November 29, 2017
Dear St. Stephen’s friends,
As we all know, there has been so many truly wonderful things happening at St. Stephen’s over the last few years, and definitely over this past year of 2017.
+ We have seen yet more truly wonderful people join us.
+ We had the largest group of people confirmed since 1961.
+ We had two wonderful visits from Bishop Carol Gallagher.
+ We blessed and dedicated more stained glass windows, including our Integrity Window, all of which speak loudly of the great ministries we have done here.
+ There have been many new improvements to our church building.
+ We had a wildly successful Capital Campaign.
+ There are many new and wonderful ministries that are joining our tried and true ministries.
+ People are stepping up the plate and doing the ministry they have been called to do here.
+ And, most importantly, St. Stephen’s has continued to be a voice and presence of Christ in the community and the world as a place of radical inclusiveness and acceptance. We have also been place for people who are speaking out and standing up against injustice and inequality in our world.
And our future is looking great too. We are now in the process of supporting John Anderson as trains to serve St. Stephen’s in the ordination process that will lead (God willing) to his ordination as a Deacon. There are new opportunities for ministry and outreach in the coming year. And there are opportunities coming both in our diocese, in the larger church and in the community for St. Stephen’s to stand up and be the voice it has been.
The future is beautiful and bright for us at St. Stephen’s. So, with all these wonderful things happening at St. Stephen’s, how do we respond? How do we respond in a way that will make sure that this incredible momentum continues?
We should take a few moments and reflect before God about our place at St. Stephen’s. In a congregation that continues to grow, that continues to be a place that practices radical hospitality and acceptance, a place that continues to stand up and speak out and be a voice for justice and inclusion, there are many ways we can help and participate.
All Episcopalians are asked to make a financial pledge based upon a percent of their income. This kind of giving is, of course, based on the Scriptural and Episcopal Church standard of what is called the tithe (or ten percent of one’s income). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the practice of tithing was simply a way of returning to God ten percent of all that had been received from God. The early Jews believed that by giving a portion of something away, the remaining part was made holy. This kind of sacrifice was, and is, a very practical way of dedicating all of life to God.
(An Aside: Priest-in-Charge vs. Rector
Your pledge also helps in making sure your priest (me) keeps working. I do not share this information very often, and, to be honest, I am uncomfortable doing so now, but I share this only because many people at St. Stephen’s do not know this: b but, as your Priest-in-Charge I am not paid for full-time work (A Rector is a paid full-time priest in charge of a congregation). I want to stress: I do not share this information to instill guilt or undue pressure.
I share this information because we are, as a congregation, close to being to pay for a full-time Rector at St. Stephen's.
But I think it is important for the members of St. Stephen’s to know the difference between a full-time and a part-time priest has much more to do than with just the priest themselves.
A part-time priest has the title of Priest-in-Charge. They are essentially a vicar—a vicarious presence of the Bishop in a congregation. The Bishop has the power to appoint (in consultation with the Vestry) a priest to a congregation that has a priest-in-charge; the Bishop also has the power to reassign or “pull” a priest-in-charge from a congregation (in consultation with the Vestry).
A Rector however is a full-time priest who serves at the behest of the congregation. It is the congregation that calls a Rector (in consultation with the Bishop).
St. Stephen’s had Rectors serving their congregation until about twenty years ago. It is very rare for a congregation that once had a Rector and now has a Priest-in-Charge, to go back to having a Rector. It is quite an accomplishment on the part of he congregation!
The fact is: the demands of St. Stephen’s are, at this point, for a full-time Rector. The day-to-day pastoral needs of a congregation this size are for a Rector. This is something about which we should rejoice!
Your pledge helps get us closer to St. Stephen’s having a Rector and for the congregation to have the ability and opportunity to call a Rector to serve when one day (hopefully in the far future) I move on.
Third, our talents.
Each of us has been blessed by God with various talents. These talents are what make us unique. Some of us have a gift for music, others for the physical upkeep of buildings, others for their artistic vision, others for their gift to make things beautiful, others for teaching. Each of us has something special that we can share with others here at St. Stephen’s.
Fourth, we are good stewards by being faithful ministers. Each of us as baptized Christians is called by God to serve—to serve God and to serve others in love. Ministry here at St. Stephen’s takes many forms—liturgically (in the worship service), musically, in outreach and in sharing God’s goodness and love with others in whatever small ways. Wry should continue to stand up and speak out as we are called to do. We should continue to be prophets
Finally, our gratitude
We should give thanks to God and to each other regularly for the graces we have been granted to us as a congregation. God has been good to us at St. Stephen’s. God is here, present in the work we do. Christ is present in us as we do the work we have been called to do.
In all these ways, we show our gratitude for the abundance that God has granted to us here at St. Stephen’s. In addition, we also share in the on-going and vital ministry of our congregation.
This Sunday, December 3, we will be gathering in our pledge cards and our Time-and Talent sheets. Stewardship Season is the time in which we celebrate the exciting ministries at St. Stephen’s and consider how we may show our gratitude for the abundance we have been given.
This Sunday, please plan on attending the 11:00 celebration of Holy Eucharist, and please plan to place your pledge card and your Time-and-Talent Sheet in the offering plate.
As we head into a new year of ministry, please consider tithing from your monetary income. But just as seriously consider the ways in which you serve God and God’s People through the ministry each of us has been called to do here.
Finally, THANK YOU. Thank you to those who have already turned in their pledge cards. Thank you to all of you who have worked so hard and so patiently to make St. Stephen’s what it is.
I am personally so grateful for each and every one of you as I pray for you by name through the course of the week in my daily prayers. I sometimes almost cannot believe that God has been so good to call me to a place where I can serve alongside a community of people who are committed to God’s love, justice and service to others. Thank you again and again!