Rector’s Annual Address – February 4, 2017
First, my thanks to all of you for giving up some time today to be part of the annual meeting of our parish community and both hear about our life together, our many gifts and good works and our challenges and to share in conversation about how we go forward and continue our commitment to radical welcome and excellence in what we do as partners in God’s mission.
I also want to recognize the incredible work of our staff all of whom put in much more time and energy on behalf of St. Paul’s and its people than they are compensated for. We could not function as a church as seamlessly as we do without them.
And great thanks to the many members of this congregation who offer their time, talent and energy in so many ways—both in those ministries that support worship, provide pastoral care, and raise revenue through the hard work of fundraising.
A sweet elderly lady telephoned Norwalk Hospital and timidly asked, “Is it possible to speak to someone who can tell me how a patient is doing?” The operator said, “I’ll be glad to help, dear. What’s the name and room number?” In her weak, tremulous voice she said, “Norma Findlay, Room 302.” The operator replied, “Let me place you on hold while I check with her nurse.”
After a few minutes, the operator returned to the phone and said, “Oh, I have good news. Her nurse just told me that Norma is doing very well. Her blood pressure is fine; her blood work just came back as normal, and her physician has scheduled her to be discharged on Tuesday.” The lady said, “Thank you. That’s wonderful! I was so worried! God bless you for the good news.” The operator replied, “You’re more than welcome. Is Norma your daughter?” The elderly lady said, “No, I’m Norma Findlay in 302. No one tells me anything!!!!”
Of course, funny as the story may be we know it represents a huge violation of HIPPA regulations and would not happen at any hospital. But its humor holds the truth that none of us likes to be kept in the dark about the important things in life. Open, honest communication promotes healthy relationships.
Typically, the rector’s address at the annual meeting is fairly comprehensive and not very brief. This year, however, my talk will be much shorter because our parish wardens, Louise Truax and Bob Giolitto, will be facilitating a presentation focusing on the theme of this year’s meeting: Sustaining our Life as a Faith Community: What does that mean for you? For Us?
We have come to the two hundred and eightieth years of our founding as a church. In our pursuit of how to guarantee sustainability of who we are as a faith community and what we offer to the wider community, I think we have a three pronged responsibility:
1. We owe a great amount of gratitude to the thousands of people who came before us, fought to make the church viable in the face of such experiences as the American Revolution and the Great Depression, and who built church building after building until we inherited the magnificent sacred space we have today.
2. We are committed to serve the needs of our sisters and brother who are here, who worship, serve, and support this faith community and for those who are not yet here—those who are seeking an experience of a loving and embracing God, some of whom are healing from the hurt they have sustained because of religion.
3. Finally, we are obligated to ensure that the generations that follow will have the same opportunity as we have enjoyed and will find this place as solid at the core and loose around the edges as it has been for us—a beacon of hope and prototype of inclusion and welcome.
On the first weekend in May, our staff and vestry will gather in Lenox, Massachusetts, for an intense weekend of prayer, conversation, and planning as we continue to ask questions and seek answers about maintaining our ethos, our mission, our worship, and our outreach with no compromise to the fundamental belief we share about who we are at our core and how important is our presence and work here in Fairfield county. I have invited the Reverend Suzanne Wille, rector of All Saints Church in Indianapolis, to facilitate our retreat. Mother Suzanne was a seminarian intern at St. Paul’s about eight years ago and is a very successful and gifted priest serving a community much like ours. She will celebrate the 11 0’clock Solemn Eucharist and preach on Sunday, May 7.
In the Death of a Hired Man, poet laureate Robert Frost said that “home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” We all need that kind of a community—one that will welcome us with all our warts and quirks and baggage—and still celebrate every time they see us coming. That vision forms the very foundation of our deepest yearnings as human beings and to sustain that kind of community is the work to which we are called. None of us wants, and few are attracted to, an “anemic” or “lackluster” church—we want to be part of a powerful, dynamic church that strives to make a bold difference in the world.
We began today by singing about God as the source of our vision. Our former Presiding Bishop, Katherine Schori, who will be our guest celebrant and preacher on Sunday, April 23, says that “it is a vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it’s a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it’s a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, where everyone is at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all the rest of creation.”
That’s the vision, the dream of God, we are committed to grow and sustain.