Dear Fellow St. Luke’s Parishioners,
Hello again and Happy New Year! I hope that this note finds you well, still vibing positively from a joyful holiday celebration and looking forward to a faith-filled, Spirit-inducing and contributory 2018! I’m writing to share some reflections on our progress during the past year, to brainstorm a bit with you about what could be in the coming year and to invite you to participate ever more meaningfully in our faith journey in 2018 and beyond.
[I apologize in advance for the length of this missive but trust that you will find it time well spent should you read it all the way through. If there were less great stuff to report and reflect on, it would be a little shorter but not that much so (even with me writing it). ]
First, an individual and collective sigh of relief: our esteemed Rector took his hard-earned and well-deserved sabbatical this past year and we survived! Yea for us! Let’s be honest: John is a huge part of our community – not only our Spiritual Leader but also the proverbial straw that stirs our drink – and we managed to do reasonably well during his 3+ month absence. A special thank you to all who pitched in meaningfully to pull this off, especially Tom Laws, Jerry Racioppi, Peter Savastano, Anne Mernin and, as always, the inimitable Tara Fardellone.
Also, thank you to all who contributed so meaningfully to the church’s many ministries during this year. We’ve had many successes and also suffered a few setbacks, both of which compel us to reflect on what we’ve done and to plan thoughtfully and prayerfully about how to go forward differently and better. What follows is my perspective – most of which I’ve shared with John and my Warden partner Wendy Drake-Schneider – given my unique vantage point as your Senior Warden. I don’t suggest that it’s the whole truth – or even a significant part of it – but I do believe that it’s reflective of our individual and collective journeys, not only over the years but in the past one as well.
Among the things that I’m most thankful for in the past year is the leadership of two unique women, our former Senior Warden Jinni Rock-Bailey and our Junior Warden Wendy Drake-Schneider.
Unbeknownst to many if not most of you, during her years of service as a Warden to this parish, Jinni weathered myriad challenges in her personal and family life. While I won’t elucidate more to respect my dear friend’s privacy, I can simply say that, frankly, she sacrificed so much to be our leader … and, in my humble opinion, too much: one of my primary responsibilities as her Junior Warden partner was to help her do a better job aligning her commitments with her capabilities (especially given the personal and family challenges she was facing at the time), because the truth is that she would have given herself away completely if I’d/we’d let her. St. Luke’s has rarely had such a committed leader and we all owe her a debt of gratitude that we can only repay by reaping the benefits of her sacrifice fully, especially by making this the most joyful, Christ-centered community that it can possibly be.
And what can I say about Wendy? Well, I could complain about her attire at Warden-Rector meetings – the grown-up elf costume was a bit unsettling earlier this month (though I guess we can let her slide because she was working in the Shop and helping with the Breakfast with Santa event later that day) – but this would pale by comparison to her tireless dedication since assuming her role. She is ever-present at St. Luke’s – I can’t begin to list the ways that she contributes beyond serving as Junior Warden because it will make a long missive much longer – so I suppose that the highest compliment that I can pay her is that I’m feeling compelled to help her manage her commitments to this special place, as she, too, apparently, would give herself away entirely in service to us and our God….
And one other thank you: given all that we’ve been dealing with to right our financial ship, so to speak, we simply could not have made the progress that we have without our incredible Treasurer Vern Endo. We are far more aware of our actual financial condition and addressing it more prudently and proactively than we have been in years, all thanks to his understated but resolved leadership.
For those of you who know Vern, he seems like a pretty unassuming fellow. But when you see him executing his role as our chief financial steward, you will see the steel will and deft touch of the retired CEO that he is. As a Vestry member for at least a decade now, I can say that I never thought that we’d have fiscal leadership as strong as that provided for years by Penny Vance, but now I’m convinced that Vern is very much more than her worthy successor and has set the highest possible bar for St. Luke’s Treasurers to follow (not that we’ll let him out of this role anytime soon, of course…).
OK, so let’s look forward a bit, as 2018 can be and likely will be a watershed year for our church. In particular, I suspect that at least five Areas of Focus (AoFs) will be in evidence:
- The Expansion of the 5 Cs
- The Continuance of our Fiscal Discipline
- The Meaningful Progress Toward the Realization of our Aspiration to be a Cathedral in the Community
- The Prayerful Assessment of our Ministries
- The Prayerful Envisioning of our Collective Future
What are these AoFs, briefly?
The Expansion of the 5 Cs: This is really about going deeper on our chosen Cs – Community, Caring, Children, Commitment and Capital – in meaningful ways, especially by ensuring that they occur within the context and example of a sixth C, that our our Patron Jesus Christ’s example. I suspect that this means that we’ll increase our efforts in some areas and may have to pare back temporarily in others so that we can make effective, impactful progress in the long term, a theme to which I’ll return momentarily. For now, I simply ask that you ask yourself how you’re contributing to each of the 5/6 Cs as well as how you may do so even more meaningfully in the coming year and beyond….
The Continuance of our Fiscal Discipline: As you know, one of our major AoFs in the past year has been to get a clearer picture of and focus on the parish’s fiscal prognosis and then to respond boldly, prayerfully and planfully to this. Suffice it to say that adopting the discipline of only approving balanced budgets is a critical first step in this direction – a commitment that we initiated this year – and will be followed by more focus on shoring up the long-term finances of the church in the year(s) ahead.
The first step along this path is to finish our Stewardship Campaign, so, if you’ve made a pledge thank you for this commitment and if you haven’t please consider doing so ASAP. To this end, Vestry Members will be following up with those of you who haven’t pledged to attempt to understand the circumstances that could lead to you do so … and we’ll also be following up with a number of you who have pledged to ask you to consider increasing your pledge.
(Simply put, annual pledging tends to be somewhat of an auto-pilot process wherein many if not most givers simply renew their previous year’s commitment even in situations where their own capacity to give has evolved meaningfully. We’re simply seeking to ensure that the commitments that we each make reflect our current rather than historical capacity … and you’ll be happy to know that your elected Vestry members have led the way in this regard by increasing their collective giving by more than five figures for 2018. In sum, we would never ask you to do something that we’re not willing to do and have done because another of our pledges to you is to lead by example in our service.)
The Meaningful Progress Toward the Realization of our Aspiration to be a Cathedral in the Community: Under the outstanding leadership of the Capital Campaign Committee (CCC), you’ll be seeing tangible evidence of our progress toward making our church a more welcoming and accessible place/space in the coming year … but that’s not all – or even most – of what being a Cathedral in the Community really means. Simply put, we have to be more externally focused and contributory than we have been in the past.
Yes, we should rightly celebrate the meaningful work that we already do that affects the community at large, but we can do more … and it’s this opportunity to contribute more meaningfully on which I’ll be personally focused in the coming year(s). It’ll be great to have a place and space that is more welcoming to ever more of our neighbors, but, frankly, the harder part is engaging in the outreach – or, as one pastor calls them, the efforts at building a bigger table – that will encourage them to come here and be a part of our collective life.
Will some of the people we reach through enhanced outreach choose to join this community? Probably, but this isn’t our (sole or even primary) focus. Certainly we want new members, but this would be a selfish effort if pursued so narrowly. What we’re actually seeking is to be a greater blessing and impactful contributor to our community broadly defined/writ large(r). We have an abundance of gifts and energy in this parish, so it will be a mutually beneficial endeavor to share them ever more meaningfully with our neighbors. Please consider prayerfully how you can help us build a bigger table in the coming year and beyond….
The Prayerful Assessment of our Ministries: We have so many ministries that no one – including our esteemed Rector with the near-photographic memory – can recount them all, and, not surprisingly, they have widely divergent levels of leadership, contribution and impact. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we are spread thin, so we need to be prayerful in considering where we invest our energies in service to our community and the broader one in the year ahead.
Whatever we decide to do and wherever we decide to go in 2018, it’s clear that no ministry has a surfeit of leadership, so leadership development is my primary focus at the ministry level for 2018. Although present-day St. Luke’s is far more inclusive than when I joined nearly 30 years ago, we can still do a far better job of encouraging the engagement of a broader swath of our incredible community. So, in this regard, in what ways can and will you contribute to our ministries in the coming year? And what fellow parishioner-leaders will you help develop in order to carry on the work of these myriad efforts in the years ahead? (Thank you in advance for your affirmative answers to these questions!)
The Prayerful Envisioning of our Collective Future: We are now in the second decade of our esteemed Rector’s tenure and he has returned to us renewed and reinvigorated in his commitment to guiding us … but the question remains “To where?” Certainly, some part of our focus will be continuing down many of the paths along which we are already making progress, but if we take a step back and consider where we want to go in the next decade, we may find that our emphasis may shift slightly or even meaningfully.
Wendy and I have been brainstorming this opportunity with John relative to his role – i.e., where does he want to take us in his second decade – but also know that we feel that such a re-envisioning process is necessary and would be prudent among the broader St. Luke’s community. I’ve dubbed this reflection and re-envisioning process “St. Luke’s 2020” and look forward to enlisting your Spirited engagement in it in the coming months and year. For now, I simply ask that you give prayerful thought to the question “Where do we go from here?” and be open and engaged when we come together to answer it in 2018 and beyond….
OK, one final thought: In the past year, the members of the Spiritual Explorers Book Club have been introduced to many profound tomes that have enriched, illumined and elevated our spirituality … and one of these seems particularly germane to this parish at this time, so I share it with you and encourage you to explore it yourself. The book is A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic and Hopeful Spiritual Community and it’s written by a progressive Christian pastor and thought leader named John Pavlovitz. (Those of you more connected with social media may realize that he’s a rising star of the Christian Left in those arenas.)
Simply put, this book captures the essence of my personal leadership aspiration – and much of my theological bent, practically speaking – relative to St. Luke’s, as it’s pretty much about the antithesis of a theme of our national politics currently: not about building walls to exclude, but about building a bigger table to welcome and include. This approach, I believe, is more in alignment with the example of our Patron, but it’s also as hard as it is deceptively simple.
By following Jesus’ example, we open ourselves to our fellow Children of God, and, as the author points out, this can get “messy” in that we are challenged to deal with the reality of who our fellow human beings are and not who we perceive or want them to be. Yet, it’s in this work of providing “Radical Welcome,” “Unconditional Love” and “Counterintuitive Forgiveness” that we emulate our Lord and Savior, especially by figuratively and literally building a bigger tables whose four legs are “Radical Hospitality,” “Total Authenticity,” “True Diversity” and “Agenda-Free Community.”
Imagine a St. Luke’s in which everyone felt welcome regardless of who they are or what they believe, where we treat each other as equals irrespective of the tenure of our relationship, where we affirm and celebrate our idiosyncracies and treat them as invitations to deeper community both individually and collectively and where our sole concern is not to insure theological or social or whatever type of conformity but to “treat the people’s needs as holy” (as the Rev. Dr. Obery Hendricks describes this) and to cultivate an environment that safely and proactively provides spiritual, et. al., succor, support, nurturing and encouragement to all whom we serve (which actually means all whom we encounter, especially through our outreach).
To be honest, I only have about a year-and-a-half left in my tenure as your Senior Warden, so I doubt that this could or will happen in my time … but I am committed to getting this (r)evolution started and to supporting its loving progress in the years to come. Will you join me?
Either way, check out Rev. Pavlovitz’s book and prayerfully consider ways in which your spirituality can be nurtured, illumined and elevated by “showing (others, both current St. Lukers and members of our broader community) the ocean”:
That’s the thing about the ocean: until you experience it, no one can explain it to you,
and once you have experienced it, no one needs to.
The love of God is this way.
In this spirit, I close by thanking you for contributing to this unique and blessed experience that is St. Luke’s, both in what you have done and in what you will do in 2018 and beyond. And I pray that you meet God every day, not only in each other but in His/Her/Its Love that you experience, reflect and share here and in your daily life outside of this special place….
All the best,