Rector’s Address: 2015 Annual Parish Meeting

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Following is the text of the address given by the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham at the 2015 Annual Parish Meeting of Grace Episcopal Church. The entire written report can be downloaded from our website.

Good evening…

As we gather tonight, before I say anything else, I would like to thank my staff…an amazing group of people who tirelessly bring their gifts and strengths to the community.

  •  To my colleague Cynthia, my Associate Rector, thank you for being here with us! Thanks to you and Jack for coming among us and bringing such a wealth of wisdom and opportunity…
  • To Michael, our priest associate, thank you for being such a comforting presence here at Grace….for your teaching and your presence…
  • To Reba, my Parish Administrator, the left side of my brain…I cannot thank you enough for all you do…hour after hour, day after day…making sure that all goes so smoothly with crucial details of our life together.
  • To Brenda, my Parish Secretary, the matriarch of our staff, the keeper of institutional memory…thank you for your dedication..
  • To David, my Director of Music and Organist, thank you for your gifts and your tireless urging to focus on our worship and praise of God within the community…
  • To Jeremy, my Facility Manager, thank you for your dedication to detail! You never cease to amaze us with your concern to make sure that everything fits into place…
  • To Jennifer, my Director of Communication, thank you for always keeping an eye out to make sure that we all know what is going on! Your presence reminds us to always be intentional around making sure that we see the bigger picture as well as the details…
  • To Melanie, my Director of Children’s Ministry, thank you for your creativity, your energy, and your enthusiasm…and your joy and spirit…
  • To Isabel, our Assistant to the Clergy, thank you for helping make sure that Cynthia and I have our heads on straight…working to make sure that we are where we need to be…and that all flows well.
  • To Tom, our Financial Secretary, thank you for your abilities…which I sorely lack…in keeping track of so many details with the parish’s finances…
  • To Ansley, our Preschool Director, thank you for your hard work, for your dedication, for your organizational skills and your energy… and
  • To Terri, Ansley’s partner in crime, our assistant director, thank you for all you do to help Children of Grace be the amazing space it is…

I am reminded every day that we are blessed at Grace with an amazing staff…amazingly wonderful and gifted folks who share the gifts God has given them…

If there is one over-arching question that has hooked me during my first year as your rector it is this: What does a mindful community look like? What does a community rooted in prayer, conscious of its place in the community, embracing of the myriad gifts and strengths of its members, attuned to God’s call to embody Christ’s love in the world around us…what does such a community look like?

My friends, during our first year of shared ministry, you have shown me such a community. And, you have done more than just show me; you continue to seek and search, to explore and grow “into the full stature of Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, 302). Each and every day, I watch you share Christ’s love with one another. I watch you hold one another accountable in a way that encourages growth and intentionality. I have watched you honor 187 years of tradition and customs while simultaneously leaning into new spaces of the Spirit.

In previous years, you may have seen numbers and more hard “data” in the Rector’s Report: how many new members? How much has attendance increased? How do we see ourselves growing? This year, I wonder how we might approach the “data” in another way: through the image of shared space and encounter. An example of this is the rich work undertaken by the youth leadership. Recognizing that we want to grow and expand the youth program, the leadership structured itself into working groups to discern the vision, curriculum development, and logistics for the entire program. We are recognizing ways the youth were nurtured in previous years even as we note ways we are being invited to embark on new ways of envisioning the youth program. We are taking the “data” of the program and using it as a tool to practice listening, wondering, exploring, and imagining what the Spirit is leading us to become. It is deeply meaningful work!

In the remainder of this Annual Report, you will have a chance to explore the breadth and depth of our common prayer and compassion. There will be many wonderful details: a phenomenal music and worship ministry, children and youth, formational spaces, the richness of the Ministries of Compassion, and our unbelievable administrative leadership team with stewardship, finances, and endowment—and more. I encourage you to read and explore these details!

I also encourage you to wonder with me what we could embark on in 2015. In 2014, I shared many conversations with you. Together, we wondered where the Spirit was leading us. How might we shape our common life and ministry in a way that fosters even greater formation, compassion, and hospitality? Connecting with my wondering about the shape of the community, I wondered with many about “breaking out” of a program-maintenance model that focused so much energy on making sure that programs work well, that they run smoothly. While such a concern is necessary to be sure, there is much more to ministry! Under the necessary concerns on program development, there is the rich, faithful space of discernment, prayer, and spiritual gifts. Sometimes we aren’t called “just” to maintain a program; sometimes we are called to a holy risk.

We have been invited, through our identity as the Body of Christ, to embody Christ’s love in the world. As St. Paul reminds us, we are called to “put on the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2). My own reflection on this call to mindfulness has led me to invite the vestry, staff and the entire parish to re-envision our common life together along collaborative teams.

You will see in the report that all of our ministries and opportunities are organized into five Ministry Clusters: Formation, Compassion, Participation, Administration, and Creative Expression. Each of these clusters has different committees and working groups that will continue to build the faithful ministries of the parish, as well as share collaborative spaces of prayer, reflection, and development. Together, we will seek to discern our gifts and strengths, wondering how we can experience our community growing in faith and love.

To me, a mindful community is one that always seeks to listen to the Spirit’s guidance. To me, a mindful community looks like you. I am so grateful for the space we share together, for the prayer, the support, the encouragement, the laughter, the tears, the joy, the faithful work we are called to share with one another.


One comment

  1. It was a wonderful experience for me , I’ve only attended one other meeting . God Bless All who did such a wonderful job . Carol J

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