THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
NORTHWOODS, MISSOURI 63121
December 29, 2014
Dear Friends in Christ,
Preparing last week’s Christmas Eve sermon was a particular challenge. After all, it’s not like the story is unfamiliar! Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem to register for a census. Their child was born in a stable. And, this wondrous birth was announced by angels to a bunch of local shepherds. So, what’s the problem?
For parishioners and preachers alike, beloved Biblical stories (like the narrative of Jesus’ birth) are so well known that we often let them slip by without engaging them with the same attention and focus that we do with less familiar texts. Thus, for each of us, the question is how we might hear the “Good News” as a fresh voice and, even more important, how we might appropriate it for our life of faith and ministry.
Especially as we conclude a year tragically marked by violence in our own community, heightened racial tension and skepticism that “all lives truly matter,” Luke’s message on that first Christmas Eve spoke to more than just the overwhelming gift of the Incarnation – God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. The context in which he set his Gospel is largely political and economic. And not surprisingly, it is his distinct perspective on Jesus’ life that provides us with the framework for our tireless pursuit of social justice. Beginning with the story of his birth, Luke wants us to engage a Jesus who stands in stark contrast to the power and prestige of the world. He wants us to engage a Jesus whose life and ministry were dedicated to stripping away the pretense of wealth and privilege – focusing instead on the needs and human dignity of the most vulnerable among us. And, Luke wants us to engage a Jesus who saves not through the triumph of military might but with the humble grace of a God of peace, love and unbounded forgiveness.
As we continue to celebrate Jesus’ birth during these “Twelve Days of Christmas,” my prayerful hope is that the Jesus revealed by Luke might increasingly empower our pursuit of social, racial, economic and political justice for all God’s family. My prayerful hope is that our larger St. Louis community might be touched by his healing grace and grow in the capacity to listen to one another, learn and change. And, my prayerful hope is that Ascension continues “to be the presence of Christ for all whose lives we might touch.” By God’s grace, may this be our New Year.
However, even as we look forward to 2015, we have several challenges. Two weeks ago, the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton (SMSG) informed us that they likely would not be able to financially support our food pantry to the extent that they have in recent years. Since SMSG provides 78% of the funds used to purchase food for the pantry, the impact on our operations is significant. We are working with several congregations to coordinate our ongoing operations, identify other sources of funding and explore alternate ways to continue this vitally important ministry. The $2,500 grant from our national church in response to the ongoing crisis in Ferguson will help in the short-term. Unfortunately, it alone cannot sustain our food pantry beyond March. As we work to stabilize funding for the food pantry, we hope to be able to continue our semi-monthly distribution schedule, although we may need to limit portion sizes and the number of people served.
The need to subsidize the food pantry from our pledge and plate revenues, combined with the significant expenditure of reserve funds this year to complete the renovation of the Parish Hall, require that we re-assess our priorities and commitments. Toward that end, the Bishop’s Committee agreed to defer the development of a Master Plan for the renovation of our sanctuary and the building’s exterior. Hopefully, our financial position will recover in the months ahead, and we’ll be able to begin this planning process by year’s end.
Although we have challenges, new opportunities abound. Several congregations in the diocese participated in the 2014 “Bible Challenge,” the daily reading of all of Scripture over the course of a year. Their experience was so positive that I’m inviting you to take up this challenge in 2015. The list of readings for each of the next 365 days is enclosed. I hope you’ll join Mary and me on this journey as we deepen our knowledge and understanding of God’s message of salvation and its application in our daily lives. Please let me know if you’re participating in the “Bible Challenge” so that we can schedule times throughout the year to reflect on this experience together.
I’m very pleased to share that Rev. Deb has made arrangements with the University of Missouri to offer its “Eating Smart, Being Active” class at Ascension beginning on Wednesday, January 14 from 10:00 – 11:00 A.M. This 8-session course, held on the 2nd, 4th and 5th Wednesdays of the month, is intended to help us get the best value from the food we purchase, prepare it in the healthiest way and “stretch” it as far as possible. There is no charge for the course, and a certificate will be awarded to those who attend at least six of the eight sessions.
Finally, just another gentle nudge. In order to strengthen our singing and help us learn unfamiliar hymns, I’ve been encouraging everyone to sit toward the front of the sanctuary. Not only is it easier to hear others’ voices and Susan Young’s accompaniment, it helps create a more intimate environment for worship and prayer.
May God’s grace bless you and your family throughout the New Year.