This State of the Parish Report was offered in place of the sermon on November 16, 2014 at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
The Gospel reading referred to in the text is the reading assigned for Proper 28 in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary. You can find that reading here.
I want to begin with another story this morning. It’s a story that many of us have heard before, but today, as we begin the state of the parish report in our 100th year as the Body of Christ here in this place, it is worth hearing again…
“It began with the women.
During the last decade of the nineteenth century, the city of Madison outgrew the boundaries established by its founders. It extended west beyond the university and the railroad yards of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad, and passed the Civil War-era military encampment, Camp Randall, which the university acquired in April 1893 for an athletic and drill field.
The High Ground overlooking the field was platted that year as University Heights. William T. Fish began developing the area on Lake Wingra between Monroe Street and the city limits in 1890 as Wingra park. In 1896, university official Edward Riley acquired the land between Wingra Park and Regent Street from the railroad, and called it Oakland Heights. About the same time, Henry Adams turned his West Lawn Farm into the Westlawn subdivision. These four communities were incorporated into the city of Madison in July 1903. Two streetcar lines connected them to the downtown area.
While the inhabitants of the city’s new western suburbs were not poor, neither were they wealthy. They were largely university staff, with a strong admixture of business and professional people, many of them state employees. At least fifty families were Episcopalians who worshiped at Grace Church on Capitol Square. By 1913, these families were starting to realize that their location, over two miles from downtown, was keeping them from participating fully in Parish Life” (Anne Beiser Allen, Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church: The First 95 Years 1914-2009, p 1-2).
In 1914 successfully petitioned the Rev. A.A. Ewing, Rector of Grace Church, and Bishop William Webb for permission to establish a new parish in Wingra Park and on November 30th of that same year they broke ground on the original St. Andrews just a few blocks from here on Stockton Court.
Take a moment to imagine their excitement. One hundred years ago today those thirty families, many of whose names are represented on that plaque on the back wall of the nave, were preparing to celebrate a new adventure in Christ with a ground breaking ceremony, building for their children’s future and their own.
Less than three months later, on February 14th, Valentines Day of 1915, the building was ready for it’s first celebration of the Eucharist!
By 1926 the congregation at Saint Andrew’s had outgrown that original single room building. Now a Quaker Meeting House, the building was originally designed as the Parish Hall in a larger campus plan that included a large chancel, parish hall, and a bell tower. A building campaign raised $14,000 and the parish prepared to break ground once again.
“However, when the Vestry submitted its plans to the City Zoning Board, it got a shock. The board rules the plans not in compliance with zoning regulations. There was also an outcry from some of the neighbors, who felt that the enlarged church would overpower their small cul-de-sac of Stockton Court. A troubled Vestry met to discuss redesigning the plans.
Then Vestryman W.H. Konrad suggested building a completely new church on another site. He told them there was a property for sale on the corner of Regent and Roby Streets that might be suitable. ‘It meant to abandon the theory of a village church… and to assume a much more ambitions status of a City Church on a principal thoroughfare,’ Arthur Peabody observed. But St. Andrew’s was ready for a change” (Allen p. 11).
In 1928 this building, a city church on a principal thoroughfare, constructed at a cost of $46,270, was dedicated by Bishop Benjamin Ivans.
In 1957, because the Sunday School had grown and this building could no longer comfortably house and support the rich and varied life of the parish, the education wing was added at a cost of $38,500 and in 1966, continuing our expansion to the East, the parish took out a mortgage and purchased the “Newell House” at 1825 Regent Street.
If you haven’t read it already I would like to commend Anne Allen’s excellent book, “Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church: The First 95 Years 1914 – 2009.” We have copies downstairs and we also have Anne’s addendum that tells the story of the five years since her book was published, the five years that have brought us to our centennial.
In the pages of this account, from which I have quoted heavily this morning, you will read the rest of the story. You will learn how the international banking crisis created by World War I almost scuttled the plans to build the original church on Stockton Court. You will read how the New York stock market crash of 1929 impacted the life of the parish and how we almost lost the building to foreclosure proceedings in the 1940s. You will also read about the people who rallied to pay down the mortgages, about the period in the 1960s when over 250 children attended Sunday School in this building, about the preschool that used this space for 37 years. You will read about The Rev. Bob Shaw, the sixth Rector of Saint Andrew’s, who used his substantial inheritance to underwrite significant outreach ministries around Madison, and who paid off the mortgage on the Newell House and gave the property to the church in 1975.
It’s that “rest of the story” stuff that is so important to us today as we celebrate 100 years on the near west side of Madison because it’s in those details that we understand the context in which this parish has lived, moved and had its being. Knowing those details helps us to know who we are, where we have been, and to see for ourselves a future that is filled with promise and hope.
So let’s talk about the “rest of the story” that creates the context in which we live and move and have our being. We live in a fast paced, changing culture that at times seems to have left us behind. Thirty years ago no one would have scheduled travel soccer games on a Sunday morning. Fifty years ago you would have had a hard time finding a place to buy groceries on a Sunday morning. Not very long ago church attendance on a Sunday morning was a cultural expectation. You didn’t stand on the soccer field or go to Walmart and Target on a Sunday morning because you were in church.
Not very long ago our children might have wandered away from the church in their teens or early adulthood but we could count on them coming back when they got married and had children. We could count on seeing them again when their kids got old enough to attend Sunday School…
Not very long ago we were working to reach out to the “unchurched.” We began to realize that there were people in our communities who had not wandered away from the church in their teens and early adulthood. We began to recognize that there were people in our communities who had no experience of the church at all because their parents had wandered away from the church and had never returned. Now we know that there are people in our communities who are “second generation unchurched.” It isn’t that their parents wandered away and so never took them to church when they were in their “formative years.” There are more and more people in our communities who have no experience of church and who are children of folks who have no experience of church.
The reasons for this turn away from the church have been written about and debated at great length and it is safe to assume that the debate will go on for a long, long time but the impact of this turn is clear and undeniable.
All across the country mainline denominations are reporting a decline in membership and attendance. The Lutherans, Methodists, the Presbyterians… the list goes on and on and we, the Episcopal Church are no different.
In the last five years the domestic dioceses of the Episcopal Church have reported an 8.6% decline in attendance. Right here at home the parishes of the Diocese of Milwaukee have reported a decline in average Sunday attendance of 15%. Now Average Sunday Attendance isn’t a perfect measure of a parish’s health and vitality. In a culture where church attendance was expected, and folks wen to church almost every Sunday, average attendance was a pretty good indicator of the size and strength of a congregation. We operate in a different paradigm today. People are overbooked, overscheduled and exhausted. There are other demands and other options on Sunday morning so many of our members only attend church once or twice a month. As we lose the oldest members of our communities, the people who grew up with an every Sunday expectation, their spots in the pews are filled by people who have a different understanding of and expectation about church attendance. So in many places total membership numbers remain flat or go up while paradoxically, Sunday attendance numbers fall.
So with that “rest of the story,” that context in mind we turn our attention to the state of this parish as we celebrate our centennial.
Every spring we file a document with the national church called the Parochial Report. That report lists membership and attendance. It details our income and expenses, the number of pledges we have received, and a good accounting of our financial health.
The Parochial Report for 2012 listed 403 active members. The report for 2013 listed 387. So we had a drop in active membership of 16 people. Digging deeper we see that we actually lost 42 folks. Six families moved out of state. One family ran off and joined the Presbyterians, attending a church they could easily walk to from their house, and I finally, though begrudgingly, removed five members of the Fleischman family from our roster since Don is the Rector of Saint Barnabas in Richland Center. Three folks died in 2013. One person left to be the organist at Saint Luke’s. We removed one person from the roster because we haven’t seen or heard from her since 2010 and we took another person off the list who had somehow found their way into the data base without anyone knowing who they were…
Forty-two names came off of our active membership roster in 2013 but in that same year we added twenty-six new people to our community. Now six families moving out of state and taking twenty-five people with them is on the high side but this was a pretty typical year for us. Some years we lose more people than we add. In other years we add more than we lose. For the last several years our “active member” count has held at right around 390 people from 185 households.
What about Sunday attendance? A few minutes ago I listed some statistics about the broader church that were pretty disheartening. An 8.6% drop in the national church and a 15% drop in the Diocese of Milwaukee. Our attendance over that same time period, the last five years, is 5%. From 2009 to 2013 our average Sunday attendance has gone from 164 to 156. If you average the figures over that five year period our “average” average Sunday attendance is 159. Our attendance has been remarkably consistent given the “rest of the story” and the context in which we live.
Where else might we look to assess the “state of the parish”?
Our annual total revenues offer another interesting insight. In 2009 we had 140 pledges and our total revenues were $405,190. In 2013 we had 123 pledges for $413,205. Seventeen fewer pledges for an additional $8,000. Over the last five years our total revenues have fallen within a range of $9,500 and have averaged $412,205. This year we are projecting total revenues of $418,000, our highest revenues in six years and $6,000 above our five-year average. Again… remarkably stable given the “rest of the story” and the context in which we live.
So we are holding our own… stable… safe…
But is that who, is that where we are called to be?
How many years have we been talking about the buildings that house our community? Our parish hall isn’t large enough for us to comfortably gather in fellowship for a meeting or a meal. We are not very accessible and the members of our community who have mobility challenges have a hard time participating in the life of the parish. Our narthex is small, cramped and dark. It isn’t conducive to greeting and welcoming new people. It’s hard to engage when you are creating a bottleneck in the traffic flow. The folks who founded this parish did so because they were experiencing a barrier to “participating fully in parish life.” The parish moved to this location because they had outgrown their original building. We added the Education wing on the east side of the church because the building they constructed in 1928 was inhibiting the pursuit of our mission as a parish.
In 1927, when the community that is Saint Andrew’s moved from Stockton Court to Regent Street they knew that, “‘It meant to abandon the theory of a village church… and to assume a much more ambitions status of a City Church on a principal thoroughfare…’ But St. Andrew’s was ready for a change” (Allen, p. 11).
For the last several years we have been talking about our readiness or a change in this place. We have been looking back at our history; celebrating where we have been, remembering who we are. We are planning to grow as we move into our second 100 years in this place. We’ve talked about the building. We are talking about a potential capital campaign. But we’ve been planning and working at this growth thing, this change thing for much longer than that. Two and one half years ago when Leigh Vicens left us to go be a professor of philosophy at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Kate McKee left her position here as our youth minister and followed her fiancé to Boston this parish decided that the next step in our growth would be to call a second full-time priest to this parish. We did that. We stretched ourselves and we made that move becoming only the second parish in the diocese of Milwaukee to have two full-time clergy on staff. We have made moves and decisions as a vestry to streamline our processes, to work together in ways that help to make us grow, to introduce us to the neighborhood, to raise our profile in this community, and to be that city church on a principal thoroughfare that the people who gave us this parish dreamed about in 1928 when they moved to this spot. In our Gospel reading today we hear about three servants who are given a great gift by their master: five talents, two talents, one talent… The master give those gifts to his servants expecting that they will grow, that the servants to whom he has given those gifts will take risks, will try hard, and will produce more than what they have been given.
A little earlier this morning I asked you all to stop for a moment and imagine the excitement that the people must have felt as they prepared to break ground on November 30, 1914 just a few blocks from here, great excitement. But we need to admit that it’s likely that they also felt some real anxiety. Having been given the gift of permission to establish a new parish, having raised money, having people signed on… they were about to step out on a new adventure in Christ. They could not have known how would end up. Any time a community embarks on change, works to grow, works to become more vital, people will become nervous. I think that we have a right to feel some anxiety in this moment as we work together to grow into the parish that God is calling us to be. A building proposal that has stretched our imaginations, a possible capital campaign that will stretch our resources, all of these things lie before us. Making this a time of great venture and excitement in the life of this place.
I’ve heard people asked the question as we move through this process together, “why now? Why are we embarking on this adventure? Why are we taking this on in this moment?” There are lots of possible answers to that question but I think the best answer is “why not now?” We’ve been having these conversations, we’ve been asking these questions, we’ve been working together for several years to find a way forward. And with the help of the Holy Spirit we are moving: the fourth largest parish in the diocese of Milwaukee, a light to our brothers and sisters here in Madison and to the parishes to the west of us that are struggling. We are a parish that is on the move and we have a mission together: to become that city church on a principal thoroughfare, a light to this community, a light to the diocese, people with gifts to be grown to be given.
It is with great pride and pleasure and some sense of awe that I stand before you this morning as we celebrate our centennial. It is a privilege to be here and I am looking forward to the conversations that we will have when we convene downstairs for our annual meeting and as we move through this process, moving into the future together. It is an exciting time to be an Episcopalian and it is an exciting time to be a member St. Andrews Episcopal Church, the body of Christ gathered 833 Regent St. in Madison Wisconsin