January 28, 2018

2017 Nov19

Epiphany 4, 2018 - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Rector’s Report 2017
Annual Meeting – January 28, 2018


Today’s sermon will be in the form of the Rector’s Report. Don’t worry; I’m not going to summarize each of the reports which have already been submitted. You have read them. Thank you to all of you who prepared those reports.


2017, our sesquicentennial, was a very active year for St Stephen’s. On top of what we normally do, on top of our Sunday morning time together, we hosted an event each month to remember and honor the work we have done for and with the wider San Luis Obispo Community for the last 150 years! Our 150th Celebrations were also a wonderful example of the St Stephen’s Family working together to serve one another. I hope that many of you feel that we have come closer together, and that you may have gotten to know a person you hadn’t spent much time with before.


As with last year, 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 2017.


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, and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. A big thank you to Altar Guild and to all of you who serve on Sunday mornings.


Our service booklets finished the full liturgical year. We started halfway through the Season of Pentecost in 2016 with service booklets which have Prayers of the People and Eucharistic Prayers suitable for the season, along with a few other elements like the Invitation to Confession and the Introduction to the Peace. We use Eucharistic Prayers from the BCP 1979, the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, and from The Episcopal Church’s newer liturgies called “Enriching Our Worship”. We now have a service booklet for every season, having produced the final one for Pentecost and Trinity Sundays in 2017. This brings some diversity in how we receive the words of the Eucharist, but does not affect the content. It helps us connect with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion, albeit only a small portion. But it is a reminder that we are part of the Church catholic, with a small ‘c’, meaning ‘universal’, belonging to the Body of Christ which extends beyond the City of San Luis Obispo and beyond time and space.


At this time last year, we were without a Choir Director. Jumi Kim had left, and our accomplish Organist Katya Gotsdiner-McMahan was working in both roles. In June, Katya followed her husband to Beaumont, TX, where she is the Assistant Director of Music at a large Methodist Church. To use one of my least favorite clichés, when God closes a door, He opens a window. We were in the middle of our search for a Choir Director when Katya announced her departure. We decided to interview the applicants we had received to that point. Out of that, we gained a fantastic Choir Director in Cassie Tarantino. Her second Sunday with the Choir was our Official 150th Birthday Celebration with Bishop Mary. In only 6 months She has brought a vitality to our music program that extends to both the singers and the music itself.


The Vestry approved a realistic budget for music to see us through the end of 2017, which is reflected in this year’s budget. She has brought in some paid singers, which means our Choir is fuller, and she brings in instrumentalists of all sorts. Our musical offerings can now live in an environment of abundance rather than one of scarcity.


Another task that Cassie took on, which none of us here could have done to the same degree, was the search for an Organist. Using her extensive network of California musicians, both in and outside of the Church, Cassie contacted a couple dozen people within a triangle of San Francisco – Fresno – San Diego only to discover that there were no available organists. She said to me, “What about an accompanist who is willing to learn to play organ?” I do not have to repeat what is in the Music Report. We welcome Clare Olson as our Accompanist and Organ Scholar. After only 4 months, having never played organ before, Clare is now supporting the Choir and the Congregation with the organ on most pieces. Her progress can be attributed to three entities:


- Clare herself. It is through her hard work and her openness to a new instrument that she has come so far so quickly. No one can give her the motivation and the drive. Only she can do that. Thank you, Clare.


- Paul Woodring. The organist at the Methodist Church and Mt Carmel Lutheran Church is the most accomplished organist in the area, and he is Clare’s teacher. We share the cost of Clare’s organ lessons, and we made sure she has the best available.


- You, the congregation. Positive affirmation, words of encouragement and patience are all qualities required for someone to achieve her goals. If over a couple of years Clare can become a fine Organist, you, the Congregation, can be proud that you gave her this opportunity.


So, our worship together has changed mostly in the area of music, and mostly since September. My goals for worship in 2018 is to continue to invite new people to serve on Sunday mornings. Yesterday we trained a couple of new Lay Eucharistic Ministers. We are in the process of extending invitations to people to become Lectors, Ushers and to serve on the Altar Guild. And of course, if you are interested, you can present yourself to me.


Another invitation that was extended to a person to serve on Sunday mornings was to The Rev Karen Siegfriedt, recently retired priest who lives in Morro Bay. I have known Pastor Karen since her time as Associate at St Luke’s Los Gatos and Rector of St Jude’s Cupertino when I was the Youth Director at Trinity Cathedral San José. You will see her in the pulpit next month. She brings with her a wealth of experience and talent, and her lovely wife Steph. Please offer Steph and Pastor Karen the welcome St Stephen’s is accustomed to giving.


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 is 75, up from 69 last year, not included The Villages.


· Across our 3 Christmas Services, we worshiped with 163 people, up from 151 in 2016, and I think that only Pam & Tom, Clare and I were the only ones to go to all 3 services!


· The Villages of San Luis Obispo Average Attendance is 26.


· Our Lay Eucharistic Visitors have taken Communion out over 90 times, up from 70 last year.


· We have had 5 special services: Renewal of Marriage Vows, Congregational Choral Evensong, and Blessing of the Animals, all 3 part of our 150th Celebrations, and an All Souls’ Vigil and the World AIDS Day Service. The last 3 are already annual events, and the first 2 may become annual events.


The Home Communions by the Lay Eucharistic Visitors remains a valuable part of our ministry. Among San Luis Obispo’s agencies that work with older people, one of their top 2 priorities is combating social isolation among seniors. Our Lay Eucharistic Visitors not only alleviate social isolation, 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. A special “thank you” to Kay Lewis who coordinates all of our Sunday Servers. The work that she does goes unseen by everyone, but she does her best to fill all the roles required on Sunday mornings.


I made a commitment to visit all of those who are homebound, and I have done that. I will continue to visit those who consider themselves part of St Stephen’s, but who are unable to join us on Sundays, and do so several times a year. Most clergy take Christmas week off. I believe that it important that all of our family have a Christmas Communion. So, 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.


One issue I would like us to consider as we move into 2018 is our Patronal Festival. St Stephen’s Day is the day after Christmas. Having asked several people, we have not had a St Stephen’s Day celebration in living memory. St Stephen’s is mentioned once in the 3-year lectionary, and I did take the opportunity to preach about him. I would like you to consider celebrating our Patron Saint on the second Sunday in September, just after the anniversary of our letter from Bishop Kip giving canonical consent for the formation of St Stephen’s. The anniversary would be closer to the first Sunday in September, but that is Labor Day Weekend. I welcome comments in the coming months, and if it is something we wish to do, I will petition the Bishop to allow us to celebrate St Stephen’s Day on the second Sunday of September.


Recognitions for Worshiping


I would like to recognize one or our Acolytes for her contribution to our Worship. According to the information available, Amy Lewis has served more than any other Acolyte. But that is not a reason to give her special recognition. It is her dedication and devotion to the role. Amy gives the due attention required, and appears to enjoy her time serving at the Altar. I have served at dozens of Altars with varying numbers of people in the Altar Party. Having people with Amy’s dedication with me at the Altar is always a joy.


I would also like to recognize Jennifer Sayre and the Altar Guild. When Jennifer expressed to me that she wanted to step down as Altar Guild Director, I thought it would be easy to replace her because of the number of dedicated, talented and skilled Altar Guild members. I was right about the dedication, talent and skill of the other members. What I wasn’t prepared for is the aversion to the role of Director. Jennifer had set such a high standard that no one wanted the job. Even though I am confident that there are Altar Guild member that could competently follow Jennifer, those who I have approached – attempted to bribe with a coffee date – all said “No.” They, and others on the Altar Guild have expressed their admiration of Jennifer’s attention to her duties. Jennifer is no longer the Director, and the role has been devolved to rotating monthly leadership. But what I hear from other members is that Jennifer still does a considerable amount of work. I want to assure you that I rate the whole Altar Guild in high esteem. But I want to recognize Jennifer, not just for myself, but on behalf of her colleagues who have expressed to me their gratitude for her efforts.


Working


Thank you to the Staff who join me in navigating 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 Arndt, Katie Arndt our Treasurer, Cassie our Director of Music, and Clare our Accompanist and Organ Scholar. And thank you to the numerous volunteers, among them Bud Zeuschner, Senior Warden, the Money Counters, and all of you who gave over 7,000 hours of your time to aiding the workings of St Stephen’s.


I continue to engage with the wider San Luis Obispo community. This endeavor was greatly aided by our 150th events. Those events helped achieve one of my community-minded goals: engaging the parish with the wider community. I am happy being the poster child for St Stephen’s, but some of you have to be the true links with the wider community. In 2018, I hope to find people who will represent St Stephen’s on community issues: attending the occasional meeting and being on email lists in order to keep informed about the issues that are important to our city. Gail Taylor is our representative for Seniors issues; she is on the board of RSVP and attends meetings of the Coalition on Ageing. Other areas where I would like representation include:


- Immigration issues, gaining an understanding of how Immigration & Customs Enforcement is working in our County, and how changes in DACA are panning out. There have been a couple of cases of people needing support, and we would be better served if someone were to keep an ear to the ground.


- Mental Health support is widely available in San Luis Obispo. We have a good relationship with Transitions - Mental Health Association. Transitions operates two residences on either side of our site. I would like someone to keep informed about mental health issues, both the issues that affect our homeless population, and the issues that help us all move toward mental wellness.


- A third person could represent St Stephen’s on issues relating to socio-political movements. This would include issue like Women’s March and Black Lives Matter. These are issues which arise spontaneously, are controversial, but which cannot be ignored. The person representing St Stephen’s would have the responsibility to let us know what level of engagement would be appropriate for us, if any. And if we engage, that person will guide us through the resources and education required to engage meaningfully and as Christians who are politically active, rather than individuals espousing their political views.


- Please see me if you are interested in any of these issue areas. The secular organizers of these issue areas are increasingly looking toward the religious communities for support, realizing that we come already equipped with a deep sense of social justice borne out of our conviction of faith.

 

On a Diocesan level, Kathleen Pennington was recognized as our ECW Honored Woman in a ceremony at St Stephen’s Gilroy in October.


Adult Ed was a continuation of the 2016-2017 program. Then a short program was delivered in advance of the Stations of the Cosmic Christ at St. Benedict's Episcopal Church and the Hollister Institute Los Osos. Numbers were low. For 2018, we will start with a Musical Education Lenten Series for the 4 Wednesdays in March, a collaboration between Cassie and me. I would like to engage the congregation in the Bible readings and discussion questions around Identity that Bishop Mary has given us to study as Vestries. I am still working out the best way and time to do that.


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. It is a minor role, but it is one that keeps me engaged with many of the ministers of many faiths 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 Taylor Maggelet, is the Executive Director. Sarah is the one who twisted my arm to be a Board Member.


- I have been reappointed as a member of the Diocesan Colleges Commission. I want to keep a hand in what is happening with College Ministries since we have one of the 4 ministries here in San Luis Obispo.


- For the Colleges Commission, I have volunteered to write a white paper on the state of college ministries in the Diocese. My aim is to present an accurate picture of the current needs of college students by interviewing students, staff and chaplains at Cal Poly, CSU Monterey Bay, UC Santa Cruz, San José State and De Anza College. My hunch is that most people in positions of authority in the Diocese are not fully aware of the significant shift in college Chaplaincy from hanging out with self-identified Episcopalians to doing the work of parish and missionary priests. My aim is to offer the first piece of changing attitudes that leads to changing structure and funding.


- 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.


As all of you know, Ann Patry is ending her 9-year tenure as Parish Administrator on Wednesday. I didn’t thank her in the first part of the section on Working, because I want to give her a special “Thank you” here. The work in the Parish Office is like no other environment. It ranges from picking up the phone to hear that someone has died, to unjamming the photocopier, to giving food to a homeless person, to being chased in the parking lot to give a key to a user group. There are constant interruptions and no sense of consistency from day-to-day. We will thank Ann formally at the Annual Meeting, but I also want to thank her now.


Recognitions for Working


I would like to give recognition to a person who has been behind the scenes of a big job for 11 years. Chris Carter Kellett faithfully and skillfully produced “The Witness” from the anonymity of her home for over a decade. It is no easy job. Desktop publishing is a skill that is learned over time, not overnight. Understanding what is appropriate to use as filler and then finding it can be a big time-sink. And chasing contributors who have missed the deadline is probably the most frustrating part of the job. I was asked to find someone to replace her shortly after I arrived. But, as they say, you can’t replace the irreplaceable. After a couple of false starts, I was not able to find anyone, paid or otherwise. Kathleen Pennington and Ed Garner have helped out in the past and are taking turns producing “The Witness” until we hire an Office Manager whose many responsibilities will include “The Witness”. It’s only been a few months that Chris hasn’t been producing “The Witness”. I can see the change in her already, and I really enjoy the interactions between the two of us not being mostly about “The Witness”. Chris, thank you for your dedication for over a decade.


In a very different capacity, I would like to recognize Carol Astaire for the work she is quietly doing with and for the St Stephen’s Family. Because of the personal nature, I don’t want to go into much detail. But how Carol is working for St Stephen’s is an illustration of what a church family is all about. In times of need, Carol is one person you want as a friend.


Welcoming


St Stephen’s is a welcoming community, which we proved with our 150th Anniversary Year. We have been opening our doors to welcome people in through new ways of engaging with the community.
We once again specifically welcomed outsiders into unique worship experiences at All Souls’ and The World AIDS Day Service. All Souls’ is the day we remember the faithful departed. We invited the families of those who have died in the past year, and publicized that all were welcome. The World AIDS Day Service on November 30 was again in collaboration with our neighbor on Nipomo Street Access Support Network, which has the sole purpose of supporting people with HIV/AIDS in San Luis and Monterey Counties. Both were ways of connecting with the wider community through worship, and through worship that has meaningful beyond the Episcopal Brand. Now that we have done each of them two years running, they are traditions.


The 150th can’t be ignored, but I also don’t want to belabor it. We welcomed hundreds of people throughout the community into our church for a wide variety of events. We had good attendance, though we could have benefitted from double. But every one of the events was new to us, and those we want to do again are ones we can build on. The focus of the events was not on the growth of our Sunday attendance. It was to share the love of God wider than these walls, to share our Gifts of the Spirit and not to hide them under a bushel, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom – not always using words.


What is most remarkable about those events is those with whom we worked. Each of the leaders of the 150th events were tasked with finding partners from around SLO whose similar interests would help us design great events, publicize and bring people in to celebrate our history as a part of SLO’s history.


When we counted our partners

at the end of 2017 so we could

duly thank them, we counted 67

unique partners, and some who

partnered with us more

than once!


67 craftspersons, agencies and individuals worked with us to celebrate our sesquicentennial. We should be proud!


In 2018, I want us to focus on welcoming children and their families into St Stephen’s. I have sent in the registration and sponsorship for the Children’s Day in the Plaza in April, and will be looking for people to design and staff a booth. I will also be looking at new ways to worship with children, and activities that best serve the time and interests that children and their families have in order to help the whole family grow in the stature and grace of a Christian life.


The model of being church for Episcopalians has long focused on those within these walls. The teachings of Jesus, the history of the wider church and the message of the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry all indicate that the traditional way of being church is a misguided model. It will take us awhile to become comfortable with and to exhibit a more outward-focused way of being church. The 150th was a big help, and so will this year’s initiative of “52 Weeks / 52 Neighbors”. It is not impossible to reach beyond these walls, and neither is it overly difficult…we just have to do it.


Recognitions for Welcoming


My Rector’s Recognitions for Welcoming are group recognitions, and in two very different ways.


First, I would like to recognize the Choir for their welcoming efforts. 2017 was a challenging year. It started with the loss of Jumi Kim as Organist and Choir Director in December 2016. Katya Gotsdiner-McMahan stepped into that role and was welcomed by the Choir. Katya left in June. Her last time at the organ was the 150th Congregational Choral Evensong, yet another time the Choir welcomed many others to St Stephen’s to join them in singing to the glory of God. Cassie Tarantino joined as Choir Director and now Director of Music in August, and despite cracking the whip from Day 1 in order to get the Choir ready for our Official 150th, the Choir welcomed Cassie and paved the way for a peaceful transition of power, as they say. Clare Olson joined as Accompanist & Organ Scholar only 4 months ago. Though she had never played organ before, the Choir has welcomed Clare as one of their own. Cassie has grown the Choir with paid Choristers, many if not all of whom do not have an experience of music for Christian worship. Again, the Choir has welcomed them. Our Music Team is only 6 months old, and still forming. Yet, the Choir has greatly enhanced our worship of God together. With the many changes in personnel, the only way that we can maintain and retain the standard of music that we have, and get even better, is through the welcoming nature of the Choir, their ability to be a family within this larger family, and the love, support and mutual respect that they are able to show one another and those who join them. On behalf of Cassie and Clare, thank you, Choir.


And finally, special recognition for the welcoming character of St Stephen’s must go to the kids. Several times a year they host Coffee Hour. When I was a kid, coffee hour was a box of donuts, weak coffee, and wafer cookies in strawberry, vanilla and chocolate that the children fought over. While I was dismayed to discover that not a single California parish has wafer cookies at Coffee Hour any more, I am delighted and impressed by the generous hospitality of our Sunday School when they host Coffee Hour. In particular, Alessandra and Silas Walter and Mali Baldwin-Grainger put a lot of care and effort into preparing and hosting Coffee Hour. The other kids help, too. Thank you for such a tremendous welcome to your St Stephen’s Family and to the guests and visitors when you host Coffee Hour. I hope you continue to host in 2018.


Deaths, Baptisms, Confirmations and Weddings


In 2017, we mourned the passing of:

  • Alice-Jo Meinhold
  • Opal Rich
  • Robert Orling
  • Jack Jones
  • Theresa Ruda
  • Juliette Watson
  • Toula Buhrman
  • John Borba
  • And though we did not observe his death here at St Stephen’s, we also mourned the passing of Hal Pillow.

We celebrated 4 confirmations

  • Isabelle Preston
  • Anastasia Preston
  • Robin DiBiase
  • Julia Anderson


We have not had any weddings, though we had a great Renewal of Marriage Vows for a crowd of couples for our May 150th event.


And we were blessed to be a part of bringing 4 children into the Body of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism: Georgina and Anna Knowles and Hugo and Elliott Anderson.


Conclusion


In today’s Gospel, the people were astounded at Jesus’ teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Jesus had a new respect for God’s people, not the contempt and attempt to control as the Scribes did with their manipulation of Scriptures. Because of this (and because of the healing), Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Who spread Jesus’ fame? The people. Through our Welcoming – Worshiping – Working, we are to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, through word and example. And that spreads faster through the invitation of your friends to be with us here in this place. As you do so, and as we love one another as a parish family, we grow stronger together, both in our faith and in our mission as Christians.


The underlying principle I have for a robust Christian community at St Stephen’s is 3-fold:

 

  1. We come to worship God together, to share in the Body and Blood of Christ, to be spiritually energized. Our worship together will always endeavor to praise God and bring each of us closer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  2. Our worship, then, is to compel us to care for one another, to love one another as Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We are to serve one another, support one another and pray for one another, and together. Our service to one another will make us a stronger Church Family.
  3. And lastly, our worship and our care for one another is to equip us to go out from here and serve the San Luis Obispo Community as Christian witnesses of the Gospel. We should serve the wider community not to fill our pews, but simply because we are Christians. We come together for worship and fellowship to be filled with Christ in order to take Christ to others.


I am tremendously blessed to be

a part of the St Stephen’s family

a family which is welcoming,

loving, genuine, generous and

fundamentally kind-hearted.

Let’s continue our 151-year-old

tradition into 2018 and beyond.


So, let us pray:


Hallelujah! Let us give thanks to the Lord with our whole hearts, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the deeds of the Lord! They are studied by all who delight in them. The Lord’s work is full of majesty and splendor, and His righteousness endures for ever. He makes His marvelous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. Amen.

© 2018 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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