The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Today, the feast of St. Michael and All Angels - or Michaelmas - is a kind of parish birthday. We are blessed to have with us Fr. Daniel Gutierrez, who was raised up as a priest out of this parish, and who has gone on to assist our bishop as Canon to the Ordinary. Welcome home, Daniel.
A birthday seems a good time to share with you some thoughts about where we have recently come from, and where I think we are going. So this will be less a sermon and more a State of the Parish talk.
Today, we are enjoying a number of significant programs that assisting clergy and many of you have built up over the last few years.
- The dedicated folk running our Food Pantry, together with Deacon Jan, brought it to a place of real consistency and strength. We’re now able to offer food to many more of our neighbors here in the Valley.
- Fr. Daniel and his crew created the 5:00 Sunday Eucharist, a wonderfully intimate, alternative form of worship and community. It is now being taken forward to its next stage by the Rev. Susan Allison Hatch and a freshly-energized group of lay leaders.
- Fr. Christopher and dozens of teachers deepened our ministries with children and youth. He and a group of Re-Imaginers brought us closer together through listening to one another’s stories and passions. A number of you also worked with him to create events, parties, and pilgrimages, which have strengthened our sense of community.
- A lay group doing pastoral work with Deacon Judith has significantly broadened our ability to reach out with home and hospital visits, spiritual direction, support groups, and intercessory prayer.
- Finally, as these ministries were growing over the last few years, we realized that we needed more room to house them. You committed $1.4m to build our beautiful Ministry Complex. It is now filled with delightful activity nearly every day, enabling us to be generous and creative in our use of space.
So as I look back over the last few years, I’m amazed at your faithfulness and dedication. We are, as Bishop Vono has said many times, a model of what a congregation can be when it is responsive to the Spirit.
And now as I look ahead, I think about where the Spirit might be taking us next. Since my return from sabbatical, I’ve seen four signs of the times we’re in. These are the areas where I have real enthusiasm and commitment, where I want to focus our energy over the next couple of years. They will help us evolve to our next stage of community life.
The first sign I see is that some of the ministries we’ve developed have been fairly clergy-dependent. Where this is true, we miss out on the kind of consistency, diversity, and breadth that can only come from group lay leadership.
And so over the next couple of years, I want to build leadership teams in every area of ministry that rises above a certain number of participants. They will deal with the big picture, by planning ahead, learning best practices, evaluating their work, recruiting new leaders, and nurturing volunteers. They will learn about publicity and communications, how the staff can support them, budgeting and fundraising, and connecting with the wider church’s activities in their field.
I am currently in the process of hiring part-time ministry staff who will help develop these leadership teams. I’m excited about the idea of working closely with this new staff, sharing ideas and overlapping and integrating our activities. And as lay leadership teams develops, the role of ministry staff will be less about the management of details, and more what we are called and trained to do – to offer theological, pastoral, and spiritual support for the ministry you are carrying out.
The second sign of our time is that we are beginning to spread out into the diocese and the wider church beyond. We have people elected and appointed to offices, and others who participate in diocesan and regional events. We’ve got our people at San Gabriel’s in Corrales, St. Martin’s with the homeless, St. Mark’s, and in the diocesan office. A number of our members are in discernment about ordained ministry, which may take them afield.
We’re also planning to train other congregations in what we’ve been doing for years – discernment groups, lay pastors, Hispanic ministry, and support for gay and lesbian Episcopalians and their families.
All of this is possible because the diocese is much more healthy and vibrant, and because it is beginning to value the significant experience that we have to offer. It is time for us to spread our wings.
The third sign: we will have financial challenges, but we also have the resources and commitment to meet them. Every year, we must raise $700,000 in pledges to cover operations. Over the next two years, unless we’re prepared to make hefty mortgage payments out of our operating fund, we will need to raise an additional $650,000 to pay off the remaining debt on our Ministry Complex.
This is a bit daunting, considering the economic climate we’re in. But what is amazing is that you have been consistent in keeping your financial commitments to this community you care about so much. And every year, more of our households understand the connection between enjoying being a part of this wonderful community, and making a financial pledge to support it. Over the next few years, I know that we will have to be frugal, but I also know that we will always have enough.
Finally and most importantly, I am reading another sign that goes back to what I talked about when I first returned from sabbatical in June. It is time to recommit to our essential grounding in the spiritual life. My new ministry staff and I will make this our highest priority in every area of ministry.
The purpose of this parish – the purpose of any religious community – is to provide a holy space where seekers can authentically encounter the divine; where we can mature in spirit; and where we can learn how to more faithfully serve God in this broken world. That’s why we exist.
The parish is, as St. Benedict said about the monastery, a school in the Lord’s service. In this school we learn how to pray, to forgive, to challenge one another in love, to celebrate diversity, to open ourselves to the Spirit, and above all, to trust in faith. This happens when we attend to the way we do what we do together. For how we are together is far more important than whatever we might accomplish.
So these signs – <em>strengthening teams of lay leaders; broadening our presence in the wider church; meeting our financial challenges; and re-committing to our spiritual foundation </em>– these signs point to where I believe we are headed in the next few years. I’m energized about these things, and I intend to return to them again and again to focus our attention, our time, and our resources.
Lastly on this parish birthday, I need to tell you how very grateful I am to be sharing this life with you. Almost every day, I really do enjoy coming to work. And I have complete confidence in you, and in the Spirit among us, that we will continue to evolve in creative ways, as we always have over the last 61 years. Happy Birthday, and thank you for helping St. Michael and All Angels be what we are.