This is the script I used from the Year-End Family Meeting on Sunday, DEC 20.
At the end of every year, over the course of a day or two, Julie and I do an audit of our time. We simply pull up our calendars and scan each month looking for events, both significant and non, that helped create the scaffolding for our year together. We laugh, we cry, we are always struck by what we remember and what we have already forgotten.
This year has been challenging for us as a church, both individually and corporately. There’s plenty to mourn and plenty to celebrate. I want to take just a couple minute to do an audit of 2020 with you.
We started this year in the season of Epiphany like we will 2021. The season of Epiphany is meant to discover the light that comes into the darkness. Advent is the anticipation of the light, Christmastide is the celebration of that light, Epiphany is the discovery of the implications of the light. Jesus has come into a dark world and brings life and light. Throughout Epiphany, you submitted questions about sexuality, politics, evil and pain, and more during and we diligently and carefully navigated that terrain.
Not long after Lent began we heard about this virus that had been causing trouble in other countries now present in the States. We knew very little about it and yet felt we needed to prepare ourselves to keep our community safe. Very quickly, we made the difficult decision to end our in-person Worship Gatherings and move to a video platform. But we snuck in one more, outdoor, very special gathering in my backyard before fully locking down. On Sunday, March 15, we celebrated the faith journeys of two beloved parishioners, Elliston and Clarissa, by baptizing them in our backyard. It remains one of my favorite memories of this year.
Shortly after that Kyle Johnston agreed to film our first pre-recorded service the following Sunday and Canaan Hurst agreed to film for us weekly thereafter. I want you to know that I hit my first personal crisis of the year right around that time. I was asking questions like “Who are we? What are we doing? Why does it have to be like this?” Pre-filming services felt so wooden, detached, and even disembodied. BUT the services were beautiful. Honestly, the outcome was actually really engaging and worshipful. We knew it wasn’t a permanent solution but I was so proud of Canaan’s diligence and creativity. You can watch some of those on our youtube channel.
I was also beaming with pride for the way Hosanna (our Worship Director) worked throughout that season. While a lot of staff at other churches found themselves with little to do, Hosanna doubled or tripled her work overnight and she took it all in stride. The work she did in that season represented her ethic for worship for sure but it also represented tremendous growth for her. The year prior was a hard year for Hosanna and seeing her lead and focus after a difficult time in her life was like watching a healing take place right in front of me. It was beautiful.
Hosanna wasn’t the only one who doubled down on their work though. Kevin immediately had a vision for making sure our people didn’t feel disconnected while watching the service and poured a ton of time and energy into recruiting hosts and developing watch parties so people could watch the service together. He hosted happy hours and made sure that we didn’t feel isolated or like we were just consuming the service. I wouldn’t have even thought of half the stuff he came up with not to mention being able to actually pull it off. It was inspiring.
Our KIDS staff worked hard in that season as well! You’ll hear more about this in a bit but they were making videos and sending cards through the mail and hosting zoom calls with kids to keep them connected and cared for.
There was something going on behind the scenes that makes this ingenuity and innovation even more amazing. Near the beginning of the pandemic the Board of Trustees asked us to cut our budget by 15%. In that, they asked us to cut staff pay as well. It was a very reasonable thing to ask considering the anticipated economic downturn and the subsequent dip in giving from both internal and external donors. I hated making those phone calls. In a year where I honestly wanted to pay people more, I had to tell them I was going to cut their pay, along with my own.
You need to know this: our staff was unphased. They were so resilient and so gracious. One of them even called me back later that day and said, “Can I take a bigger cut so that another staff person doesn’t have to?” That’s the caliber of character and generosity we’re working with around here.
It was around this time that everyone kicked it into gear to create memorable and accessible worshipful and relational experiences for our church. The pay cut didn’t slow them down.
A couple weeks later, I got to call them all back and say never mind! We were awarded a PPP loan that would allow us to keep everyone’s pay where it was. Such a gift in an uncertain and trying year.
Eventually, we knew we needed to move to an in-person gathering experience. Our church model is predicated on proximity; meaning, being near each other (but still more than 6 feet apart) is integral to our spiritual and social growth and therefore central to our mission to our parish, the city of Englewood. We set Sunday, July 5 as our last pre-filmed Worship Gathering and Sunday, July 12 as our first in-person services in the parking lot. This would also be our first foray into two services every Sunday.
Again, our staff was innovative and creative and we gathered all the equipment we would need to keep you in the shade, put the liturgy in the palm of your hand, project sound, sanitize, and more. Although hot and sometimes ashy, those services will live on in my memory for a long time.
All the while, some of our more inward rhythms like Table Groups were still carrying on. Groups met via Zoom, in parks, and in backyards throughout the year to care for each other and listen to each other. Thankful Thursday hasn’t skipped a beat and even went to a weekly rhythm for a while there. Erica has faithfully led that rhythm all year and it’s meant the world to so many people in our community.
I have to admit, my leadership of Table Groups specifically this year was lacking. It’s the main area where, as I look back, I see a deficit in my leadership and I want you to know (whether you’re a host or a member of a TG) that I realize that and I hope to do a better job in 2021. I’m so proud of the way these groups carried on despite the lack of leadership! Well done.
We also started a new rhythm entirely this summer. For years I’ve been dreaming about groups that would be designed to specifically help people grow in a particular direction. Table Groups certainly accomplish this but I’ve been curious about groups that could serve this express purpose. The opportunity arose as many in our church grieved the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and others, and the exposure of racism in various systems and structures in our country.
Many asked, “what can we do?” It was a great question and I am so grateful for a handful of people who stepped into the unknown with us to create our first ever Growth Group, the focus of which is race and racism. We have spent the past several months exploring how race and racism have played a role historically and presently in the American church. We will spend the first few months of 2021 talking about activism and ways we can oppose injustice and fight for justice as a group.
With TJ, Candice, and Salima Brumme back on Englewood soil after two years abroad in North Africa, we had an opportunity to gain from their wisdom and spiritual leadership. They launched a short-term, intensive Growth Group that was focused on helping people abide in the person and presence of Jesus.
I’m so grateful for this new rhythm for our church and I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves in the new year.
As weather began to turn and COVID numbers continued to rise, we knew we needed a safe way to meet in-person. We did so by offering indoor services while also posting a livestream so people could participate however they felt safe.
At the beginning of November, the Governor requested that Coloradoans stop meeting for public gatherings for at least a month. I talked with our staff, elders, Mayor, and City Manager about what to do and all agreed that the best way for us to show love to our neighbors was to meet virtually and so we started a weekly livestream that we put together on Sunday mornings and premiere Sunday nights at 5PM. We will continue this rhythm throughout the season of Epiphany.
All along, behind the scenes, from right at the beginning of the year, a small team from our church who were completely committed to success and expansion of the Englewood Christmas Store began meeting regularly to talk about the 2020 store. By the time March rolled around it was clear that we would need several plans that we could choose from depending on how the pandemic played out. We created a green, yellow, and red light plans (and later a purple plan) so we could be flexible when the time came. Kevin Penfold and Laura Cooper were the brain parents of these detailed and creative plans. Megan and Alec Holland, Bri Bailey, and later Amy Fox were all integral to the movement from one plan to the next and finally the execution of our final plan, which was to host the entire store online and provide curb-side pick up over two days.
I can’t really describe the undertaking this was in the final weeks but imagine receiving orders for 850 gifts from 140 families representing over 400 kids, organizing over 200 donated gifts, purchasing the other 600 gifts, getting them all packaged by family’s orders, arranged by day and pick up time, coordinating wrapping bags for each family, creating hospitality bags, setting up decorations, getting volunteers scheduled, all of that happening in just a couple weeks. It was wild and there were a lot of late nights and weekends donated to make that happen.
In the end, the impact was huge. In a year were many people in Englewood felt as though they lost something, The Christmas Store was a huge gain for them. I’m so proud of the team for donating hundreds of hours to the store this year. I’m so thankful to all of you who donated time, money, and gifts to make it happen.
That’s mostly what I want to say to all of you at the end of 2020. Thanks. You have stuck with this church through thick and thin and this year has been a little of both. You’ve been faithful givers of your time and money. You’ve been diligent and intentional in your relationships. You’ve prayed for and encouraged me, the staff, and each other throughout. You’ve been great parishioners. That was really put to the test this year and a lot of pastors felt isolated and not supported. They felt critiqued and criticized. Although I will always experience some of that in this vocation, I received very little of that this year. THANK YOU!
Lastly, I want you to know that we’ve been surprised by how financially generous and steady you have been. So many of you not only continued to give financially but increased your gift as you anticipated others not being able to give. Your financial generosity has been felt and seen and it has been so amazing.
I’m happy to report that at this point, we will end the year with our income over our expenses. And if we are able to raise an additional $10k as a church, we will make our budget goal for the year. I’m working on external donors and I’d love for you to consider a year-end gift that would help us get that extra $10k. That will help us enter 2021 financially strong and ready to pursue some of the dreams that God has given us for Englewood.
Again, thank you for EVERYTHING you’ve given this year. It’s been amazing to watch and experience.
Parish Pastor, The Sacred Grace Englewood