St. Paul's Episcopal Church
The Rector's Annual Report
I'd like to think we did our namesake St. Paul proud this year.
After talking about it for a few years,
we sent a multi-generational group on a service trip to Nicaragua.
Prompted by table discussions at last year's Annual Meeting,
we started working toward celebrating our 275th Anniversary
in the spring of 2016.
We made a successful transition in our music program
calling Jay Lindsay as our new Music Director and, along the way,
nearly doubled the number of Choristers.
The Vestry adopted guidelines for the Mary Clulee/Friends of Music funds
and the Mildred Specht Memorial Fund for Christian Education.
We developed a new Safe Church Policy which
we'll be formally introducing later this year.
We as a parish settled into our new Sunday schedule for
the first full calendar year, with many of us talking less frequently
about the "8:00 and 10:00...er, 9:30" services.
We found a new way to observe a busy season by "Doing Nothing"
together on Wednesday nights in Advent, and
learned that many of us want to spend more time in quiet meditation.
On the other end of the spectrum, we enjoyed rousing services led by
our Church School and Confirmands.
Under the leadership of our Director of Christian Education
Becky Scalesse, we re-introduced family-friendly activities
to the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper.
Out in cyberspace, we increased our use of social media.
At the same time, we developed more face-to-face opportunities
in the new "Supper 8" groups
which meet for dinner in parishioners' homes.
Thanks to a wonderful crew of toddlers through grandparents,
we made more than 150 peanut butter sandwiches and stuffed bag lunches
for guests at Chapel on the Green in New Haven.
A smaller group went and shared lunch and worship there.
We also welcomed newcomers into the parish, and appreciated
new leaders in roles as diverse as teaching Sunday school,
directing the Christmas pageant,
heading up stewardship and shelter volunteers, and more.
And, yes, we did a lot of important things that weren't so new --
we observed Lent, Holy Week, Easter,
various and sundry feast days (often with multiple baptisms),
Christmas and, with heavy hearts, gave thanks for the lives of loved ones
who've entered into greater glory.
We walked on the beach at the Mercy Center Retreat and
learned at Adult Forum.
We had fun making apple pies, drinking holiday tea,
giving out shopping bags at the Garden Market,
hosting the main course of the Progressive Dinner,
visiting at coffee hour, to note but a few.
We continue to reach out to one another in vital ways --
with casseroles, home communion, flowers and fruit baskets,
prayer shawls and, most of all, prayer.
To every one of you who give so much of yourselves
for each of these ministries and more,
and to Parish Secretary Debi Page who helps hold it all together,
this is the day when we as a parish say:
Thank you. Thanks be to God for you.
It's clear that our parish has flourished in many ways this year.
In other ways, though, we're just treading water.
At this moment our pledging -- despite several new pledges and
nice increases of many current pledges --
barely meets last year's overall total.
Our annual attendance numbers remain just about steady.
Now I can hasten to add that this is consistent with
larger national trends,
with mainline churches such as our own dear Episcopal Church
In many ways we at St. Paul's are fortunate to be
more than holding our own. But is this where we want to be?
Is this what God in Christ has called us to do -- hold our own?
Or, find new expressions of life in Christ
for these changing and challenging times?
Here I think we'll find St. Paul instructive.
You'll not be surprised to notice that today we read the story of
Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.
One would expect that on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
But did you know that this is but one of three such accounts
in the Book of Acts?
First, there's the original narrative that appears in chapter 9.
Then there's Paul's account to a Jewish audience in chapter 22.
And, finally, today's lesson in which he addresses
a Greek audience in his speech to King Agrippa in Rome.
In each case, the basic facts and story line are the same.
Yet each account reflects what Paul does best:
Tell the story of his life in Christ
in a way that's compelling to his audience.
Paul speaks their language, addresses their concerns.
He's contextual. He immerses himself in the community.
Paul doesn't change his core beliefs or
the salient points of his witness;
he does change, as needed,
the way he approaches it.
There's a lot to be learned from his example.
It may be a cliche to say that we live in a time of
head-spinning change, but it's also true.
Not just in terms of technological gadgets, but culture itself.
The role of the Church everywhere is changing before our eyes.
The days are long gone when "going to church" was the norm.
Sunday morning is no longer immune from sports or school
or social demands.
The "nones" (that is, "none of the above" on religious surveys)
are the fastest growing segment of the population.
Here in New England we live in the least religious part of the country.
A quick look at the news reveals instances of violence, abuse, intolerance --
in the name of God.
Sadly, some of this falls under the rubric of "Christian".
Little wonder that more and more people say
that they're "spiritual but not religious".
All this means that we can no longer turn on the lights,
sit back and wait for folks to walk in the door.
Those days are over (if they ever really existed).
Where we are now is perhaps less clear, but
some people think we may be entering a time
more akin to the early church, the days of St. Paul.
When we can't take for granted that people know or understand
what we're about here.
When "the way we've always done things"
isn't a good enough reason for doing them now.
When we can't just wait for the surrounding community
to discover us,
but we must discover anew the surrounding community.
Just look at the variety of St. Paul's New Testament letters,
each one crafted to address the concerns of that particular place.
I'm not sure if any of us yet know exactly what
this will look like for us.
What we do know is that we weren't planted here
nearly 275 years ago
in order to simply perpetuate St. Paul's Church,
but to further God's mission
in the places we work and study and play,
in Wallingford and beyond to the New Haven Green,
to Nicaragua and wherever else we're needed.
What we do know is that we need every hand on deck to get there.
We need open hearts and minds, and
the love and patience of each other --
from those baptized the other week
right up through our most esteemed elders
and all of us in-between.
We need the insights and ideas of those we've yet to meet.
We need time and thoughtful conversation.
We need space to experiment, mess up and try again.
We need, and we have, the grace and goodness of God.
Let us pray:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light:
Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery;
by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the work of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are
being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were
made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.