The Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel CA
Rector’s Report to Annual Meeting
March 18, 2018
It’s a pleasure to be with you all this morning for this particular expression of the Body of Christ gathered together. Annual congregational meetings – at least in most churches – carry a mixed, and not altogether positive – memory for lots of people. Sometimes they are seen as the church functioning at its bureaucratic worst, where people get hung up on Robert’s Rules of Order, and parliamentary process minutia, and legal mumbo-jumbo. Sometimes they’re seen as the old-guard insiders getting together to find ways to legislatively maintain the status quo. Sometimes they are viewed as an anachronistic throwback to the “old days” which we continue to practice, simply because “we’ve always done it that way before.” And I must say, sometimes all of that is true.
But annual congregational meetings, when seen in another light, can be so much more than that. When they function at their best, they are yet one more lens through which a community of faith might gain a glimpse of how God is at work in this place… and even more so, how we might be at work in God’s plan for all creation, and especially for that part of creation in which God has planted us right here in the San Gabriel Valley. It is my hope, and my prayer, that we might frame our work today in that broader light.
On my first Sunday, during my sermon I asked the question, “What in God’s Name is going on around here?” Our annual meeting is just such a setting to ask that question again. How do we see the hand of God at work in this place? How do we perceive the Spirit moving in our midst beckoning us forward and inviting us to be more than we might believe ourselves to be?
Juli Kennedy, in her Senior Warden’s report, will offer more of a “year in review”, since – quite frankly – I wasn’t around here for most of the past 12 months. So this morning, I will offer just a few glimpses of what I’ve observed in my first month with you as your interim rector, along with a couple of images of what I see lying before us on the road ahead in the months to come.
Let me first acknowledge Sandy Smock, who wrote an article for our most recent edition of The Messenger which most of you should have received in your email inbox this past week. (If you aren’t on our email list, please talk with (email Gabe) before you leave today, so that you can get added to that distribution list.) During our SAGES lunch on Thursday, Sandy told me that he offers these occasional reflections about life here at The Church of Our Saviour. And I hope that he will continue doing so on a regular basis.
I won’t simply rehash Sandy’s words, but let me briefly say that he offered a compelling testimonial to the work of two of our most important ministries which emerge from this congregation… our Transitional Housing program under the leadership of Bill Doulos, and the PRISM ministry which reaches out to the incarcerated folks in Los Angeles under the leadership of our resident monastics, the Community of Divine Love. Bill, with his housing ministry, and Dennis, Greta, and Shelby, with their PRISM efforts are two of the shining examples of “what in God’s Name is going on around here” right now, and I ask you in joining me in acknowledging their fine work.
I got another glimpse this week of God at work in this place when Jane Fall invited me to join her for a tour of the several campuses of the Our Saviour Center over in El Monte this past Tuesday afternoon. I must say, I was stunned by the breadth and scope of the work which they accomplish over there. From the Food Bank, whose primary clientele is elderly Asians living in apartments in the neighborhood; to the Health Clinic across the parking lot, serving mostly Latino families living on the margins; to the Dorris Dann Kids Center a few blocks away, which partners with a local elementary school to provide amazing after-school care for hundreds of kids each day; to the creative partnership with an outside group providing mental health services to veterans; Our Saviour Center is changing the lives of countless people in our neighborhood every day. In fact, at the invitation of Marguerite Ponce, the Dorris Dann director, I’ll be back over there this coming Friday afternoon, to take part in the annual “Read Across America” day. So thank you, Jane, for the amazing work you oversee, and for the tireless work of all of the staff and volunteers which comprise that remarkable team of ministers.
The Transitional Housing program, PRISM, and the Our Saviour Center are just three of our “off campus” ministries which are flourishing. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the work which happens right on this property every day. For 50 years now, A Child’s Garden School, our preschool right her on our campus, has been an anchor of our neighborhood. I was at Kaiser a couple of weeks ago, and my health care provider said that his child is a product of the Garden School, and he couldn’t say enough great things about his family’s experience there. Evie Escatiola and Rose Sevgiyan provide outstanding leadership over there, and we are deeply appreciative.
And the Li Tim Oi Center – a creative partnership with the Diocese of Los Angeles – provides leadership training for an ever-expanding portion of our community – both our church community and our wider community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, within a 3-mile radius for The Church of Our Saviour, 49% of our population is Asian. To be the heart and hands of Jesus in the world today, we need to be able to engage that portion of our community in meaningful and transformative ways. Fr. Thomas Ni, is an incredible asset we have as a part of that effort, working with our Mandarin-speaking community, and our Cantonese-speaking community, and directing the Li Tim Oi Center. Thank you to Thomas, for everything you do.
Those are just some of the examples of the many ways in which The Church of Our Saviour is making a difference in the world around us. But here’s the rub. Similarly to what I talked about in my sermon this morning, many (perhaps most) of us know about these agencies. But far too few of us actually know these different branches of our common life together. It’s one thing to know that great work which emerges from this institution we call The Church of Our Saviour. It’s quite another thing to have attached our hearts – and not just our pocketbooks – to this important work. And so, it is both my hope and my intention that we will actively and intentionally create opportunities for all of us to learn more about, and become engaged in, this important work during this interim period.
Let me say a few things about the transition process here at The Church of our Saviour, and how that will all unfold in the days and weeks and months ahead. Shortly after the new vestry is instituted, one of our first orders of business will be the establishment of a process for the selection of two crucial groups during this interim period. The first group to be established will be the Profile Committee. The second group to be established will be the Search/Discernment Committee. Whether the vestry chooses to establish these two groups right off the bat, or hold off on the selection of the Search Committee until the time is closer for its actual work to begin will be up to the vestry. The work of those two groups, however, is distinctly different.
The Profile Committee is charged with the responsibility of gathering the many stories which comprise The Church of Our Saviour into a cohesive package. That effort has a number of different distinct elements. From the gathering of the 150 year history of this congregation; to a forthright and honest review of both the joys and challenges which have brought us to this point in our life together; to the development of a clear description of the many ministries which are a part of our life together; to an accurate assessment of the demographics of our surrounding community; to a clear, concise, and understandable reporting of our very complex financial picture; to the hopes and dreams which we carry for the next chapter of our story; to the characteristics we will be looking for in our next rector. As you can see, this is no small task, and it will take a good deal of time to gather this all together.
The real reason for doing all this work is two-fold. On the surface, the end-product will be some kind of document which tells our story to potential rector candidates. But the real reason for developing a Parish Profile is that we might be able to tell ourselves our own story. This is a deeply reflective process. It is one way to answer the question, “What in God’s Name is going on around here?” For when we are clear with ourselves about who we are and who we believe God is calling us to become, then we are on much firmer ground when we seek a rector to join us for the next chapter of God’s unfolding story.
After Phase One – the development of that Parish Profile – is complete, the vestry will then turn to Phase Two. The vestry will select a committee who – on their behalf, and under their direction – will take that Parish Profile and screen potential candidates to develop a final list of possibilities for the vestry to consider as your next rector. Working with Joanna Satorius, the Canon for Transition in the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Vestry will determine the scope of that search process.
So, you can see that those two committees have very different work to do, and require two very different particular kinds of skill-sets. These won’t be “representative” committees – that is to say, they won’t be comprised of folks who “represent” a certain portion of the community. When committees are formed along those lines, the expectation then becomes that “it’s my job to ‘represent’ my sub-group of the congregation, even if that means to the detriment of other sub-groups.” Rather, each of these committees will be made up of people who bring a certain set of gifts to the table. In the case of the Profile Committee, the vestry will be looking for story-tellers and story-gatherers… people who can take in a large amount of information and then make sense of it all in a clear and compelling way. In the case of the Search Committee, the vestry will seek out people who can then hold that Parish Profile up to a wide variety of candidates, and discern a short list of finalists of folks who can help us fulfill what we’ve said about ourselves in the profile.
I am often asked what will be my role in the search process. Frankly, my role will be to see that a good process is put in place and then maintained while we go along. While I often assist in the development of the profile, I won’t be actively involved in the discernment process with candidates. It’s your job as a congregation to seek out the next rector. And it’s my job to help you to be successful in that effort. And so, with both groups, I come in when asked… and I stay away until/unless I’m invited in.
So… all of this is a rather long-winded way of saying that we have an incredible amount of work to do in the next year. What in God’s Name is going on around here? Keep your eyes open. And keep your ears open. And keep your heart open. And together, we will develop a response to that most important question which lies before us.
Thank you for the opportunity to join you in this chapter of God’s unfolding story.