Built For Growth

Built For Growth

Several years ago Vancouver School of Theology underwent significant restructuring. It was an unsettling time to be in seminary with buildings being sold, torn down and new ones built. It seemed with each passing year, semester even, the school was shrinking physically and financially. To help curb the downward trend in revenue they had to shrink physically by selling some of their buildings. It seemed nothing was enough and there would be no end to the downsizing and re-structuring as they began to downsize in staff and faculty to cut costs.              

For those of us enrolled at VST at the time it became an all too familiar, painful habit of letting go, saying good bye and adjusting to a new reality as another professor was ‘laid off’ or another building sold. During one Faculty Council meeting, which included student representation, the Hebrew Bible professor opened his Bible to the Book of Deuteronomy and read this very passage that we heard today. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live” (Deut. 30: 15-16). With those words he held up his Bible, looked at the gathered faculty and said, “I pray you choose life.”            

These words can send a cold shiver down our spines as it has an all too familiar ring for us. Many days and many times we find ourselves surrounded by adversity, unrest and uncertainty. We live in volatile times and when we come to church, the burdens we carry during the week manifest themselves in unusual ways. We find ourselves concerned about the vision and direction of the church. Things aren’t what they used to be. People we used to see regularly aren’t coming any more. Budgets and finances are always a concern. This tends to be the favored whipping horse in the Church to vent frustrations on, when in doubt, blame the budget. We find ourselves, whether we want to or not, having to let go of a lot.

We have to let go of our imagination of what church should be like. This past year we have had to say good bye and let go of people. People we have loved and have been an integral part of the fabric of our parish have either died or moved away. We have had to let them go. In all our ‘letting go’ we find the world we live in and our church change and shift beneath us. We are in a different place with different realities to the ones we first imagined ourselves in.

Despite the challenges and setbacks we have faced we have a lot to be thankful for and we are a parish that has a lot to offer our neighborhood, region and diocese. Today is our Annual Vestry Meeting. You will have received by email and again today in hard copy the Vestry report that talks about the life of the parish. There is so much to report and happening in our parish that to single out one or two pieces now would not be fair nor provide justice to the dynamic ministry in our parish. I am also aware that given the limitations of space and editing, not everything has been captured. We are, in a way, overflowing with abundance.

But if I were to pick up on one or two threads in the report it would be the following. We are clearly a parish that is welcoming and knows how to throw a good party! The Year End BBQ in June and the Back to Church BBQ in September along with the Harvest Dinner in October, the Fall Fail and Galas speak to this. This is a gift that not many churches have. We can continue to craft this gift for good.

I am also really pleased with the Stewardship Campaign this past year and I am deeply thankful for all of you who have responded positively to this initiative. What this means for us as a parish is that we now have an established Stewardship Committee that has received support and education from the diocese in developing tools for us to engage with. The results of the Stewardship Campaign indicate that we have achieved the half-way point of our financial goal. This is exciting because it shows that we believe that what we have to offer is worthy of our treasure.

So where do we go from here? Have we reached the point where we can sit back and relax and check “church stability” off our list? Oh if only it were that easy. God continues to call us, the people of St. Martin’s into ministry because God is not finished with us yet. All this shows that there is more work to be done.

As I reflect on this past year and all that we have achieved, my charge to you as a parish is that we set our sights to grow numerically. Over the past couple of years we have worked hard to create an environment that is conducive to growth. The challenge for us now is to grow. This will not be easy and will take a couple of years. But I firmly believe that what we have to offer is so good and so life giving that people will want to come to us. Growing numerically will take the commitment of everyone who calls this parish home. The power of invitation and making a point of inviting people to church cannot be underestimated. If you are with me, and if you are committed to this, there is a really fun and engaging exercise that we can undertake where we can double the size of our congregation in a single Sunday. It has happened before, and the best part about it is that it is nearly free.

In addition to this we will continue to create a parish environment that is conducive to growth. We will remain committed to making Sunday morning “Gold” as the Bishop would say. I commend to you any one of the upcoming cottage meetings in March and April where we will be talking about our liturgical and pastoral priorities and dreams as a parish. Do we have the need for the ministry of a Deacon or an Honorary Assistant priest for example?

We will remain committed to our social gatherings and work to make them as inviting and as innovative as they can possibly be. I am excited about the Italian Dinner being planned for September as a parish fundraiser. We are going to eat well my friends!

We will continue to create programming that will feed the body and soul and reach people where they are in their lives.

I believe we can do all of this, and I believe we can do so much more because I believe in you and there is no other place I would rather be than here with you where the Spirit of God is alive and well in all our hearts.