A Report on the Parish at Our 125th Year
by the Reverend Eric Long
As we move from Pentecost into Advent, from one church season to a new one, one church year to the next, we are also marking another major milestone – the 125th year St. John’s has worshipped at the corner of Jefferson and Elm.
Roanoke, the country, and this congregation have seen a lot of seasons since this building opened its doors. We’ll look back on some of that history Sunday, December 10, in the morning, as we formally celebrate our anniversary with conversations, commemorations, tours and a family supper following the 10:00 service.
And that will be just the first of many opportunities to celebrate with gratitude the legacy we’ve been given, while discerning the steps necessary to build our future on the strength and faith of our past.
In increasing ways, I see my ministry at St. John’s centered on ensuring that our parish’s future is filled with promise and hope. I emphasize the spiritual nurture of our young people – the next generations – as one place where that promise is planted. But a vibrant present, and a bright future, happens across our life stages. From the youngest parishioners learning through craft and story in Sunday school to the Fine Wines, our new 60-somethings and retirees who are dancing and traveling and breaking bread together, we are being spiritually fed in more and more ways here so that we can, in turn, feed the world about us in the decades to come.
This year has been a deeply gratifying one for me. As I consider the state of our church, it is my opinion that we are in the healthiest condition of my three years as rector. In no way do I mean to suggest that at any point we were ever ill. Rather, I believe that the amount of clergy and staff turnover in the months immediately preceding and following my arrival had a significant impact on our congregation. The fact that it had an impact speaks well about those leaders. Their absence was keenly felt.
In addition, the parish had enjoyed a remarkable season of growth over the previous decade and we were at a point of trying to figure out what was supposed to come next. Congregations go through seasons, as do our lives. When I arrived, it was evident one season was coming to an end. The question that hovered at that time was – and to some degree remains – what is to be our tomorrow?
A huge amount of discernment followed, as did experiments with new activities and programs, some successful and others not. We knew the need for some new ways of doing things, but couldn’t quite figure out what that was to look like in our particular ministry context, in this parish, in this community. The stability of our staff over the expanse of this time greatly aided this work of discernment. Untold hours of talking, sometimes seemingly in circles, were put into this discernment. God was present throughout.
What we came to believe is that people are not in need of additional items on their calendars. While St. John’s always provides an abundance of events and activities, there always seemed to be a hunger for more. We came to realize that there was not a need for added programming breadth, but rather depth – a sense that we were searching for ways to add deeper meaning, not deeper busyness, to our lives. In this past year, responding to that search included the creation of the Fine Wines group, a successful women’s retreat, and, perhaps most significant, the Journey Groups, specifically offered as a replacement for Sunday night adult education. They are small groups, meeting over a limited course of time, allowing meaningful engagement with others through learning, praying, writing or enjoying a shared activity. Launched for the first time this fall, these groups have already offered powerful new opportunities for our people to go deeper together.
What we discerned over the last three years and have seen start to come to fruition in 2017 offers us guidance as we continue to build toward our future. When considering new endeavors, we plan to ask: does this enrich people’s lives and not just add to their “to do” list?
It’s been a really great year. Along with massive transformation of our parish communications (guided by Cara Ellen Modisett) and a wonderful new youth pastor (Tray Light), St. John’s is building for the future. To add to this good news, God is sending many new people our way. Amongst our next challenges is helping each of them navigate fully into our rich communal life.
For 125 years, we have flourished on this corner God has given us in the world. My dream is that 125 years from now, people will look back on our work and be as grateful as we should be for those who came before us. This past year was a great step in that direction. Dream with me about what God is calling us to next.
The Reverend Eric Long, Rector
The entire annual report can be found here as a downloadable PDF.