Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!- Ephesians 4:4

Dear Plymouth Creek,

This week’s letter doubles as the annual Pastor’s Report to the Congregation, my sixth and counting!

As St. Paul told his churches, I thank God whenever I remember you in prayer. Which is frequent, by the way! Truly, I’m grateful to serve you and serve alongside you in shining the light of God’s love to our community.

I rejoice in this report to remember that our last “church year” began in June with an adult baptism. One of our own went under the waters of grace and emerged to pursue life in service to Christ’s mission. We do many things as a church- worship God, give time and money, console the grieving, comfort the sick, grow in faith, share the good news of God’s unconquerable love, welcome all to our Table. But Baptism is unique, and special, and it’s something the whole church does. Only one got dunked, of course. But we all surrounded her and stood with her, saying, “I’ll be your brother, if you’ll be my sister.” Praise God for such moments of decision, and for your courage to join the baptized in a renewal of faith! We’re not simply a gathering of diverse people and stories. We are church- a community woven together by grace.

So with that as the year’s beginning, we then saw another four people join our church in the months that followed, which was lovely. It wasn’t explosive growth, obviously. Nevertheless, it maintained the forward momentum we’ve worked hard to nurture over the past few years. In other words, the church remains on solid ground and in stable hands. Further evidence is the several new ministry initiatives that emerged in 2013-14. We spruced up the facilities, paving the previously holey parking lot, installing new sanctuary windows and more. Several members, with the help of our intern Lyle and the Servant Leaders, reinvigorated prayer for each other and our community. Two new small groups began. I helped launch a community-wide Interfaith Dialogue. A dishwasher was donated, which reduces our waste and has sparked new efforts in “greening” our ministry. Fundraising for hungry Minnesotans, neighbors in need and our denominational partners reached higher levels than any other year I’ve been your pastor. Financially, we saw increased giving, along with a second straight revenue positive year, allowing us to create a balanced 2014-15 budget. Recall that one critical event allowing for that success was a record fundraiser/auction last fall. This built upon several years of growth in that initiative, though what may’ve put us over the top was you all paying for me to shave my head!

So we have much reason to rejoice! I hope you do. Good work was done. Lives were impacted. We’re not without challenges, as you know. Next year, we’ll need to reach out more to new people to sustain our measured forward growth. In the near term, we’re on firm ground. In the medium-to-long term, we’ll encounter demographic pressures. The major question will be: How can we adapt our behavior- especially our worship and Sunday offerings- to meet the needs of young adults and families? Our values of inclusion, service, freedom of belief, and interfaith openness position us to answer that question well. However, we’ll need to change some things we do, maybe even things we like best, to adapt to this 21st century environment.

Fortunately, that’s possible. For starters, our church has proven willing to embrace changes that create better hospitality to others. Also, we’re poised to further deepen our relationship with our child care center partner, which has real potential to foster new relationships. We’ll each have a role in those changes, doing more of the good we’re already doing, trying creative new activities, supporting fresh ideas from different people. Another way to describe that is simple: We’ll be church, following Christ’s lead and trusting the Spirit’s guidance. That’s the main reason, I believe, we can and will rejoice, for we’re walking with the Lord by our side. Or as that beautiful song puts it, “Walking in the light God.” May we keep shining brightly on this journey together!

Grace and Peace,

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