January 20, 2019

2019 Jan19

 

Second Sunday After The Epiphany - Year C
The Rector’s Report for the Annual Meeting

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Today’s sermon will be in the form of the Rector’s Report.

 

2018 was our first “normal” year in awhile, after Barry announced his retirement, Barry’s retirement and the search for Amber, Amber’s time here, the search for me and my first year, and then our 150th. It was still a very active year for St Stephen’s. The Annual Report gave us a glimpse of all the Welcoming – Worshiping – Working that we do together for the Glory of God with an among the Good People of San Luis Obispo.

 

As with previous years, my report will be arranged under the headings of our Mission Statement: Welcoming – Worshiping – Working, but in a slightly different order. I want to give special recognition to 2 people in each of those categories for their outstanding service to St Stephen’s in 2018.

 

Worshiping
The worship of God through Jesus Christ is the primary reason we gather as a community. We continue to do so, in the tradition of the Episcopal Church, every Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and often on other days. Our primary worship is the Sunday Eucharist. A big thank you to the Altar Guild and to all of you who serve on Sunday mornings, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

 

Our Sunday liturgy has settled into a comfortable pattern, blending worship from the Book of Common Prayer, new liturgies from The Episcopal Church, and Eucharistic Prayers and seasonal material from other parts of the Anglican Communion. Our Music Team has been established for almost 17 months now. Our Music Director, Cassie Tarantino, continues to enhance our worship with high quality music in a variety of genres. Organist Clare Olson has blossomed, having first played the instrument 16 months ago. She has undertaken a volume and rage of music that is on par with an Organist in any congregation our size or larger, and has played for funerals and weddings. The Choir continues to support our worship for 10.5 months of the year, and we love them.

 

The Rev Karen Siegfriedt joined us at the Annual Meeting last year as Associate Priest. She brings a different liturgical style in her presiding and fresh perspective in her preaching. We are all enriched by her ministry.

 

A special “thank you” to Kay Lewis who coordinates all of our Sunday Servers. The work that she does goes unseen by everyone, as she fills all the roles required on Sunday mornings.
Robin DiBiase compiles the data for the worship services based on the Services Register. From her data, I can report the following preliminary numbers:

 

  • Average Sunday Attendance was 76, up from 75 last year. This is a pleasant surprise because our numbers at the 10am Service dropped very low during the summer. But everyone returned in the Fall.
  • Across our 3 Christmas Services, we worshiped with 202 people, up from 163 in 2017.
  • The Villages Average Attendance is 21.
  • Our Lay Eucharistic Visitors have taken Communion out 100 times, up from 90 last year.


We have had 6 special services:

  • Ash Wednesday with Bishop Mary
  • Renewal of Marriage Vows – possibly now an annual event
  • St Stephen’s Day with a Bell-a-Bration
  • Blessing of the Animals – also an annual event
  • The 3rd Annual World AIDS Day Service
  • Choral Evensong with the Bishop of Gloucester

 

The Home Communions by the Lay Eucharistic Visitors remains a valuable part of our ministry. Not only do they help combat social isolation among seniors, they bring the Sacrament so that those in their homes or care homes may share in the same Body and Blood of Christ that we do.

I also visit the homebound. During Christmas Week, I visited each of our homebound members and conducted services of Holy Communion in their homes so that they could make their Christmas Communions. I will do the same at Easter.

 

Between the Lay Eucharistic Visitors and me, we visit:

  • John & Mary Stuart
  • Gil Brown
  • Lynn Wiech
  • Jean Arndt
  • Erma Lawton who moved up from Santa Maria to a facility off of LOVR
  • And now Don & Dottie Hixson on a regular basis
  • And Beverly & Richard Foge occasionally

 

Our Patronal Festival, St Stephen’s Day, has been moved to the second Sunday in September. This coincides with the week after the anniversary of our letter from Bishop Kip giving canonical consent for the formation of St Stephen’s in 1867. We had a spectacular celebration in September, with a musical homage to our new steeple and refurbished bell. We had the highest Sunday attendance with 105 at the 10am service. And we had a wonderful celebration afterward. This coming St Stephen’s Day, Bishop Mary will be with us. Soon, we should assemble a team to develop a weekend of activities for her last visitation to us before she retires. And, I will be preparing people for Confirmation for Bishop Mary’s visitation.

 

The week after Thanksgiving, we hosted the Bishop of Gloucester The Right Reverend Rachel Treweek and Julie Fay from our Partner Diocese. While we could all fondly reminisce about the time we shared, one of the issues that arose from that was the real possibility of gathering as a Deanery for Choral Evensong a couple of times a year. I do believe that those conversations are underway. The visit also prompts us to rekindle our partnership with the Parish of Winchombe in the Diocese of Gloucester. Jennifer Sayre is interested in the partnership, and if any others are, let’s meet soon to discover what we can share with them in the coming year.

 

I have no major changes for worship in 2019. But I would like to consider rearranging the Chancel. Now that we have moved the organ and have access to most of the altar rail, I would like to make it more comfortable for those of us serving at the altar. You may come in one Sunday and see furniture in different places. Don’t worry…I will accept and review all feedback when that happens.

 

Recognitions for Worshiping
I would like to recognize our Lay Eucharistic Visitors. As I mentioned earlier, the LEVs enable those who cannot be present with us to join in our Eucharistic Feast. For those who lead the service at The Villages, their preparation and love for their congregation all goes unseen except for the prayer that we say for them at the end of the service. So, I would like to recognize Sophia Agbo, Liz Frost, Bob & Diane Levison and Jim Murphy for their service to St Stephen’s by taking the Sacrament – our engagement with Jesus Christ – to others.

 

Working
Thank you to the Staff who help me navigate the peculiarities of St Stephen’s. On Sunday mornings, we worship together, which is the most important thing we do. But Monday to Thursday, we are running a non-profit. Like any non-profit, we are only as good as the staff and volunteers who run the day-to-day operations. Thank you to our Sexton Chris, Katie our Treasurer, Cassie our Director of Music, and Clare our Organist.

 

A year ago, Parish Administrator Ann Patry retired. Kriss Reid as Temporary Office Manager and Kris Vander Weele as Office Manager climbed steep learning curves to enhance the role, to update and implement new procedures, and to take on the task of publishing “The Witness”. Both were exemplary. And as you read in the Annual Report, Kris Vander Weele will be leaving us at the end of next month. The commitment and care each of them brought to the role are what is needed, and we would be blessed to have either of them in that role for many years to come. But, alas, the search for a new Office Manager has begun.

 

Thank you to the numerous volunteers, among them Bud Zeuschner, Senior Warden, the Money Counters, and all of you who gave 1000s of hours of your time to aiding the workings of St Stephen’s.

 

One of those volunteers was recognized as our ECW Honored Woman in a ceremony at St Stephen’s Gilroy in October. Lynn Hollister is loved and valued here at St Stephen’s.

 

I continue to engage with the wider and vibrant San Luis Obispo community. In 2018, I had hoped to find parishioners who will represent St Stephen’s on community issues, including Immigration and socio-political movements. In that broad area of our work, Clark Lewis reviewed our Social Outreach activities. His report with recommendations will be handed out during the meeting. My dream is that an enthusiastic parishioner will take on the role of Social Outreach Coordinator. This would not involve taking away any responsibilities from those already doing great work. It would be to help the parish better understand what we are doing, to help recruit volunteers when needed, and to review new requests that come in, which happens at least once a month.

 

We have continued our membership of the Chamber of Commerce, which ensures that we are on the radar of, and engaged with the businesses and non-profits of San Luis Obispo. We will again have ads in the Chamber’s Relocation and Referral Guide, the Visitors’ Guide, and the City/County Map.

 

As the Rector, I am engaged in several endeavors beyond these walls. To list them:

  • I am Secretary of the SLO Ministerial Association, which keeps me engaged with many faith leaders throughout the City.
  • I am on the Board of Directors of Vocal Arts Ensemble. Rosey Parks is one of the singers of the excellent choral group, and Gail Taylor’s daughter, Sarah, is the Executive Director.
  • I am a member of the Superintendent of San Luis Coastal School District’s Common Ground Advisory Task Force. Dr Eric Prater has invited people from diverse backgrounds to:
  • ~ Find common ground suggestions through civil discourse on controversial issues that impact our students
    ~ Provide specific suggestions to improve policy and administrative practices as they relate to these issues
    ~ Provide suggestions that will improve conditions on school campuses for all students
    ~ The topics we are grappling with are 1) First Amendment rights and Free Expression in our schools; 2) Social Media and its impact on schools; and 3) Inclusivity in our schools.
  • I am on the Police And Community Together group that is assembled by the Chief of Police Deanna Cantrell. The group meets every other month to discuss issues that affect both the community and policing. The PACT program has been given an award by the Anti-Defamation League, the 2019 Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate for the ongoing commitment, support and contribution in helping to eliminate hate and prejudice.
  • On the Diocesan level, I have been reappointed as a member of the Diocesan Colleges Commission.
  • For the Colleges Commission, I have volunteered to write a paper on the potential of college ministries in the Diocese. After a year’s work, the Commission unsure of the paper’s future.
  • I am also on the Bishop’s Transition Committee. Our task is to bring our final slate of candidates for the next Bishop around the Diocese as part of the interview process, to coordinate the election and consecration of the next Bishop, and to plan the celebrations for Bishop Mary’s retirement.

Recognitions for Working
I understand that recognizing Staff Members for doing their jobs isn’t what the Rector’s Recognitions are for. However, all of our Staff Members routinely go above and beyond their job roles. In this instance, Chris Arndt went well beyond his role as Sexton – the person who cares for our buildings and grounds – and initiated and ran the “Ring the Bell” fundraiser for our new steeple. Fundraising is not in his job description. His work should be the beneficiary of any fundraising for the building. Chris’ efforts resulted in over $30,000 for our steeple. Alongside the fundraising, Chris handmade dozens of wooden crosses to be given to donors and to guests. Chris’ many contributions to St Stephen’s are all indications of his love for this community.

 

The other Rector’s Recognitions for Working have endured my ideas that could have been perceived as either whimsical or overly demanding. Yet, I was taken seriously, and the professional skills applied have unfolded into a potentially exciting future. Bruno Giberti and Kent MacDonald have been working for about 18 months on the potential to strategically restructure this site, keeping the historic church building, and erecting new buildings that can better help us Welcome – Worship – and Work with and for the Good People of San Luis Obispo. During the Annual Meeting, you will see – with your own eyes – the next stage of our conversation about the strategic restructure of the site that we started at last year’s Annual Meeting. My ideas would have simply remained whimsical without Bruno and Kent.

 

Welcoming
In December 2017, I introduced an initiative called 52 Weeks / 52 Neighbors. It was intended to show the wider community and ourselves that St Stephen’s – its people, it’s life – can be found beyond these walls. The variety of establishments and people we encounter is vast! As we welcome others into our worship, that photo gallery should be our reminder that we, the Church, are everywhere. The weekly Bible Study question from Episcopal Digital Network for Sept 2 was, “If the church is the people of God, then where is the church Monday through Saturday? What is it doing? And where?” Our 52 Weeks / 52 Neighbors gave us a good idea of where St Stephen’s is and what we are doing Monday through Saturday. Fundamentally, our service to the community is being the Church every day of the week, wherever we are.

 

On Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, we hosted a production of “The Vagina Monologues”, “a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls.” Directors across the country were encouraged by the creator Eve Ensler to produce the show in a venue that was not typical, including churches. Kelli Howard, SLO’s local director of the Vagina Monologues, worked next door at Access Support Network at the time. We welcomed women and their stories into our church on the day that we are called to repent of our sins of co-mmission and o-mission. Two of the 3 performances were sold-out, including the performance with Bishop Mary and the All-Transgender Cast. Not only were we telling ourselves that St Stephen’s is Welcoming, but a large portion of the wider community thanked us for our bravery in that Welcome.

 

BUT…we have fallen short at
times, as all humans do.

 

While we have been good at welcoming those who come in, we have not always taken care of our own. On two occasions in 2018, I have had Staff Members crying in my office as a result of gossiping, bullying, unwarranted complaining and the behaviors of the “chattering classes”. This is beneath any Christian community. When you have an issue with someone, including the Rector, approach them with compassion. If your issue is with a Staff Member, you can see me. If I am the offender, I may not realize unless you tell me. If you are not comfortable approaching me, please see the Senior Warden or a Member of the Vestry. If your thoughts and comments are simply to score points, keep them to yourself. Let’s keep our criticisms constructive, our dislikes grounded in substantiated truths, and our family healthy. We are called by our Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human being.

 

St Stephen’s is a welcoming community. We have been opening our doors to welcome people in through new ways of engaging with the community. Let’s make sure that we can love our neighbor as ourselves.

 

One final comment on Welcoming: The model of being church for Episcopalians has long focused on those within these walls. But Christianity is an outward-focused religion. We have had small growth these past two years, and we can grow more. Reaching beyond these walls is the responsibility of every person here. The most likely new person to come to church is the one who is asked by a friend.

 

So, let us all make the effort of
invitation this year.

 

Recognitions for Welcoming
My first Recognition for Welcoming is to a regular contributor to The Witness. The magazine is sent to precisely 204 households, only half of which are St Stephen’s. Each month, an assignment for The Witness is given, and each month, Isabelle Preston rises to the task to generate a quality Teen Page. There are other contributors, but Isabelle is the most consistent and hard-working. Her approach to the monthly assignment is truly a witness to the St Stephen’s Family and to those neighbors who read Isabelle’s work.

 

For many years now, St Stephen’s has been welcoming in children from all walks of life for a week’s experience of God’s love, regardless of their own religious affiliations. Dianne Long & Kathleen Pennington put in countless hours for Vacation Bible School in the preparation of the curriculum, recruiting volunteers, stocking supplies, and in all of the other tasks required to care for and teach children for 5 full days. Vacation Bible School is one of the greatest acts of Welcoming that we do, and Dianne & Kathleen deserve full praise for their years of dedication.


Deaths, Baptisms, Confirmations and Weddings

In 2018, we mourned the passing of:

  • Tom & Eleanor Coverdale
  • Joe Graham
  • Jean Trainer, who was not a member, but whose funeral I conducted at Arroyo Grande Cemetery
  • And we will remember The Rev Deacon Tom Tarwater next month.

 

We had no Baptisms or Confirmations. But, I performed the Blessing of the Marriage of Perry Reynolds and Yannine Espinoza of New York City, at a ranch in Edna Valley. We had two wonderful weddings here in this church, of Sally Swinney and Eric Byrne from Tempe, AZ, and Karla Zerehi and Jonathan Waymire of Santa Clarita, CA. Though these couples were not known to us, St Stephen’s welcomed them into the place where we worship God. Each couple expressed to me that no other churches in San Luis Obispo would allow them to marry there because they were not members. As the Body of Christ, our responsibility is to help others in their relationship with God. For those couples to have their weddings here, and for the Altar Guild and others to support them on the day, if we did nothing else, we lived up to our tagline of Welcoming – Worshiping – Working with those couples. Thank you for living the Gospel!

 

To top off a great wedding year, I had the wonderful privilege of saying the prayers and blessing at the marriage of Steven Rice to Lee & Lynn’s granddaughter Abby Hollister.

 

Conclusion
In today’s Gospel we heard of Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. While John the Gospel writer emphasized this as a manifestation of Jesus as the God-Man Messiah, that is not why Jesus performed this act. At this week-long community celebration, Jesus prevented the embarrassment of the Bride and Groom’s families that would have occurred had they run out of wine. In His own divine way of Welcoming – Worshiping – Working, Jesus ensured that the celebrations could continue. These celebrations were not hedonistic, materialistic events. These weddings were bonding moments for families and communities, important events through which individuals deepened their bonds of affection through the Welcome, deepened their faith through the Worship element of marriage, and deepened their community cohesion by Working together to properly celebrate the couple. Let us do the same in our Welcoming – Worshiping – Working for the Glory of God, with and for one another, and among and for the Good People of San Luis Obispo.

 

For a closing prayer, I would like us to be reminded of the words of our opening hymn. So, let us pray:

 

We all are one in mission, we all are one in call,
our varied gifts united by Christ, the Lord of all.
A single, great commission compels us from above
to plan and work together that all may know Christ’s love.
We all are called for service to witness in God’s name.
Our ministries are diff’rent, our purpose is the same:
to touch the lives of others by God’s surprising grace,
so people of all nations may feel God’s warm embrace.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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