts? We have started this process with the Spiritual Gifts course that Mary Tuominen and I have been co-teaching. Ministry is engaged by the gifts found in the congregation rather than being seen as slots to be filled.  The raising up of servant lay-leadership based on the gifts brought to and needed by a particular ministry area is imperative if lay-leadership is to be developed and is to thrive.

Our Book Of Common Prayer describes the first order of ministry as the ministry of the laity. It says, “The ministry of the lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given to them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church” (p. 855).  The role of any priest is to bless the ministry of the laity, not do it for them. We are to “equip the saints for ministry” as it says in Ephesians 4:12.

I have spoken with some individuals about chairing some of these task forces and will need others to volunteer their time and talents in these various areas.  If you would like to be on a task force or have suggestions, please email me or let’s sit down and chat.

St. Luke’s vestry has been proactive and responsive and has taken several steps regarding the budget.  We have negotiated a low interest loan from the diocese to pay off the higher rate loan held by PNC Bank. We have also asked for a Mission Share Review and should hear back shortly as to whether we have been granted it. The diocese will also work with us and make some additional suggestions in addressing the financial situation as well.  

St. Luke’s, you have been through difficult times before and risen to the challenge.  And, you will go through difficult times again-such is the life cycle of churches as well as people. It is never IF a church or an individual experiences hardship, it is WHEN.  It isn’t a matter of having challenges, but rather how you respond to them. Remember, Jesus and the disciples had rough patches too.

I believe St. Luke’s can take some lessons from the derecho.  In the coffees and conversations, time and again the story of the derecho was told.  It was told with pride and love and awe. It was seen as a very difficult time when the congregation pulled together and actually grew in number and strength.  People had a common aim at this time even with, and more likely because of, this shared hardship. The same effort, the same dedication, the same love for each other and St. Luke’s is needed now.  Each and every one of you is needed. Each and every one of you has an important part to play at this moment in St. Luke’s history.

I also want you to know that I truly do understand how difficult clergy transitions can be, especially after a long-term, beloved, and very skilled rector leaves.  There is grief, perhaps anger, and anxiety about what the future will hold. It is not dissimilar to a storied sports team whose coach steps down after a long and successful run, a run that has brought recognition, accolades, and respect to the team.  Those on the team may question if they will have storied times again, whether they can field as talented a team and hire as skilled a coach as they had before. Some wonder if they will ever have a winning season again, and some try to decide if they just watch from the sidelines or sit this season out.  Change is hard and it is uncomfortable. But it is also a time of opportunity, of living into a new time and future that God directs.

St. Luke’s, the answer to those questions and wonderings, I have no doubt, is yes.  Yes, you can and will rise to this challenge. Yes, you can and will have a coach that will lead you, differently to be sure, but that can lead you into God’s bright and promised future.  And as you step into that changed and promised future, always remember that it is to God that we give all honor and glory.

Amen.


Robin Whittington