Catching People: The Rector’s 2019 Annual Report

John ChristmasAs is his custom, the rector gave his annual report as the sermon at the worship service on the Sunday of the Annual Meeting of the Parish, January 26, 2020.  The scripture readings are Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 5-13, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, and Matthew 4:12-23.

Listen to the report HERE

At the very beginning of today’s Gospel, we hear news that John the Baptist has been arrested. Jesus and his disciples must sense that these are dangerous times. Events are moving quickly and each day brings new challenges.

For us, living so many years later, we hear news that makes us anxious. Whether we devour every word of the latest news or try to avoid it or filter it—there’s no getting around a certain sense of anxiety, of trouble brewing, perhaps of a world out of control.

And so, in the context of what scripture calls “wars and rumors of wars,” we find ourselves a part of a church—of this church. And like the people described in today’s Gospel, rather than despair because of bad news (John the Baptist has been arrested), or give up, we’re called to follow Jesus and go fishing—to be a part of the whole sharing of Good News which “catches people.” News about Jesus—his life, his way, his freedom—can catch some off guard, it might catch others who feel like they’re in the middle of a freefall, and it might even catch our breath as we realize anew the depth of God’s love for us and our world.

This spirit of helping others get caught up in the love and life of Christ, of “sharing what we’ve got,” and not holding on to it too tightly for ourselves, is a good spirit in which to celebrate the Annual Meeting of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

As most of you know, on this Annual Meeting Sunday every January, it’s my practice to make my annual report in the context of the sermon. I will make it slightly shorter than in the past because so much of our review of 2019 is told by other people in the hard copy Annual Report you’ll receive after our worship service. Though a lot of my energy is spent managing our building, you can read about that in the Buildings & Grounds report. I will thank some people by name in this report, but please know how grateful I am to each person here for all that you have done in the past year to make Holy Trinity such a special place.

And so, with regard to “catching people,” in 2019, more people got caught up in our worship. Attendance has been slowly increasing, which helped us begin to really feel like we are forming communities around the Sunday 8 AM service, the Sunday night 6 PM service, and the Wednesday night service. We regularly have four to seven people for Morning Prayer at 8:30 AM, Mondays through Thursdays. Especially in 2019, whenever I needed to be away for a meeting, an appointment, or vacation, volunteers from the community stepped up to lead Morning Prayer or lead Wednesday Evening Prayer. This is as it should be, as the community takes leadership for the worship and is less dependent on a clergy person to always be the leader.

In 2019, we began the complicated and laborious work of migrating from an older database system to a new, cloud-based, secure, and versatile information management system. Some of you have created logins and given online or updated your own information, and we are grateful. Already, the new system helps us to be better stewards of our financial resources, but even more important, it helps us keep track of people—to know who is part of the church family and who has moved elsewhere, to be able to know a person’s spouse, whether that person may be of another faith or no faith, and to be able to establish groups and ways of helping people get more involved, as they wish. The new database, called Realm, makes for better fishing—it allows us to catch and minister with the people God sends our way.

Again, in 2019, a lot of people got caught up in the work of God through Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center. David Liston, our president, and the entire HTNC Board guide the programs with humor, persistence, and competence. As you’ll hear in the Church Treasurer’s report, in 2019, we began more careful accounting with costs incurred by HTNC. Last year, HTNC actually had no fundraisers, but will do more fundraising for program costs in 2020 and later in 2020, we may even have a plan for an updated kitchen, and can move toward more serious fundraising around that issue.

The programs of Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center were blessed with volunteers. The Tuesday senior lunch community continued to be robust and well-fed, thanks to the cooking of Emma Sebbane and her team. Even though the various cooking teams for the Saturday neighborhood supper began to change their configuration and perhaps will need some new volunteers in 2020, last year was a great success. The Thanksgiving Dinner program again fed almost 300 people, thanks to efforts coordinated by Suzanne Julig, Lydia Colón, and volunteers from St. Joseph’s Church. The HTNC homeless shelter struggled with some of the practical aspects of our serving as a respite site for the Main Chance Drop-in Center (getting linens on time, not getting as many referrals as we thought we should), but our volunteers were amazing and we continued to be one of the only religious respite sites that continued year-long. This is largely because of the oversight by our neighbor Mark Roshkind, and our amazing volunteer coordinator, Melanie Hill. In 2019, our shelter was still closed on Wednesday and Thursday nights, but if we had more volunteers, we might be able to be open seven nights a week.

Though we took a year off from MayFair (given street and rectory construction and the very late date of Easter), we were especially “evangelical” during the last week of June, as we did our part to be the church while New York City welcomed millions of people for World Pride. LGBTQ people from all over the world read about us on the World Pride website and in publications that targeted the occasion. On Tuesday night of that week, we offered an opportunity for people to meet our own assistant bishop in New York, the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, the first openly lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion. That night, we had a full church, with people from all over the country, many of whom named our event as the highlight of their plans for World Pride Week. On Wednesday night of that week, we showed the film, “Saint of 9/11” about the life of Father Mychal Judge. On Sunday, we offered special music during worship, had a pre-parade party in the social hall, and then joined the Diocese of New York for the Pride March. For months afterwards, I received thank you emails and notes from people who were grateful that our parish was so publicly offering the love and welcome of Christ to all people.

My own skills as a fisherman for Christ are sharpened as I learn from the community and from colleagues. Last year, I continued to celebrate a monthly Eucharist at Carnegie East House for Senior Living, served on the Advisory Board of Health Advocates for Older People, the board of the St. Hilda and St. Hugh School on the West Side, and as the Community Pastor to the Community of St. John Baptist, an Episcopal order of nuns in New Jersey. My own spirit was nurtured and sustained by my involvement with the Third Order Society of St. Francis, and Holy Trinity was blessed to host the Society of St. Francis (the Episcopal Franciscan friars) for their service of the Transitus of St. Francis in October and for a Day of Reflection they offered here on All Souls’ Day. In the Diocese of New York, I served on the Global Mission Commission, and continued participating in the midtown clericus and the Manhattan Rector’s group.

Sigo aprendiendo y practicando español, aunque hablo mal. Estudio porque desafía mi cerebro, me ayuda a ser más útil en el ministerio y porque ayuda a nuestra iglesia a dar la bienvenida a los vecinos cercanos y lejanos. Para aquellos hablantes nativos de español: gracias por su paciencia.

(I continue learning and practicing Spanish, even though I speak badly. I study in order to challenge my brain, to be more helpful in ministry, and because it helps our church welcome neighbors from close by and far away.)

Speaking of engaging the wider world, last week, we again enjoyed a visit from Father Graham Buckle, the vicar of St. Stephen’s Church, our sister parish in the London-NY Link program. Graham visited in January of 2019, I visited and preached in London in March, and members of both parishes have visited throughout the year. Some of you participated in our Sunday morning education hour in April, as we used the Internet technology of “Facetime” to join the people of St. Stephen’s for a session of art and spirituality.

Jesus says we should be catching people, and I’ve lamented that sometimes the Episcopal Church works more like a lobster trap. We open one hidden door and hope people will wander in. And while Holy Trinity is not yet able to be open during the daytime (there are too many unsafe dark corners and hidden places for mischief-makers) visitors and friends move through this space almost every day of the week. Thanks to Liz Poole, and her dedication to teaching Wednesday night yoga, some people who ordinarily would never come inside are able to experience the presence of God here. Again, in 2019, we welcomed the Taiko Japanese Drumming group, and in September, we celebrated a Michaelmas Evensong with our neighbors from St. Joseph’s (Roman Catholic) Church. And almost every week, there are choral groups, or recovery groups, or community meetings that use our space.

Yesterday, as people arrived to remember the life of Connie George, beloved Board Member of Triangle Theatre, many went first to Draesel Hall because that’s the space they know, from attending Triangle Theatre events. When they figured out the service was in the church, and they saw the church—many for the first time—they were gob smacked. Many were even more surprised when they saw how Holy Trinity welcomed with a light touch, in no way compromising the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but being open to other traditions and experiences of the Holy. The productions, the teaching, and the fun of Triangle Theatre touch a lot of lives, and I’m confident it will continue to do so in the future.

As every child knows, the church is not building or the steeple, but you have to open the door for all the people. Again in 2019, I was blessed with volunteers and staff. I’m always grateful for the support and help from the Rev. Richard Smith, who is in some ways retired from active ministry, but in other ways, busy almost every Sunday. I continue to work towards our possibly having a deacon at Holy Trinity, and things look good for later this year.

Rarely, is there a week that someone does not compliment me on some member of our church staff. Often, it’s to say how amazing the music is, and to express gratitude for Cleveland Kersh, our director of music and organist. Yesterday was another example of his kindness, his versatility, and his selfless service to the occasion, as he helped others hear and experience “the beauty of holiness.” Calvin du Toit, our Sunday night musician, does the same thing each week, as he sings and plays and teaches us music that truly allows us to “pray twice.” I’m grateful to our sextons, Arold Dorsinvil, Ozel Ryant, and José Cornier. They work and work and work.

Erlinda Brent identifies herself as the “church secretary,” but we all know she’s much more than that—helping to coordinate sextons, building use, calendars, special events, those who rent our space for programs, and for holding and filming. It’s because of Erlinda that we benefited again in 2019 from the CBS television series “God Friended Me,” and we were used for filming by the series, “Evil,” and several other shorter segments for television and film. A Latin America superstar named Romeo Santos filmed one of his music videos here last year, and that song (“El beso que no le di,” “The kiss I didn’t give her,”) has remained on the Billboard charts ever since.

Though few churches function with committees the way they might have 20 years ago, we have several strong boards and committees that help us be faithful and keep us on track. The Investment Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee continued to help us keep track of our resources, but also to be better stewards and to put into place systems that protect us and guide us for the future. Jean Geater and Christine du Toit have been hugely helpful with this. As you’ll see at our meeting to follow this worship service, Christine’s service as our volunteer Treasurer is invaluable and continues to strengthen us for long years of service and mission in the future.

I want to thank Jim Synk for his coordination of our 2019 Stewardship Campaign, which he has done for some 13 years. Jim will probably join me in being enormously thankful that we went beyond our goal for 2020, while also pointing out that a few small number of people give very generously. We can all grow in how we support the mission and ministry of Holy Trinity.

The Vestry meets monthly for most of the year, and is filled with people who serve in just about every aspect of our church life. Alden Prouty and Yvonne O’Neal again led us with grace and energy. We thank Bea Tompkins and Leona Fredericks, who both complete their terms on Vestry this year and are taking a rest. But we won’t let them rest too much—we need their wisdom and input. We are slowly getting over our denial that Alexandra Barker has indeed gone to Scotland for law school, but we were grateful for all her service on Vestry in 2019.

Our Gospel today begins with news of the arrest of John the Baptist. But even in the midst of a complicated and challenging world, the disciples and Jesus kept telling people about the Good News of the Kingdom and their love and life in the Spirit brough healing and renewal.

May God help us to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ in this new year.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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