THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY 2020
ANNUAL PARISH MEETING
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
I would like to do something a little different this morning. As usual, I will refer to today’s scriptural readings, but I want to talk about the State of the Parish in terms of it. And because I am talking about us as a body, I shall not name any names in the sermon. I shall thank particular people for their ministries and leadership at Trinity during the meeting itself.
The priest in charge of my parish back home was visiting me last week with his wife because each of us are good friends. Some of you met David and Marilyn in church or at coffee hour, and they felt very welcome.
We clergy talk shop a lot, and during one of our conversations the subject of annual meetings came up. David shared something he did at his first annual meeting of his former parish, some twenty years ago. His predecessor had not served them well, and they were a pretty wounded bunch when David became rector. That day he passed out copies of the lessons, one lesson per table, but each lesson at two or three tables. He asked them to look at the lesson in front of them and then try to describe in biblical terms what they thought they were about at that time in the parish’s life. The most memorable response he got was from a long-time parishioner who was currently serving on the Vestry. The man stood up and said, “I guess we are mending the nets.”
“Mending the nets!” Isn’t that an apt description of what a parish needs to do in a time of healing? I think that’s what you were doing this past spring and summer before I arrived and also since then with all the “koinonia” events. You were weaving people together, as they chose to venture out of their homes. You were not tying people up, but loosely gathering each other in warm and rich fellowship that continued to grow deeper throughout the year. I saw it happening among you. You got to know people you had never talked with before even though some of them sat only three boxes away in church for the past year. And as you met each other, you grew to like and enjoy each other.
I noticed this at coffee hours which lasted longer and longer as we stood on the walkway with the restored fountain gurgling merrily behind us.
I noticed this in meetings, especially, for when I first arrived when new ventures were discussed, there was some suspicion and distrust in some of the voices, as if some might be trying to get over on others. I think the Portfolio Committee had a lot to do with changing that. They worked so hard writing descriptions of the parish from so many angles and then they invited you to chew on them. Some were chewed up. But they took your comments seriously and made changes reflecting the conversations. They did this not just once, but three or four times, and each time they re-wrote those descriptions. When the so-called deadline for submission to the diocese came near, they shared it one more time with the parish and then the Vestry, and you as a parish seemed to love it. The Profile had become your document, not just the Committee’s, and that is entirely due to the transparency they practiced—maybe the first such experience of that here in some time.
You mended a lot of nets in October, when so many of you volunteered as you were able to serve in the Pumpkin Patch. Many of you talked about how much joy and delight it brought you, especially watching the children’s eyes grow in wonder——soooo many pumpkins, soooo many goodies, and the oh-so-lovely Cinderella in her magic coach. This brought neighbors in from Newport and the island and tourists from all over the world. I wonder how many other churches are planning to try a Pumpkin Patch this coming fall.
You were mending nets when you brought the parish and our friends together for the Silver Tea and the preview party. It was truly a feast of goodies, some to eat here and some to take home, and the best goody of all, good conversation and laughter.
We have a group here whose net-mending is historical—our many guides who celebrate our lovely church, sharing historical events and stories both about the building and some of what has happened here over three centuries. When I watched visitors leave after a guided tour, everyone seemed to be wearing a smile or looked awe-struck by what they had just seen and experienced.
Very importantly, we have a long-standing and revolving group of volunteers called TLC—Trinity Loving Care. I think that is the most thorough, most loving, most widespread group of pastoral volunteers I have ever seen. They were mending nets constantly. Every time one of them helped someone else, you reminded that person that no matter how confined s/he was by age or infirmity, s/he still belongs, is remembered and is cared for. People who are shut-in at Trinity are not shut out.
Of course there are the many among us who volunteer to help and serve the Community Meal, a net-mending ministry we do at the heart of Newport for the sake of others. A story: perhaps a dozen years ago one of our seminarians had formerly been a professor and, naturally, she liked to do most things in her head—nothing wrong with that but I wanted her to stretch a bit, to learn how to do ministry with her heart as well. So one year I insisted that her field education should be at a local parish’s soup kitchen. She volunteered, begrudgingly, and was certainly not happy with me. Well, God is so good. On her first evening there, another professional woman came in from her work, still handsomely dressed. As she was putting on her apron, she said to the seminarian, “I love to come here every week, because you never know what face Jesus will wear this time!” I heard that story from the seminarian who told me that moment changed her whole attitude. I tell the story because that woman putting on her apron so expectantly reminds me of you who volunteer. It is one thing to serve and treat PLUs (People Like Us). It is altogether different to serve those we do not think are like us. But when we serve often enough we learn that they are JLUs—Just Like Us.
One consistent and committed group of net-menders here is the Vestry. They encourage us all, challenge us, and witness to hope and trust. They invest themselves—tons of time, talent and treasure, and it shows. There have been differences between them, but when the net has unravelled or broken, they address each other and the problem with care and concern and, I believe, in love. They do their mending. And as they have gotten closer, trust has grown among them, and I think that has led the rest of us to trust them all the more. During the recent budget process, which some have described as the most thorough and transparent in recent memory, they discussed values and priorities before they got to the budget itself, and then they went over every single line item so they are all clear about how we are steward’s of God’s money. They have listened to you throughout the year, and the budget reflects the parish as a whole.
We can do so much more this year because you have all grown so much in stewardship. Pledges are up over 25%, which is rare in any parish in any year, and almost unheard of during a time of transition. I have been quite blunt and matter of fact in talking about money and our need to be more responsible, and instead of getting upset, you expressed gratitude for getting a clear picture of where we are.
At our meeting later I will thank the team of net-menders with whom I serve daily, our parish staff.
Personally, I am grateful to those who help shape and teach in our Sunday School. I have left this for last because this is my single biggest concern as we move ahead. We need more teachers—not just the parents of our children. And we need more children. In this case more means richer: richer relationships, richer learning, and richer community. This has to be the number one priority as Trinity moves ahead.
Lastly, I want to tell you what joy it is to serve among you, and Ezekiel (EZ), my poodle, tells me it is a joy for him too. I thank God for restoring me from some serious health problems and a total lack of energy a year ago, so that I can try to serve you well, because you need and deserve that. I have seen the Spirit’s work among us and I am so very glad and joyful.
Mending the nets is an on-going concern. Sometimes they break and sometimes they just wear out. Like the laundry, mending the nets is never done. But I think we have sufficiently caught up with the much-needed mending that we may offer our praise and gratitude to God.
And now, let’s go fishing! Fishing for people! We are ready! Amen.
+James L. Jelinek, Interim Rector