Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:25-27)
By the time you read this, Super Bowl XLVI will be over. One team—either the Giants or the Patriots—will have emerged the winner. If you missed it, I’m sure you can catch it in reruns on the sports networks. Camera crews and photographers will have recorded every moment of the game, as well as the moments afterward when the owners, managers and players of the winning team brandish the Lombardi trophy while screaming fans rejoice at their victory.
I think it’s helpful to remember two things about this event. The first is that, although we don’t know the outcome until the game is over, it is not a moment which comes along suddenly and unexpectedly—not for anyone involved. The players and managers in both locker rooms have envisioned this for years or even decades. Because of that vision they have practiced, on and off the field—untold hours over a good portion of their lives spent in games and scrimmages, in the weight room, studying play books, watching videos, fine tuning details. Whether or not they win this game, they have prepared for and proven themselves capable of winning, many times over.
But in the end, one team wins and the other loses. So, what then? What happens when the cheering (or the recriminations) die down? Well, that’s the other thing I want to note: the end of the season is never really the end. Win or lose, both teams will be back at it again next year: pushing bodies, hearts and minds toward the goal of the next win, the next game, the next championship. They may change managers, and they will almost certainly draft and/or trade players. They will lift weights and hit the sleds. They will study films and try to see what went right or wrong. They will put in new plays that work better with the current roster, or take out old ones that were not as successful. In other words, even when they look back, they are also looking ahead as well. There is always something to strive for, and to work toward.
Our Annual Meeting is a bit like that. Everyone knows we do this every year, and we plan some bits weeks or even months in advance. Our treasurer and bookkeeper spent a lot of time and effort looking at our finances and assembling a proposed budget for the vestry to consider—and the vestry has done so, thoughtfully and carefully, at the last 2 or 3 vestry meetings, before approving the final version. Our outgoing vestry members concluded their terms of excellent service to God and to the parish by prayerfully considering and developing a slate of candidates to fill their positions, as well as other lining up other candidates willing to represent All Saints’ at our next diocesan convention. Our administrator gently but firmly reminds all those who serve in leadership positions (and there are a good number, thanks be to God!) that our reports need to be in early enough that she can print and assemble the packet you'll hold in your hands.
But that’s far from all that goes into this day. To begin with, All Saints’ has more than 60 years of history as a community of faith. Only a few of you go back that far, but many of you have been here for years and even decades. Your commitment, as the Catechism states, “to work, pray, and give for the spread of God’s kingdom;” has borne and is bearing fruit, right up to this day.
The events of the past year—our first full year together, as priest and people—bring that into sharp focus. We have many reasons to rejoice, brothers and sisters! We have welcomed new members into our community—our records show a modest but measurable increase in regular Sunday attendance, and more than a dozen souls have made a deeper commitment to a life of discipleship through baptism, confirmation, or reception. Our pledges indicate that we can expect to cover all of our needs and some of our desires in the next year, and our budget reflects that. We have worshipped together, in music and silence, in word and sacrament, centering ourselves in Christ. We have celebrated the lives God has given us: in new birth, in marriage, and at death & entry into larger life. We have prayed with and for, and cared with and for, one another. We have studied and learned, worked and played, laughed and cried together. And we have reached beyond our walls to share the abundance we have been given, with God’s beloved children elsewhere—in our community and around the world. In all this, we are striving to live as disciples, doing the work of God, and most of the time it shows. Oh, we are not perfect, goodness, no; but in this work we are continually being transformed by the Holy Spirit. We are being perfected.
So, take a deep breath, and be grateful. Give thanks for all that we have, and all that we are, by the grace of God.
And then… let’s begin to look ahead. Because of course, this is not the end. We don’t stop here, resting on our laurels, as though the job is done. Like those football players—like any athlete—the next step, the next challenge, always lies ahead.
What is the next step for All Saints’? Where do we go from here? Answering very question is going to be part of our task in the days and months that follow. Of course, we will continue much of what already gives life to our congregation: worship and prayer and study and giving and fun. At the same time, we will talk about the next stages of our work together, and where we believe God is leading us. Whether you call this discernment, or strategic planning, we will have invite prayer and conversation that eventually involves all of us in developing a vision toward which we can move together.
Let me give you one example of why this is important. As I said, our congregation seems to be growing, slowly but steadily. If this continues, we might expect to outgrow our current worship space and structure in maybe 5-10 years. What do we do then? Well, as I see it, there are four options:
- We could add another worship service—perhaps a later Sunday service, perhaps Saturday evening, to make room for additional worshippers.
- We could renovate and expand our current building, adding to our worship space—and maybe additional meeting rooms and classrooms as well.
- We could decide to move: buy property elsewhere, and construct a new building that more closely fits our needs for mission and ministry.
- We could be the starting place for a new Episcopal Church in the Tri-Cities, seeding and then supporting a new congregation until they were ready to be independent and self-supporting.
So, which is it? Any of these—or perhaps a combination—would be good and godly options, and ways we could faithfully we live out our mission “to equip the saints to seek and serve Christ in all people.” None of them are bad ideas. But choosing which path to follow will require deciding where we want to end up: what our focus is to be as a congregation. This means listening, choices and commitment—work that rightly ought to be done before the time of decision arrives. Like Paul, we do not want “to run aimlessly;” we are far better prepared to accomplish what God sets before us if we have a clear vision and purpose in mind.
So that will be our intent this year, my friends. But remember, at the same time, we will also continue to do God’s work in this place—and what a privilege it is to do that with you! In this way we will reach together for that “imperishable wreath” of abundant life that Our Lord offers to his beloved people, in this life and the next. Thanks be to God!