St. Thomas Episcopal Church
3801 S. Wabash Avenue Main- 773.268.1900 Fax- 773.624.4843
Chicago, IL 60653 firstname.lastname@example.org
January 22, 2013
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The 8th chapter of the Book of Romans articulates eloquently our experience at St. Thomas this past year. The Apostle Paul pens the following verses: We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)
The year 2012 has been a year of going deeper in our faith and ministry. If asked how deep is our faith, I am persuaded that we have waded into some very deep water. We are more than ankle, knee or waist deep, but we have been thoroughly immersed in a life of faith this past year. We experienced a faith deep enough to swim in. We have not held any dry areas back for ourselves but we have striven to give ourselves totally and completely to God. When faith becomes deep enough to swim in, we don’t become perfect or stop making mistakes, but we are able to give ourselves to God as never before in spite of our imperfections. When faith becomes deep enough to swim in, we no longer stand on our own two feet or try to walk or wade through on our own power. Instead we rely on God’s word and put our trust in God as never before. Our prayers truly become, “Thy will be done.” Live or die, sink or swim, we move on through life’s turbulent seas knowing that there is one who upholds us as the billows roll and the breakers dash!
Faith that’s deep enough to swim in can be frightening because of the commitment and trust it calls for. But it is that kind of faith that continues to carry us, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, through it all. Only faith that is deep enough to swim in can make us more than conquerors.
It has not been lost on any of us however that this year has been very challenging. We have been experiencing the intense labor pains of the faith which we continue to birth; the hope for our destiny and the patience to wait on it until it comes. I admonished us last year to 3 things: humility, intense focus and understanding our purpose/having a goal. Guided by our strategic plan we have given life to these goals as we have journeyed together and worshiped together and labored together and fought together and cried together. We have experienced the labor pains of what God is birthing in the life of His church, St. Thomas Church. It has not been easy.
As your pastor and spiritual midwife I am pleased to report that the labor has not been in vain; the pain which we all have experienced has, and continues to, give birth and life to God’s mission for us in this place and at this time. As for a mother who travails to give life to that which she has incubated for nine months, the pain of the labor is worth it. It is worth it when you have stretched and grown spiritually and in extraordinary ways to support a homeless family with our abundance of warmth and shelter and made a difference in their lives and the lives of their generations to come. Our Homeless Ministry has stretched all of us spiritually and emotionally and we have no choice to realize that but for the grace of God go we. This is truly faith in action. It is worth it when we see before our eyes the development of another community outreach arm, the St. Thomas Community Development Corporation, and through that effort the development of a sports complex to serve the people of the south side of Chicago with the promise of life-changing jobs and youth programs. And how could we forget the hope birthed by the groundbreaking for the Tennis Center on December 19? The pain has been worth it! It is worth it when we see the growth of new ministries which prayer has wrought. It is worth it to see come to fruition a vision for this church to be involved in ministry to the community through the arts. We are blessed beyond measure to have resident artist Shahar KarenWeaver in our midst who continues to help us grow spiritually through her keen sense of God through the medium of film. It is worth it when we soon dedicate the Radcliff and Elliott Hunter International Art Gallery at the Hunter Parish House, which will be a vehicle for unique outreach for this church. It is worth it when we deepen our commitment to prayer through a dedicated prayer hour on Mondays at noon. It is worth it when we finally have programming for everyone in our computer lab! The pain has been worth it when we saw a sea of women from all over come and be inspired by another successful Women’s Day. It is worth it when the TRC expands its reach with a Senior Village. It is worth it when we have witnessed one of our own, The Reverend Karen King, come through the fires of discernment and be ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests in Christ’s Church. It speaks of your deep commitment to fostering the ministry of all who commit themselves to it. It is worth it when we see an extraordinary treasurer, Phala Daniel Diggs, continue to keep us fiscally sound and despite the realities has the faith to follow our vision. On last year despite the contrary winds of the Great Recession we met our full diocesan common mission share at 100% for the 7th year straight. We met our budget and we were able to close our faith gap. It is worth it when we were able to say “job well done” to our old Parish House furnace and welcomed the new one, which purrs like a well-tuned Cadillac, without incurring any debt. The pain has been worth it.
We have added new members and lost some members, baptized, married and buried. We have seen God work as healer and sustainer in the midst of this congregation. We have put our faith in the only one who can keep us, and even through the pain, it was worth it.
And so my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am compelled to ask today, how deep is our faith in 2013? Is our faith deep enough to help us pick up the pieces of life and go on triumphantly when we will face the chill of disappointment? Is our faith deep enough to help us keep our head up when things aren’t going right; when misfortune strikes and the very foundation of our lives is shaken? Is our faith deep enough to keep our heart from panic and our courage from leaving when there are hellhounds all around? Is your faith deep enough to preserve our joy when sadness is at our doorstep? Is your faith deep enough to hold us when people disappoint and dreams disappear? Is our faith deep enough to carry us through our labor pains, which will surely continue, and birth the hope of a brighter and more wonderful tomorrow? Is our faith deep enough to continue in this new year to live into our mission: St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the first African-American parish in the Chicago Diocese, is a vibrant and diverse sanctuary for those interested in living out and spreading the good news of the Gospel of Christ. Through an array of ministries the church community welcomes all into its fold- those who are committed Christians, those in search of a church home, those in need of spiritual or corporal healing, and those who live near or far from the Church. Having flourished in its community for more than 130 years, the Church brings its faith-based presence into the broader world of community concerns, politics and other arenas that cry out for the Word of God. And, when you come to the end of your journey, weary of life and the battle is won, is our faith deep enough to make up a dying bed and then bear us up on the wings of the morning to the bosom of our heavenly father who will wipe away all tears from our eyes and give eternal rest to our soul?
And so like Paul, we forget the failures and disappointments of yesterday, yet neither do we think too highly of past successes, but with humility, intense focus and a sure goal we press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We will, we must, we shall press on through the challenges toward the bright sunshine of our purpose.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
Thank you for your prayers, support and your love as we begin our 8th year of ministry together.
We will labor on!
The Very Reverend Fulton L. Porter, III, M.D., M.Div.
The Sixth Rector
Dean, Chicago South Deanery