Sermon: Epiphany 3 RCL C – “Annual Meeting”

You all know that I would rather stub my toe than go to a meeting, but apparently the world loves to have them. On average, in the US, there are over 11 million formal meetings… everyday… costing on average $37 billion dollars a year. (Source) That is a lot of unproductive time. The Harvard Business Review reports that researchers performed a study on a large company and “concluded that one weekly executive meeting ate up a dizzying 300,000 hours a year.” They performed the calculations by adding up the number of hours the executives spent in the actual meeting, plus the number of hours in meetings they spent in preparation of that meeting, plus the number of hours their various teams spent in meetings preparing for that meeting… and you get your 300,000 hours. (Source)

Author Dave Barry said, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”

All this to say, “Welcome to Annual Meeting Sunday” where we hope to not suck the life out of you or give you thoughts of finding a new church home. And today, I thought instead of waiting to start the meeting until we get in the Parish Hall, we could start it now, because—as a Church—wouldn’t it be interesting if we included the work we do in here with the work we do in there. Sounds crazy, I know, but take the word we use to describe our our work here, the service: liturgy. So often, we define liturgy as, “the work of the people.” However, early on, if someone built a shrine for the community to the glory of God, that would also be considered liturgy. That’s because liturgy, more properly defined is not “the work of the people” but, “the work for the people.” Liturgy is about doing the work of God for the good of all, therefore, God is the focus of our liturgy here, but also our liturgy there in the annual meeting. So, let us begin our Annual Meeting with a prayer.

Let us pray: Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in this Annual Meeting of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As, I hope and pray, we approach the end of the Covid pandemic and since we are now able to worship in person, you’ve probably noticed a rather significant change in your church: fewer people attending. This is something we touched on a little while back, but today I wanted to bring it a little more in focus.

You’ll see on the front of your bulletin an image. It is a picture of one of the pages in The Big Green Book. That book contains a list of all members and is broken down into various categories. There are pages set aside for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and burials. What you’re seeing in the picture are the pages set aside for Baptized Members. The pages for baptisms are for those baptized in this church, but Baptized Members are those members of our church who are currently active, so they may have moved here from another town where they were members of an Episcopal Church or they may have been baptized in another tradition and have asked to be received into the Episcopal Church. However they arrive, when they join our church, I go to the The Big Green Book and enter the information: full name, youth or adult, male or female, where and when they were born and where and when they were baptized. On the next page, I record how they came into the church. There may be a note such as “Baptized at St. Matthew’s” or “Transferred from St. Swithun’s in the Swamp”. Then the next column is for those who leave the church and are removed from the record. Again, any number of reasons can be given, from moving to dying. If appropriate, I can include a note (something like: “May the Lord have mercy on whatever church they transferred to, but we are thankful to be rid of ‘em.” No. Never anything like that!) But how is this relevant to us today?

When it comes to the removed, as always, there are some who leave because they no longer like the church or the priest or something along those lines. We are fortunate to have only a handful of those. For the most part, in our records, you will find either transferred (they moved somewhere else) or… deceased. Not all of them were members, but many were, and since I’ve been here, I’ve performed thirty-eight funerals. Don’t go back and read all the names, because it is a list that will break your dang heart. But, without dwelling on that, safe to say, there are many who are no longer a part of this earthly church. Yet, this type of loss is nothing new to the church, however, what is new to the church is not having the opportunity to bring in new members.

I’m not sure how long we were closed, but for a considerable period of time because of the pandemic, the only way we were able to reach out was through the lens of that camera. Now that we can worship in person (it has been almost a year since we reopened), several are still cautious about coming and many others have simply fallen out of the practice of attending church. All combined, this is a bit of a perfect storm for the church: loss of members through transfers, etc and not being in a position to attract new members. The end result for us: we had grown for five consecutive years, but we are now about the same size church, if not smaller, than when I began here almost seven years ago.

Now, please don’t think I’m up here whining or making excuses. I’m honestly just trying to give you a realistic picture. What that picture means is that we must begin again. Do we have the resources to begin again? Yes. As a matter of fact we do. Our finances are in good order, our facility is a gem and getting better, and the people—You!—are amazing. Your liturgy, your work for the glory of God, is truly a light to the world.

We have all the resources we need begin again. As St. Paul told us, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” We’ve talked about this before, but today it is worth hearing again. When Paul speaks of the Church as the body, he is saying that you have everything you need in order to complete the work of God. Sometimes Paul was speaking of the universal Church, but quite often he was speaking to and of the local church, which means, no matter the size, each congregation is The Body of Christ and within that single body are contained all the gifts and talents needed to accomplish the work that God has called them to.

There’s that old joke about the church that has a leaky roof. The preacher stands up in front of the congregation and says, “I’ve got good new and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that we have the money to fix this roof today. The bad news is that it is still in your pockets.” I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that we can grow the Kingdom of God and the Church. The bad news—maybe “challenging news” is better—the challenging news is that it will take all of us working together on this by inviting friends, neighbors, and others, as well as, telling the story our church and of how God is and has worked in your life.

Whether you are a hand, a foot, an eye, a whatever, this body, your church needs you. So what if have begin again. God loves to make all things new and I’m up for it if you are. Within you is a message of light which can proclaim hope, life, love and salvation. Let us perform our liturgy in here, in there, and in all places where God calls for the building up of His Kingdom and His Church.

Let us pray:
We pray You,
O almighty and eternal God!
Who through Jesus Christ
hast revealed Your glory to all nations,
to preserve the works of Your mercy,
that Your Church,
being spread through the whole world,
may continue with unchanging faith
in the confession of your name.

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