Annual Meeting Remarks
- Dec 12, 2013
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Dear People of the Holy Innocents:
I can hardly believe I stand here today at our 5th Annual Meeting together. What a time it has been and how the time has flown. For your kindness and your love, I thank you. So many of you honor me with your time and talents shared in this place that it is indeed humbling to serve among you. As the Guilds work behind the scenes, the vestry and treasurer, the chancellor, the choirs, the committees, the outreach groups, the Bible studies, and on and on, God’s love is proclaimed.
These five years have been filled with amazing accomplishments, some you know and celebrate, and some you may not know as well. A quick review of some great ones:
- Average Sunday Attendance
According to the Register of Church Services, HIEC averaged under 290 people per Sunday just a few years ago. This year, we will hit just over 460 per Sunday. In a time when many churches are experiencing rapid decline, we are growing. We cannot take this for granted and must do our part to make Sunday a day of excellence in all things.
Behind the scenes, we have been cleaning up our records thanks to the hard work of Caroline Fleming, Registrar and Office Manager. We have found, shall we say, many mistakes. But with hard work, our records are better, much better. The City, while frustrating some of us, including your rector who has yet to get his record straight after the database and The City decided they could not talk to one another, has despite the challenges, made record keeping easier, faster, and less expensive.
And I am also happy to report that our membership is increasing at a rate we have not seen in many years. Thus far in 2013, we have added 77 new members to Holy Innocents. In fact, in 2012 and 2013 we have added 146 new members . . . a spectacular addition. Transfers out are also much lower than recent years and while the number of deaths among membership is high, our membership will show a net gain in 2013 of over 50. Truly outstanding.
It has been a challenge, a major one, but I am thankful to report that we have sound financial and accounting practices. When I arrived, Holy Innocents had been through a difficult time. And while it may have seemed that the difficult time was only a couple of years, the reality of the financial difficulty was much deeper. It’s hard to admit, hard to tell the truth, but we had not faced hard questions about the way we spent money for many years. By 2009, there were no accumulated surplus, capital reserves, or property funds to speak of, building maintenance was virtually non-existent in the budget, and most unfortunately, deficit spending had become the norm.
Throughout the decade of the early 2000s, income from items other than plate and pledge had subsidized all ministry. Resources intended for a other purposes were often lumped with pledges….certainly not a best practice. Don’t fault those who did it; they ensured our survival and the opportunity for a new day.
We are now following best practices for our funds and have used a CPA firm to help manage all restricted funds on a daily basis. We have gone from financial statements that lagged by 2-3 months, to having month statements within 2 days of the prior month. We have made amazing progress.
Rick Shunnarah, our treasurer, has put in thousands of hours over the last few years. For his work and dedication, and that of our Finance Committee, we give thanks. We finished 2012 in the best financial shape this parish has seen in years and 2013 is shaping up to be another good year . . . IF you do your part to fulfill your pledge. I ask you to consider EXCEEDING your pledge! Consider an extra gift to help us as we get onto a firmer financial foundation. There are no more operating reserves and we must rebuild them after years of deficit spending. We cannot continue to rely on a line of credit as we do too often. We need your support.
In 2009, we averaged about 25 weekly programs or events at Holy Innocents, most of them with 10 or less attending. Now, we average over 60 events per week. Moreover, our events are much larger, attended by more people from the community, and more expressive of the life to which God calls us. What a testimony to you the people of this parish and to the vitality of our ministries.
Our weekday events are well attended, our youth programs of Friday Night Crowd and Café U, not to mention Sunday School, have the best attendance in many, many years. Just last night we had about 60 high school students at Café U. Our signature events like Celtic the Festival continue to grow and new Second Half events are creating community among us.
The gift of facilities to the community is also significant. We have gone from less than 5 outside group events per month to over 12 per month. These events are also larger, bringing in hundreds of people to our Place for Faith. From CAC fundraisers to the DAR monthly luncheons to Eagle Scout Fundraisers to veterans groups to non-profit boards…the list is extensive. These groups also contribute toward use of our facility, ensuring that good maintenance continues.
I thank our sextons from MPact Services. They do outstanding work, often behind the scenes keeping this facility beautiful and pristine. Thank you Andre for your management, and Brandon, Zulma, and others for all that you do.
And this week, we announced a long overdue enhancement to program. Because Joshua Case is on tract to be ordained in 2014 and work with youth and new initiatives, we do not plan to hire another priest. We therefore have funding in personnel to enhance our staff. So this week we gladly announced that Wynn Henderson will join us in January as Children’s Ministry Coordinator. She will be almost full time and will dramatically increase coordination of programming for our children. I thank Zachary Thompson for his hard work in identifying and interviewing candidates.
- Building the Body of Christ
Last, but certainly not least, the campaign to Build the Body of Christ for Ministry. What a tremendous success. We raised nearly $8 million in the Great Recession and our parish is faithfully responding with gifts. We have made our principal payments through 2016 and remain ahead of schedule collecting pledges. While we will have some outstanding debt, which we can take care of in a matter of years I believe, this building now stands as a testimony to the amazing efforts of so many people.
Our facility has been nominated for awards, will appear in 2014 in a national publication (that’s a teaser), and has turned eyes all around. Just this week I ran into yet another person just walking around. She saw my collar and said “thank you . . .this building is just holy.”
And the building has energized us in so many ways. During the last year, we hosted more weddings than we did in the prior 5 years combined. We have hosted large groups, outreach fundraisers, found new success with The Parson’s Table, welcomed hundreds to the Ventulett Gallery, hosted Diocesan events, and in February will host a National Church event, and the list goes on. We are already booking events and programs in 2015 and 2016. We are now a resource site to the community and wider church.
We built the Body of Christ…showing forth the image of holiness, an image of heaven on earth with a facility of excellence…and we are sharing that holiness in our ministry. What a joy.
And a footnote instead of another section…HIES is alive and well with an excellent enrollment and strong future. Plans for a new science and math hall will begin to materialize in May with construction. A new head of school will arrive in June. My time continues to be spent about 30% in school and 70 in church. I know that having a rector who is technically a part of a massive corporation with two boards, two entities, 1350 students, $32 million in operations, 300 employees, almost 50 acres, etc. is a challenge for all of us. But it is the gift we have received and one we must embrace joyfully to share in our blessing.
I could go on with other things. I could list all the things God is doing here. It is a long list! We have much to be thankful for in this Place for Faith.
But you know me too well to think that I would stop with what we have done. No, instead, I want to use this Annual Meeting address to call upon you, the people of Holy Innocents, to think about our life…our common life. How is it that we live together? What do we give our best selves to in this holy place for faith? How do we value and order our common life together so that we can become more and more like Christ? Isn’t that the ultimate question of our faith…how to become more and more like Christ?
In the monastic tradition, a community wrote a Rule of Life to put into words the guide to this life, this seeking of Christ in all things. Some parishes embark upon strategic plans, as we have before, but a Rule of Life seeks more than strategy. In the end, as Steve Jobs said, strategy can become futile. It is the culture of a place, the culture of a people that will bring excellence.
I am calling for the next year, 2014, to be a year of discernment for the creation of a common Rule of Life at Holy Innocents. At a minimum, our Rule should ask:
- What is the hope of our calling as the people of God at Holy Innocents?
- What are the expectations of our life together in prayer, worship, study, fellowship, and care for the world?
- How do we hold ourselves accountable to the ministry to which God calls us?
- What are the dreams and aspirations we pray as the Body of Christ in this particular place, at this particular time?
To guide this process, I have asked John Donnelly to chair a committee that will write our rule. With Nancy Binkow, Anne Marie Esslinger, and Allen Wallace, they will find ways to listen to the rhythms of our life here. They will ask for your input, your dedication, and your prayers as we fashion a Parish Rule for our life together.
The vestry will also be involved, continuing its work with The Rev. Tom Brackett from the Episcopal Church Center in New York. And by the grace of God, we will also have spiritual guidance from our friends at the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Mass. In fact, you will hear from one of the Brothers there during the forum next week.
As we embark upon this Rule, I only give you three specific challenges:
- Liturgy is our beginning. It is our life. All we are and all we do must be born from the holy mysteries we share at the altar. Outreach without worship, prayer without communion, pastoral visits without songs of praise are the lot of social agencies and not the Church. Our Rule must originate from our response to God in prayer and rooted in the holiness of God, in Word and Sacraments. And as our common currency, liturgy must be our best at all times, reflecting the hope of God for the sake of God’s world.
- Hospitality must be pervasive. The radical hospitality we are called toward in Christ is not a welcome of this world but an expression of Divine Love. Our hospitality must be radical in its expansiveness for all people, not just those who are as we are. Christ calls us to more than comfort, more than ease, more than homogeneity.
- Outreach is not a program. It is not a grant. It is not money. Outreach is about changing lives, most of all, our own. We have yet to dare ourselves as God dares us, to do enough in our fair city. I believe God is calling us to lead. Our city is facing a growing problem with homelessness. Our city is facing a growing problem with affordable housing. And Holy Innocents also has a special call to the children of our own day who are exploited. Our name makes that clear. We cannot abandon our patron saints. This parish is capable of transforming work in Sandy Springs. Transforming. We must not do what we have done because it is comfortable, because it is the status quo. We must ask harder questions about the ministry to which we are called as leaders in this area, accepting the stewardship and the risks that will be required.
I am hopeful that the Committee, working diligently, can present a draft of our Rule of Life in the fall of 2014, with specific, measurable, and achievable goals. The Rule could then be adopted by the vestry, as a challenge to the parish, by our next Annual Meeting.
If we are faithful, the way we live our life will result in the way the world knows us. The Rule will inform authentic living, an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace to which we give our lives.
My brothers and sisters, these five years have been amazing and life-giving years. Thanks be to God for them! But God is not anywhere close to being finished with us. With the discernment of a Rule of Life, with the call to strengthen the Body of Christ in this place, and the prayer of Christ’s life living among us, God will bless our efforts.
For your ministry, I give thanks. And for the life we share, to God alone be the glory.