Here is the text of my remarks at our congregational meeting on January 16.
State of the Church 2021
January 16, 2022
One saying I remember my Mother quoting frequently is, “Perhaps the greatest miracle is simply keeping on keeping on.” Before I read our Annual Reports, I expected that to be my theme today: we kept on keeping on. And we did. There was not a Sunday that we did not worship the Lord, whether in-person, via YouTube, or both. Building and Grounds kept up with our facility’s needs so that we should never have to deal again with the deterioration that comes from deferred maintenance; they even took over care of our huge lawn while Denny was recovering from surgery. The Deacons continued their ministries of compassion and the Mission Committee maintained their vast commitments to the well-being of people.
As I said in my sermon last Sunday, this year was also a time when many of us felt more sadness and became more pessimistic than we had anticipated; it was a year of promise that failed to fulfill its promise. I think I was feeling some of that when I wrote my written report for you. Today I want to draw on what actually happened last year to emphasize the promise of the future. I’m not going to be optimistic; an optimist simply puts the happiest cast on everything. I am hopeful; hope is built on experience and evidence and the life of this Church gives more than enough evidence for hope.
I want to thank you for the November-December surge. I think it’s about time for the word “surge” to have a positive association, and we have two surges for which to thank you. The first is the way you responded when we laid out honestly your Church’s financial difficulties. You provided so much extra giving that our huge deficit was turned around. The second is your response to our call to pledge for 2022: you committed yourself to increasing your financial support. All that we have continued to do and the difficult and responsible decisions we have made for the Church’s financial well-being are both reasons to be proud to be associated with Presbyterian Church of the Master. But to show you why I am hopeful for your sake, let me remind you of new things that happened during this difficult year.
We were a strong presence in the Heartland Pride celebration; many of our members marched in the parade and we were one of two churches present for the festival in Baxter Arena. We made an important witness of welcome by our participation and I had some great conversations with people who wanted to talk with a pastor. Our More Light Task Force organized our participation and the Outreach Committee provided material support and give-aways for the festival. We are unique in Nebraska in our identity as a fully welcoming Presbyterian Church; your Outreach Committee will make good use of that uniqueness in their ministry of evangelism.
We did the Year of the Bible. Many members began and thirty members completed reading the entire Bible in a year; some have committed themselves to doing it again. We now have a large cadre of people who know and understand the Bible much better than they did before, which bodes well for the future of the Church’s spiritual life.
The Aesthetics Committee improved the sense of hospitality in our Commons by improving both its functionality and its appearance. The Commons is a true community area, where people enjoy being together in a beautiful setting. But it is not only beauty: the Sanctuary doors highlight our bell tower and our Mission Statement; the north end reminds us of our identity as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA); the stained glass window shows we are not just another organization but the Church of Jesus Christ.
The Personnel Committee made rapid progress in completing a well-written, focused Ministry Information Form in order to seek an interim pastor. Once it is approved by our Presbytery, that Committee will be hard at work screening candidates.
Christian Education created the Pray-ground in our Sanctuary, resumed in-person Sunday School, organized a Confirmation Class that will add nearly a dozen young people to our Church’s active membership, and adopted a new curriculum for the younger children. The Committee has a big challenge before it to maintain what they are already doing and to grow the program in new directions. In particular, there is still no regular Adult Education beyond the things that I do. Listen to the voice of God in your heart: what can you do to help with the education of all our people in the Faith of Jesus Christ?
Before I finish, I urge you to read the reports either on paper or online to see what everyone has been doing in the name of Jesus Christ and in your name. Look, for example, at the breathtaking number of ways the Mission Committee has been doing and funding mission. Can you connect there?
Some of the largest improvements in the past year that enhance our worship, outreach, and mission came from the Technology Committee. You can read about those improvements and I, frankly, don’t know what some of them mean. But these are visible to all of us: the new monitors in the Sanctuary, which are a major improvement to our worship infrastructure. New Wi-Fi throughout the building. The OneChurch software platform, about which you will be hearing more soon. And the “Owl,” making hybrid classes and meetings easier and more natural. I mention these because I use all of these; you may find yourself using them, too.
You see, even during a pandemic, the people of this Church figure out ways to make things better. You seek to improve your facility, your service to others, and your spiritual life. You have done all these things in the past year. Don’t you see why I am hopeful for your future?