Hope Never Ends

The following is a condensed version of the State of the Church address I gave at the Church Council meeting on Sunday.

The first three weeks of the new year have been … well, strange. Many of us feel stressed and anxious about the new presidential administration, but also perhaps oddly hopeful after a weekend of marches.

The good news is that Kessler Park United Methodist Church is poised to be a beacon of hope for years to come. We wrapped up a very successful pledge campaign last fall entitled, “Give Hope.” The focus was on all the ways in which our congregation gives hope to people.

In 2016, we celebrated giving hope in many ways, including involving more and more people in hands-on mission. We are gradually learning that mission doesn’t happen by writing checks or putting money in offering plates, but by building relationships with other people, especially people who don’t look like us. Whether we’re building houses in Mexico, teaching Syrians how to speak English, or handing out blankets to homeless people, we are learning to look people in the eye, ask their names, have genuine conversations.

I would like to add that the stewardship campaign was one of the most successful the church has ever had. We received a 15% increase in pledges over the previous year! Other signs of hope: we recently launched a new website, created a Permanent Endowment Fund, have a growing Wednesday night children’s program, and have just launched a confirmation class of six young people!

We face challenges, of course. I would like to mention three. First, like many churches our size, we have experienced declining worship attendance in the past several years. In the last year alone, we went from 131 to 117 on the average Sunday. Sunday morning worship now has a multitude of competitors, including soccer practice, brunch, and the ever-popular bed.

Second, and perhaps related to the first challenge, we have a below-average number of small groups or Bible study gatherings. We still have a Sunday morning-centric schedule.

And third, we must recognize that there are large numbers of people moving into our community and within a short distance from our church. The new apartments being built along Fort Worth Avenue and Singleton, as well as around the Bishop Arts District, are bringing thousands of new residents to north Oak Cliff. They are our mission field. The question is what we are planning to do to help them find us!

In response to these challenges, and in an attempt to keep the banner of hope flying high, I would like to suggest that we focus on the three Biblical words we hear every Sunday morning after the first hymn.

“We believe that God’s hope for us all is shalom” — this means that we must recommit ourselves to sharing God’s shalom with the most vulnerable people in our community. To that end, I intend to lead the church into an expansion and reconfiguration of our existing Catalyst Group, increase the number of small group opportunities in our church, and look for ways to take on advocacy roles for the most vulnerable people.

“We believe that Jesus commands us all to agape” — this means that we must recommit ourselves to loving each other unconditionally. We can only do this when we fully realize that God loves each one of us unconditionally; this requires a change of heart, a spiritual transformation. I intend to lead us into deeper discipleship by providing a clearer congregational discipleship path, and by grounding all we do in Scripture, as well as teaching us all how to live into Scripture.

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“We believe that the Spirit works in us all to create koinonia — this means recommitting ourselves to building stronger ties of friendship with each other. I am especially excited to announce that, in the 2017 church ministry budget, we have plans to add a staff member who will help us do precisely this. We will be hiring a part-time Pastor of Congregational Care, who will assist me in providing pastoral care, including visiting the housebound, shut-in, and hospitalized. I also plan to craft a more intentional process for welcoming visitors to worship, and, with the help of the Finance Committee, to improve our financial systems and controls.

I am grateful for all the ways that each of you support this church. Because of you, I feel a great sense of hope for Kessler Park UMC. God has a great future for us and I am humbled to be part of it.