Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sermon for Advent 2 Year B /State of the Parish 2008

What you doing?

My grandson who is four
begins every phone conversation with me with the exact same phrase:
“What you doing?”

And now his younger two-year-old brother
is following in his older brother’s footsteps
and again I hear the question,
“What you doing?”

The grammar may need a little work
but I think it is a good question—
and the heart of what I wish to say to you today is just that:
“What you doing?”
or more accurately,
“What we doing??”

You and I have been doing together now for 18 months.
I feel as if I am just beginning to get to know you
and to understand some of the unique characteristics of this parish.

You have so many gifts.

You give your time, you give your skills and talents,
you give your money, you give your heart.

I thank you for all you do and all you give
and most of all, for who you are—
people who love God and love this parish.

So “what we doing” since our last annual meeting?
Here are some of the "doings" of 2008:

Bishop Johnson came
and consecrated the Weinhauer Chapel and our columbarium.
It is a beautiful sacred space.

Youth and adults were prepared and baptized confirmed and received
when Bishop Taylor visited our parish last January.
He also consecrated our new altar
and blessed the retable
that was so beautifully constructed from our old altar.

Thanks to those who have shared their sewing and design skills
new altar hangings and vestments –that match—
were created and have been blessed.

This church built a house for one of our beloved parishioners.
Our friend now has a warm and safe home.
To think that this little parish could build a house!!
I think a big part of this
was reaching out and asking others—not only from this parish—
to join us and be a part of this project.
So many people said YES. Of course.
People gave their expertise,
their financial support
and their blood, sweat and tears.

We haven’t even officially gotten to the winter season yet
but it has been cold—really cold.
What a blessing to know St. John’s was able
To make a difference in someone’s life
And keep them warm—in body and spirit.

Our ECWs have been active
with their continued caring for one another and the community.
They have studied the Bible,
They have offered the leadership
for assembling “Going Home Bags”
given to women being released
from the Swannanoa Correctional Center.
The whole congregation pitched in and helped with that project.

We continued our relationship with ROOM IN THE INN
and new parishioners are getting involved in that project.

We collected canned goods for MANNA FOOD BANK on a weekly basis and also collected financial donations
for MANNA and for ABCCM

We purchased new software
that will combine our accounting and our stewardship records
into one program.
Those who have worked on our finances do more than you can imagine—
And they do it with little thanks and complete humility.
There work and attention to financial details is vital to our operations.

Speaking of invisible jobs—
there is always garbage to get taken out,
recycling to be done,
and hauling away stuff to the dump on occasion.
You have cleaned up and cleaned out and done good work.

We purchased two new vacuum cleaners to help our Clean Team
do their jobs.
Where would we be without our Clean Team members?
We’d be dirty—that’s where we’d be!

They come in on Saturdays and vacuum and mop
and clean the bathrooms and other areas of the church.

We frolicked and ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday
and then we wore ashes on our foreheads the following day
as we remembered that we are but dust and to dust we shall return.

Holy Week was observed
with services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was celebrated with the Easter Vigil
and with Easter Day services.
We rang bells and sang hymns and cast off our Lenten disciplines
as the church was transformed
with liturgy and music and flowers
and a festive Easter brunch and egg hunt.

Our choir, under the direction of our devoted organist,
Has offered their gifts of music
And led us in singing hymns
from three Episcopal hymnals.
We have also been blessed with special music—
from electric guitar and drums
to clarinet and trumpets
to gifted resident and visiting soloists.

Thanks to a generous gift
we were able to purchase and install a new digital organ.
The installation was made possible because of—
once again, blood, sweat and tears,
offered by members of this congregation—
who worked around the clock to build organ towers
and to accomplish more than they believed was possible.
They did it!
They did it for the glory of God and because of their love for St. John’s.

This parish knows how to BUILD and make dreams come true.

We hosted the Celtic duo CAIM here at St. John’s,
oth in a benefit concert for the Swannanoa Correctional Center
and for our Sunday Worship.

We also hosted, with the other Episcopal Churches in the Asheville Deanery,
the outstanding nationally acclaimed theatre group

Three of us signed up to go on a Medical Mission Trip to Panama.
St. John’s worked heartily with St. James, Black Mountain
in the preparation and planning
and fund raising for this trip.
Sadly, at the last minute,
medical situations for all three participants
prevented us from going.
We recently enjoyed a wonderful slide presentation
by those who were able to go on that mission trip.
Our joy is that we helped make it possible for over 800 children and adults to receive medical attention and medications.

Four members of this parish—along with your rector—and six others— traveled to Wales on pilgrimage.
We’ll hear and see more about that in Sunday School next week.
Don’t miss it!

We celebrated a member’s 90th birthday
with a gala dinner in the Parish Hall!
To be an “elder” in a parish is a position of respect
for it is these elders that bless us
with their wisdom, their humor and their continued presence.

We participated in the Lenten Walk
with other small parishes in Asheville
and gave EYC x 3 a try
working with St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s
to offer a weekly program
for our middle school and senior high young people.
Some of our youth attended Camp Henry,
Participated in the Youth Fall Conference at Valle Crucis,
and one has been selected to serve on the Diocesan Youth Council.

An Architectural Task Force was formed
to begin looking at the needs of our physical space—
both maintenance and repair needs
and possible improvements and additions.

We have had two consultations
with members of the Diocesan Architecture Commission
and the Task Force has also visited the chapel spaces
at Mission and St. Joseph Hospitals
as they continue their work.

We painted the interior of the church—
the last part was just completed this week—
to give the church a brighter, cleaner look.

We received a grant from the All Saints Memorial Day Offering
through our Diocesan ECW
and will make some building improvements
when those funds are released to us in 2009.

Long needed fire extinguishers were purchased and installed
in both the church and the Parish Hall.

Energy efficient bulbs were installed in all the lighting fixtures in the church
To save us money
And to be better stewards of our environment.

Another step towards “greening” the parish was made
by getting the dishwasher repaired and back in service,
by the purchase of glass tumblers by the ECW
and by discontinuing our use of paper products
for dinners and events.

Our memorial garden was cleaned up
and work continues to make it a place of beauty and peace.

We have said goodbye to those we love but see no longer,
celebrated their lives and resurrection
with both tears and joy.
Our memorial garden and our columbarium
are ways we remember those who have been a part of this community and will always be a part of this community.

We have also been blessed to say hello to some new members.
We still need to work on how we reach out to those
who come as strangers.
It is not just a matter of just saying hello
but of learning to see this parish
through the eyes and hearts of visitors
and to respond with holy hospitality.,
by encouraging involvement in both worship and other ministries.

We experimented with several alternative liturgies this year,
including using an alternative liturgy for eight weeks.
The resulting survey shows that we are a diverse congregation.

Three people indicated they hope we never do an alternative liturgy again, Ten people wished we would never return to the Book of Common Prayer.
Most were in the middle
saying they enjoyed the alternative liturgy
and thought we should do it either on occasion
or for a season of the Church Year.
Our Saturday evening 5 pm service
faithfully offers a service of Holy Eucharist
from the Book of Common Prayer continuously.

We had a series of dinners this year to help us in our fund raising efforts
and enjoyed everything from pancakes to a low country boil
to a choir sing along to a cook out.
People—too many to name—worked incredibly hard on these dinners. Those of us who attended enjoined both the food and the conversation
and felt we were able to do something good for the parish
by our attendance and support.

Lots of parishioners helped staff the two Pepsi booths at Bele Chere,
again having fun getting to know one another
and working hot and hard at this fund raising effort for St. John’s.

With the hanging of Penelope Carscaddon’s painting
for the Advent season,
contemporary visual arts
became another part of our liturgical worship.

An evening book study was offered at FILO,
Several from this parish
attended the Diocesan A CALL TO LISTEN discussion
on sexuality.
Others represented St. John’s at Diocesan Convention.

We hosted an intern, Chris Cole,
and were immensely blessed by his presence among us.
Chris has been made a postulant
and will begin his seminary studies next year.
We have been assigned another intern, Dale Carter,
who will begin serving with us this month.
What a blessing for St. John’s!

This past year some of you have been sick,
Some of you were in the hospital.
And some have found themselves
more and more confined to home
or care facilities.
I have tried to be faithful in visiting and phone calls.
This is the area where I feel most limited by my part time status.
There are just never enough hours in Asheville to do the pastoral care as I would like.
I am immensely grateful to the Rev. Jane Smith who continues to bless this parish with her presence, her compassion and her willingness to go when I cannot.

We have blessed palms and backpacks and animals and babyclothes
and hopefully we continue to learn together
about our beloved Church in the EPISCOPAL MOMENT
at announcements.

We offer hospitality to a number of recovery groups and community organizations that use our building.

Thanks to the dedication of two of our parishioners
we have bulletins in our hands each week.
Thanks to others the CHURCH MOUSE newsletter
appears in our mailboxes monthly.

You continue to volunteer your time to serve in so many ways—altar guild, flowers, chalice ministers, ushers, lectors, healing ministry, acolytes. Our goal for this next year is to grow new leadership for these groups; not out of dissatisfaction for the old leadership but for the purpose of keeping parish ministry fresh and alive.

We worship and pray together every week.
That is the heart of all we do.
Nothing is more important than our worship,
Our thanks and praise to God.

We cannot ignore that we are in the midst of Advent.
What a wonderful season to have our annual meeting.
The season of waiting and hoping and expectation.
That to me is where a parish should live.
Waiting and watching
for how God is moving in the life of the parish.
Hoping and dreaming of all that is possible in ministry.
Expectation that God is here and will always be here with us—
to both comfort and to challenge.

God has chosen us to be disciples.
To follow Jesus and to spread the good news in all we say and do.
What a challenge!
We are blessed to have an opportunity to do good work.
You ARE doing good work.

I remember you in my prayers every day.
I ask that you remember me in your prayers as well.

In our scripture readings today we are called to both offer comfort
and to prepare the way.
We do need both those elements.
We need comfort—we need to know we are loved and cared for.
We need to remind one another that God loves us always.

But we also have work to do.
To prepare the way.
And God’s work is full of challenges and changes.
And that takes us back to needing one another.

Love God.
Love one another.

That is both our challenge and our comfort.
2008 has been a year brimful with both.
From my perspective as your priest
And as the rector of this parish,
We are fighting the good fight.
We are running the race that is set before us.
There is great hope and great expectation.

Let us not forget to thank God for all we have
For all we are
For all we hope to one day be.
For all our many blessings, for all our many challenges.
Thanks be to God!

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