I originally wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of St. Joseph, MO
I realize Thanksgiving has passed and Advent has begun but there is never an inappropriate time for gratitude. Those present on Annual Meeting Sunday heard my sermon in which I laid out my perspective on where First Christian Church of St. Joseph is at this stage in its 165 year lifespan. I shared my conviction that FCC St. Joseph has made a decision to live and carry out the work God has for it rather than choosing to decline and die like so many other churches have done. Despite the many good signs of life in our church, there remain several key challenges our church must face if our faith community wishes to have a vibrant role in our community in the 21st century, namely loss of older long-time members to illness and death as well as concerns about having enough financial giving from the congregation to maintain our ministries at their current levels.
Laying out that perspective took up the available time in the service, so I was unable to include in my sermon some of the things I am thankful for that have occurred over the last year at FCC St. Joseph. In no particular order, here they are.
• We made the courageous decision to declare our church an Open and Affirming congregation. Despite some anxiety on the part of some members, the membership overwhelmingly decided to “go public” with what it has already been doing for some time—welcoming all people, especially those who have been excluded or condemned at other churches.
• We made the wise decision to allow for “Dual Membership” which means people can join our church while maintaining membership at another one. This will allow individuals and families to make FCC their local church without asking them to break longstanding relationships with previous congregations and denominations.
• 15 new members joined our church since Annual Meeting 2009!
• We recommitted ourselves to remain in our current location and minister out of this historic building by holding a successful capital campaign which raised almost $250,000 to be given by 2013.
• Thanks to Sandy Hamlin’s leadership (and Ken’s too) we had another amazing year of Royal Family Kids Camp where abused and neglected children experienced the love of God.
• We gave over $1000 to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti
• We had a successful series of education events on Wednesday nights both in the spring and fall. In the spring we studied Claiming the Promise: An Ecumenical Welcoming Study Guide on Homosexuality, and in the fall we had a series on faith and film.
• We raised over $1200 to fight hunger via the CROP Walk—making FCC the participating church which raised the most for the event.
• We had a successful VBS where we dressed up like superheroes and taught church kids and neighborhood kids about Jesus being their true hero.
• We scraped, prepped and painted a garage belonging to a low-income resident as a part of St. Joe Serve
• Thanks to Andrew Kar we worked with other downtown churches for a combined youth group this summer.
• Thanks to the leadership of Suzanne Shay we had 350 kids and parents here Halloween night at Fall Fun at First.
Of course this list is not exhaustive, merely illustrative of the important ministry of our church. I am always grateful for all the work of our dedicated staff, the grunt work provided by our Administrative Board and committee members who do the often thankless tasks that are necessary for a church to live for God, and for members and non-members alike who give of their time, abilities and finances to sustain the ministries of our church.
These things are only the tip of the iceberg of what we can accomplish together in Jesus’ name if we choose to live for our hopes and not for our fears. As our church continues to change, we must continually choose to stretch ourselves to invite in people who may be different from us and who may have their own ideas about what being church means, because if we choose to turn our backs and turn our attention only upon ourselves then our church sill die. Worse yet, we will have chosen to miss out on the grace and joy God wants to provide to us and our community through FCC St. Joseph.
Grace and Peace,