On Sunday, January 14, we gathered after worship as a congregation for an annual “State of the Church” conversation, taking the opportunity at the start of a new calendar year to reflect on where we are and where God is calling us. I want to use this month’s “Window” column to review some of the observations shared, both in celebration of what has been and in hopes for what will be.

Our presentation began with some data points from the last year. Numbers don’t tell us everything, but we feel it is important for everyone to have the opportunity to be aware of some of the trends our numbers reflect, including both the celebrations and the challenges. We looked at three primary categories: giving, attendance, and membership for 2017. Those numbers and some summary observations can be found on page xx of this newsletter.

Beyond the numbers, we invited celebrations from the last year, and I shared some from our staff and me. We recognize generosity in our past year, as giving to regular and special offerings is strong and balanced throughout generations of our church’s life. We celebrate our work as a teaching congregation, through continued success of our Residency (including our first Resident Alum this year) and growth in our internship programs in music and congregational ministry. We acknowledge good work on our building, including a Chapel renovation that makes possible expanded ministry. In missions, we give thanks for our congregation’s faithful service, emerging ministries, and the leadership provided by our newest Associate Pastor, Rev. Amy Grizzle Kane. Looking at our ministries of formation, we celebrate a resurgent Wednesday Night program and many opportunities for study and growth, as well as the emergence of new Sunday offerings for Young Adults & Families. Our ministries of care have also been a highlight of the last year, as we have continued to care for one another through various stages of life, especially in a year that included more funerals than any in recent memory. In all of this, we give thanks for leadership, particularly celebrating Rev. Steve Cothran, Nancy and family as they transitioned from us in the last year, as well as gifted ministers and staff that have joined us amidst a shifting staff structure. This distinct blend of legacy and future we acknowledge in our staff is also present in our church, as we continue to grow as a place that mines the resources of our past for a hopeful future, becoming more clear and faithful in our identity in this last year.

Given the health and joy of 2017, our hopes for the year ahead are bold. As I shared some of mine, I used the structure of the blessing we share at the close of worship each Sunday. As we go we remember who we are:

Beloved of God

In the year ahead, this means ensuring no one falls through the cracks, and considering carefully who is forgotten or overlooked in our church. One example of this in the year ahead, includes a renewed focus on those oft-called “empty-nesters” as they reconnect to church in a critical stage of life. Further, our commitment to make sure all know their identity as beloved motivates continued evangelism and storytelling of the compelling grace of God we experience as a church through continued growth and welcome of new members. Finally, this acknowledgement of one another will involve emphasis on pastoral relationship with one another, particularly as we acknowledge the retirement of longtime Associate Pastor, Dr. Steve Pressley, and consider our care for one another.

Followers of Jesus

In seeking to grow as friends and followers of Christ, we anticipate new opportunities in Spiritual Formation in the year ahead, including this month welcoming a candidate for the part-time Associate Pastor: Spiritual Formation position approved in December. Further, we hope for growth in our ministry to Youth and Families as we will welcome a candidate for Associate Pastor: Youth and Families this spring. Finally, we look forward to continuing to promote dialogue and conversation in our lives of faith so that we can model in church how to talk faithfully about things that matter, particularly in a polarized climate.

Loose in the World

As we consider how the Spirit sends us out, this year we have opportunity to continue to consider building renewal that will equip us for growing ministry over the next decade. We will bless and send members into ministry around the community and globe, including a group of High School youth and leaders who will travel to Thailand this summer. As we continue to serve far and near, we also will take opportunity this year for growth and clarity in Missions, as we strengthen our ministries. And finally, this is a year we will seek to more intentionally discern congregational vision that will guide us faithfully into the future.

As I consider where we are and where we’re going, I recognized a significant milestone in my own life. January marked 4 years and 4 months that I’ve been here as Pastor. That’s a strange milestone, except that it represents the longest tenure I’ve ever had with a church, and thus, I’ve now shared words of blessing and sending with you more than I have with any other congregation. I look forward to all the days ahead, as we go forward reminding one another and a wider world who we are as beloved of God and followers of Jesus who through the power of the Spirit are at loose in the world with the love of Christ.