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1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Pentecost 20, October 18, 2020

St. Martin North Vancouver

I speak to you as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God, through the mercy of God.  Amen.

“The Activity of Faith”

Today we hear words of encouragement to another little church like ours.  The apostle Paul is writing to first generation Christians in the northern Greek town of Thessalonika.  He says, “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 1:2-3).  This is believed to be part of the earliest writing in the New Testament, dating from about 51 A.D..  We see that already the new churches founded by the followers of Jesus are experiencing anxiety at the challenges of being a community in the midst of the larger society.  It is no different today.  Yet the counsel in the letter to the Thessalonians still holds true.  Paul reassures them, and us, that if we are committed to imitating Christ we are doing things right in spite of the obstacles.  God’s word comes with power to share.

 

Imagine for the moment this letter in the Bible is delivered directly here, to 195 East Windsor Road.  It might read: “Archbishop Melissa, Bishop-Elect John, and Archdeacon Stephen, to the church of St. Martin’s: grace to you and peace.  We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in the diocesan cycle of prayer, constantly remembering before our God your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope.  From the time that the parish was established as a mission church, you were chosen to be a light in North Vancouver and an example to your sister congregations, so we may work together to proclaim the gospel. You have experienced difficult times in the past and our current circumstances are challenging, but with the Holy Spirit’s help you can carry the word of joy forward.  Look what you share.” 

Faith, love, and hope sound wonderful but rather hard to grasp in the abstract.  But there are numbers available that make their activity concrete.  Even in the midst of concerns of sustainability, the contributions to our church are to be properly celebrated.  If we look back on this past year, there is much to give thanks for in “works of faith”.  Our commitments of treasure, talent, and time to this community demonstrate how God is working among us in power.  You only have to turn to the financial statements of the parish to chart just how blessed we are in support. 

In spite of the economic effects of the last eight months, many individuals have consistently contributed donations.  Earlier in the summer, the leadership considered whether to revise the balanced budget that was passed at our vestry meeting in February, before the pandemic hit.  But in spite of job losses, increased household expenses, and market fluctuations, parishioners kept the support of mission a priority.  Extraordinary gifts were received as works of faith in what God is still able to do through the Church.  Some even found that they were able to give more when they cut back in other ways.  God has led us into more sacrificial ways of proportional giving.  In the coming year, this will be tested as we consider our pledges to St. Martin’s.  Stewardship is a long-term commitment as well as a short-term response to crisis.

Parishioner giving is not the only means by which we have been sustained in this time of heightened uncertainty.  In April, the leadership of our diocese moved swiftly to pass motions through Diocesan Council for an level of assistance to parishes that had never before been envisioned.  From our collective financial resources, parishes were given two significant supports.  One is that the monthly assessment, that portion of parish income that goes to larger programs across the Lower Mainland, was suspended from April through to August.  The second is that every priest’s salary was covered in parishes below a certain level of assets and income from April through June.  These two measures alone have directly had a saving for St. Martins to September in the order of $31,000.

In addition to the ability to draw on diocesan financial reserves, our parish has benefited from Federal government moneys.  The Federal wage subsidy offered to pay 75% of salaries of employees to organizations that had seen a revenue drop of 30% or more.  As a diocese, the Anglican church applied for this on our behalf.  Since our financial statements were combined with those of all the other parishes and the collective numbers showed that we had suffered this loss of income, the Diocese has received federal assistance which has helped rebuild funds and extend support to lay employees.  This means that St. Martin’s has received the benefit for our parish administrator and music director for the months we are eligible for around $5,000. 

We have been blessed also to both support and receive support from the tenants and renters of our church buildings.  The rectory has continued to be rented out on a month by month basis until the time we need it for a new priest.  The ability of our daycare tenant to both pay rent and access subsidies of their own from the federal government has meant the continuing income from that source.  However, income has dropped from our other tenants, one of which has only returned on a partial basis.  We continue to work with them to make a full safe return possible.  This month, parish council will be considering the approval of the safety plans from community groups who are wanting to return.  Going forward, there is a firm commitment to give priority to community groups that emphasize physical, mental, and spiritual wellness in building up programs to support the wider neighbourhood. 

We draw faith, love and hope from still another source.  The generosity of past members of St. Martin’s has resulted in moneys which are stewarded within the diocesan Consolidated Trust Funds in the parish’s name.  The income that is generated from these is available to be used when needed.  In this way, even the funds that have restricted capital help to sustain parish ministries.  Amazingly, this year we have not drawn down the amount that we had expected to from our generated income.  Because of all the examples of generosity given through parishioners, Church, State, affiliated groups, and benefactors, we have weathered this time of financial instability.  We have been given this time to plan forward because of the gifts of the many. 

We are sustained by so many through treasure, but also through the countless hours in work and in prayer.  Their time and talent are indicators of both the love of people for each other and the firm hope that something new is emerging with God’s help.  I am asking of each of you for your help in engaging in the survey to come and in the discussion of its findings as we move into this new time.  May we then extend the conversation outwards into the neighbourhood.

So we begin to plan forward.  We do not want to lag in the process of discernment, even if we cannot see what 2021 may bring in the affairs of the world.  The challenge is to imagine what we will need in the next couple of years.  It is easy, like the Apostle Paul warned, to be fearful of a “wrath that is coming”, whether we view it as a second wave of the pandemic, political change, environmental crisis, or economic woes.  But we are reassured that we are to keep on imitating Christ.  In doing so, we will find his Spirit touching us.  God has a future for us, and with faith, love, and hope, we will see it come with power.  Amen.