“Called to be the Church – Part One”
September 10, 2017 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A
Today we begin a 3 part, preaching series entitled “Called to be the Church – We Sing Thanksgiving.” Throughout August and September, we have included inserts in the announcement portion of our order of service that contains information, statistics, and encouragement concerning yours and my financial commitment to the church.
While it has been said that there are 3 topics one never speaks of in polite company – money, politics and religion – you already know that I don’t pay much attention to that wisdom. Today, I’m going to talk about 2 of the 3.
If you have been following along with the inserts we have included each week since August 13th, you already know that 74% of our congregational members contribute financially to our local fund. Statistics provided by our National Office reports that 67% of folk affiliated with United Churches across Canada give to their local church. We exceed the national average by 7%. Way to go, Penticton United Church! Our average giving’s are over $1,000, while nationally it is slightly over $950. Again, way to go, Penticton United Church! 49% of our members give to the Mission and Service fund at an average of $306 while nationally 43.5% of givers give to the M&S fund on average of $243. We are good givers!
There is a however associated to these statistics. Because we are in an old building, it costs each giver $37 per day to cover the cost of gas and electricity. Further, it cost $174 per day to open the building and keep it clean and user friendly. That is a lot of money, especially when you consider that one quarter of our givers give less than $100 a year.
I want to lay these numbers aside and look at the ways we are called to be the church, named Penticton United Church. We are an amazingly active church. Sunday worship, study group, Healing Touch, Angelus Ringers, adult choir, fund raising events, U.C.W., social activities, visiting the sick and shut-in, special worship services at ti9mes of joy or sadness, Wise Elders, Penticton Churches for Social Justice, write-in for Amnesty International, and incredible volunteers, all help to make us a church to be proud of. Our building is busy 7 days a week with Narcotics Anonymous, Al Anon, a Meditation group, Alcoholics Anonymous, Stamp Club, South Okanagan and Similkameen Volunteer Centre, Federal Retirees, Trefoil Guild, and Playshare Preschool. We are a church that seeks to be relevant in 2017 while recognizing that a majority of our members are seniors. Therefore, we have skilled visitors in Eileen Tymm, Sheila MacDermott and Patti Skinner. Our trained funeral officiants are Fern Gibbard, Jean Sherwood, Patti Craig, Sarah Tupholme, and Patti Skinner.
Like United Churches all across Canada, we have declining Sunday worship attendance, a limited number of volunteers for committee and council, and just paying the bills is becoming harder and harder. Our story is echoed in small prairie churches, large metropolitan Ontario churches and tiny Maritime churches. So, what do we do to keep Penticton United Church open and responding to the real needs of the community? I believe that today’s scripture has part of the answer.
The writer of the Gospel of Matthew speaks about conflict resolution within the early church and it certainly applies today. Whenever a group of people congregate there is likely to be times of difference. This congregation is all too aware of this truth. We have a history of difference that has caused wounds that have left scars. We have lived through years of dissention. So, we hear Jesus’ instruction to settle differences personally, and failing that, utilizing the help of an elder, and as a last resort to the gathered community. I know this sounds incredibly simplistic and naïve, however, it is filled with love and compassion. It attempts to preserve dignity and treats the dissenter with compassion. Jesus guides us with a heart filled with love and a commitment to truth-telling.
What does this have to do with a being called to be the church, you ask? As a congregation marked by Jesus Christ, we are well equipped to settle our differences in faithful ways. Our Ministry and Personnel Committee is available to listen confidentially. We work hard to talk directly with each other rather than side comments and talking about another. Therefore, we utilize our committees and council to help us examine the diverse needs facing the people of Penticton. We have pledged to walk the path of reconciliation and love of neighbour.
Relevant, life-giving churches of the 21st century are ones that are willing to look at the community around them and respond to the needs. Small groups and specific outreach are just 2 responses. Paying attention to the demographics of the community and the congregation is essential. A willingness to try new initiatives, realizing that some of them will fail is a sign of a healthy church. Being open about talking about finances, knowing that Jesus spoke about money more than any other topic. A church that is truly welcoming will thrive. Finally, a truly vibrant church never says, “we’ve never done it that way before.”
So – how do we measure up? Our food cupboard, the support that is given to people in need, and our willingness to offer Memorial services to anyone requesting it are 3 examples of our willingness to look at the community and respond. We offer a number of small group and outreach opportunities including the choir, study group, and Healing Touch. We offer meaningful senior’s ministry realizing that Penticton has many retirees. Our UCW, Council meetings held at 9:15 am, and visitation focused on seniors are some examples of understanding the demographics of Penticton. Every idea and new initiative I have wanted to try has been met with a positive “go for it.” We have offered liturgical dance, drumming, and a study on who and what is God. Many sermons include references to our financial picture. Each month our announcements in our order of service includes a financial summary of the previous month’s income and expense statement. We seek to be welcoming by having a welcome table in the narthex. This is probably the area where we fall-down. We are inconsistent in wearing name tags. Newcomers cannot call us by name even after we have introduced ourselves, without this aid. It is hard to feel included when one does not know the other by name. I know that few people in the congregation know the name of every member. Sadly, I still hear folk say, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
We are doing pretty well in being a relevant, life-giving church. Certainly, there are areas we can work on. Stay tuned for part 2 and 3 of this preaching series where I will look at some more of our statistical data and place it alongside our scriptural text.
For today, we take pride in what we do well. We rejoice that we exceed the National church averages in our giving. We hear the challenge to look at our personal giving and see if we can cover the cost of electricity and gas. Will you do your part in ensuring that Penticton United Church flings its doors open wide, tomorrow and long into the future?
Each week when we gather in a circle holding one another’s hands, I am struck by the sense of unity we convey. We encircle the sanctuary with love and harmony. Money struggles are set aside. Low attendance numbers are disregarded. Instead, we love our neighbour as our-self. We are called to be the Church – We sing thanksgiving! Amen.