“ Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you…” – 1 Peter 3.15
As we reflect over the past year we do so with hope. Our congregation has continually moved toward health and wholeness. In 2016 we saw a nearly balanced budget and a deeply faithful gift from that Barrett family estate. This gift, along with your faithful giving and focused congregational spending dramatically improved our financial situation. This strengthening is important as we begin to invite others into our fellowship. As we move toward health, we are better able to serve those in need. That all said, there are many needs which we wish we could serve more fully but are not yet able to due to financial constraints. We pray and hope Christ will continue to multiply our tithes for the Kingdom of God!
Over the course of 2016, we added 16 new baptized members to our fellowship. We should all be greatly encouraged by this news. Not because there is a bigger number when we look at our year-end statistics but rather because we as a congregation have grown in the gifts God has given us for our ministry. I see this as a signal that others see that they can grow and express their faith in Christ through membership in this congregation.
There are several ministry highlights for 2016. In terms of worship, we began having communion on a monthly basis which was a change. John Calvin, the founder of the Reformed Christian movement, wanted communion every week but compromised with his Elders to do it once a month. We received communion in a variety of ways including St. Giles, Intinction, and traditional passing of plates. Additionally, to care for those who are unable to worship with us the Deacons have begun extending the Lord’s Table to homebound and folks in the hospital. Our Elders had an excellent retreat in July where we discerned our identity and what is holding us back from who we want to be. This retreat provided us with a strong Vision Statement and also birthed our Superhero Block Party in September which attracted almost 200 of our neighbors for food and fun.
As we look forward to the year to come we must continue our progress in reaching out to our community, helping them see the love of Christ through us. My call here is as a transformation/redevelopment pastor. This is not a traditional call where a pastor simply tweaks what is currently happening. This is a ministry which calls for a wholesale evaluation of every aspect of ministry currently taking place while simultaneously looking for creative ways to engage with God’s work in the community. A great deal has changed since my arrival. Some changes we could all agree are for the better, other things may have mixed approval. That is exactly as it should be.
I’ve been a part of other organizations which have gone through dramatic transformations. One example is Wilderness Canoe Base in the BWCA. It is a place with a distinctive identity which is near to my heart. Two generations of my family have now worked here sharing Christ’s love in the context of God’s creation. In 2003, the camp came under completely new management with a drastically different vision. I had worked there for a couple years before this transition and continue to stay involved with the ministry to this day. The thing I found beautiful through the transformation was that things changed for the better and yet there remained a consistent identity which continued. This wasn’t through the work of the leadership, none of them had ever worked or visited the camp prior to taking over. That said, the Holy Spirit has set that place apart and has given it a particular ministry that continued to be easily recognizable through the transition. Now that I’ve had a relationship with that camp for 20 years and through five directors, it is still the Wilderness Canoe Base I encountered the first time I unloaded bags as a summer staff.
As we continue our transformation here at First Presbyterian Church, we need not worry about maintaining our identity. There is gold here that will continue through any refining process. Rather, let us be a high risk, low anxiety Church trusting that the metamorphosis we are experiencing will refine out the impurities and strengthen the good which has been cultivated by a great cloud of witnesses. We are a body who belong to Christ alone. Let us make this the reason for the hope that is within us!
Respectfully Submitted in Christ’s Service,
Pastor Jeremiah Knabe