Take a moment and picture all of your memories of your time in relation to this church as if they were captured and placed into a photo album. For some of us this album would be very thin as we’ve only been here a short while, and for others of us we can’t imagine a photo album big enough to contain all of our memories. And to be sure, not all of these memories are happy ones. We’ve all had ups and downs and this church may have caused some of those downs. Some of these pictures will be of us celebrating with one another, baptisms, weddings, new children, and grandchildren, perhaps a new job or promotion. Other pictures will be of great sorrow and sadness, the time after we lost a loved one, or when we got the diagnosis that we were afraid of. The commonality among all of these pictures is that they are of people, not individuals. The strength of this church has been and still is our community. We are a church that is really good at community. This is why we say that we are a Christian community working together to serve all people. That is who we have been and who we desire to remain to be.
Now I want us to picture an imaginary family, the Jones family. The parents in the Jones family both grew up with some church experience, one grew up Catholic, the other Methodist, but as they got older both of them stopped going to church. Now they are married and they have three kids ages 2, 5, and 7. As their children have gotten older the mother in the Jones family wants the kids to go to church, and to be honest, she wants to go back to church for herself. As the parents talk about this they decide that they want to find a place for their whole family to go together. And because they live near here they think about checking out Cobblestone because they drive by it every day.
Now I want us to picture how this scenario would have played out three years ago. The first thing they would have done is to check out the website. Three years ago it was out of date and that alone could have turned them off to the church. But let’s say that they still want to come here, but then they would have arrived and looked for the nursery to drop off their two year old, only to discover that one of them would have to stay with the child during the service. And even if they still decided to stick it out, if they wanted to get to know more people and learn more about the Christian faith all that could have been suggested to them was that the mom could go to the women’s Bible study, but that wouldn’t work for her because she works during Tuesday afternoons. And so the family basically would have left being asked to just come back next week. And more than likely the family wouldn’t have come back, and the only picture that they are adding to the photo album of their life is that time they tried to go to church again, only to find that the church really wasn’t able to welcome them in.
Now picture this scenario today. Thanks to the work of Phil Reece the Joneses would have checked the website and learned all about our worship service on Sunday, what to expect during worship, and what we had for children. They would have come on a Sunday morning and found both a trained nursery worker and a volunteer happy to watch their two year-old while they participated in the service. In the service they would have been greeted and welcomed by the worship leaders, who explained the parts of the service and who offered ways for them to find out answers to any questions they may have concerning the church or Christianity. They would have heard a sermon that expects people who are making a journey like theirs, one coming back to faith. In the service they would have had the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of communion, reminding them again of the heart of the Christian faith. After the service the older children could have joined others being taught by Jan Janiga and Kristen Redler about the Christianity while the parents had a cup of coffee and snacks. If the parents wanted to dive more into our faith community, they would be invited to join a community group (which are kid-friendly) where they can better get to know others in the church and have a safe place to process and grow in their faith. The picture in the photo album of this family from this trip will be a joyful one as they remember their first time going back to church and wondering why it took them so long to go to church again.
These past few years we have done some good internal work of creating ways for us and others to deepen our relationships with one another and God and to better serve our greater community. And so, the consistory feels like this is the year to start to focus on ways to invite others to join us in our community here. In 2016 we want to grow from just being a welcoming church to being an inviting church. Therefore, the goal for 2016 is to have 10 non-church going people come to our church who have been invited by a regular of our church.
Why is this a good goal? Because we want other people to have mental photo albums like the ones we have. We want the recently divorced single mom to have people who can bear some of her burdens. We want the couple starting their second marriage to have a community that will help in the struggles ahead. We want the kids who have parents that are too busy working to make ends meet to have other adults that care for them and watch out for them. We want those who have an aching hole in their hearts to find a caring environment where they can openly wrestle with their doubts and struggles and encounter the living God. As we look at the past year and plan for the upcoming year let us do so always asking what can we do to make a better mental photo for someone in relationship to this church.
This past year we have continued developing community groups as central to life of the church, we have improved our care team so that our members who are unable to be physically with us are still cared for, and we have done some significant upkeep to our lovely building.
We expanded from two community groups to three as the women’s Bible study changed to becoming a community group. These groups continue to be the best place for people to grow in their faith together and to develop relationships with one another. The service projects are not going as smoothly as we had hoped, but they are gaining some momentum. The best example of this is the Women’s Bible Study who has done 50 hours of service this month, which is more than the previous year and a half of all the groups combined.
Our care team, under the leadership of Barb McGarry, has continued to get better. Sadly we had many members have various health struggles, but because of Barb and others these members are getting visits, phone calls, and cards from their church family.
We have done several significant maintenance projects for our building and the parsonage, with thanks to Dave Parker for heading up most of this work.
Scraped, primed and painted exterior of Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall
Repaired and painted ceiling of Fellowship Hall dining area
Repaired and painted North side of Sanctuary
Replaced Parsonage furnace and A/C Unit
Sealed coated and lined parking lots
Sealed coated all drives including parsonage
Steam cleaned Heath room carpet and upholstery.
New FM receivers for Sanctuary sound system.
Installed signs to help newcomers find their way.
We set out as a big goal for our congregation to do 10,000 hours of community service in one calendar year. In 2013 we had 1341, and in 2014 we had 1126. It isn’t going the direction we hoped, but keep in mind with the momentum of the community groups and their service projects we are on pace to exceed 1400 hours in 2015.
This past year may not have been what we expected or fully what we desired, but we can be confident that God is clearly working in and through us that the Gospel would bear fruit in our lives and in this world.
We also remember with heavy hearts the passing of Sue Grethen this past year.
Our hope in the coming year is to become an inviting congregation. Look for upcoming events that will provide support and training on how you can contribute to that goal. We want to invite others so that they too can have a great photo album of memories of their times at this church, where they made great relationships with others and grew in their faith with God. We have done good work in the last few years that really makes us as a church capable to embrace and welcome in others into the life and work of our church. Please pray and participate in the work that we are doing as you are able.
Grace and Peace,