Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 12, 2017
The Reverend Canon Donna G. Joy

 

 DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20; PSALM 119:1-8; 1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9; MATTHEW 5:21-37

As I sat down to write this Annual Report, I began with focusing on our lectionary readings for today, and discovered that our epistle, in particular, offers great wisdom as we review life at St. Peter’s during the past year and anticipate what is yet to come.

In this particular section of Paul’s letter to the first century Christians in Corinth, Paul is offering words of wisdom regarding leadership in the church. Just prior to this particular section, Paul has made the point that there is, indeed, a huge difference between human wisdom and God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom has nothing to do with pride or cleverness or any kind of power based hierarchy, and if the secular rulers had possessed such insight they would never have crucified Jesus. No, God’s wisdom is most profoundly seen in situations of weakness, vulnerability, and suffering.

It is with this in mind that Paul offers his perception of God’s wisdom regarding leadership in the church. It is not about pride, or cleverness, or hierarchical power. It IS about servant leadership where everyone is working harmoniously to accomplish God’s work, in the church and the world. It is about wisdom that is cloaked in humility and servanthood. Paul says that if the church is like a growing crop, then Paul is a planter and Apollos a waterer. But only God makes it grow. If the church is like a building, then Paul laid a foundation in Corinth and others are adding to it. Everyone has a role to fulfill. He says, “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

I am grateful that our lectionary assigned this epistle for today, because I believe it reaches into the heart of both our greatest challenges, and our greatest opportunities, as we prepare for, and work toward the future, together as God’s servants.

In terms of our challenges, I believe that which immediately precedes this passage addresses this with its recognition that God’s wisdom is most clearly seen in situations of weakness and suffering. Many of you have heard me refer, numerous times, to this Post-Christendom time in which we are living. Post-Christendom is the term we use to define the reality that in this part of the world Christianity no longer dominates the worldview, or politics within that worldview. This changed culture where Christianity fulfills a far less powerful role has completely changed the identify and the role of the church. The church is no longer a dominant voice within the powerful political hierarchy. And. as a type of extension to that reality, for a majority of Anglicans, church on Sunday is not a priority.

This is not really new, although I would argue that the church’s understanding and recognition of this new reality is relatively recent. For the past two, maybe three decades, the church has not adequately understood this shift, and has therefore, tended to continue functioning according to the dominant Christendom model. While we have acknowledged and lamented the growing decline in membership along with the inevitable decline in financial resources, we have continually responded with valiant attempts to uphold a system that no longer fits, or supports, the new, emerging Post-Christendom model of church. Since I was ordained almost 28 years ago, I have witnessed – and, sadly, participated in - many attempts to ‘fix’ this declining trend. Strategic plans, trendy sermons, creating funky liturgies, watering down the gospel in order to make it more attractive/comfortable... These are just a few of the many attempts I’ve been aware of as we, the Anglican church, have attempted to respond to church decline. (This last one, I think, speaks of our level of desperation, because it is hard to imagine what we might find attractive/comfortable in a young man dying tragically on a cross.)

Increasingly, there is more being published to help us understand that these are nothing more than band aid solutions. These have been our attempts to serve the church faithfully as we were coming to terms with this new reality. Much of this, I believe, was driven by fear because we were terrified – and suffering - as we watched this church we love showing signs of weakness and decline.

And then we discover hope. We need not be afraid, because I believe Paul is telling us that God’s Presence and Wisdom is seen most clearly in the midst of situations of suffering and weakness. Jesus was not aligned with the political powers of his day; nor were his first century followers, including Paul. This never occurred until the 4th century with Constantine, who was the first emperor to stop Christian persecutions and to legalize Christianity in the Roman Empire. Many church historians agree that this began the church’s long descent into becoming aligned with power, rather than speaking truth to power from the margins.

Of course, there has been much ebbing and flowing with the history of the church throughout the 17 centuries that have followed, but suffice it to say that the Anglican church in this part of the world, until now, has never known a time when ours wasn’t a dominant force; when ours wasn’t a dominant voice.

And now, here we are: smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable than we ever imagined the church to be. And Paul is telling us that this is good news. Paul is telling us that God’s Presence and Wisdom will be more visible within the context of this seemingly challenging time. Paul is suggesting that we will discover – rediscover - God in these lean times; perhaps much more clearly than when our buildings and our budgets were full.

And, here at St. Peter’s, I believe this is true. Along with almost every other Anglican church in this diocese, we have witnessed and felt the effects of Post-Christendom; we have felt the effects of membership and financial decline. In my short seven years here at St. Peter’s, we have worked hard to address this challenge. And then, suddenly, in 2016 we discerned God’s wisdom in the midst of the challenge. Suddenly, we began to see that this moment we find ourselves in is offering us rich opportunities, rather than a terrifying problem that requires a solution. As we reviewed the deficits within our budget, we began to discern ways in which we can shift our method of leadership from one that is based on a hierarchical model to one that is more intentionally collaborative. We began to recognize more clearly how we may, in fact, live more faithfully according to Paul’s vision in this morning’s epistle. That is, to be, “God’s servants, working together...”

The model of leadership we have traditionally supported is one that is based on a hierarchical model associated with Christendom. This model assumes the role of an Incumbent (as the paid professional theologian), who is traditionally identified as the one who has primary administrative, pastoral, and liturgical responsibilities in a parish or congregation. Lots of literature today suggests that this model has in fact not been helpful in building parish communities where shared leadership and ministry along with mutual accountability has flourished. The Collaborative Leadership Model that St. Peter’s is in the process of developing involves what will become a type of shared Incumbency. That is, many of the specific leadership responsibilities associated with an Incumbent will be shared among a larger team. Going forward this will include: Pastor of Parish Caring Ministries: The Rev. Canon Mary Holmen; Pastor of Mission and Outreach: The Rev. Deacon Diane Panting; Pastor of Stewardship and Financial Advisor to Finance Committee: The Rev. Rod Sprange; Pastor of Adult Christian Education: The Rev. Dr. Lissa Wray Beal. We will also quickly establish a succession plan so that other leaders will be theologically trained and made ready to fill these positions when it becomes necessary. These pastors, in time, will not necessarily need to be ordained. And, in time, this will allow the ‘Lead Incumbent’ to provide part-time stipendiary leadership, with a primary role as primary theological advisor to the leadership and the parish as a whole.

As was identified at our parish meeting last November, this Collaborative Leadership Model can be identified as necessary because it:

Allows St. Peter’s to explore more fully a collaborative leadership model, facilitating a wider range of skills, expertise, and talents to be shared and celebrated;

Creates a reasonable and realistic financial plan, matching expenses with anticipated revenue;

Perhaps could serve as a way forward that may offer the diocese one model of alternative leadership

For more detailed information about the details involved in this new Collaborative Leadership Model here at St. Peter’s, I encourage you to refer to the minutes from the parish meeting last November. For the purposes of this report, suffice it to say that a primary goal for this team leadership is to enhance, enrich, and continue to grow St. Peter’s vital lay ministries and leadership. It is intended to provide an enhanced leadership model to further enable and support the effectiveness of lay and ordained leadership as aligned in our Parish Purpose Statements. It is intended, once again, to help us live into Paul’s vision to be, “God’s servants working together...”

As we begin the process of establishing this new Collaborative Leadership Model, the following priorities have been discerned and set for 2017:

Establish Position Descriptions

During the next six months there will be significant time and attention given to clearly defining position descriptions and mutual expectations regarding these newly formed pastor roles.

Establish a Revised Administrative Structure

Also during the next six months there will be significant time and attention given to reviewing and revising our parish administrative structure in order to allow this new Collaborative Leadership Model to function effectively, and to flourish.

Book Study

Next fall we will be engaging in a leadership and parish wide book study: 'Collaboration: Uniting our Gifts in Ministry.' Authors Loughlan Sofield, S.T. and Carroll Juliano, S.H.C.J.

Commissioning

We are currently in the process of setting a date late next fall so that Bishop Donald may come and commission our new Pastors as they formally and officially begin their new leadership roles in our midst.

In the midst of all this excitement as we anticipate this new leadership model, many ministries have continued to flourish during this past year: Wonderful celebrations that highlighted St. Peter’s 60th Anniversary; Mission and Outreach projects, and this year, in particular, welcoming the Sekts, our Refugee Family from Iraq, along with a renewed focus on developing ministries within our neighbourhood here in River Heights; A number of Adult Christian Education opportunities; continued children’s Christian education through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd; Maintenance ministries which make it possible for us to welcome individuals and groups into this sacred building; Christian meditation and labyrinth; Various Creation Care ministries; Finance ministries which monitor things carefully so that we are financially able to support important ministries; Fundraising ministries which help supplement your financial pledges and donations; and, of course, all this is rooted in, empowered, and enriched by our worship, and I couldn’t possibly mention the countless Sunday morning ministries which make this possible: everything from greeters, sidespersons, and hospitality after worship, to the numerous individuals and groups who prepare the church and liturgies for worship, and lead worship week after week.

On a personal note, I have appreciated and grown tremendously from my Master’s Degree studies this past year, and have been deeply touched by the support I have received from St. Peter's. And while I remain committed to this course of studies, I have decided for a variety of reasons that I need to take a break. Among other things, I feel increasingly confident that I need to allow time and space to focus on this new direction at St. Peter’s which is something I was not able to anticipate a year ago. I am at peace with this decision, and look forward to resuming these studies when the time is right. After reading the passage just prior to Paul’s epistle this morning which offers the reminder that God’s wisdom has nothing to do with pride, or cleverness, I decided that it was inappropriate to mention my 4.0 grade point average. So, I will refrain from doing so... (-:

St. Peter’s ministries are made possible because of all who answer the call to serve as, “God’s servants working together.” Moving forward with this Collaborative Leadership Model, we look forward to increased participation in these ministries and leadership positions. On behalf of St. Peter’s, I am grateful to each of you who share your time, talents, and treasures so generously. In particular, I am thankful for our honorary assistants, soon to be Parish Pastors: Mary Holmen, Diane Panting, Rod Sprange, and Lissa Wray Beal; members of our corporation: Colin Dorrian, Ellen Gould, and Laurie Thompson; our Parish Administrator, Shelagh Balfour. I am grateful to Linda Fearn, for her seven faithful years among us and the strong music program that she developed while she was here, and to Charmaine Bacon for her presence among us over the past few months. I am grateful to Helen Suh who has accepted our invitation to serve as our new Director of Music Ministry beginning March 1st.

In closing I wish to say that - increasingly - I feel blessed to have been called to serve as your leader in the midst of this Post-Christendom time where God’s Presence, Wisdom, and Light are shining through the weakness of decline. Rooted in study, prayer, and public worship, and moving forward as, "God's servants, working collaboratively together," I am confident that ministries in and through St. Peter's will flourish in ways that are greater than we could ask or imagine...

Yours in the ministry we are called to share,

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The Rev. Canon Donna G. Joy