Congregational Annual Meeting Remarks
(Note: I spoke at the meeting from notes: these are, therefore, both excerpts and expansions on those remarks.)
We have so much to celebrate: what we do from here is up to us.
God has been generous to this community and we have been faithful in following the Holy Spirit to best serve our community and share God’s love in this time and place.
We - together- have created a vibrant community of disciples, a place to serve and learn and praise God together. Visitors feel welcome here.
We - together- have created a unique and inspiring new kind of church - built on ancient traditions of worshiping outside, with nature. People come here to see it, they visit and write and call.
We are a church that is doing well financially, making steady progress towards our goals of owning land, being able to pay a pastor to lead us, and continuing to give generously to our community and other mission efforts.
We are a church that is growing steadily - you are not going to go to many congregational meetings and hear - we are growing in numbers and in giving.
We are focused outward on serving our community and on caring for and giving thanks for creation —and people want to be part of that.
When I came, five years ago, you, New Life, wanted a more focused mission, so we did that - together. We decided we wanted to care for and grow with this piece of God’s creation - so we’ve done that. We wanted to include more people, to grow as a congregation - to invite more people into God’s collective work in Dripping Springs - and we’re doing that.
People outside our worshiping group have bought in - we’ve received probably grants from the ELCA and the Southwestern Texas Synod. And since we started our outdoor worshiping ministry, individuals from other churches and places have responded to our calls for help: some of those funds we used for ministry, and some we saved - we have over funds ready to pay toward our land- all gifts from others outside our congregation. People are excited for us and about us.
So here is where we are with the transfer of the property into our new congregation's ownership - it’s coming along. We have approval from ELCA missions to take over the land. Talks with MIF (the banking ministry of the ELCA) for a mortgage for the land are starting. We’ve done a lot of fundraising and we are a good loan risk: we make our payments faithfully, and the land we’re buying is worth more than we owe.
We will have to decide whether to apply for a mortgage for the land, and secure that, or to try to include a first phase of building a pavilion, which will would include fundraising - a capital campaign - or to do that later. We will need to know what we intend to spend on the first phase of building. We are now to the place of having plans we could start taking to contractors to get bids - once we - together- decide on what the first phase should be.
I think you know this, but I’m not doing this for glory or for the money - you know what I make. And 10% of whatever you decide to pay me comes right back here in offering, plus a percentage of Mike’s income, a percentage we commit to growing each year. I’m not expecting others to give and not us. I serve this community. What we decide together is what I do. And I have given all of my creative energy, hours, compassion that I can to this church.
I think that whatever we do with this land— is part of our legacy. That may include a pavilion structure to support our ministries. So now we get to the plans and the numbers. And we decide what’s next. Which is: what serves the continuing service to the wider community and to the gospel.
I think a pavilion structure that is smart and phased for long-term growth and use, that is not overly expensive, or a burden on the next generation is consistent with our vision. I want this to be a place that our youngest children here at New Life bring their children and say, "With God’s help, we served our neighbors here, and that’s still happening today, and now you can do that, too. We preserved this piece of land, for you and for the creatures that live here. We were one of the first outdoor churches in the country - helping people see how to get back to worshiping in nature, and giving thanks to God. We helped the church find a new expression when other churches were dying - we did things that were new and old, brave and traditional all at once."
So many people besides me have given time and soul to this place, not least of whom is Vince Snyder, architect and New Life member - he and his students worked here for a semester, and he has worked countless hours since on this plan, these details. This is a decision about what we together want to do. This design is specific to the needs and desires of this church, and to this piece of property. As we move forward, we, the leadership, are open to hearing all ideas, and if we’re bringing other ideas forward as lower cost options, be sure that they include the cost of architectural plans, drainage plans and engineering design, etc. and site prep.
We decide what we do next. We get figures and we pray and we move forward, together. And we take into account those who cannot vote yet. I would love to deliver tomorrow a church that is comfortable for those who are ready to be more comfortable, and even more I want to offer a church that is around and vibrant for the youngest of us when they are old. Church is a generational place. We come from a generation in which churches were already built for us - others sacrificed before us to leave that for us: and you can be sure they had stories of sacrificial giving, of working hard to build church walls, of being cold and hot.
No one knows more than me and my family the work of getting a tent warm and comfy before church - we do most of the set up for church every week. No one knows the hassle of moving things for rain more than us, or the worry about whether guests are comfortable. We do it because this is not about us. We don’t come to worship for us, and we don’t leave if we are uncomfortable or it’s too much work. We come to give thanks and praise to God and to be encouraged in our discipleship, and to encourage each other in community - to sing and pray with those who are having a hard time singing and praying today.
So when we decide how to proceed with building, and what to build first, we need to always ask if what we are doing serves our larger community - does it help us spread the gospel - the good news of God’s abundant love? When we had a climate controlled worship space, with room to grow in a youth wing, we were shrinking. When we started focusing more on being out in the community, in the building less, we grew some. Since we’ve moved outside and are clear on our outward and outdoor ministry and mission, we have grown steadily. We’re continuing to pray and be faithful: trying to do our best to follow God’s lead, to listen for what is best for the long-term life of God’s church and the daily spreading of the good news here in this place.
Photo: Jim Woodard