January 19, 2016
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I believe that God has a vision for each of our lives that is bigger than any vision we could possibly have for ourselves. To reach that vision, we are to grow for God’s glory, not our own. To reach that vision, God desires for us to grow spiritually, numerically as a church, and financially. Therefore we should never lose sight of how big we can become or how much we can grow. A healthy church never loses sight of how big it can become as a body of believers, as a community of faith. No matter what mistakes or setbacks it encounters along the way, no matter the delays or hardships, negative spirits, or visionless people, it never loses sight of how big it can become for God’s glory. Jesus did not shed his blood for us on Calvary for us to live mediocre lives that go around in circles. Jesus saved us to think great thoughts and to do big things for him, through him, with him, and in his name.
I am pleased to report that we are growing, but we have much work left to do. We continue our spiritual growth through Christian education and worship. We continue with our weekly bible study classes and Sunday School, however we have allowed for greater access and opportunity for spiritual growth through prayer and study with the creation of a midweek lunchtime bible encounter in our Wednesday Noon Lifeline 15 Minute Call-In Prayer and Bible Study. Many who are unable to make it to our women’s study, Friday afternoon class or Sunday class have been able to take advantage of this opportunity conveniently by phone from wherever they are. What a blessing it has been!
We are growing. Our worship seeks to be relevant and inspiring as we continue to develop a world class music program as well developing a Contemporary Worship Sunday, or “Pearl Clutching Service” which incorporates fresh and innovative elements while continuing in the framework of Episcopal worship. From dance to drama to spoken word, Contemporary Worship Sunday is a moving experience that touches hearts and enlivens spirits. We must thank Dr. Keith Hampton for his expertise and leadership which has allowed us to move forward in worship.
We are growing. Our video ministry, under the leadership of Rory and Eva Smith has taken off! Sunday sermons and music has been shared with hundreds of people via our YouTube channel. Not only that, we have tapped into the technological expertise of our young people who form the video ministry team- Jonathan Hunter, Khalil McCarthy and Jonquin Orr. We thank you for your service to the church.
We are growing. This year has also been a year which focused on art. We have invited artists in residence to occupy studio space at our Parish House, under the leadership of Deacon Shahar Weaver. Our first art exhibition titled “Ain’t I a Woman. Ain’t She a Woman” was well received and the artists have been able to use our space for education as well as other artistic events. This helps us to realize the purpose for our Parish House which is to be a resource for the community. We are also grateful to Deacon Weaver for helping to increase our exposure to art by supplying original and spiritually meaningful art work to grace the cover of our bulletin each Sunday. We are also grateful for her Healing Circle Ministry. I don’t know of any other Parish doing anything as innovative as our Arts Ministry.
God has truly blessed us as we continue to welcome new members and witness the growth and vibrancy of our youth ministry and our feeding ministry. We also thank our organ benefactors who paid off our new organ before the end of 2015. Thus we have made great progress toward meeting the 3 strategic plan goals which you set through the year 2015: 1) Develop a dynamic Church membership that creates an atmosphere of joy and belonging; 2) Give life to the message of the Church through ministries and outreach and 3) Attend to internal Church concerns that will ensure a vital worship center. These are only a few of the many examples of how we have grown and worked toward our strategic goals this past year, but we have a long way to go.
We must continue to grow. As we focus our attention to 2016, we cannot rest on our laurels but we must not lose sight of how big we can become. In order to do that I believe we must finish some work we have started and set our sights on a future with unlimited potential. To that end, we want to thank all those who have faithfully contributed to Burn Dat Mortgage. Because of your hard work and generosity our Parish house mortgage has been reduced from 98,000.00 to approximately 28,000.00 with over 5000.00 aditionally already having been raised and which will be applied. The vestry has developed a plan to complete the payoff of this mortgage by June 2016. The current vestry including the wardens and rector has pledged 767.00 per person to be paid by June 2016 to pay off half the remaining balance which totals 11,505.00. As for the remaining balance of 11,505.00 we are asking for your help to pay it off in an innovative plan which will be proposed by the Burn Dat Mortgage Co-Chairs. To that end we will be suspending our usual Hump the Slump fundraising in favor of this mortgage campaign to raise the balance of this payoff. We have come a long way and we are right at the finish line. We need your help to reach this goal. All those who have and will participate will be inscribed on a plaque to hang permanently at the Parish house. We look forward to no longer being enslaved by debt.
We must continue to grow. As we focus on closing out our debt we also proclaim this the year of 100 new members. In 2016 we must be intentional about marketing our ministry and opening our doors to grow in number. It will be up to each one of us to commit to continue to focus on deliberate invitations to those around us and invite them to participate in our community of faith, bringing their talents and experiences to help build up this part of the Body of Christ we call St. Thomas. One way that we are committed to bringing this to fruition is through quarterly Friends and Family Sundays. We have added 3 people to our roll because of our most recent friends and family Sunday in December 2015. We are truly grateful to God!
We are indeed growing spiritually, numerically and financially, but we have a long way to go. In order to grow, we must go the distance. If we are to keep God’s vision of bigness in view, we have to be prepared to go the distance with God no matter how things may appear at any given moment. Sometimes up and sometimes down, we must go the distance. Sometimes sick and sometimes well, but we must go the distance. Sometimes happy and sometimes depressed, sometimes clearheaded and sometimes confused, but go the distance. Sometimes in the valley and sometimes on the mountain, but go the distance. For if we go the distance, God not only goes with us, but God will go before us to lead and protect us. To keep the vision of just how big we as a church and even as individuals can become, we must trust God no matter what. No matter what the situation says, trust God. No matter what the grapevine says, trust God. No matter what the economist says, trust God. No matter what the statistics say, trust God. If we trust God, God will bring us out more than conquerors!
I pray that we continue to have the courage, imagination and intense focus to journey, worship and labor together, embracing with enthusiasm 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.
Thank you for your prayers, support and your love as we begin our 11th year of ministry together!
The Reverend Fulton L. Porter, III, M.D., M.Div.
The Sixth Rector