Highlights of 2017 and Vision for 2018
As we move into 2018, I’d like to share a few highlights from 2017, and then share what I believe that God is doing as we prepare for the year ahead.
On paper, 2017 was a great year. As we celebrated ten years of ministry at Christ Church, we had higher Average Sunday Attendance and total income numbers than we’ve ever had. While these numbers are not insignificant, they don’t give a full indication of how God has been at work in our midst over the course of the year. For example, they don’t let us see how the youth ministry has grown and developed as John Laffoon has poured into the youth, their parents, and the team of volunteers that John has put together. They also don’t point out that we have five parishioners currently in seminary, training for some kind of ministry, and a few others who have either graduated from seminary or are contemplating seminary. They don’t give an indication of the ministry partnerships that we continue to develop, both by financial contributions and by parishioners volunteering to serve, in Phoenix and around the world. They don’t reflect the opportunities for healing and discipleship we’ve had when Joe Johnson visited in January and Bishop Todd Hunter led our parish retreat in the fall. They don’t communicate the number of parishioners involved in small groups, in which they’ve developed relationships and been encouraged and challenged in their life with God. They don’t give a sense of the times that parishioners have experienced crises, whether physical, emotional, relational, or financial, and the pastoral care team stepped in to support them through prayer, friendship, and other types of tangible assistance. So, while we celebrate the numbers, it is more important to tell stories of how God was present, how God’s kingdom was made manifest, and how we experienced hints of new creation in our midst.
In 2018 I’d like to focus on the so-called “Great Commandment.” When Jesus was asked, “Which commandment is the greatest?” he responded by quoting two Old Testament passages. First, from Deuteronomy 6:4, which the Jewish community prays three times each day: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might” (that is the text in Deuteronomy, Jesus adds the word “mind” in Matthew 22:36-40), and then, from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These should be familiar words, as we say them each week in the liturgy. I believe that God is asking us to lean more deeply into this Great Commandment, using Jesus’ “summary of the Law” as a grid through which we make decisions about how to use our resources—our time, our people, and our material resources, whether our physical property or our finances. As a congregation, we’ve been richly blessed. As a result, we have many wonderful resources to use. However, there are myriad options as to how to use them. How will we make these decisions? We will make these decisions by asking, “Does this help us to love God and love our neighbor?”
Let me make two observations on this. First, we can’t simply make a decision to love God and to love our neighbor. John, in his first epistle, tells us that we love God, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our activity, then, whether worship, formation, mission, or fellowship, must be rooted in God’s love for us, which comes to us in the midst of our sin. Second, when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans were the enemies of the Jewish people, yet Jesus tells a story in which the Samaritan is a neighbor to a wounded Jew. Our neighbors, according to Jesus, are not just our friends, but even our enemies. As we seek to love our neighbor, then, it not only includes those whom we like, but also those we’re told by conventional wisdom to hate.
We’re left, then, with a beautiful circle—God loving us in the midst of our sin, and then we respond with love to God and love for our neighbor. I believe that God is asking us to plant ourselves firmly in that circle, giving ourselves to that love. We do this each Sunday in worship, and day-to-day and week-to-week as we pray, study, and serve in the context of intentional friendships focused on our life with God.
In 2018, I believe that God is asking us to deepen relationships with one another, whether in small groups, one-on-one mentoring, or serving alongside one another. I also believe that God is asking us to develop leaders for the church, and not just Christ Church, but for the diocese and the Anglican Church in North America. To that end, we plan to bring on a curate this summer, and begin to incorporate our other seminarians in important roles within the congregation. I plan to work with the vestry and staff toward developing an internship program for developing leaders. Finally, I believe that God is asking us to increase our presence with the most vulnerable members of our society. We have opportunities to walk alongside and advocate for refugees, foster children, and the unborn (which means the mothers of these vulnerable babies) locally, and continue to develop our partnership with La Limonada, an urban slum in Guatemala City. I hope that we can send a team to serve there in 2018.
Please join me in celebrating the great work of God in 2017, and prayerfully engaging in the work ahead, work grounded in God’s love for us, and for the world around us, and work focused on our love for God and those around us. The first ten years have been good, but I believe that, as we lean into the love of God, even “greater things” lie ahead (cf. John 14:12).