The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: January 31, 2016
*The Epistle is taken from the previous Sunday, when the Annual Meeting was originally scheduled. The Annual Meeting was transferred due to the blizzard the day before.
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
A reading from the letter to St Michael’s:
If the Altar Guild were to say to the Choir, ‘Because I cannot sing, I do not belong to the church,’ that would not make it any less a part of the church. If the Sunday School were to say to the Vestry, ‘Because I cannot count money, I do not belong to the church,’ that would not make it any less a part of the church. If the whole body were a Vestry, where would the music be? If the whole body were acolytes, where would the money be? As it is, there are many ministries, but one church. The Saturday Kitchen cannot say to the Bible Study, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the Cemetery to the church staff, ‘I have no need of you’…Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Could there be a scripture better suited to our annual parish meeting day? No, there could not. So that’s why we had to read it again today, even though it was scheduled for last week, so we could all hear it and know ourselves in it. We at St Michael’s are the body of Christ, and every one of us members of it.
For this place is alive with God’s Spirit, breathing and acting and sending and freeing and anointing all of us to do the work of the Lord in so very many ways. Each and every one of us here today has a part to play, and a sacred one at that, as members of this body. Every single one of us here today – even if this day is your first time ever coming into St Michael’s Church – every single one of us has a part in God’s work. And that work is manifest in the life of this congregation.
Today, our annual meeting, provides us an opportunity to look back on our last year of life together, to see all the ways God’s Spirit has been at work in this place. Today is a day for celebrating all the different members of Christ’s body here, and the work that we as Christ’s body have been up to.
It was an interesting exercise for me, preparing for this meeting, because of course 2015 was notable for me personally as my first year with you as rector. I went back through my calendar and noticed two things: the sheer amount of activities, meetings, and appointments written on each page (yes, I still use a paper calendar), and the number of things scribbled out and rewritten on each page. A lot of ink was spilled in my calendar last year, which explains why thinking back over 2015 feels a little exhausting.
So to highlight a few events over the course of last year:
Gatherings: I met with a hundred or so of you over the course of the first three months of the year, small gatherings in many of your homes giving us an opportunity to get to know each other, talk, and eat. I heard some of your stories, you heard some of mine, and even better, you heard each other. We all realized we were hungry for more of that kind of thing, something that keeps coming up as a desire here.
The Bible Challenge: About 25 of you embarked on a commitment to read through the Bible in a year. That group is just about due to finish out next month, and the fruits are paying off. Not everyone who started is still with it, and that’s ok, but the idea that Episcopalian New Yorkers can make Bible reading a priority in their lives, that itself is making a difference here. We need to know our story, and we have raised that up with this group of scripture warriors. And we will do more.
Hiking: Two different groups of all ages embarked on hikes in April and October of last year. We got outside, we got outside of the city, we moved our bodies and relished the sacrament of God’s creation. We reminded ourselves in doing it that we are embodied, part of this created world, and we have a responsibility for it and for each other. We are already planning more along these lines.
Installation: After nearly six months with you, the bishop finally came to formally install me as your rector in May, and what a party it was. Every ministry here pulled out all the stops. We looked around this place and at each other and saw just how amazing this community is, how great and abundant is God’s love and mercy in this place. And we discovered something else: a deep and abiding love of cupcakes. So we had more of them later in the year. And I’m sure we will continue to have more.
Farewells: We said some goodbyes in 2015. In May we bid a fond farewell to Freddie Pifer, sexton here at St Michael’s for 47 years. In July we celebrated and said goodbye to the Rev. Sam Smith and his husband Don as they moved on to begin a new ministry in Stockbridge, Mass. We grieved the loss of and buried too many of our loved ones: Jacob Van Rossum, Pearl Palmer, Anthony Mosley, Mary Wakino, Sammie Lakin, Agatha Humphrey – and this year, Wesley Henderson.
Hellos: But we said even more hellos. In February and November we welcomed some 35 new members to our congregation. We welcomed and began to enjoy the gifts of the Rev. Bert Draesel and the Rev. Kyle Oliver as assisting clergy. And in October we were thrilled to welcome the Rev. Leigh Mackintosh and her wife Stephanie to our midst (and what a great start it has been!). All these parts of the body, coming and going and serving Christ here in this place. We are the richer for all these souls, and as our welcoming committee can attest, we continue to welcome more and more of you every day.
Music: We sent our choirs off to France in the summer, and then we got them back again, and now there are more of them than ever before. They give all of us so much with their gifts and skill, and give our music directors great stuff to work with. And every Sunday we get a whole range of musical styles to shape our worship, on a whole range of organs and instruments – a gift we never tire of being grateful for.
Children and Youth: We changed some things up in the Sunday School this year, beginning a high school group with regular meetings and overnights and outings, something this community has asked for, for years. We are seeing kids we hadn’t seen much before, and meeting new kids as they come and join, and engaging leaders in that ministry who have much to offer us all. And we took a huge risk and reworked the Christmas Pageant and the youth choirs’ Christmas concert and came out the other end with a beautiful, transcendent, quirky, quintessentially St Michael’s offering that enhanced worship and the Christmas season for all of us, and set us up for one of our best-attended Christmas parties ever. It will only get better from here.
Stewardship: We had our strongest pledge drive in decades, with so many of you streaming forward to the altar at our November Ingathering to offer your gifts on the altar. It opened all of our eyes to see that giving our money is not just a private act, but a community witness. That offering, that giving of ourselves to God’s work and purpose, is the essence of what we are about and will be about in this coming year.
And what else?
- We restarted the Messenger monthly newsletter, giving a platform for us to tell and hear each others’ stories.
- We commissioned new ministers of prayer and healing, of the altar guild, of teaching, of vestry leadership, of Eucharistic visiting.
- We continued our feeding ministries through Saturday Kitchen and Midnight Marauders and Trinity Place shelter, and our advocacy work through the Task Force on Israel-Palestine, the Social Justice Ministry, and the Racial Justice Dialogue Group.
- We prayed together and apart through our prayer and healing ministries, our Lenten meditation book, and our healing service in Advent.
- We celebrated and enjoyed each other through our monthly dinners and men’s breakfast groups and mom’s nights and so many other events besides.
- And we worked hard on being good stewards of our buildings and property, here and at the cemetery in Queens.
We have been a busy church, in all the right ways.
The Spirit of the Lord God has been upon us. And it is so clear that that Spirit lives and breathes upon and within each one of us here today: bringing us here to celebrate and worship God, urging us into new ministry, speaking and serving through our lives offered again today to God’s use. For any one of us by ourselves is not able to do and offer anything like what we can all offer together. Every one of us has a different combination of God’s gifts. Those gifts are meant to be used together, in concert with one another, being honed and harmonized and expanded through the ways we work together. That’s why we come to church.
We don’t make very good Christians each of us all by ourselves. We have a hard time keeping it going, and we can never do all that we see there is to be done. It’s too easy to fall away and not bother, overwhelmed by our own inadequacies and the powerful currents of the world fighting against us.
And we don’t make very good Christians just us together, either. Without God’s Spirit breathing in us and leading us, without praying and studying and listening and attending to where God would have us go, we just stress ourselves out. We’re tempted to measure our success by the sheer number of events on the calendar, not by doing what God is uniquely calling us to do and be. We’re tempted to panic when the budget doesn’t balance perfectly, or when we aren’t sure exactly what’s happening with our real estate, or when we’re trying something new and we’re not sure just where it’s going to go.
And all of this awaits us in 2016. Spoiler alert: this awaits us in the reports you will hear today, even. Good and great news of the thriving life of this community, and the ways we are growing and blossoming in faith. And risky news at the same time, of worries over the short term before we get to the long term, having to hang on just a bit longer in the hope and belief that we are stewarding this place well. This church is really learning what it looks like to live in faith.
For when we come together with other Christians as the body of Christ, new possibilities open up. When we step in and get involved and offer what we have by way of gifts and talents, something wonderful happens. New leaders are starting up new ministries here. New members are stepping in to take the reins that others are ready to lay down. New conversations are happening about God and scripture and healing and how we live together in a just community. New relationships are being forged with others in our community. And the Spirit takes all of that together and whips it up into something marvelous for the glory of God. Something powerful is happening for every one of us here.
St Michael’s, we are all one body in the Spirit. Every single one of us essential; every single one of us welcome. Every single one of us called and brought together by God’s Spirit acting in this place. May God use us and bless us richly in this place, and from here, may we be used and be a blessing for the whole world. And may all the people of God say, AMEN.