Again, I want to begin this seasonal letter by giving thanks – it’s been my practice over the past five years to list all those who contribute so much to the life of our community, though I’m always haunted by the concern I might have left someone out. So this year, I want to say thank you to you all, for your part in the life of St. John the Divine, for your prayers, your service, your giving, your love, and your action to bring about change for the better in ourselves and around us. I want to say thank you to all who contribute to the worship which binds us together and grounds us in our living faith, to those who create and support the progams and events which resource our common life, to those who contribute to the administration, governance, and leadership of our community. To staff, volunteers, members, and all who make up this community and contribute to our part in the wider Church of Christ.
Thanksgiving offers a chance to reflect on all that we have, all we have done, and how we respond to the world which God has given us. We often carry anxiety, or fear, rather than the recognition of all that we have, and celebrating the life God has given us. There are times, of course, when we have to pay attention to those things which concern us, and there are things in our lives which will cause us pain, worry, and uncertainty. But when we start from a recognition of the abundance we have, a sense of gratitude, then we encourage generosity in ourselves and in others. We become expansive, rather than contracting inwards, and holding tight to what we perceive as scant resources – when we are actually richly blessed.
When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he replied with a trick answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” and “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” You can’t have just one; you need to have both. And the link that unites them is God’s limitless generosity, acknowledged and enacted. When we gather at church each Sunday, we should ponder the stories that declare scarcity to be false: an impromptu hillside meal with as much in left-overs as when it began, a barren desert blossoming with manna, an earth fully equipped to meet everyone’s needs. And a question should be burning in our hearts: “What if it is true? What if one of the links between the Creator’s generosity and the neighbour’s needs is us, this community?” If that is not true, then scarcity rules and we are in sorry shape. But if it is, and if we believe it is, we can begin life anew as stewards of God’s abundance.
We at St. John’s have an abundance – of time, talent and treasure. We have many who give generously of themselves and what they have to perform and to support the mission and ministry of the church, here and beyond our walls. Thank you! If we come from a place of scarcity, then we tend to look inwards, concerned always with having more, because nothing seems enough. If we recognize our own abundance, then we become expansive and generous – a giving, outward looking people. I pray that this is who we strive to be!
I am profoundly grateful for those, our Treasurer Kate, and the Finance Group, who in partnership with our wardens are carefully explaining and accounting for the finances of our church. They are doing so to alleviate any sense of misunderstanding as to the realities of our finance. But they are only seeking to make everything clear and transparent – not in order to manage the money. That is our responsibility as a community. We should each be carefully considering the incomings and outgoings of our church, and the community we wish to be. I would ask why there is so much anxiety around our investments as if they themselves were the salvation (or not) of our church, as if we should be storing up more.
We have substantial funds in our investments, and I believe we as a community ought to be asking whether investments in a portfolio really should have more value than investing in our life together now. I am not suggesting that we spend everything, but want to ask openly what it is we are about. Are we concerned with holding on to as much as we can to preserve the institution of St. John’s? Are we wanting to be a community that recognizes its need and responsibility to pay for the ministry in which we are engaged? How do we manage our financial investments carefully? How can we be responsible and generous at the same time?
In order to fully engage with these questions, we have embarked upon the process of creating a strategic plan looking forward a year, five years, ten years from now. The team dealing with this is at present collating the responses that came in from the questionnaires distributed over the summer. Before presenting it for approval at next year’s vestry meeting, there will be further discussion, consolation, consideration, and distribution of who we believe ourselves to be, and how we are going to grow into that identity in the years to come.
Along with this comes an important development: the need for a stewardship group. This group would not just be tasked with having a yearly stewardship campaign but with considering our culture of stewardship all year round. We are called as followers of Christ to be stewards of our finances, yes, but also of (as previously mentioned) our own talents and use of time. We are called to be stewards of one another. We are called to be stewards of the heritage of faith which has been passed on to us. We are called to be stewards of creation, of our relationships with those to whom we have to be reconciled, of our society, especially those disenfranchised and disempowered by social structures. The task of stewardship is a spiritual discipline, and is one each one of us must take seriously In order to help us open up these questions, the clergy and lay leadership will be taking responsibility for teaching and asking questions about these things. For more details, please contact me and I would be happy to chat about what this group might be doing – even better if you feel able to volunteer to be on the group!
With so many important considerations, there is plenty for us to pray about and reflect on. As we consider how we move forward, I would encourage you also to reflect on all that we have done and are doing as a community. There is so much life and love in this place that I continue to be energized, enthused, and refreshed just by being a part of St. John’s. My thanks again to you all, for being and for continuing to build a spiritual community with a heart for justice and for change.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
With thanks for our partnership in the Gospel,