St. Giles’ Episcopal Church
January 27, 2019 – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rector’s Message at the Annual Meeting of the Parish
Isaiah 55:1-3a and Matthew 25:31-46
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
This morning I have decided to use this time to share with you some of my reflections on the state of the parish and inform you of some changes that take effect this year. This will give you the opportunity to think for a few minutes about issues which you may want to question or speak about during the Annual Meeting. I certainly encourage you to do so.
First, a brief review of some basics about how an Episcopal parish operates. The Canons or laws of the national Episcopal Church dictate certain duties of the rector. The first is this: “The Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and the pastoral direction of the Bishop.” I hope you will understand that I am bound to use The Book of Common Prayer as it is written or other forms of worship if they are approved by the national Episcopal Church or given special permission by our Bishop. The Book of Common Prayer and other authorized worship resources contain a deep biblical and theological foundation. Though I have read and prayed the Prayer Book services thousands of times, I always find something in them to inspire me and help me grow. I hope you will share that experience here with me.
The second canon is this: “For the purposes of the office and for the full and free discharge of all functions and duties pertaining thereto, the Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall at all times be entitled to the use and control of the Church and Parish buildings together with all appurtenances and furniture, and to access to all records and registers maintained by or on behalf of the congregation.” I have so far chosen to allow the vestry to decide most matters related to the use of the building, and I intend to continue to do so unless we come to an irreconcilable point of disagreement, which I hope will never happen. Please consult with me or the Senior Warden on issues related to the use of the building. I have never asked to see records of the church because I have trusted parishioners to do what is right, and I expect to be able to continue in that state of trust.
The religious education of the parishioners is also my responsibility. The education of children in Sunday School has been assigned to lay members of the parish, both because we have people who feel called to that ministry and because I cannot teach the children if Sunday School takes place at the same time as worship. I think this has worked well for everyone so far. Adult education, especially Bible study, has been led by Don Kraus and will continue to be while I am your rector. You may not know that for almost 35 years Don has been in charge of the study Bible program at Oxford University Press, the most respected scholarly program of its type in the world. Don attended Harvard Divinity School, he reads Hebrew and Greek – the languages of the Bible – and he has written three books about the Bible. Your minds are in good hands as his students, and we both hope that more parishioners and guests will attend his classes. My piece of adult education is preaching. I bring my knowledge of scripture, theology, and spirituality, as well as my experience of being a Christian to the task of preparing my sermons. It is not my goal to entertain you, but rather to give you food for thought and help on the way of following Jesus. The story of Jesus Christ is our salvation story, and that is the story I have promised to tell the people of God.
Among my other responsibilities is the preparation of individuals for baptism, confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation, and I have offered such preparation as needed. I also work with people to plan weddings and funerals, and I conduct those services, occasionally for members of the community who are not parishioners. I record baptisms, marriages, confirmations, and burials in our parish register and keep a register of all worship services, as required and as inspected by the Bishop at his visitations. These are all my responsibilities, as well as additional record-keeping and paperwork required by the diocese and the national church.
I provide pastoral care and counseling and support to the people of St. Giles in person, by telephone, by mail, and by electronic communication. Much of this work is confidential, and I do not share with you a good deal of what I do in order to protect people’s privacy. I treasure the opportunities I have been given to support and care for you, especially in your times of grief and illness and trouble.
Broadly speaking, the vestry has responsibility for the finances of the church as well as responsibility for the maintenance of the building. There are standard practices for church business with which we must comply, carried out primarily by the church treasurer. When a congregation is without a rector, the officers of the vestry are responsible for the continuation of worship, including the calling of a new rector.
Since becoming your rector in July 2012 I have been compensated by the parish on a half time basis. Though it is unusual for a half time priest to lead worship every Sunday as well as do all the other work of the church, I have felt that it was important to the health of the parish for me to do so. But I have recognized in recent months that I have become drained of the energy I need to do my best work for you. My well of compassion is running dry, I am losing patience, and I am overreacting and reacting negatively to small matters. I am sometimes resentful rather than grateful. This is not the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is not good for you or for me.
I am convinced that much of this is simply the result of fatigue. Burnout is not uncommon among clergy. I want to do all I can to recover and regain my energy and joy in our work together. I spoke to the vestry last month and proposed working on a one third time basis. What that means to you is that I will not be here for 12 weeks this year. Many part time clergy take one Sunday a month off, but I have found that isn’t an adequate break. So I will take off several consecutive weeks at a time during the year. The 2019 budget includes money for supply clergy to cover most of the Sundays I will be gone and Senior Warden, John Atwood, will arrange for clergy coverage. My proposal was also driven by my expectation – which proved to be correct – that 2019 pledges would not be sufficient to cover my compensation costs at a half time level.
This year we will test this new arrangement. I am committed to being your rector and to doing my work of preaching the Gospel, of leading worship and administering the sacraments of the church, and carrying out all of my responsibilities to the best of my ability. And I hope that you will be committed to being active members of the Body of Christ, working cooperatively with one another and with me, to do the work the church is meant to do. We can evaluate how this plan has worked for all of us later this year.
I think we need to get back to basics. As the prophet Isaiah says, speaking for God, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” We only have so much time and so much energy, and we must use our time and energy for what is most important, for the bread which will nourish us as we seek to follow Jesus, for the work of the church that satisfies our souls and benefits the world.
One of the basics of being the church is prayer and the worship of God. What do we need for that? In the Episcopal Church we need a Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, some bread and wine, a priest, and a congregation of prayerful lay people. We don’t need vestments and altar furnishings, we don’t need flowers and candles and crosses, we don’t need music, we don’t need lay people to read or lead prayer or serve at the altar, and we don’t need coffee hour. All of these are fine and add to our experience here in rich ways, but if we want them, we need willing volunteers to provide the money for them and to do the work. You must be those willing volunteers or in the future we will not have what you have come to expect.
People speak of the decline of the church today. Historically, the church has grown time and again in periods of persecution, when the commitment of individuals must be strong and when the right and privilege to be a worshipping community is threatened. It is our lack of commitment that threatens the church today, and each and every one of us can choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. The church also grows when people outside of the church can see the members of the church doing what we are called to do, especially in works of mercy and care for those in need. Many people are hungry for God, and we are meant to fill that hunger here in the church.
I believe it is time now for us to evaluate how the parish is functioning and to take steps to make us stronger. I will do what I can. But I will say this again, you must also do what you can, all that you can, if we are to maintain the strength we have and even grow stronger. Please think carefully about your role in the parish and the effect of what you say and do on the body as a whole. Attitudes of “I can’t,” “I won’t,” and “someone else should do such and such” kill the spirit in the body. Complaints and gossip kill the spirit in the body. The thought that everything at St. Giles’ will always be fine is dangerous these days. Some of you will remember the famous quote from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” That is the attitude we need here. We all have gifts to offer. I would ask you to think and pray about how you can offer your gifts here with a generous spirit for the common good and for the love of God.
This church is a gift from God and a blessing we have received from the faithful people who have gone before us. It is important for us to find ways to keep the parish strong and healthy, so that others may receive the gift of St. Giles’ Church now and in the future. We must always keep in mind that the church belongs to Christ, the head of the church and the author of our salvation, as the Prayer Book says. We can serve Christ and honor Christ by giving our best to the church and to the world.
Isaiah goes on from the passage we heard this morning to address the people in these words: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (55:6). I hope and pray that we will do just that here in our parish. In Jesus’ name. Amen.