I started to label these thoughts "Reflections on our meeting" since they arose out of our congregational meeting yesterday. But they really are about our future. More precisely, they are about discerning the future God intends for us as Apostles.
We find ourselves facing the reality that our numbers have declined to the point that makes it quite difficult to maintain the level of congregational life and ministry that we have become accustomed to. That being so, we had quite a wide-ranging and helpful conversation as we wrestled with the Ministry Spending Plan proposed for next year. We talked about cutting expenses; and we talked about increasing our giving. We talked about the need to grow our congregation at a time when congregations of all types are shrinking. We talked about attracting young families through a more contemporary worship style; and we talked about the value we find in the traditional Lutheran liturgy. In the end we passed a plan that reduces pastoral expenditures by 10% and calls for in increase in giving of 7% – something of a compromise that asks all share in the give and take necessary to move us forward as we seek the long-term changes needed grow us into the future.
I look on the year before us as a critical year. We cannot long continue on the path of stagnant or shrinking financial support. Our finances support the ministry we do among our members, in our community, and into the wide world around us. And the ministry we do is our calling – the reason God has called us into the fellowship of the Church. It is clear to see that we cannot simply continue doing the same things in the same way. That will only lead to more struggle. But what shall we change? And how shall we change?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, except to say that we must change any expectation we have that change is not necessary. Other answers must arise from our life together and our sense of God’s calling. And finding those answers must be a HIGH priority for us in the coming year. I have already begun laying some ground work with Council to help us think creatively and try new things. I invite you also to be a part of the conversation and to explore new ideas about how we can fruitfully express God’s love for the world.
We are about to enter the season of Advent, the beginning of a new church year. I will endeavor to engage the questions of change and direction both here and in my preaching. Let us journey together into the unknown future that awaits us, unafraid of the changes that will come, knowing who it is who leads us, and trusting in his grace.
Your brother in Christ,
Well, the site has been ready to receive my thoughts, but I've been slow to generate them for publication. We'll see if good intentions can lead anyplace of practical value. My next post will actually be something that I hope is worth reading and perhaps pondering. In the meantime, live in God's love!
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A few Sundays ago we heard the Parable of the Good Samaritan read in worship. At the end of the parable Jesus asked the law expert which of the characters in the parable was a neighbor to the man in need. His answer was, “the one who showed compassion.” Jesus then responded, “Go and do likewise.”
In just a couple of weeks, five Apostles will travel to the New Jersey shore to do just that. We all recall the news reports from last October showing the devastation brought about by hurricane Sandy. The damage caused by Sandy was the second most costly in US history. It is in order to expressing our compassion and mercy that we are making this trip. For five days we will work with volunteers from all over to help rebuild what was lost or damaged in the storm. We will be a tangible sign of God’s abiding love to those we serve. We will be witnesses that God has not forgotten nor abandoned those who have suffered so much. And we will be representatives of this congregation which cares enough about others in need that it seeks to address those needs in concrete ways like this. While not all of us can go, we who go know that we carry with us the prayers of those who stay behind. Your spirit will be with us to sustain us in our work, and we thank you for that. We pray that God will bless others through our work.
The cost of this trip will only be around $750, not much when compared to the $60-plus billion of damage caused in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Much of the financial costs are being addressed by FEMA, but there are other costs of recovery that are not covered. If you would like to help with the cost of the trip you can make a donation to Apostles noting that it is for this purpose. Any additional funds will be given to Lutheran Disaster Response for use in the continuing recovery.
You can donate online on our new website at CONTRIBUTIONS then OTHER and designate it as Mission Trip.
On behalf of our work team, I thank you for your support and for sending us to represent your caring compassion and love.
Yours in Christ,