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Fr. Court's Annual Address to
Trinity Episcopal Church's Annual Meeting
February 5, 2017
One of my favorite quotes is, "what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" It is an anonymous quote, but one that really points to the power of fear, insecurity, and doubt in human life. When I speak to parishioners in different churches I have visited, I often hear stories about how they always thought that they should do this program or that program, start that outreach activity, or try a particular change in their liturgy. They always say, "if we had only..." They had great ideas of things that they truly felt called to do, but were too paralyzed by fear and self-doubt to actually implement or try them. They were too worried that others wouldn't like the idea. They were afraid that it would be seen as a dumb idea. Mostly, though, they were afraid that it would fail and they would look stupid.
Often, they point back in their history to Fr. So-and-so or Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones, some leader who had begun some ground-breaking new thing at their church which had completely revitalized them. They always say the same thing, "Oh, if only we were that smart, that we might come up with a great idea! If only we were able to start something that audacious or that grand. It would be so great!" The only difference between those leaders of yesteryear and us, is the willingness to risk failure in order to take the first step.
You've all heard me say before that we ought to treat ourselves, and our elected parish leadership, the way we teach children how to walk. When you have a little one who is just learning to walk, we get really excited when they begin "cruising" around the furniture. They pull themselves up on every coffee table or chair and walk endlessly around it, using it to stabilize themselves. And it is SO CUTE! We just love watching them do this. Then one day it happens. They launch themselves away from the piece of furniture to which they have been clinging and step out boldly in a new direction, completely without support. Their they go, all by themselves, walking across the room! Oh my gosh!! They take two or three magical steps and then - KERPLOP - they lose their balance and fall right on their bottom. And what do we do? We punish them, right? NO! We cheer them on! We are the proudest parents on the planet at that moment, because we have the most amazing kid ever in history. Our amazing little one just walked three whole steps, BY THEMSELVES!! My kid is the smartest kid ever! And we pick them up, stand them on their feet and send them off, toddling across the room again with us cheering behind them for every two or three wobbly steps they make! That's how great parents teach great kids to walk.
If we would treat ourselves that way, we would get so much more accomplished. The problem is, we judge ourselves so harshly. We judge ourselves against our perception of how everyone else in the world is doing. We say things like, "I'm not as smart as him," or "I'm not as talented as her," or "I'm not as athletic or good looking or graceful as them." We do this destructive self-talk all the time, it's like a constant dictatorial inner-monologue of criticism in our head. And it's toxic, because it stops us from trying new things. We have told ourselves that, in comparison to someone else, we just aren't smart, and so we never try that class in economics that has always intrigued us at the local Community College because we know, internally, that we will fail at it. We don't even try, because we have already failed inside.
I am as guilty of this as anyone. I try not to let negative self-talk dominate my life, and my decision making, but it sneaks in there. One thing I began last year, as a way of saying goodbye to negative self-talk was to begin taking violin lessons. Internally, I thought to myself, I can't take these lessons. Ann, my violin teacher, who is amazingly talented, will think I'm terrible and wonder why I'm not progressing as quickly as the Elementary School kids she teaches. My own kids, who will have to listen to me practice, will giggle at me and wonder why their dad is doing something so silly. But I set all those fears and anxieties aside, and signed up for lessons, and you know what? I'm having a great time learning to play the violin. Yes, it is slow going. It is hard to learn something new at my age. But Ann never loses her patience with me, encouraging me to learn at my own pace. My kids never giggle at me, and are quite supportive of my efforts. I have discovered something that makes me happy, that keeps my mind active as I stretch to learn, and that enriches my life, but I wouldn't never have discovered that if I had let my self-talk, my doubts, and my fears rule me.
All of us feel a part of our church. We are Trinity and Trinity is us. We put our money, our time, and our talents into making this parish a success. Because of all that, we feel personally connected to this parish. All parishioners in all churches feel this way. Because of that personal connection, we tend to react emotionally to changes at our parish. We want it to be what we have become accustomed to it being. We don't want to see it struggle in any way. We don't want to see it fail in any way. If we try anything new, it must come out completely baked, 100 percent finished and perfect, ready to go. The problem is, whenever a change is contemplated, our corporate negative self-talk kicks in and we come up with a whole list of reasons why we can't or shouldn't try something. We say things like, "what will newcomers think?" or "what if some people leave because of this?" or "what if I don't really like the change?" In order to prevent our internal fears from coming true, we become unwilling to allow any changes whatsoever.
The problem is, we miss out on so many wonderful blessings when we let fear rule our thinking and decision making. Our parish is constantly changing. People die or move away. New people come. The people of yesterday are the church. But so are the people of today. And so are the people of tomorrow. By never allowing change to take place, we freeze our parish into the personality of one particular group of people. We never allow new people to affect us. We are basically telling them that we have no place for them. When anything stops growing, when it becomes stagnant, death begins to take hold.
The answer to death is life! Life in our savior Jesus Christ. As a parish, we are not called to do that which the Rector wants. We are not called to do that which the Vestry wants. We are not called to do that which the majority wants. As a parish, we are called to do that which Jesus Christ calls us to do. We are called to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our community. We are called to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our Community. We are called to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community.
Which means we, as a community, must discern God's call to us as a community. The Vestry and I, as leaders in this parish, have been discerning God's call for this parish. We have talked about it, prayed about it, and argued about it. We will continue to discern God's call every day, praying for God's guidance. We will also be rolling out some changes to the parish. Later in this meeting, you will be hearing about some new ministries, new liturgies, and new outreach. Yes, it will be hard for some of us. Yes, it may bring some negative self-talk. Yes, we might take a few steps and fall on our backsides. But together, we will pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and try again. Only through trying to do God's will do we have a chance to actually do God's will.
As we look forward to 2017, I see a great many blessings for Trinity Parish. We have a wonderful group of committed Vestry who care deeply about this parish, who respect its past and traditions, and who are committed to helping it grow into a new future. We have amazing lay leadership in so many areas of our parish, from leadership to teaching to ministries and to outreach. We are a functional and growing parish, ready to step boldly into a bright new future together.
I encourage you to pray for all in leadership, that we might always keep God's will forefront in all we do. I encourage and bid you to give a word of support when you can. I also encourage you to reach out with questions or concerns or feedback, that we might continually work toward a brighter future. I encourage you to understand when we take a few wobbly footsteps and fall, and encourage us all to get back up and try again. Only by working together, bravely, courageously, and patiently can we truly move forward in God's mission.
Lastly, I want to give thanks to all of you for all of your support this year. You are all truly a blessing. God has blessed me richly by bringing me to this amazing parish and I am thankful for that every day. I am thankful for all of you. And I am thankful that God has a plan for us here at Trinity. So let's get ready to take a few wobbly steps along God's path of light, holding one another in prayer, in love, and in community together.
New Things for 2017
The Vestry has been working diligently to Discern God's call in our parish. Trinity church does many amazing things, but are they all what God is calling us to do, here in Highland Park, in 2017? Who we are as a church is different than who we were when we started many of these programs.
Highland Park is different than a lot of north shore suburbs. We are geographically very large, with a diverse population. We are not only ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse, but socio-economically diverse as well. There is a wide range of diversity in income, life-style, and housing in our community. There are many opportunities for outreach right here in our own community. Many people in Highland Park and Highwood are food insecure, which means that they are not guaranteed a meal on the table at the end of the day. Many people in our community live paycheck to paycheck, if not day to day. To that end, we have decided to step out boldly into some new areas.
Change to the 10:00 a.m. Liturgy
The first change is to our 10:00 a.m. liturgy. Now I know that any change to our services can bring a lot of fear, worry, and angst. That is why we are doing this as a trial period first. From the first Sunday in Lent, Sunday March 5th, through the seasons of Lent and Easter, up until Trinity Sunday, Sunday June 11th, our 10:00 a.m. service will become bi-lingual. We are going to format it the way we do on our Dia De Los Muertos Sunday, where the bulletin is printed in both languages in a side-by-side format. The first reading will be read in Spanish. The Second lesson in English. And the Gospel in both languages. We will endeavor to incorporate Spanish service music and anthems wherever possible as well.
We plan to advertise this in the schools with high Hispanic populations, as well as restaurants, Hispanic and Latino grocery stores throughout our area. We had some Hispanic guests at our Dia De Los Muertos service who told us that, if we had this every Sunday, they would come. They told us that everyone assumes that they are all Catholic, but many are not, and don't feel a welcoming invitation to any particular church.
Yes, this is going to be different. Yes, this means new people coming to our church. Yes, it might be hard to understand some of them. Yes, it might change us. It might also be exciting and transforming.
During the process, if you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me or a vestry member and we can make sure that your questions are answered. Please remember that this is just one wobbly step for us. That we need to be patient. That we need to be supportive of one another. That we need to encourage one another as we move forward.
Anyone interested in being on the planning committee for the bi-lingual service, please let me know.
New Community Meal Proposal
Trinity has participated in the Christ Church, Waukegan feeding ministry for many years. It is a great program which feeds a lot of people in need. But we here in Highland Park have people right outside our door which need fed. People who may have enough money and food to make it from Monday dinner to Saturday dinner, but have nothing for Sunday. It was brought to my attention, by multiple people in our parish, that we should consider doing a community meal right here at Trinity.
I began my contacting the Mayor of Highland Park, The Honorable Nancy Rotering, the City Manager of Highland Park, Ms. Ghida Newkirch, and the Township Superivsor, Ms. Ann Bassi. All were supportive of the idea and agreed that it was desperately needed here. They all pledge their support of the idea.
Next, I contacted Rabbi Ryan Daniels of Northshore Congregation Israel on Sheridan Road. He is experienced in setting up feeding programs and has agreed to help lead up this effort. We also have the support of the Jewish congregations that are a part of the SELCIRCL (South East Lake County Inter Religious Council). Also, supportive from group were the Christian Churches, the B'Hai Congregation, and the Humanist Congregation. This would be, not only a Ecumenical effort, but an inter-faith one as well.
Lastly, I contacted the Lake County Health Department. In order to do this, we would be required to make some upgrades to our kitchen facilities. Looking realistically at Wolcott Hall, we soon realized we would probably have to make some changes in here as well. As I fretted about that, the Mayor reminded me that the Community House is available to rent and has a kitchen. Unfortunately, it is very small. So, we have some decisions to make.
I am putting together a formal committee, with the permission of the Vestry, to look into what it would take to put on this meal. The biggest impediment would be the cost of upgrading our facilities. But as one Vestry member put it, that would also benefit the parish in other ways as well.
Before I go any further, I want to make the process very clear. We will NOT DO ANYTHING without your approval. This would be a big step for this parish. The new committee, after doing all its research, will make a recommendation to the Vestry. If the Vestry approves it, then we will set up some town hall style meetings to explain it to the congregation. Once everyone is aware of what we want to do and has had all their questions answered, then we will have a parish meeting to vote on our next step. WE WILL NOT DO ANYTHING without your knowledge and approval. You will have lots of opportunity to see, to ask, to question, to suggest.
I encourage you to pray about this as we move forward this year. Pray that we will have God's guidance in this process. Pray for discernment, that God might be calling you to be a part of this process. Pray for all this doing this work.
Let me know if any of you want to be a part of the Community Meal Committee.
New Outreach Committee
We are setting up a new Outreach Committee. This committee is going to look at all of our current outreach projects. They are then going to examine new outreach projects and come up with recommendations for the parish. None of our current outreach projects are bad, but are they what God wants us to be doing right now? Is there something else that we should be reaching out into our community and doing? We are called to live out the Gospel in our community, what is the best way for us to do that?
Please let me know if you would like to be on the new Outreach Committee.
February 5, 2017 Sermon Isaiah 58: 1- 12
5 Epiphany (A) Psalm 112
Trinity, Highland Park 1 Corinthians 2: 1 - 16
Annual Meeting Matthew 5: 13 - 20
In today's Gospel reading, we hear about salt. We are all familiar with salt. We probably all have a shaker of it sitting on our dining room table, or perhaps, by the kitchen stove. Living in a state which gets its fair share of snow and ice, we are all familiar with salt's de-icing properties. What is salt, though? We know that it is a mineral compound made up of sodium and chlorine existing in a cubic crystalline form. We know it can be used to preserve meat from spoiling. We know it can be used to melt snow and ice off streets and sidewalks, as well as help in the creation of homemade ice cream. We also know it can be used to flavor food. Lastly, we know that it tastes salty.
Saltiness is a defining characteristic of salt. Preserving meat or melting ice are uses of salt, but saltiness is a defining characteristic. If salt were not salty, it would not be salt.
I remember in one of my Middle School years, my science teacher put two small bowls in front of us. Both bowls contained white, crystalline substances. We were to figure out what they were by merely looking at them. Of course, we could only guess what they were. We guessed salt, sugar, or some other substance. My teacher then asked, "if I tell you that the bowls are either sugar or salt, how would you tell the difference?" We, of course said, "taste it!" And so we did, discovering that the one which tasted sweet was sugar, and the one which tasted salty was salt. Salt is salty. And if it's not salty, it's not salt.
Now that seems like a really obvious, if not really dumb thing to say, "salt is salty or it's not salt." but that concept has powerful consequences for us as Christians. We Christians have a defining characteristic, and that is to be "Christ-like." We are called to live lives that are exemplified by Christ-like behavior. We are called to live the way Jesus taught us to live through his teachings and through the manner in which he lived his life. To do otherwise, is to not be Christian. Living Christ-like lives is a defining characteristic of Christians. Or, more accurately, attempting to live Christ-like lives is a defining characteristic of Christians. Just as salt is "salty," Christians are "Christ-like."
What this means is that, as Christians, we must examine our lives daily to see if we are truly living our lives in a Christ-like manner. Are we doing that which God called us to do? This can be difficult work, as it calls us to honestly look at how we lead our lives. One way to start is by looking at our Sunday mornings.
What we do on Sunday morning sets up our week. Do we stay in bed, justifying not attending church by telling ourselves that we, "worship on the golf course," or that "being in nature is our cathedral?" or that "Oh, God will understand that I've had a busy week?" And if we do come to church on Sunday morning, are we really just tolerating the liturgy so that we can get to our "Blessed Brunch?" Is Sunday at church just our Holy Huddle, inwardly focused on ourselves and our close friends? Sometimes you hear someone say, "Oh, I think I'm going to find a new church because I'm just not getting anything out of this one. I don't feel fed." If you find yourself saying this, I have bad news for you, you're doing church wrong.
There is an old saying about marriage that goes like this, marriage is an empty box, the only thing in it is that which you put into it. So many people that I counsel who are having marital problems tell me, "I don't get anything out of the marriage." But, the only thing IN the marriage is what you put into it. If the marriage is full of love, and joy, and excitement, it is because you, and your spouse, have put it into the marriage box. If the marriage box is empty, it is because you have been trying to take out more than you put in. Getting married is NOT about having someone to make you happy for the rest of your life, it is about having someone that YOU get to make happy for the rest of YOUR life. Don't get married if your true joy isn't being connected for life to that other person, dedicated to loving them in every way. Church is the same way.
Church is a box containing two things, the love of God and God's people. That's it. It has God's unconditional, amazing and overwhelming love for us, and it has other people for us to love. If we come to church expecting to be fulfilled or self-actualized or have our self-esteem pumped up, then we are taking out of an empty box. But, if we come to be filled up with the love of God and have the opportunity to be in relationship with God's children, then Church will become an amazing place. But we have to remember that Church is NOT the end though, it is not the final destination, it is the starting point, the beginning.
Sunday morning is where we come to worship and praise God. Sunday morning is where we come to reach across the altar rail from our world, into the world of the Divine in order to be filled with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to be filled with God's grace, so that we might go out into our world to love and serve him.
There is a church that has a sign at the exit of their parking lot. Where it is located, everyone sees it every Sunday. This sign says this:
You are now entering God's mission field.
The liturgy has ended and the service begins.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
I love that sign! What a great reminder that we are not called to our supper club or blessed brunch or our holy huddle on Sunday morning, but we are called to be filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, to be filled with the invigorating grace of God, to be empowered by the body and blood of Jesus Christ to go out into our world and to live the Gospel at every time, in every place, to every one! We are called to go out and to live Christ-like lives of love and service. We are called to go out and see a world which is an empty box and to fill it up with the love of God.
Salt without saltiness is not salt. A lamp put under a bushel basket is not a lamp. If we deny our basic defining characteristic as Christians, that of being loved by God so that we might go out and love the world, then we are not Christians. If Sunday morning is just this, just this building and just our coffee hour and just our coming together as a group of like-minded friendly people, then we are no longer Christians. Sunday morning has to be more than that, it has to be more than just us, it has to involve others. Jesus Christ died for us, descended to the grave, rose again, and ascended into heaven so that we might be freed from sin, freed from the grave, and more importantly, to eternally bind us once again to God. Through Jesus Christ's salvific action, we enter the garden once again, guaranteed eternal life in God through Jesus Christ. That is amazing news! That is the Good News of the Gospel. That is what we are called to share, through loving action with all of the world. That is why Sunday morning is important. That is why Sunday morning is the starting point. That is why we come, why we pray and worship and praise, and that is why we go forth in love.
Let's go forth each and every day to let the light of Jesus Christ shine through our lives onto the whole world. Let's go forth each day and be salty, be Christians, be the love of God in our world. Amen.