Last week, Heidi Joos gave a beautiful, inspiring sermon on the meaning of Advent. She reminded us that the Latin translates “coming toward”. In this season we are waiting not only for the coming of Jesus in flesh but the coming of God’s kingdom.
On this second Sunday in Advent, my task is much more earth bound. I’m going to speak about what’s coming toward us soon at St. John’s. I’d like to begin with a minute or two of silence.
We are blessed to have John the Baptist as our patron. Most saints are just names on the pages of the gospel. John springs out in 3 dimensions. We see the eccentricities of his dress and diet. We can hear his strong voice, calling everyone to account–though it may make us want to duck and take cover at times.
John’s qualities inlcude: his boldness and humility, his clarity, honesty about what is, his vision for what can and should be be. John is a truth teller. In today’s gospel, for instance, he calls out the Pharisees and Sadducees. He challenges those learned religious figures to not to take the privileges of their Jewish heritage for granted. He says that each of them is responsible before God for his own faith, his own life, his own heritage.
That is John’s call for us today as well. Each of us is responsible for our own faith, our own life, our own heritage.
We are embarked on a Centennial at St. John’s, celebrating our heritage here: the 100th anniversary of milestones in our history. In 1916 we were incorporated as a parish in the Episcopal church, and construction of our Tower and Sanctuary began. In September 1917, we held and our first worship service in this Sanctuary.
A centennial is the time to take stock and we’re doing that in different ways.
-On one hand we are thinking about our identity: looking back to see how our history has shaped us, and looking at who we are in the present—how our mission and ministries express our values now.
-On another hand we’ve been carefully evaluating the state of our 100-year-old Tower and Sanctuary building. They have blessed generations of community worship, celebration and service. We’ve recognized the urgent need to care for these treasured spaces so that they can continue to bless and serve this congregation and the wider community for another century or more.
-Finally we have begun in hope and faith to form visions for the near and long-term future–for more ambitious mission locally.
Some of you may be hearing about this for the first time now. We’ve shared some of the information in Forum presentations this fall. But this process has been underway for over a year, involving nearly a hundred members, serving quietly behind the scenes. They include your elected representatives on the Vestry along with other dedicated volunteers on the Finance, Building and Grounds, Garden, Earth Matters, Outreach and Adult Forum Committees, and the Rector’s Council of Advice as well as the Forum speakers, and the ad hoc Space Study and Centennial Celebration Committees. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.
By now you should have received the postcard letting you know about two special Forums we want you all to attend. Next Sunday and the Sunday after, we’ll share in greater detail the proposals we have developed. We want to know what you think.
What I’d like briefly to do today is to set those proposals in a larger context. I firmly believe that they faithfully represent the deepest values of this congregation, and provide both the means and the stimulus, for us to expand upon them–growing together in mission and ministry.
A look at our history shows that we share core values with our founders.
-first, the commitment to children. Our community grew out of a children’s Sunday School in the 1880s—long before we organized as a church, bought this land or built on it.
-service is also part of our DNA: the ladies of the 19th-century community met regularly to sew items which they sent to foreign missionaries. We are firmly grounded in this neighborhood AND we have always reached out far beyond it
-our sense of community has always been strong; it’s our bedrock.
So how do these values translate into the Centennial renovation recommendations and a Centennial Campaign?
First, last, and always it’s about the “the healthy nurturing of children”. When it was clear that the restoration of the Tower was urgent, we looked at other capital needs for the coming campaign. At the top was renovating the Sanctuary basement for our children’s Sunday school (along with more adult meeting space). We need to enhance the quality of the spaces, the lighting and the flow of air; and we need to add fire-preventative sprinklers. A possible renovation meant we could consider our tenant’s desire to expand Linden Hills Day Care into that part of the basement. It’s a win-win-win: putting the rooms to good use during the week; serving the need for excellent childcare in the neighborhood; and increasing our rental income.
The Tower restoration and Sanctuary basement renovation are our capital priorities and by far the biggest expenses in the campaign.
But our campaign must not just serve THIS congregation and THIS neighborhood. To be faithful to our God and to our own values, we must always to reach out. So the campaign includes a tithe for Outreach, to serve the needs in our own city. A tithe, 10% of the total building expense, could create a fund in excess of $100,000 when all is said and done. We will take time to discern where the greatest needs are and how we are called to respond. My belief, my prayer is that such a sum will both inspire and challenge the people of St. John’s to embrace a bolder vision of our role in the well-being of this community.
Finally, we will use this campaign to begin a serious commitment to the long-term financial health of the parish by inviting and soliciting contributions to build our tiny endowment.
Engineering studies showed that the Tower structure is at a critical point. If we act now, we can restore it at a cost far less than if we wait any longer. Once we have heard from the congregation in this month’s Forums, the Vestry hopes to launch the funding campaign early in 2017 so that the renovations can be done this summer.
This is an important moment in our history. In my long life in non-profits, I’ve been involved in several campaigns. At the beginning of every one, the leaders take a deep breath and wonder whether we can make it a success. I am confident that we in this congregation have the courage, the faith and the vision to rise to this challenge.
Courage, faith and vision are also in our DNA.
Our cornerstone was laid in May 1916. The US joined WWI in April of 1917. As young men from this parish went to fight overseas, the congregation did not put this building on hold. They continued construction on this church, completing it that summer.
In the early ’80s, our membership and income had declined to a point that the bishop wanted to close St. John’s. A band of members still with us today joined hands, hearts, wills and pocketbooks to nurture the flame of faith here until it could blaze anew.
It is our turn to step up—to keep the faith of our forebears. Together, we have the means. Everyone will be asked to take part at whatever level we can. As we share in the gift of this community, this beloved space, so we will share in the sacrifice to care for it. In every generation, each of us has to claim our heritage, our relationship to God and to our community. That’s one of the ways that we grow into the fullness of our faith.
As we celebrate a hundred years of sanctuary, service, and community in this place, we give thanks to God for that rich heritage, thanks for the privilege of caring for it and the opportunity to pass it on, improved, to the next generations.