I began last year’s Charge with a quote from the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you…”Jeremiah 29:11-12 Little did we know how 2020 was to unfold! Over and over again, through this unsettled year, I have prayed with the psalmist “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46 v.1
The advent of the pandemic by March 2020 changed the world. I have described how we as a Christian family endeavored to respond and explored all available avenues to continue to be ‘church’ in the face of such challenges. That work is described at the beginning of the Annual Report as ‘Ministry in Covid Times’. Bouquets of thanks are offered to Derek Reid, Glen McIntyre, Kathy Pearce, Terry Leversedge, Ian Kelly and Maggie Lorimer for their coordination of lay ministry during a stressful and complicated year. There was lots of criticism but also much support, as we navigated unfamiliar channels. Not everyone felt they received as much attention they thought they deserved and many expressed opinions about what we should or should not be doing. Well, I could say that we are only human but it is also true it is impossible to meet every expectation!
Our Council, music and worship, youth, pastoral care and prayer, property maintenance and financial and administrative ministries remained active, albeit in patterns hitherto unknown! Your clergy have had one of busiest years of their careers and ‘zoom’ meetings are one of the key tools for ministry now at our disposal. Many of us can attest to the hours spent ‘upgrading’ our technological skills! Please read the reports in the Annual to grasp the extent of both lay and priestly ministries exercised and the innovative ways people stayed in touch. Thank God we had the technology in place to facilitate recording our worship and that God gifted us with Derek Reid to manage it!
We became used to phrases from Public Health, government, the media and our Diocesan leadership such as “We are all in this together” and, “We aren’t out of the woods yet.” We miss being with people; we miss human touch; we miss sharing in the Eucharist. And the uncertainties prevail: physical and mental health issues, financial, employment and personal losses, high prices, disappointments, stressed and broken relationships, are all still realities, for all age groups.
On the world stage there was, in 2020, tragedy, violence, dramatics and despair. For many, isolation led to fear, anxiety, desolation, fatigue and ‘Covid brain’ and many people are mired in those feelings even now. It’s exhausting! While we are all too aware that the virus is still being transmitted within the community, we now wait with hope that we don’t return to the red zone and suffer a third wave, and that vaccinations will combat its spread. We wait with hope for a safer age.
The Church is not a business or a social club but rather a Body, the Body of Christ. “If any want to be my followers”…Jesus said according to today’s Gospel, (Mark 8:31-38) know that it’s not going to be a picnic.
We are called ever more deeply into relationship with our Saviour Jesus and if that is not why you are connected to this place, then you will certainly be unhappy. Our commitment as members of the church is not what we get from the association, it’s what we give; the commitment is not to a group of friends, but to no less than the Holy One. Our purpose is not simply the pastoral care, education, fellowship and nurture of our members but to strive in ministry, in every way, to be witnesses to the presence and power of God, in our lives and in the world.
What will this year bring? As far as planning is concerned, it’s a ‘hold the line’ year, in terms of ministry and budget. While we will still be seeking out new ways of meeting needs and providing spiritual nourishment for this ‘flock’, it’s unlikely that some of our favourite things will return to the way they were before. While we may be able to worship, with limited numbers in-person, vocalists, both those in music ministry and the rest of us who just like to praise the Lord, will not be able to do so together. We won’t be returning to three services any time soon. We may be able to return to in-person services by Easter. Our Episcopal service has been postponed, again. Group activities may be able to resume, but not yet. Outreach ministry will be based on monetary donations, primarily under the Diocesan umbrella of Community Ministries. We will have to have patience and think of the parish as a whole and not simply the one little part of it which interests us particularly.
Concerning finances, the budget this year reflects our present circumstances and everything that is not required to function has been eliminated. This isn’t ‘forever’ but is the responsible thing to do this year. The budget will be reviewed again in June and if givings go up, well then we will be able to do more in ministry. Several items will need to be purchased in order to make full use of technology. These include computer and telephone system improvements. We are also faced with costs related to the storm water system(backflow valve), as proscribed by the City, and other property maintenance issues.
Last February Glen McIntyre and I negotiated our mortgage renewal with the Diocese, at 2%, offering us substantial savings over the last term and the ‘Jubliee’ granted to parishes last spring, along with very frugal spending, helped our bottom line.
We were able to pay our part time employees in music ministry fully through to June, even though we were closed in March and in September we did proceed with changing our remuneration system, as proposed in last year’s Charge, in light of the realities. When we can gather again safely for worship, with full music complement, those contracts will be revisited.
The future will demand an emphasis on building up the community of faith. That will have both spiritual and ‘gathering’ aspects. That our numbers have diminished is no surprise. They have everywhere. That financial donations are down, ditto. But if you are still giving what you did last year and the year before, then we can’t be surprised if our ministry will also suffer.
We have made it easy for you to give financially. PAR, envelopes, special offering envelopes, Canada Helps, The United Way, and the card reader for debit or credit card donations, all facilitate your financial support. But really, to plan for the future, we need to have as many of you registered for Pre-Authorized Remittance as possible and to do so, and to raise the amount regularly, is a sign of your commitment and your spiritual maturity.
We are six years post expansion and, as you might expect, we have begun to see where the construction promises fall short. We have taken the opportunity, with the building effectively closed to traffic, to do some paint touch ups and other repairs, and the facility has been cleaned during the year. The servery cupboards and some of the tile flooring need replacement and there remain further plans to improve the building and grounds.
This parish is blessed with committed lay leaders and volunteers, working with the priests, to keep it active, faithful, prayerful and healthy. Council Members, our part-time paid Administrative Assistant, our three part-time paid music ministry leaders, our Discipleship facilitators, those who actively engage in the good Stewardship and beautification of our property, volunteers on our Financial Ministries team, Pastoral Care, Outreach and Community, are all deeply valued. Several people have stepped down from particular ministries this past year: Helen Kelly, as pianist to Emmaus, though her heart is still there; Wanetta Cheung as chair of Discipleship, Helen Giroux, Pastoral Care Team and Ron and Brenda Harder, due to their move to southern Ontario.
Kathy Pearce, Rector’s Warden and Glen McIntyre, People’s Warden are also stepping down from the Wardens positions. They have served this community, admirably, as a superb team, through some very challenging times, including the entire expansion project and last year’s pandemic crisis. They have offered their time, multiple gifts, counsel, wisdom, and sometimes ‘blood, sweat and tears’ in ministry in this place.
They have been key supports for the clergy and we thank them for their faithful service. Kathy will stay on Council this year, continuing as a Synod member and Glen, as he said to me, ‘isn’t going anywhere’! Thank you both.
With confidence and love, I Charge you, and encourage you, the members of the Body of Christ at St. Helen’s, to embrace God’s call, indeed with hope and excitement as we walk by faith in this year of our Lord 2021.
Presented by the Incumbent, The Venerable Susan Churchill-Lackey
February 28, 2021