Speaking to my Congregation
Yesterday was the Annual Meeting of my parish. This is the day we set aside once a year for some business. After church, during lunch, we report on the finances of the church. We field questions. And each of the staff members talks about what has gone on in their area during the following year.
I thought it might be of some interest to see a part of my report. I think it will give some insight into my work, and how I see the people I work for. I've edited it down a bit for this blog. I left out the introduction stuff, some specific "thank yous", and I left out my goals for the coming year.
One of the goals I set forth in last year’s Annual Report was that I wanted us to have one adult baptism. Since we are a tradition that does not offer this to folks who have ever been baptized before, this is kind of a tall order. This year, that goal came to pass. And, in coming to pass, I was reminded that people aren’t goals.
The young lady we baptized started coming to Redeemer several months ago because she was invited by a friend. She had grown up in a churched environment but had chosen not to be baptized as a youngster. Like all of us her story is complex, but ultimately God brought her to a place in which she decided to make this public profession of faith. It was among us that she received the Sacrament of New Birth, and was later confirmed by our bishop.
One of the great joys of my vocation is that I get to baptize. I was able to baptize this adult, and I was able to baptize several infants and children this last year. Baptism is an act of grace, no matter how old you are when you receive it. None of us truly understand God well enough to receive baptism, and none of us are good enough to meet the requirements of the promises we make. I am certainly not holy enough to be allowed to pour water over another person and say the ancient words that our Lord commanded. But, by the gracious love of God revealed to us in Christ and through the scriptures, we are allowed to enter this sacred mystery together.
Each Sunday we come together to worship the Lord around his table. While I hope we all find deep significance in our worship, I would expect that there are some Sundays that speak to us us in a particular, life-changing way. For me, there were at least two such Sundays this year. The first was our joint worship service with Family Affair Ministry. I must tell you that it was a powerful experience for me, personally. I have been with our brothers and sisters at FAM many times, and I have ministered with Pastor Glenda on several occasions. But to share the Word and Sacraments together as we did was something I will long remember. It was, for me, a foretaste of heaven.
On the other hand, I will long remember our All Saints‘ Day service. The music was, as usual, wonderful. The liturgy was deep and meaningful. The candle lighting, facilitated by Mark Nicholas‘ special gift, was powerful. For me, though, it was your testimonies that moved me, encouraged me, and showed me Jesus. Giving over a large amount of time to an open mic produced some initial anxiety in me. But, as always, the Holy Spirit moved among us and Jesus Christ was lifted up. When I arose to sum up our time together, I was choking back tears, barely able to speak. Yes, I had tears of remembrance for those I have lost. And I also had tears of joy for the amazing things God does with us, his people.
I am delighted by our worship together. I am grateful to all those who work so hard to make Sundays what they are . . . I am especially grateful for the vast majority of us who engage with such intentionality in worship. I love to be with you as you sing, as you pray aloud, as you kneel or cross yourself or lift up your hands. I sometimes see the tears in your eyes as you receive communion, and I am blessed and comforted to know that God’s Holy Spirit is at work among us.
During the summer, I received an unusual e-mail. It was from a lady in town who wanted to know if I would speak to her boss. It turns out that her boss had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He had grown up in the church, but had not been to one in decades. She found us on the internet and wondered if I would visit him.
A few weeks later, I sat down with this man in his home. I can’t tell you all we spoke about. I will tell you that we prayed to the Lord Jesus together, asking for his comfort, strength and salvation. Just a couple of week after this, I was with him when he received communion for the first time since he was a teenager.
For obvious reasons, I cannot tell you all that goes on in my work as your pastor; but I will tell you this. I see children and adults come to know the Lord. I see people repent of their sins. I see reconciliation. I see marriages restored. I see the Holy Spirit minister in power. I see hearts and minds openning to God’s love. And I see suffering, and brokenness, and disintegration, and death. My sincere prayer is that, in the midst of all I see, I will be empowered by the Spirit to point you to Jesus. Because it is only Christ among us who can do the true work of care for our souls.