Following my usual custom for the Sunday of the Congregation’s Annual Meeting, I deliver a version of my written report within the sermon. A slightly longer version of this report will be included in the documents of the Annual Meeting, available on the parish website. The Gospel of the day is Matthew 4:12-23.
Matthew’s Gospel begins in a crisis, as Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested. We’re not told exactly why Jesus then leaves Nazareth, but he goes to Capernaum. Miracles, growth, excitement, and renewal all come later in the Gospel, but for now, Jesus pauses and steps aside.
It’s this aspect of today’s Gospel that draws my attention today, as make my annual report in the context of the sermon. I’m noticing the way Jesus pauses and re-evaluates before jumping back into ministry with new energy.
Just as Jesus used the crisis of his cousin’s arrest to think and pray more deeply about mission, I think we did some of that in 2022. Because of the pandemic and its stresses, some events were cancelled or postponed, and many went online.
Our community presence has been strong. The garden has been open, our building has been open for recovery and community groups. And Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center has been going strong. Every Saturday, volunteers have cooked and served dinner for community guests, and more recently, we have gathered supplies for refugees. In November, resumed the Thanksgiving program, with some 300 dinners prepared and delivered. This happened thanks to coordinators Lydia Colon, Suzanne Julig, Joe Lipuma, Pat Miller, Jeff McCulley, and others. As always, Erlinda Brent went above and beyond her job as parish secretary to coordinate orders, deliveries, and all the other logistics around the program. Last summer, HTNC had a fund and friend raiser cookout. We raised some money for programs, we enjoyed the food, met some new people, heard the band, and even had a special appearance by our own understated rockstar, Nick Viest.
One HTNC and church program that has not come back yet has been the Tuesday Senior Lunch. Initially, we were concerned for safety around COVID. But the reality over the last year is that we don’t have the volunteers. We’ve had that and further challenges with our shelter, even though it’s extremely unfortunate that during a city-wide crisis in housing and homelessness, our HTNC shelter has not reopened. But we still don’t have a reliable network for screening guests, and we no longer have the particular volunteer leaders who were the backbone of that program.
But our parish continued to open up in 2022. We added volunteer singers to our choir, Yemisi Ariyibi revived the children’s Sunday School, and little by little, altar guild, acolytes, coffee hour teams, ushers, and lectors have all been slowly rebuilding.
Like Jesus, who went away to pray and enrich his own spirit, we sought to deepen our spirituality. In Lent, a dozen of us spent a weekend on retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, in West Park, New York. And Liz Poole has continued to offer online yoga every Wednesday night, leading us in deepening the connections among mind, body, and spirit.
During the summer months and into the fall, a handful of us gathered in the Cloister Chapel every Sunday morning for twenty-five minutes of silent meditation. Simone Crockett led most of these meditation sessions, and I was grateful for her steady and prayerful leadership.
Last summer, I had a two-month sabbatical. In the terms of my call to Holy Trinity (the contract with me signed by the church and the Bishop) there’s a stipulation for a sabbatical, a time away, every six or seven years of ministry. And while the vestry and others suggested I do a full three or four months away, it seemed to me like two months would be a better fit. (I knew that we would need to be searching for a new music director, and I also felt uneasy leaving the church as we were just emerging from the pandemic.) The time was an absolute blessing, and I remain to the vestry, other parish leaders and staff, and to everyone who contributed money, ideas, or time to the sabbatical experience.
I spent the month of June on sabbatical in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, practicing Spanish, and going deeper into the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, as well as spending time with every painting by El Greco that I could find. In July, I spent time with family in North Carolina.
By mid-July, I was missing you, I missed New York, and I deeply missed our common life at Holy Trinity. And so, returning in August, it felt like the perfect time away. I felt a little like Jesus must have in today’s Gospel, stepping away from Nazareth, getting refreshed in Galilee, and being renewed for what God has in store next.
I’m thankful for Bishop Andrew St. John’s leadership in June, and that of our friend from our link parish in London, the Rev. Graham Buckle, who took over for July. The Rev. Doug Ousley and the Rev. Margie Tuttle helped with pastoral care and other services, and I appreciate everything they did. Alden Prouty and Chris Abelt led the vestry while I was gone, with the amazing support of treasurer Christine du Toit, and clerk of vestry, Paul Chernick.
Our Vestry has been steady and wise through 2022, and I offer all my thanks to Alden Prouty, who has served as Warden of Vestry for two terms, and rotates off vestry, and also to Helen Palmer who has fulfilled her terms. I’m grateful to Paul Chernick, Lydia Colón, and Marlin Mattson, who have completed one term (and can still serve another time, if elected.)
Our organist and director of music Cleveland Kersh told me around Easter of his and his husband Christoph’s plan to move to his Christoph’s native Germany over the summer. In May, we celebrated them, blessed their marriage, and then said farewell in June.
We also celebrated our longtime senior sexton, Arold Dorsinvil, as he retired from Holy Trinity. While we missed seeing familiar faces and mourned the gifts of both Cleve and Arold, their departures allowed for discernment and adjustment.
Our building needed immediate attention to chronic problems, broken pipes, and unsafe electricity. With the help of Lu Paone and the ongoing good maintenance work of Ozell Ryant and José Cornier, we have made enormous improvements.
Regarding our music, Cleve’s expertise and care brought us through the pandemic in ways very few people could have done, but we also realized that Holy Trinity’s music program after the pandemic needed to expand, include more people, celebrate a diversity of styles, and encourage the mission and growth of our church—that mission being (in shorthand) “to show and share the love of God.”
After a careful search, with candidates from all over the country, Adam Koch was selected. Adam joined us officially in September, and his time with us has already blessed us beyond my imagining. I enter church every Sunday looking forward to the music, and usually leave church humming a hymn or anthem.
We also welcomed the Rev. Deacon Pamela Tang to our church family in October. Deacons, in the Episcopal Church, are not paid for their ministry by the church, but must support themselves with other work. Pam is the office manager for Mission Graphics at the Church of Our Savior, Chinatown, and she is also busy with studies at General Seminary and her other volunteer work in the diocese and larger church. I’m glad for her help in our Sunday worship and welcome her support in expanding pastoral care in our parish.
We lost some members in 2022, as they moved out of the city. But we also mourned the deaths of Hart Fessenden, Jim Iredell, Chris Knight, Rosemary Lawton, and Elaine Siu. Betsy Morey also died, and though she was technically a member of another church, she had long been a part of Holy Trinity.
And even though Father Bert Draesel, the Rector Emeritus of Holy Trinity, died last week, the loss of his laughter and encouragement is felt strongly in our community, in this year. As with other deaths, something has shifted. But a part of that means he is with our other saints in heaven, urging us on and praying for us still.
People were busy during the pandemic, and not just with work. We saw evidence of this last summer and fall, as we celebrated baptism after baptism after baptism. Weddings and other celebrations were held– some having been postponed from the pandemic. Even though the year had a lot of uncertainty, our church was full of babies and brides, of grooms and rejoicing.
Much of our church life is healthier and stronger than it has been in decades. And yet, this year’s financial reality is worse than it has been in most of our memories. Though there were several years in which we took no money out of our General Fund to cover a deficit, this year, we have a massive deficit that is obviously unsustainable for the future. Please know that we are already putting new energy into marketing our space more creatively. We continue to partner with other organizations for sharing resources and space. And our parish is growing.
We still spend an enormous amount of money on our building, but unless we fix leaks, nonworking lights, broken sound systems, and falling plaster, few people will want to use our space for films, functions, or even for faith.
In today’s Gospel, even though Jesus leaves the familiar territory of Nazareth, his faith increases. Jesus moves forward, as though empowered by the words of Isaiah, from darkness into light, from death into new life. As Jesus invites companions to join him in his way of love, he speaks of the adventure as a kind of great fishing expedition. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus says.
That’s part of our work, as well. We don’t go fishing for people in a desperate effort to build budgets and staff committees. We don’t fish for people simply to have more volunteers. Those things will take care of themselves whenever and wherever the people of God are faithful to the joy and love of Christ.
Instead, we’re called to be part of that great fishing expedition, catching others up in the excitement of our music, worship, and prayer. We can catch people up in the energy of service through Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center. We can all get caught up in learning about faith and in witnessing the power of healing.
Just as the Spirit led Jesus and the disciples in new directions, we’ll be led in new places, too. We’ll grow in our community connections and support. We’ll grow our digital ministry and outreach. We’ll grow in our ability to check in with each other and take care of each other. And finally, if we allow him, Christ will catch us up in new ways of knowing his presence and life. As the Offertory Anthem today sings, Christ promises that if we stick close to him, follow him, and love one another through him, there will be many fine days ahead.