My dear All Saints family,
Grace to you, and peace, in God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ!
We are rapidly approaching the start of a new year together. The last Sunday of November will be the first Sunday of Advent, which this year not only marks the beginning of the Church year, but also the 1-year anniversary of my arrival in Appleton and my stepping into the role of rector for All Saints Episcopal Church. Safe to say, I suspect, that the nearly twelve months that have passed since December 1, 2019, have not exactly gone the way that many of us would have predicted last winter. Nevertheless, I want you all to know that my family and I remain overwhelmingly grateful to have been welcomed by you into this parish family, and we continue to thank God for calling us to this place, to this ministry, and to this relationship with all of you. We are blessed!
All Saints is blessed, as well! Thanks to the grace of God and the faithful efforts and hard work of the Vestry, staff, and lay leadership of this parish, we have weathered the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, managing not only to maintain our worship, fellowship, and formation, but also to expand the scope and range of our ministry in totally new ways. Necessity really is the mother of invention: when the pandemic forced us to shut the physical doors of our building and kept us from gathering in person, we created an online ministry and online worship services, and we did it nearly overnight.
It is due to your continued and generous giving throughout this pandemic crisis that All Saints has been able to pay our bills, sustain our payroll, address critical maintenance issues in our building, and at the same time expand our ministries into the online environment. Your ongoing support has meant that All Saints has not had to face a financial crisis on top of the Covid crisis. THANK YOU! It is a sign of your love for this parish and your enduring faith in God that even in a time of global plague you have made your faith community a priority.
As one parishioner observed: “Are you pleasantly surprised that our connection to one another has endured, even though we haven’t seen each other in months? Are you pleasantly surprised that our connection to All Saints Church, our spiritual home, has endured, despite our not having entered her doors in eight months? Apparently, the mystical body of Christ is stronger than we knew.”
I would bet that some of you knew, though. This parish has deep roots in faith. That has been apparent to me since I got here a year ago.
We’ve been through a lot together since December of last year. But one thing we haven’t been through together yet is the annual stewardship campaign. I’m told that, normally, the stewardship drive would have already ended by now, with pledges being gathered in by All Saints’ Day. Since almost nothing has been “normal” about 2020, however, perhaps it isn’t too surprising that stewardship is working a little differently this year. So I’m writing to you all today to invite you to join me in a new way of looking at stewardship and, by extension, an exciting vision for the future of All Saints Episcopal Church.
Each of us is at this moment dealing to varying degrees with feelings of separation, constraint, uncertainty, and/or fear. What if we, as a parish, were to transform our sense of uncertainty into a spirit of inquiry? As new circumstances compel us to enter a new church relationship for a new decade, we need to consider opportunities for flourishing in new ways. What if, as we look forward to a return to in-person gathering, we also work together to plant the seeds for a post-pandemic All Saints Church that preserves all that we love about our church yet allows us to expand the reach and impact of our church in our lives and in our community?
Working with the Vestry and the Finance Ministry Team, and supported by a Stewardship Team called together to help flesh out and implement this vision, here is what I am proposing:
Three phases & three stewardship drives—a unified three-year plan
THIS YEAR: PLANTING THE SEEDS
What we need to do: Sustain the parish.
In a year full of crises and unforeseen changes & challenges, we seek only to maintain what we currently have. We need to pay the bills and keep the church functioning, yes. But beyond that, we need to offer our thanks to God and our gratitude to this church for all the blessings we share together. In that way, we will plant the seeds of future growth.
At this stage, we are primarily concerned with keeping the seeds of our faith and of our All Saints community alive.
What does that mean in practical terms? Well, here is a rough calculation of the daily costs of our three main areas of expense:
Ministry staff $391 per day
Buildings & grounds $209 per day
Current operations $202 per day
These figures are based on a very conservative budget proposal that is aimed at simply maintaining our current ministries and levels of expense. We have benefited somewhat from being shut down during the pandemic, since closing the building has meant lower costs in terms of cooling and heating. Eventually, however, we will return to in-person worship, and that will cost us more than our current, online worship does.
We need your generous support and your faithful giving that has kept us going during this pandemic to continue. We need you to help keep the seeds of ministry alive until we can emerge from this crisis and begin to grow our future together.
NEXT YEAR: TENDING THE GARDEN
What we need to do: Move from maintenance toward mission.
Building upon the solid foundation we have established, we must seek to discover our identity as a community of believers and followers of Jesus Christ, and also to discern God’s specific call to us to act as Christ’s body in this place. We need to ask challenging questions to push us beyond mere maintenance to get us excited about the future and to prepare us for real growth to come.
At this stage, our focus begins to pivot from being primarily internally-focused to becoming more externally-focused as we move beyond securing our own needs and sustaining our own community toward a vision of what we might do for God with the community and stability God has given us.
What does that mean? It means prayer and discernment. It means studying the Holy Scriptures. It means discovering and naming the specific gifts and resources that God has entrusted to us—both as individual members of the parish and especially as a community of Jesus-followers. What do we have to offer anybody who is not already a member of our parish? What gives us joy? More importantly, what are the most critical needs of the folks who live just outside our parish doors?
To paraphrase Frederick Buechner, the intersection of our deep joy and the world’s deep need is where we discover our vocation.
God is calling us to do more than merely continue existing. God has work for us to do. In Year Two, we begin the work of discovering the details of the mission God has in mind for us—the reason God wants us to grow.
These will be challenging conversations that invite us to re-vision how we see ourselves as a parish and how we see our purpose as the people of God in Appleton, Wisconsin. How exciting!
THE YEAR AFTER: WORKING THE HARVEST
What we need to do: Define and enact God’s call to us in concrete actions
Having discovered our identity rooted deeply in Jesus Christ, and having listened faithfully to His call to grow His Church (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – Matt. 28:19), we begin to harvest the seeds planted and tended in previous years. We need to discern the specific ways in which Jesus is calling us to be His body here in Appleton—the particular people in our area (and beyond) to whom Jesus is sending us as apostles and ministers.
At this stage, we look to both present and future with excitement, confidence, and zeal, and we offer up to God a stable, sustainable, highly-functioning community of committed believers ready and eager to do the work that God has given us to do in our community, our city, our region, and beyond.
What will that look like? Who can say? But I imagine it looks like a dynamic, engaged parish, full pews on Sundays and Wednesdays (at least), a congregation actively living out our discipleship in many different ways, a presence in the Appleton community that sees us tending the needs of “the least of these” whilst at the same time offering a safe haven and a source of healing and true inspiration for all of God’s children.
Does that sound outlandish? Unobtainable? Not to me. I’ve seen hard proof in my first year of what your faith can do. And I have no doubt whatsoever in the absolute power of God to do great things within, through, and by means of All Saints Episcopal Church. But we do not have to figure out how to get there (or how to fund such a vision) all at once!
All we have to do is commit to God, and commit to God’s Church. We do not, will not, cannot ask anyone to give beyond your means or to commit to more than you can manage. We simply ask you, please, to continue to support All Saints with your generous giving as you’ve done throughout this year. Help us maintain the great gifts we have in this church, and help us plant the seeds this year that will grow into a beautiful, bountiful harvest in years to come.
Thank you, and God bless you all!
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CONTACT THE PARISH OFFICE
Phone (920) 734-3656 or (920) 249-4147