A Sermon on Gratitude and the Power of “We”

This sermon was delivered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church on October 25th, the last Sunday in our annual Stewardship Campaign, three days after the Saint Andrew’s Vestry met to vote on the scope of a $1.3 million dollar Campus Development Project!

We have spent the last three weeks talking about gratitude. We have heard from parishioners, members of this community, about things in their lives for which they are grateful; things both within and without these four walls. We’ve examined our Scriptures for the theme of gratitude, looking for examples of gratitude expressed, gratitude received, and the importance of having a grateful heart. So I’m delighted that today, just three days after the vestry met to decide the scope of our campus development project, the culmination of well over three years of work, I have the opportunity to stand here before you share just a little of the gratitude that I’m feeling.

First of all I am grateful for the life and legacy of Thomas Shaw who during his 50 some years as a member of this parish served as a member of the Vestry, as Junior Warden, and as a Lector. Tom served on the Rev. Deacon Susan Miller’s discernment committee as she worked towards ordination. He also served on the diocesan Commission on Ministry and the Diocesan Standing Committee.

I’m grateful that this parish was, and continues to be Tom’s home. Tom and his wife Betty, and two of his sons, Joseph and James are interred here in the columbarium, which Tom commissioned and purchased for this his parish family.

I’m grateful that this community was important enough to Tom that he remembered us in his will and left us of the quest that started us dreaming about what this place might be.

I’m grateful for the Campus Development Committee who worked with us to create a vision of how we might change and transform this parish and this community to better serve our vocation, and mission, and the needs of this community.

I am grateful for the capital campaign committee and all the people who worked to help us rally around that dream and helped us to raise close $1.4 million.

I’m grateful to the Campus Construction Committee, the Campus Construction Liaisons, and the Vestry, for working to pull those dreams together into a design and a plan that will allow us to use the money that we have raised to best address our needs and our concerns without putting us in debt and calling our future into question.

And I’m grateful that all of this work has been done in a way that allows us to stand in this place together, unified, whole, fully supporting a project that will replace the roof on this entire building, replace our boiler, replace the windows on the east side with Windows that are much more energy-efficient, to remodel and enlarge our kitchen, and to install a full-size ADA compliant elevator.

I’m grateful and I’m proud of the work that we have done.

Now you may have noticed that as I named all of the committees and groups for which I’m grateful I didn’t name individual people. In a project of the scope it’s always difficult to try to name those individuals because you’re sure to leave someone out and someone will be unhappy that their name wasn’t mentioned. Well, in a project size and scope of this one that list would’ve taken until sometime on Wednesday to complete.   Here’s why I believe that’s true.

Two weeks ago in a wonderful sermon entitled “Put Some Prayer On It” that Mother Dorota preached from the pulpit, she said some words that I found to be extremely moving and powerful. This is what she said:

“We come here week after week with our suffering and our joy, with our sickness and with our health, as sinners and as Saints, to invite God and one another into our fragile and vulnerable hearts.

We live in a day and age when the alternatives to Sunday morning worship are endless. We could be any number of other places right now, with any number of other people right now, probably even with people we have more in common with than we do with one another. But we show up here anyway.

We come even when we cannot clearly articulate to un churched friends why we go to church. We come even when we cannot clearly articulate to ourselves why go to church. We come and we pray. And in so doing we somehow become a “we.” We become the church. And by reminding ourselves and one another of the need we have for community-for-communion, our wounds begin to heal and our brokenness becomes a little more whole.”

We become a “We.” We have been a “We” as we gathered to talk about the ways that we might improve expand and renovate our campus.

We have been a “We” as we came together around a capital campaign and raised the money that will reshape and transform this building where we gather.

We have been a “We” as we have deliberated on the best ways to use the resources and gifts we been given to realize that transformation and renovation.

We have been a “We” in the process that has led us to this moment; a community bound together by respect, care, and love for one another, and for the Gospel.

Where I to have stood here and read the names of the individuals who comprise that “We,” we would surely have been here until Wednesday.

Even as we stand here at this moment, about to move into the next phase of this project in which we have been engaged for so many years, there are lots of other things that “We” do that stand to be recognized, things for which I am extremely grateful. Come here any day of the week and you will find this place buzzing with activity. there are lots and lots of we in the “We.”

There’s a 20s and 30s group that meets for monthly brunches and has formed a sense of community so strong that they gather outside of the walls of this place to be together.

Come here on a Thursday and you’ll hear the chancel and the bell choirs rehearsing; more community gathered within these walls.

On Friday morning the Holy Folders show up to fold our bulletins and once a quarter they come to fold our newsletter, and they too are a community.

Sunday morning there’s Youth Group, there is Church School there is a Sunday Forum.

Saturday mornings, Sunday mornings, and Wednesday afternoons you’ll find the altar guild here working to prepare the table to support us in our worship; working mostly behind the scenes but an important part of who we are and a community in their own right.

There’s another community that gathers on Tuesday morning the women’s Bible Study and twice a week members of the Holy Wisdom Monastery come here and offer classes in contemplative spirituality: Wisdom Practice Circles and Bridges classes… If your curiosity is piqued by those titles check out their advertisements on the bulletin board downstairs, on the column in the parish hall closest to the couches in the corner.

I’m grateful for Choral Evensong, Sung Compline, for the organists who come here and use this instrument every week to rehearse: our own Ken Stancer and Mary Monkmeyer but also Sigrun Franzen and Hazel Holden.

I’m grateful that Sigrun comes here once a month to teach group piano classes, that the Madison choral Project rehearses here, that we have a concert series with seven events scheduled, and that the Wisconsin Baroque ensemble will hold two of their concerts here within these walls this year.

Studio recitals for local flute, violin, piano, recorder, and organ students happen regularly within this space.

In support of the diocesan Haiti project we are offering Haitian Creole classes here on Thursday evenings. Six AA groups, four Girl Scout groups, yoga classes here in this space on Friday morning, the Regent Street co-op market holds their annual shareholders meeting here every year…

And we haven’t even gotten to Sunday morning worship yet!

So far this year our total attendance on Sunday morning is 5,985. Five thousand nine hundred and eighty five times someone has walked through those doors on a Sunday morning gather with us at this table.

Once a month we conduct a Eucharist at Coventry Village nursing home and the average attendance there is 37. Thirty seven people from that community who can’t make it to church are served by this community when “We” take church to them.

Wednesday mornings we gather for Eucharist at seven a.m. and anywhere from two to a dozen people find ourselves gathered in a circle here as we share the bread and wine and then gathered in the circle in the Rector’s Office where we continue to talk about the readings and the events that are shaping and molding our lives. We are a community that gathers in this space.

In all of this, all of this, it is “We” in action. It doesn’t do justice to what’s really happening to say that “we make it possible,” as if you could stand at a distance somehow and make all of these things happen. That doesn’t quite describe it.

It is “We” the Body of Christ here at 1833 Regent Street, formed as a community, working as one, that does these things.

There is another thing that “We” need to do and “We” need to be thinking about even as all of this activity swirls around us and sweeps us up in its frenzy and it’s chaos and fills us with joy and love.

“We” need to recognize that over the last nine years in this place our giving to this parish has increased by $5,266 a year while at the same time our expenses have increased by $11,271 a year. You don’t have to be a math genius, thank God because I am not one, to know that those two numbers can’t run in parallel for very long at all, and that eventually they will intersect with one another in a way that should raise some red flags for us. This year we are projecting that we will end with a deficit for the third year in a row. “We…,” “We” need to be aware of that fact as as “We” prepare to receive and bless our pledges of financial support here at this altar next Sunday.

On All Saints Day, when we gather to recognize and honor the saints past, present, and yet come; those who have gone before us and prepared the way, giving us this building and this community; all of us, the “We” gathered here now, doing all of this work together; and the Saints will come after us, our children the strangers, people we have yet to meet, who will come here looking to be part of the “We” that we are… we will recognize the Saints past present and yet come and commit ourselves to the work that “We” do as we offer those pledges of financial support to the life and ministry of Saint Andrew’s.

In the materials that you all received in the mail for this year’s stewardship campaign we pointed out that if “We” increase our giving my 5% this year we will cover our expenses at this years level. But we all know that expenses don’t work that way. They don’t stay flat from you year-to-year. Utility costs will go up. Paper will cost more. Expenses go up in almost every category of our ministry together and that’s why we’re asking everyone, all of us, “We,” to consider increasing our giving by at least 5%.   For those of us who can do more that extra giving that will help to rebuild some of the reserves that we’ve spent over the last years and position us in a way that “We” can do more and more of the things that “We” do together.

“We” gather in this space, the staff, our clergy, Music Director, and Church School Coordinator are here, the lights are on, the heat is on, in the summer the air-conditioning is running because of what “We” do as a community.

This is the moment for us to give thanks, to commit ourselves and to work together to make sure that it all continues, the work that “We” do in the manner, and at the level to which “We” are all accustomed.