Sunday, October 29, 2017
Knox-Metropolitan United Church
We Sing Thanksgiving & Every Gift Matters
By Carol Schick, Chair of the Board
Five weeks ago Cam Fraser introduced the theme We Sing Thanksgiving in which we celebrate our connections and our possibilities as people of the Church. Through this invitational theme, we recognize and share our gratitude for the gifts we find as church whether those gifts are powerful spiritual experiences, wonderment at the beautiful music or gratitude for the kindness of friends and strangers. Cam has invited us to share our remarks with others about the gifts we receive, or at least, to pause for our own reflection on what it is that brings us here to a place where every gift matters.
Along with this wonderful theme of We Sing Thanksgiving, Cam also spoke to us plainly about the reality of reconciling our operations and our financial resources, about the fact that, financially, our expenses are greater than our income. Thus our stewardship campaign for this year was off and running.
I also wish to speak to you about Singing Thanksgiving. I will speak both from a personal point of view and in my role as Chair of the Board. I will tell you about my own experiences of gratitude.
Regarding our financial situation, we cannot shy away from or fail to mention that we have a financial shortfall. We are unable to meet our budget without relying on money from investment revenues, which as you know, is not a long term prospect for success. The budget shortfall is a reality.
But it is also true that this is a tremendously gifted congregation with many positive qualities and a generous spirit to celebrate.
Something that we can celebrate is that in the past year, in spite of the shortfall, the congregational giving has gone up and the budget shortfall has become smaller than it used to be. As well as our total expenses being down, we can also report that total revenues are up by almost $20,000. This is thanks to the generosity of talent, spirit and financial contributions. This is how we can say with confidence that every gift matters.
Fortunately, there are many ways of responding to shortfalls.
There is the gift of prayer, the offer of our time, and energy. We can encourage one another by speaking about how the church supports our own journeys of personal faith and the opportunities we have of working together for God in ways that matter. We have seen how people have been enthusiastically signing up to help with the church services, to volunteer for committees, to carry out the church mission in all its glory.
Let me remind you of some of the wonderful enthusiasm we have heard from congregational members.
On three Sundays in October, we heard Armand and Arleen Rante, Ruth Copeland and Tamara Renkas speak of their experiences at Knox-Met. They were uniformly impressed by the music. But that’s not all. They stayed because of how their personal and family lives have been enriched by being here. Each speaker found the Knox-Met experience to be inspiring and uplifting.
Thank you very much to our speakers for sharing your personal stories and helping us reflect on our own.
What is it that speaks to you? What is it for which you are grateful?
Now, I want to share with you some insights I’ve learned about how congregations are organized.
Our Board has been reading a book and trying hard to understand how to respond to the needs of the congregation. The book is called Fishing Tips written by John Pentland of Hillhusrt United Church in Calgary whom Can talked about last week. I recommend this book to anyone.
Pentland describes three circles of people in a congregation. These circles of people are all necessary parts of the whole and there would be no church without each one. These congregational circles are named as the committed, the comfortable and the curious. A successful, growing church needs all three. All three types matter.
I will quote Pentland at length because I think you will find his description of the three concentric circles interesting. Perhaps you will see yourself in one of them.
Pentland speaks of the committed circle of people. He says these are the people who would be in church no matter what. It’s possible they have been in churches all their lives. Whenever it is that they arrived, they are the people who feel they have found home—and they are moving in—body, mind, spirit. People in the committed circle have a sense of belonging and dedication and are committed to the spiritual journey that they find in the church. They may even be committed to the building itself. The knowledge, commitment and experience of people in the committed circle are gifts to the congregation.
The second group comprises what Pentland calls the comfortable circle. This is a vibrant and compelling group who are situated in an in-between space. The people in the comfortable circle are still able to recall what it was like to come through the door for the first time while also now realizing just how much doing so has meant to them. The comfortable people see the church as it is and recognize that this is not a perfect place for perfect people. This realization has not lessened their interest, however, but rather it deepens it by acknowledging that Church is real life too. With this comfortable circle there is a great willingness to discover how it is they are being called to deepen their journey here in this place. The energy, vibrancy and openness of this comfortable circle are gifts to the entire congregation.
Finally, Pentland speaks of the curious circle. These may be relatively new people who have no traditional background in the church and are just wondering what they will find. This group has no investment in the church so far. People in the curious circle might say things like, “I’m spiritual but not religious”. They may be looking for something that requires an open environment, an invitation, a permission, and for conversations that matter. Pentland says, if you don’t have people in the curious circle in your church, Go and find them. Their curiosity about the church is a great gift to the church itself.
Each circle of people as described by Pentland is looking for a home as part of their spiritual journey.
Did you recognize yourself in one of these circles? Are you in the committed circle, the comfortable circle or the curious circle? Perhaps you are moving between them. The question remains of how each of us might engage the journey of discovery and how we might share our discoveries and gifts with others. All the gifts matter.
I would enjoy having conversations with anyone about where it is you find yourself on this journey.
For me, I must confess I am in the committed circle. And this is probably a good idea for the Chair of the Board.
In the family where I grew up, the children were committed at birth, both through baptism as we saw today and through practice. There was no option but that we would belong to the church and support it in every way possible. This teaching was put into my baby formula very early. But such teaching alone doesn’t guarantee that one is committed for a life-time. I also experienced excellent children’s education and inspiring sermons about God’s abiding grace, but most of all I grew up in a church where music was important. It was through the beauty of music that I found my way to the holy and the transcendent. From early on, I thrilled to hear the congregational singing. I was captured by the beauty of the hymns where scripture is put to music. It was the glory of God come to earth.
What I appreciate about Knox-Met are the great many opportunities for the spirit to be present, through embodied and inspiring sermons, through the invitation to look outward at the needs of our community. I see that the spirit is present through praying with others—silently and aloud; it is present through the attention to children, through the chance to worship with people who also wrestle with what it means to be human and faithful at this present time. When I was sidelined with an injury this summer, I was humbled to receive many acts and words of kindness. I saw the hand of God in each gesture of good wishes from people in this church. And, given my history, I am thrilled that every week that we literally get to Sing Thanksgiving. Here at Knox-Met we have the beautiful music that that so thoroughly tells us that God is in this place, whether it is solo instruments, the organ, this wonderful choir as we have here; or whether it is the singing of the congregation. For the last few months, I have not been able to sing in the choir. Instead, I have very much enjoyed singing down here, with the congregation. While we know that the people behind me are the official choir, really, I think of the congregation as just another choir, only a lot bigger. It is a great thrill to be part of a community like this where every song and every voice matters, even if only you and God can hear it.
Regardless of where we sit, we Sing Thanksgiving, as we share our voices and stories with others. We know that every circle of involvement in the church—whether it is among the committed, the comfortable or the curious—that one’s presence and singing of Thanksgiving matters. As Cam said in last week’s sermon: The Glory of God is a human being come fully alive. How could that not matter?
Where is the Board leadership in all of this?
Four weeks from now on Sunday, November 26, the church Board is planning a congregational meeting to offer information about our present context and to consider how we might make plans that will take us into the future. This is long-range planning that we need to begin now if Knox-Met is to remain as a place of worship, integration and Christian support for the congregation and for people in the community. The Board will share its research and information and hope that you will contribute your thoughts, enthusiasms and interest for what we have to say.
Sometimes I am the curious one. What steps should we take next? How will we meet our deficit? Do we merely have to accept the status quo? Do we have the courage and faith to prepare for the future?
I hope you will join us for that congregational meeting. We will provide more details as it comes closer.
Next week when you come, you will receive a stewardship package consisting of a letter and a card. These will be invitations to you to make a commitment to Knox-Met. You will be invited to consider whether and to what extent you can make a financial commitment to our church.
We began thinking about how and whether we can give financially. Be assured that all gifts are valuable. All experiences of church are necessary for it to grow and thrive.
I wish to thank you in advance for prayerfully considering the kind of support you can offer for Knox-Met this coming year. If you are planning to become a regular giver, that is much appreciated. If you are planning to increase your donation by a certain percentage, we would be very grateful. And, thanks to those who are still considering whether this is a good move for you. It takes many people to make up a church.
Thank you for responding—and for your intentions to respond—as we live out the call of Knox-Metropolitan to Sing Thanksgiving downtown on purpose. All of your support is truly appreciated. Every gift matters.
We are grateful for your gifts, your time and talents and most of all your presence here now. We are grateful for the gifts you are offering in the present moment as the committed, the comfortable and the curious. We are grateful you have chosen to come here today.
For all this and more, I say in conclusion, Thanks be to God.