January 20, 2015
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Growing up, I would always hear my grandmother proclaim just how great God is. She knew well the faithfulness of a God who had brought her from the Mississippi cotton fields and brought her through, out and over the difficulties of life. One of the things I remember her saying, when it looked like some circumstance or situation might get the best of us was “The Lord will make a way out of no way!” The bible backs mamma up in the in the 19th chapter and the 26th verse of the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
This has indeed been a year where God has made a way! This has been a year where the impossible has been made manifest in our midst! The year 2014 has been a banner year of blessings and achievements by God’s grace. 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. Here is how God made a way:
This year we officially welcomed 13 new adult members and baptized 3 other individuals. We saw continued success with our youth program and also saw weekly Bible Study participation increase.
We have added new ministries including the Third Table Ministry whose mission is to promote fellowship and help pay off the Parish House mortgage.
We have also experienced phenomenal growth in the St. Thomas Feeding Ministry created by Deacon Murray. It has received several grants to continue its work and has impacted the local community. Deacon Murray organized perhaps the most extensive Health Fair we have ever had promoting health and wellness for the church as well as the community at large.
We continue to make available our Parish House for community activities we are pleased to be able to house the Burnett School of Dance.
We launched a successful Burn Dat Mortgage Campaign spearheaded by Aisha McCarthy and Leslie A. Sanders. With your help, and sacrifice; selling wine to gold to baked goods to raffle tickets, God has blessed us to be able to lower our Parish House mortgage from over 98,000.00 to about 50,000.00 in less than 1 year. We are halfway there and by God’s grace 2015 will be the year that we retire this, our only debt.
We have built a dynamic and vibrant music program under the direction of Dr. Keith Hampton, which has infused a new energy into our community. Our choir is one of the best in this city performing a diverse repertoire, from gospel to classical, and performing it well, while providing innovative and fresh worship leadership.
We have installed and dedicated the new Hattie Fox Memorial Organ which is state of the art and suited for contemporary worship. We sponsored a historic organ recital featuring 6 notable African American organists which we hope to make an annual event. We also took the bold step of bringing the choir from the loft to the main floor in order to facilitate a greater connection between choir and congregation. By God’s grace the organ as well as the build-out of the new choir stands were neutral to our budget and donated by private individuals. We give special thanks to the Fox/Sanders family for their generous financial support.
Our worship has further been enhanced by the ministry of our new verger, Robert Neal, as well as the beginning of a new video ministry under the leadership of Rory Smith.
While the Chicago Sports Village project that the St. Thomas CDC was involved in has not been successful, we are thankful that the corporation has acquired 501(c)(3) status and is looking forward to exploring new opportunities to develop and impact our community.
We look forward to convening our Transition to Excellence Team in the coming months to help lead us through this exciting time of transition with courage, imagination and innovation. If we do not negotiate the changing landscape of society as a church, discovering new and fresh ways to live out the gospel, we are doomed to a slow death.
The good news is that we are not dead but we are very much alive as a community! God has continued to make ways out of no way! Who would have thought that we would be able to press on with ambitious plans even in the face of the stark realities? Who could have imagined that God would have blessed us as God has blessed us over the past year? It is because of God’s grace that we still thrive. It is God’s grace that sustains us through thick and thin. It is God’s grace, connected with our faith that opens closed doors. It is that kind of faith that continues to carry us, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, through it all. I pray that we 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 10th year of ministry together. The Lord indeed will make a way!
The Reverend Fulton L. Porter, III, M.D., M.Div.
The Sixth Rector