"Getting Ready to Leave the Ark"

1 Lent.B.21/Annual Meeting
Genesis 9:8-17
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

When first I realized that the Annual Meeting of St. Paul’s was scheduled for the First Sunday of Lent, I confess to you, my brethren and before God, that it occurred to me that (at least from the vantage point of priests) this was indeed, appropriate; for the Annual Meeting can be something of a penitential moment in the life of clergy. Then, I gathered myself and read the lessons for today and was heartened by what I beheld. For, the lesson this morning is taken from the Book of Genesis, and it is indeed a hopeful reading about the promises and love of God. It is perfectly suited for us today, not only as we embark upon our Lenten journey; but also relevant for where we are in the life of our parish and our world-wide journey through the eventful year of 2020 and into 2021.

You can read about our journey through 2020 in the Clergy Report found in your Annual Report. Instead, what I do on Annual Meeting Sunday is speak (not about what has gone on in the past) but instead, I take a look towards the future. What does 2021 hold for us in the life of our parish?

However, before I begin, I would like you to consider the situation facing Noah and those on the ark. When the ark landed on Mount Ararat, the waters didn’t simply disappear. It took time. In Chapter eight of Genesis it says: “and the waters gradually receded from the earth.” In other words, Noah, his family and the animals didn’t simply disembark when the rain ceased to fall. They remained on the boat—for a long while—months, in fact, the Bible tells us.

From the vantage point as rector of St. Paul’s, I perceive that we are still on the ark—we have yet to be set free to resume life as it once was. The pandemic continues; yet, with the advent of vaccines, hope is on our horizon. We can now look to a day in which in-person gathering for worship will be possible. To this end, your vestry, at their meeting this month, agreed to set time aside to discuss how and when we will begin the process of reopening for in-person worship. Myself, your wardens, and vestry members will look forward to updating you with information as it transpires.

Some lessons which we learned this past year will continue into the future. We’ve seen how technology has been a great boon in connecting with you, our parishioners. My gratitude, here, is extended to our Technology Team, chaired by Julie Tittler. Live streaming will continue even after we are able to gather in our pews.

Yet, as we look forward to that time in which gathering together in our building becomes possible, there are some things which need to be shored up and rebuilt. While we’ve done, what I believe is a commendable job, of keeping many of our ministries continuing throughout the pandemic—I look forward to a time when Sunday School and Confirmation Class will be able to resume in our classrooms; when outreach opportunities can be done in a hands-on manner, when Bible Studies can take place face-to-face and when fellowship events such as our Shrove Tuesday Dinner, Welcome Back Social and our Movie Reflection Group will be able to resume.

However, what I also know is this. When Noah and his family emerged from the ark, they were entering a new landscape. Life didn’t simply return to normal—they had to rebuild and, in many ways, begin anew. In some ways, I sense the same for those of us here at St. Paul’s.

I’d like to tell you that come one Sunday in the near future we will throw open the doors and welcome everyone back inside with the choir singing, trumpets blaring and the pews filled to capacity. Sadly, that’s not what is going to happen. We’ll still be socially distanced, we will be serving communion without wine, and we’ll have to wait for our choir to return. We’ll get there---like the folks on the ark—by waiting for safety to return. Won’t it be a glorious thing, when we can gather in our pews together as the family of God that we are!

Our Warden, Mary Jane Devins, observed: “The building really doesn’t like us being absent.” There’s a good amount of truth in this. Among the busiest of groups this past year, the Property Committee, led by Olivia Hurlock, had its hands more than full. The truth is, our bell tower is in serious need of repair. Not only does the interior copper roof need to be replaced as soon as possible; we’ve also discovered that the beams supporting our bells are rotting. What’s more, our masonry is badly damaged. All of this was highlighted by the effects of a tremendous leak which occurred on Christmas morning. Our building needs work—extensive enough repairs so that your vestry will be focusing on extensive fundraising later this year. You will hear more about this during the Annual Meeting from Olivia Hurlock, our Property Committee Chair as well as our retiring warden, Mary Jane Devins, who we are blessed to have serve as our leader for our fundraising efforts. It’s a matter not only of repairing what has been entrusted to our care but also looking towards the future, including the task of making our grounds more accessible to those facing challenges of mobility.

As we look to the year of 2021, we will, with the help of our new Parish Administrator, Magaret Lias, be working on updating our database and website; communicating with you about the importance and blessing of church membership (obtaining letters of transfer and the like) and making it easier for you to communicate with one another through an updated directory.

What’s more, we (myself, your wardens, vestry and parish administrator) all look forward to hearing directly from you—your hopes and concerns for our parish of St. Paul’s. Bringing us all back together over the course of the next year will take the effort and dedication of each one of us.

When Noah, his family and the animals left the ark, the Bible tells us that the first thing they did (before planting seed and constructing homes) was to build an altar and give thanks to God. This is the scene that you see portrayed on the front of today’s program. Worship and thanksgiving, these were the first responses of Noah and his family following the devastation of the flood. I hope the same can be said of us. Before we are a group that gathers for fellowship, study or even outreach, we are a community that gathers to worship God. And it’s from that worship that everything else flows—our sense of identity, our understanding of mission, indeed our very hope.

At this present moment, we cannot see clearly enough into the future to know all that this coming year will bring. However, it is clear, that in order to bring all that faces us at this present moment to fruition, we will need your help: your prayers, certainly, but also your presence as well as your commitment. Yet, as I stand on the pulpit of the “ark” of St. Paul’s, I am also filled with hope—hope that there is a time when we will be able to gather for worship in person; and the certainty that our ministry as people of faith continues.

No rector’s report is complete without a statement of gratitude; both for the abiding presence of God in our midst, but also for those who have made our ministry in this community of faith meaningful and important to the ongoing work of God. I am grateful for the ministry of your staff: David Tierney, our minister of Music, Nick and Billy Spada, our Sexton and Assistant Sexton, Margaret Lias, your Parish Administrator, and Maryann Badajo our Financial Administrator; your wardens, Mary Jane Devins & Matt Harper-Nixon, Ellie Spyropoulos, your Treasurer, Lisel Gilman, your Clerk and the members of your vestry. We could not have managed throughout the past year without their love and dedication to this holy place of God. As we look to the year ahead, we anticipate a brighter day, and a hopeful future with the strength of the Holy Spirit to continue to guide the ministry of our community of faith here at St. Paul’s. In Jesus’ name. Amen.