Is there an annual event in your life that commands your attention, has a significant amount of reporting work attached to it and when carried off to a full and positive effect can set the tone for not only your sense of purpose for the coming year...but also for your community as well?
I had you up until the end of that statement, and almost the whole time you were thinking "Tax Season," yes? You might also own or are an office for a company that reports annually to share-holders. You might also be someone who works in a non-profit. All those institutions carry with them a moment of annual reporting....yes. You might even be able to add to that list.....
But today I am talking about the Annual Meeting of a parish in the Episcopal Church. To date, I have attended more then 35 annual meetings as a parishioner and then as assisting clergy. I will be chairing my eleventh this year as the rector and chief pastor of a church. It's an interesting experience. On the one hand, it is a moment to pause, reflect, pray and give thanks for all the blessings of the past mission year as we look forward to the next. It is also a sometimes stressful dance for clergy, staff, lay leaders and volunteers. We have to chase down our leadership in order to update their reflections on their ministries. We have to collate and coordinate the printing of the year-end financials. We have to assemble the data on what happened in the past year pastorally: Who was baptized? Who was confirmed, received or reaffirmed in their Baptismal Vows when the Bishop visited? How many liturgies, and of what kind, were observed? Who died and now rests in Christ's resurrection? Overall, WHAT HAPPENED?
And then, as the dust settles slightly and as the copier chugs on relentlessly, we pause and wonder about what God is calling us to in the coming year. We have come so far, and we know that we are ever only "halfway" to the kingdom....but with every reflection and rumination there begs the question that we want answered..."what next?"
That's the quandary. The questions begs to be asked, but in so many ways we find ourselves pulling back, even if it is just a bit...because though we might hope, dream and vision we really can't script the future. We can only open ourselves up to it. We can only leap, in faith, into that which is about to become our story, the fodder of next year's Annual Report.
What better scripture to mark this day and provoke thought than the passage from the Gospel of Mark appointed for this coming Third Sunday after the Epiphany. Mark 1:14-20 has been a touchstone for me in my ministry from seminary days. My first New Testament paper was drawn from a study of this passage. It was one of the first passage of Greek I translated. I have used sermons preached on this passage in discernment processes, seeing them as hallmark examples of my faith expressed from the pulpit.
And now, this weekend, I will preach on it even as we dance the dance of the parish's Annual Meeting. My take away from looking at these two parts of ministry and life entwining?
When it comes to the life of the Church, as Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John from their nets and asked them to follow him "that they might become fishers of people" I see our work and witness as the Church in the same light: It's time...it's always time....for us to get out of the boat and follow him, Jesus. His promise is to take who and what we are and by grace and faith use our whole, best selves to the purpose of building up the Church.
In order to do that, we have to be willing to let go of what we have known, release our expectations of the future....and then GET OUT OF THE BOAT. The Gospel is not bound to a particular place, nor is it owned outright by anyone....it is meant to be shared, and it is a "road story" best told and shared out there, rather than in here.
As in this coming meeting, so I also recall the moment in others when the MOST IMPORTANT thing happens....the blessing and dismissal. The most important moment in our lives as we come together as the Church at the Annual Meeting of the Parish?
"Go, in peace, to love and serve the Lord!"