I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
*in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
Good morning, and welcome to our annual meeting. Today is the day we look
back over the last year and what happened here at St Michael’s, and look forward to what is coming in this new year as well. It’s required in our parish bylaws, the rule of life by which we order our community. On the 4 th Sunday of January we are to hold an election for new vestry members and wardens, and the treasurer is to give an accounting of our finances from the previous year, and the budget for the coming year. That’s the requirement. But it’s also an opportunity for a state of the parish address and presentations, some thank yous, some chocolate. So here comes some chocolate. Because whether you just came to visit today for the first time or you’ve been here for decades, you’re now in the annual meeting, and let’s make this sweet. Right?
My family suggested that it would be a lot more fun if I built in applause lines like our President does in his State of the Union address, and asked my fellow clergy and altar party here to jump to their feet in applause every few minutes. So would you all kindly comply? We all love chocolate!!
Ok. Enough of that. It is easy to give thanks to God with our whole heart here. There are all kinds of things to tell you and show you from this year, and our wonderful staff and ministry leaders will be doing more of that in just a bit. My role is to celebrate us, and point specifically to where I see God at work in our midst. Because I do. I have in this last year, I do now, and I continue to expect to see it in this year we’re embarked on now. For as our psalm today tells us,
Great are the deeds of the LORD! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
So let’s study these deeds. I think first and foremost I want to say thank you to all of you for your immense patience and perseverance through our construction process. We started this a long time ago, last century or so, and some of you have heard me express my impatience with wanting it all to get done. But these things take time, and this has been an ambitious project. Yet despite the dust that our hardworking staff can never quite eradicate from the pews, despite the confusing twisty pathways to the restrooms and classrooms, despite the wall dividing our once beautiful courtyard garden, you have all continued to come anyway. I have heard so few complaints from you all about the making-do and the dealing-with, and I am so very grateful to you all for that. You have kept your eyes on the prize, the newly accessible campus we will have and the possibilities of new ministries and open doors along with that. And you have kept my spirits up as we deal with the nitty gritty of permits, supply chains, and all the maddening parts of building in New York City these days. So, thank you.
And you can thank a small group of people for keeping you happily in the dark about all that nitty gritty! First, our amazing maintenance staff, who have borne the brunt of the chaos and extra work – especially Raj, Edwin, Omar, and Xavier. Galina and Samuel, who have had to manage extra workers in and out of the building, extra decisions, extra payments. The program staff, John, and Laura, and Mary Ellen, and Julie, who have had to figure and refigure where to meet, when to meet, how to run ministries despite the changing landscape. All of the staff, and all of our long-suffering tenants, who have worked through rock hammers, jack hammers, sledge hammers, hammer hammers, drills, shut-off water, closed- off restrooms, freezing meeting spaces, and, um, four-legged companions we’d rather not see. John Avery and Walter Cain, who have tirelessly navigated meetings and negotiations with our architects and contractors. And all the renovations committee, called in at various times for decisions to iron out new wrinkles as they’ve come along. We’re not done yet, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We will have this project done this year, and we will bless and celebrate it, and then there’s about 20 of us who will all go off on a tropical vacation together. For as the psalmist says,
He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.
And all of this is thanks to your remarkable generosity through our capital campaign, led so ably by the incomparable Lucy Culver and Beth Ann Day. We are gifted with so many resources, and it has been amazing to see the possibilities of what we can do when we all give of ourselves to make it happen. This community has truly begun to live into faithful abundance, stewarding and risking for the work of God’s kingdom. It’s so amazing.
And what I keep marveling is that this construction hasn’t hampered our
community life one bit. We have had some significant events in this last year
together, and we have come together for them all. It feels like we have finally
shaken off that COVID malaise: We’re here together, and we’re glad to be here
together. We had a fun Shrove Tuesday supper last year, and a happy, crowded
Christmas brunch; we had celebratory barbecues – sorry, Southerners, I mean,
cookouts – for Youth Sunday and Welcome Back Sunday. We had a few lively
parties thanking those who have pledged to our capital campaign – and we still
have more of those to come! And we gathered with our neighbors and siblings of other faiths too, to break bread and share stories with the members of Ansche Chesed and with Peace Islands, a Turkish Muslim group here in New York.
Some of our gatherings this year were around loss, as we buried some true beloveds of this congregation: Naomi Bullard, Jeff Byles, Vivian Gumbs, Elisabeth Avery. But we also got to celebrate some weddings and anniversaries for Lucia & Bruce, Hallie & Hannah, Yang & Megan, Beth Ann &Ben. And we baptized Kephas and Oscar – Oscar as the first baptism at the brand-new location of our baptismal font, one early gift of our renovations project.
We honored some change and transition amongst our staff, and welcomed some wonderful people who are already well woven into our common life together. We bid farewell to Fr Frank Hakoola – but as we saw last week, it wasn’t a forever goodbye – and to Deacon Richard as he retired. We said an official hello to Mary Ellen Lehmann, our Director of Children, Youth, and Families, and hello to Rachel Ludwig, our communications coordinator. We celebrated the ordination and first mass for Mo Eva Bogino, who keeps her connection to us here long after her field ed work here ended. And in our Saturday Kitchen ministry, we bid farewell and huge thanks to Ray Luetters for his leadership, and hello to Daniel Inzinga, our amazing program coordinator.
And speaking of Daniel, and Steven our cook, and all the very many volunteers that make up our Saturday Kitchen ministry – how remarkable they have been at persevering too, working in a kitchen that since mid-April, has had no gas, and therefore no stovetop. Their storerooms downstairs have been under construction, their supplies have been wedged in every which way – you see them as you walk through on your way to find those restrooms I mentioned earlier. And yet with convection ovens and a lot of creativity and grace, they have served upwards of 350 meals each week – Daniel will tell us more about that in a bit, but they all really deserve a huge wow and thank you. Here we are seeing just what the psalm says,
God gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
And I believe we can do all this because we anchor and sustain ourselves in prayer and in hope. Our healing prayer team serves every week, offering prayer for those who need it. Our prayer chain prays every day through a long list of names that you give them. Our Morning Prayer and Noonday Prayer groups lead us through the cycle of scripture and the daily office. Our two years of the Revive program have been teaching our lay leaders to practice and lead the way in spiritual growth. And our common worship here on Sundays is made possible by the gifts and time of some really important ministries: Anne Pearce and the Altar Guild, Gregory Bryant and the acolytes, the many who serve as lectors and intercessors and ushers. And the music that draws us together and closer to God is led so creatively and beautifully by our adult choir and musicians and our three wonderful children’s choirs. Thank you, all.
And as they lead us in music, so also our kids lead us here in other ways. Our four teens who were brave enough to go on the Peacemakers trip last summer, and then to present to us along with their new Muslim and Jewish friends – witnessing what it looks like to build relationship even when the politics divide us. Our younger kids enacting so beautifully the Christmas story in their annual pageant. And the reminder of God’s blessing as each Sunday we pray over our children as they go to their Godly Play children’s worship. There is so much that our kids show us and help us to learn here. Thank you to Mary Ellen, and all the amazing volunteers who work with our children and youth here.
Our psalmist concludes with these words:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.
As we start another year together, we continue to give thanks. We study God’s deeds; we practice God’s gracious compassion, we are nourished by God’s promises and abundance. And so we pay attention, and we keep looking for God in our midst. The fear of the Lord means living in the right posture of love and reverence, recognizing that God knows more, sees more, can do more than we can ask or imagine. We don’t have a handle on everything all by ourselves – in our own lives outside of church, or here in church either. God is at work, around us, in us, through us. As we go forward together this year, our work is to look for where God is leading, to take seriously our faith and the possibilities that open before us, and to step out in new ways. This will be a challenging year in our world, 2024 – it already is. But we have a part to play, one that demands courage and the discipline to keep ourselves sustained and grounded in God’s love. There is much, good to be done, friends. So let us do it. Amen.