We have now been serving together for three years! You installed me as your pastor at the end of July 2008. Happy Anniversary!
I love being your pastor! And I look forward to many more years together. Some of you long-time Lutherans know that sometimes first call pastors move on to other congregations after three years, and I want to state loud and clear that I have no plans to go anywhere- in fact, I have big hopes and dreams for our continued life together.
I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished in just three years. We prayed and talked and schemed and planned to create Montrose Grace Place- our ministry to the homeless youth of all sexualities and gender identities. We’ve planned diverse and challenging Christian Education Programs, wrestling with social issues from the Millenium Development Goals to the ELCA’s proposed Social Statement on Disability, studying Scripture one book at a time (Lamentations), focusing on difficult texts, and looking overall at how to read the Bible. We’ve drastically increased our visibility and reputation in the neighborhood and in our community through news articles, social media, Pride parades, attending events, and building relationships. We’ve had fabulous parties and talent shows. (Who wants to host the next one?) We’re still not in great financial shape, but we’ve turned around our fear of closing our doors, mostly due to aggressively recruiting building renters. We’ve added a new roof, new floors, and beautifully renovated most of our rooms- all thanks to Hurricane Ike insurance money! We became part of Houston’s network of churches and non-profits educating ourselves and advocating about human trafficking. We’ve blessed pets and collected school backpacks, fed neighbors and prayed for each other. We’ve added communion to our mid-week services, and planned beautiful and reverent Holy Week services. In fact- I’d argue that everything we’ve done has come out of our experience of worshipping together- feeling God’s presence calling us through sharing bread and wine together, becoming God’s body in the world.
Of course, we have challenges! And let’s say out loud- we hoped our challenges would go away quicker than they have. (Now that we’ve said it, let’s laugh a little that we thought things would change so fast!) A three-year mark is sometimes when a congregation and pastor have a little frustration with each other, noticing that the energy and joy we felt coming together is settling into a normal relationship, and we see new problems, and old ones that haven’t gone away. Now is the time we really get to work! Now we know each other, our strengths and weaknesses; we’ve made a splash and rode a high, and now we can start paddling through the waters.
My sense- tell me if you agree with me- is that we have, rightly, been focusing energy outward- getting known in the community, starting Grace Place, etc, and now it’s time to focus inward again, and work on ourselves a little bit. We are blessed with huge numbers of new visitors, but we haven’t been retaining as many as we’d like. Let’s trust that people will keep coming to us for a while, and focus on making our worship the best it can be, improving our welcome, designing better programs to teach new members about Grace, and evaluating how it is that new members become part of our core.
I have loved these first three years of working with you to show God’s love to the world! And I am delighted at the work we have to do together for the next many years. I fervently believe that God did a wonderful thing, calling you and I to work together. God has reached out to Montrose and beyond through us. And God will continue to lead us, guide us, and bring us together!
In the name of Jesus our Christ,