Embracing Change, Sustaining Faith
In thinking about stewardship, our minds naturally tend to go directly to the costs of ministry – salaries, health insurance, utilities, materials and supplies for education, etc. These costs are real, and important, but focusing on them obscures the fact that St. James is about ministries and spiritual formation, not costs in the narrow sense of “expenses” or “debits.” The language of costs is a tool that helps us organize our efforts and allocate resources, but it serves a greater purpose.
Therefore, instead of thinking about the costs of ministry, I would like to say a few words about the outputs of ministry at St. James. I recently set aside time to read the St. James Parish Profile, which is a remarkable work of history, financial disclosure, survey research, and thoughtful description of current ministries. One can learn much from our Parish Profile, which is precisely the point.
Among the many things I learned, or rather re-learned, from the Parish Profile is that St. James is both form and content; it retains essential qualities inherited from previous generations, while also undergoing change in current ministries and the creation of new ministries. I cannot recapitulate here the entirety of the Parish Profile. I can tell you that St. James is a vital, active, welcoming church that is best described by the classical Greek word ecclesia, which literally means the gathering of the faithful – not a random assemblage but a gathering of people intentionally joining together in faith.
In this way, the different ministries of St. James share an inner unity of purpose: they are part of ecclesia – the gathering. We have separate and distinct ministries for music, Christian education, worship, food locker, Education for Ministry, Bible Study, the Day School, and many, many more. But separate and distinct does not mean these ministries are detachable, severable, or independent of the larger mission of St. James.
Together, these ministries form the output of St. James from season to season, year to year, generation to generation. And these outputs require resources to thrive. Forming a consolidated budget and maintaining fiscal controls is an essential part of sustaining our ministry in the service of Christ. The message is therefore simple: St. James relies on pledges each year to pay the costs that produce the ministry.
As you think about pledging for 2024, I ask you to be mindful of costs, but also to look beyond them to St. James’s higher purpose.
I pledge in gratitude for all that St. James Episcopal Church has given me since joining the choir a year ago.
My first Sunday at St. James was at Mass on the Grass last year. I had been looking for a choir–any choir!--to join in which I didn’t have to audition and whose rehearsal time fit with my work schedule. I just wanted to sing with a group for the joy of making music together. As a child I had found that type of community in the choirs of my school and my church. I acknowledged that my best bet in this instance would be a church choir, though I had not intended to return to church–I hadn’t been to a service in five years, and that was fine with me. Nevertheless I searched the web for local churches, thinking the Episcopal denomination might fit my musical taste. I filled out the contact form on St. James' website, and Sarah, the choir director responded.
From that first email, I have felt enveloped by the St. James community. Reverend Michelle has met with me, sharing books about the Episcopal church and encouraging my questions. One of my first questions was, can I take communion without having been baptized? She said, yes, but if you feel that taking communion is meaningful to you, then let’s plan to have youbaptized.* Last Easter I was indeed baptized. That Easter week was the most meaningful I’ve ever experienced. I had never attended, let alone sung in, a Maundy Thursday service, nor an Easter vigil. The celebration of Easter morning felt much more profound after such deep contemplation of what Jesus went through in the days prior to His resurrection.
Throughout it all, the choir has been a haven of kindness and community. I have seen that at St. James, truly everyone is welcome here. Because of my experience at St. James, I have found myself seeking God’s love and goodness after a long time of merely believing in God. Even in the midst of change, St. James has continued to sustain–and in my case, reignite–faith. That’s why I pledge.
*A note from Rev. Michelle: as per The Rt. Rev. John Taylor about communion without baptism, “By tradition, The Episcopal Church offers Holy Communion to all baptized persons. If you are not baptized, but wish to receive, we invite you to participate fully in the opening part of the service, called the Ministry of the Word, hearing God's word and reflecting on your life, enabling you to come to the table for communion, if you so choose, with a heart prepared to receive. We hope that if you feel touched by the word and sacrament and wish to learn more about the life-giving power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ, you will contact your Priest-in-Charge to inquire about participating in Holy Baptism.” (from the Bishop’s email “Guidance on Eucharistic practices,” 7/23/23).Questions? Contact Rev. Michelle!
We support the ministry of St. James because webelieve in what the Church stands for. We give so that St. James can continue to bring the message of Christ tothe community, celebrate the Sacraments, teach the Gospel and bringtransformation to the lives of others. We made annual pledge commitments sincejoining St. James in 2011. We will renew our pledge commitment for the comingyear, and we ask you to pledge as well.
This year’s stewardship theme gives us much tocontemplate. Embracing Change, SustainingFaith. To state the obvious, St. James is undergoing change that will shapethe future of the church. Many of us are cautiously wondering what the futurewill bring and how we will adapt to it. This is a fitting time for honestreflection as we enter a new era.
Yet, it is also a time for sustaining the blessingsthat we have, what we inherited from our forebears, and what we hope tocontinue in the months and years to come. St. James is a place of solace andsalvation from the agonizing bedlam of the modern world. Our dedication to St.James is an act of thanksgiving and gratitude for the gifts we receive fromGod. In making a pledge to St. James we are truly giving of ourselves.
In order to sustain St. James and place it on the path to new ministry in the coming years, we need to make pledging a priority in our lives. We cannot control the unfolding of future events, but we can control what we do about them. The fiscal health and resiliency of St. James is built on the solid foundation of our annual budget. To make plans for the 2024 budget, we must find sufficient resources to sustain the church that gives us so much.
Stewardship is about giving thanks for the blessings that God has given us. It is an act of Christian love that helps the church achieve its highest purposes. We encourage you to think about giving back to God a portion of the gifts you have received from Him. Please join us in pledging to St. James.
Chris and Mary Jo Wiedey