Putting Promises into Action
St. Paul's Annual Meeting is January 31, 2016. This report is part of this congregation's annual report of mission and ministry.
On February 11, 2016, I will celebrate the 10th anniversary of my ordination. In those ten years I have yet to find a better way to describe what God has called us to be and to do together as a congregation than the five baptismal promises that form the basis of our response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
You have made public confession of your faith in the triune God. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
A mark of our health and vitality is how well we transform these five promises, these five statements of mission and purpose, into action. This report tells part of the story of what God has done among us and through us over the course of this year.
To Live Among God’s Faithful People
God created us to live in community. When we are reborn in baptism we are made members of the body of Christ, knit together into a community of God’s children. As God lives and abides with us in love, we commit ourselves to living and abiding with each other in love and service. The word we use to describe this abiding and the gifts we give and receive in this relationship is fellowship or koinonia.
We began 2015 much as we begin this year, by reviewing the past year and looking forward to a new year. During January we set aside time after worship to grab a cup of coffee and to hear reports of pastoral ministry, the mission of the church and our budget for the new year. At our annual meeting, we elected new council members and approved a spending plan that matched our resources to God’s mission.
In February, our church council met with the church councils of four other local Lutheran churches — St. Stephen, Edison; Our Savior, Edison; St. Stephen, South Plainfield; and Cross of Life, Plainfield — to see if we could find some areas for common mission. In the process, we discovered that the leaders of each congregation faced similar issues and challenges, as well as shared common joys.
In Lent, more than 30 people participated in our Lenten dinners, discussions and prayer services. These meals are perhaps the best example of the fellowship we share, and sharing and joyful generosity makes these events happen as people share a favorite soup or one-pot meal, bread, treats and so much more.
Our story-time around the fire before Easter Vigil moved inside this year because of rain and cold. Once again, we shared some food — cheese, crackers, fruits, sweets — and shared a little of what is going on in our lives as the prelude to our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
At Pentecost, we gathered for cake to celebration Sarah and Tyler’s confirmation, just as we had celebrated first-communion with the second-graders a few weeks before.
In June, we wrapped up Sunday school with good old fashioned church picnic — burgers, hot dogs and a wonderful array of salads and desserts. We talked and played games in the church’s back yard.
Throughout the summer, we continued to enjoy fellowship after worship on Sundays, but instead of just coffee, we served some cool and refreshing beverages like lemonade and iced tea.
When it was time to start Sunday school again in September, we kicked off the year with a breakfast for children, parents, grandparents and everyone else.
One of the things that God calls us to engage in with each other as part of this fellowship is conversation, especially conversation that challenges us to faithful living in the world. Following the shooting in Charleston this summer, we got together to be part of a larger conversation, led by our presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, on the issue of race. A small group of us gathered to participate in this larger online gathering, and after we talked about ways we can confront our own racism, as well as come together as one in Christ for reconciliation and witness to Christ’s love, peace and healing in the world. Early in the fall, we gathered on three separate occasions for a conversations where we explored how and in what ways this fellowship was open to and affirming to people in same sex relationships. These conversations were difficult and emotional, but we remained with each other, connected and gathered by the Holy Spirit around the Holy Scripture and our Lutheran tradition, to listen to each other and to hear God’s voice speaking in our midst. In those difficult conversations, conducted in mutual love and respect, we witness to the peaceful presence of God in this community. This is a gift we have to offer our neighbors, as well. Too many people are suffering because of bellicose bloviation and dogmatic zeal, but here Jesus is Lord.
To Hear God’s Word
and Share in the Lord’s Supper
Each weekend, we gather around God’s Word and the Sacraments. In worship, Christ meets us, nourishes us with God’s life-giving, life-sustaining “I-love-you” word and promises that come through scripture, preaching, the Holy meal and even the liturgy itself. All who gather are active participants in the liturgy, the work of worship, but it is Christ who comes to us in worship that is the center, the source and the focus. We may worship at 445 Old Post Rd in Edison NJ, but we are connected to those who worship around the throne of the Lamb who was crucified for our sins and raised to give us eternal life. Thank you to all who have taken on special leadership roles in worship: Toya and Tony, our lay ministers; the members of our choir and our musician; our lectors and communion assistants; our children, their teachers and parents who make youth Sunday so special; and our Altar Guild and decorators.
Our Saturday evening worship continues to thrive and be an important part of our worship life. Not only does it give us and our neighbors an alternative time to worship, but in many ways it offers a style and atmosphere that is different from Sunday morning worship, too.
Our Sunday morning worship continues to be this congregation’s chief gathering of the week. Without realizing it, we slowly added portions of another setting of the liturgy into our repertoire as the St. Paul’s band introduced us to Setting 10 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, a setting where familiar hymn tunes are used for the Kyrie, Gloria and parts of the mass. This year, on Transfiguration, Holy Trinity and at Back-to-School, our band led us in a different style of worship that kept us connected to the traditional liturgy but added drums and guitars to the instrumentation and gave our worship a lively sound.
Throughout the year, we take time in worship to give special attention to an aspect of our life together — healing service, children, youth and family services, times to focus on stewardship or a book of the Bible, as well as times when we can remember the Saints who have gone before us.
In the summer, we used the continuous track of the lectionary to spend some time learning about King David, his rise, his heart, his sin and repentance and how he stands as the model for God’s anointed one that Jesus will use to tell us who he is.
In August, we granted a special leave of absence to our organist, Natalia, so she could deal with some health issues that had made it difficult for her to play each week. At the beginning of September, we learned that Natalia had died. For the year, she had been battling a rare form of cancer. A number of us from St. Paul’s were able to attend Natalia’s funeral and express our sadness and sympathy for Natalia’s family.
In September, Stefeny Stofa Krombholz and Paul Stofa — our regular supply organists — agreed to serve as interim musicians through the Easter season when we could begin our search for a new musician. Thank you to Stefeny and Paul for their service and to the choir for their continued dedication to leading our worship.
In Christmas and Advent, the Saturday service uses a liturgy of evening prayer and celebrates communion every week. The Saturday before Christmas, the Sunday School put on their Christmas pageant — Twas the Night Before Christ’s Birth. On Wednesday nights a small group gathered around the piano in the chancel for Evening Prayer, and we meditated on the image of God, our Refuge. On Christmas Eve we once again had two services — a family service early and a candlelight service. Our Christmas Day service, we combined with St. Stephen, Edison.
We welcomed five new children of God into Christ’s family through Baptism — Isabella; Charlotte; Jezziah; Addison; and Abigail were baptized this year. Sadly, we mourned the death of two members this year — Howard Courtney and Bob Kooken, as well as, the death of beloved friend of St. Paul’s — Stanley Miller. We rejoice at the marriage of our members — Matthew and Megan; Kailynn and Valerie — and the director of the Ken Shirk Childcare Center — Joanne and Harry.
To Serve All People Following The Example of Jesus
Jesus came among us to serve, and as followers of Jesus we witness to Christ’s presence in the world by living lives of service, in Jesus’ name, for the sake of our neighbor. Central to this work we share then is the work of our Servant Ministry Team, led by Elaine Peterson. Elaine’s hard work, dedication, empathy and compassion, as well as her creativity has helped to guide our Feeding Ministry and our Food Pantry in new and exciting directions. Our feeding ministry this year worked to support our local interfaith hospitality network — FISH — by serving as a support congregation for local congregations who are hosting homeless women and children. In addition to cooking meals for the FISH guests, the group cooked to share food with caregivers and shut-ins.
Our Food Pantry made some changes in its offerings and the way we relate to our clients so that we could offer more food and special supplies, such as holiday food baskets, to more people. Thank you to Gary and Ralph who have added two extra runs to MCFOODS during the month to provide fresh produce and bread for the food pantry. Thank you to Mark for shopping for the pantry. Thanks to Ralph’s relatives’ skill with coupons, we been able to have a wide variety of food and toiletry items in the pantry. In addition, contributions from local organizations, local businesses and our sister congregations have greatly enhanced this vital local ministry. Thank you!
Our Giving Tree once again yielded hundreds of dollars in food cards as well as hats and gloves and scarves and calendars that we shared with people served by Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey. Thank you to George for coordinating that effort this year.
This year six people participated in the Metuchen Edison CROP Walk raising hundreds of dollars for Church World Service and for the emergency efforts of the Metuchen Edison Area Interfaith Clergy Association.
We continued to financially support the Cortez family who are currently living the Our Savior’s parsonage. Their home, which was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, should be ready for them to move back into in early 2016.
For years, our food pantry has been supplied by the county food bank program, MCFOODS. In the fall we began a monthly collection of food according to theme, and we ran a mini-food drive to help resupply MCFOODS. Thank you to Jane for better connecting us to MCFOODS, and thank you to Dorothe and Bob, Sharon and Paul, Elaine, Billy, Tammy and all who participated in our Fall Food Drive.
By opening our building to the NA and AA groups, we serve others and save and change lives by simply giving them a safe place to enter into their recovery.
There are also many wonderful ministries that allow us to serve each other as Jesus served his friends and his disciples. In this way, the members of the Altar Guild and our decorating group and volunteers enter into a servant ministry so that we might gather around God’s word and the sacraments. These ministries also include our greeters and ushers, led by Deb Berg and Deb Stalling, who do such important work welcoming and making members and visitors feel at home in a place where they matter — thank you. The Friday work crew —Frank, Ralph, Ted, Vince and Bill — who have tended to the grounds and memorial garden, planted, painted and pruned — Thank you for your service. All the people who helped set up, clean up and bake for coffee hour, also do an important ministry among us.
Jesus’ call to serve can also take the form other ministries in the church that often have their own names and expectations, ministries like faith formation and Sunday School and caregiving, but the people who minister in these areas are servants, too. They also follow the example of Jesus by living a life in humble service.
Thank you Sue, Helen, Donna, Vicki and Jeremy, Stefeny, Kerri and Sarah for their work with our Sunday School this year; Thank you to Sarah Kerstetter for her service to the children in our Tuesday Bible Club, a joint venture with St. Stephen.
Thank you to Mark, Jackie, Vince, Elaine, Heather, Sharon and Karen for participating in the Equipping Lay People for Ministry training program this fall. This program equipped these servants with some skills needed to engage in a ministry of Christian presence, help and empathetic listening, and it helped to train them to serve as members of a new Congregational Support Group that will provide care for our members in times of grief and loss; life transitions and struggles; illness and hospitalization; as well as outreach into our neighborhood.
Finally, I pray that each member of this congregation looks at each part of their life as a call to serve others, following Jesus’ example, whether at home with family, at work, shopping, playing or just going about daily business, as followers of Jesus we take the posture of servant of all in Jesus’ name.
Advocate for Peace and Justice in All the World
Since Christ sends us to share the good news and to serve all people in love, it naturally follows that we are sent to embody and advocate for peace and justice in all the world and for the earth, too.
Our booth at the Metuchen Country Fair asks people to give money to help fight poverty and hunger around the world. This year, Tony led the effort with a “buck-a-duck” campaign that raised hundreds of dollars for ELCA World Hunger. That effort and message — help people provide for themselves — is part of this church’s overall commitment to advocate for peace and justice in all the world.
Our conversation about race and same sex relationships can have that kind of impact, too. Helping us to see Christ in others, inspiring us to work in Jesus’ name to make this world a little better, even as we away Christ’s coming again.
Our modest efforts at energy savings may also point the way for more active involvement in movements dedicated to protecting and preserving our environment.
Mostly, though, I pray that through our ministries to you and for you in the areas of worship, prayer (I offered a seven week course on Centering Prayer during Easter and continued with prayer meetings throughout the year), Bible reading, service and generosity, the Holy Spirit will form you into a more peace-filled, grace-filled, love-inspired, empathetic and compassionate person in the places God sends you each week. I pray that the world you live and move in knows you belong to Christ because of the way you make peace and act with justice.
Sure, our generous mission support — more than $20,000 in 2015 if you count our gifts to ELCA World Hunger — contributes to this church’s ongoing advocacy efforts, but Jesus’ people can change the world right where they are too
Share the Good News of God in Christ in Word and Deed
As Jesus’ people we are called and gathered, nourished and healed, and then sent to share the good news. In some ways, particularly in terms of evangelism efforts, we have not done very well living up to our Great Commission — “Jesus said … ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’” We need to look for ways to connect with people in our communities and to invite them into the fellowship and joy we share as Jesus’ disciples. Our new Web site is out there on the frontline, as is our Facebook Page. Thank you to all of you who quickly share news from St. Paul’s, who announce to your friends that you are in worship on Saturday or Sunday, who share the good news. Efforts like Social Media Sunday when we encouraged each other to share what God is doing with others on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other media, was a good first start for us. As individuals and as households we are sent out as witnesses to Jesus — signs of his presence; givers of Christ’s gifts of peace, forgiveness, mercy, love, compassion and kindness; ambassadors of God’s new way — and we are sent into neighborhoods and schools, in the real world and online, as well. We are Christ’s body in our community and on Facebook; in our neighborhood and on Twitter. In the coming year, it is my hope, my fervent prayer, that God’s Spirit might once again inspire us to go into our neighborhoods to meet our neighbors and to introduce them to Jesus.
All the other things we do together, in some way or another, are ways that we are equipped to witness to Jesus, to the new thing that God is doing in the world, to the new way of living in relation to God and to our neighbors.
God is doing amazing things in our lives and through the ministries of this congregation and its people. Again, I find myself standing on the edge of a new year in amazement and wonder at what God has done and what God will yet do in the coming year. Thank you all you are and all you give! It is my joy and pleasure to serve you!
Rev. James R. Krombholz, pastor
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