"Behold, I am doing a new thing!

The Rev. Mary E. Davis

Epiphany 6 Year A

Annual Report February 12, 2017

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

This past year, in 2016, I celebrated my 50th birthday. I had a wonderful celebration with my family, a special birthday trip with Bunker, and of course, I felt loved and appreciated by our celebration here, with you, my parish family. 
But what made this year especially memorable for me was that I committed myself to experiencing 50 new things in my 50th year. 
Some things were very little. Like learning how to play dominos, visiting a field of peonies, and using my lucky birthdate numbers, 6/6/66, to play the lottery for the first time (and no, I didn’t win). 
Other new things were very big and felt like huge risks. I learned how to surf, zip-lined through a rainforest, and dropped my now, mostly, grown-up son, for the first time, at college. 
Of course, over the course of the year, there were also some surprise additions to my list of 50 new things, like stepping in to cook a hibachi dinner at a Japanese restaurant after our original chef cut himself with a knife, and watching a turtle hatchling find its way to the ocean. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, the most surprising “new thing” in my 50th year was having pacemaker surgery. 
But all of it, together - big, small, planned or unplanned - was how I leaned into my 50th year, and all of it, together was a testament to the 50th year of life in me.  
With that as my backdrop for 2016, I wanted to spotlight the many new things – and yes, I counted, it’s well over 50 new things! – that we experienced together here at St. Paul’s in the past year. Some of our new things were very small . . . if you blinked you missed it. Some things were huge! Enormous. Beyond my hope and even beyond my imagination.  
And still other things were unexpected surprises, new nuggets of comfort and praise, fellowship and love. But all of it together serves as a true testament to the life that’s here; a life that is directed, fueled, and sustained by God; a life which most certainly, gives witness to the incredible glory of God!
We began 2016 with a flurry of new ministries, all of them a sign of the faith and life here. We celebrated our first annual Women’s Christmas, gathering to contemplate on Jesus’ birth and celebrate with a special intimacy of prayer and reflection. We also began the New Year focused on 21st century peacemakers together with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities for an Abraham Lunch. We mobilized the parish and the community to create a beautiful, colorful “comfort quilt” for Maggie Doyne from BlinkNow, a loving response after the tragic death of her son, Ravi. We created care packages for our college kids, and this year, invited parishioners to include notes of encouragement and love in their boxes. Unanimous feedback, by the way, was that everyone loved Liz Holler’s handwritten notes of blessing in each and every box, and that together, we delivered the loving heart of St. Paul’s to those living in dorm rooms, away from home. We blessed homes during Epiphany season and experienced the sacramental grace of a foot washing on Maundy Thursday. We celebrated our first Easter service of Resurrection in our Memorial Garden. We helped renovate a classroom at House of Prayer in Newark and together with our partners in Newark Shared Ministry, launched a much-needed GED tutoring program called “All the Way Up!” We worshipped with two asylum seekers here in the US, and learned about the ministry “First Friends,” an organization that ministers to those held in the Detention centers nearby. We welcomed two postulants for ordained ministry, Chris McNabb and Dave Jones, and new for me, I began serving on the Bishop’s Standing Committee and the Cross Roads Board of Trustees.
This year, we also gave thanks for 5 incredible years of ministry together here at St. Paul’s. The anniversary was especially touching and holy for me, thanks to Frank Willis and the Search Committee, who on that October day offered prayers of thanksgiving and prayed for our mission as a church. We had our largest worshipping congregation at both Easter and Christmas services this past year, and definitely a sign of new life here, we completed the year – again! - with no deficit and wrapped up our first capital campaign in 20 years. This is especially noteworthy these days, when you consider how many churches run deficits, draw down their endowments, and make massive cuts to their programs, outreach, and giving.   
To me, nothing says “new life” quite like the voices of children here at St. Paul’s. Week in and week out, they run – yes run – with eager anticipation to the Communion rail, knowing that they are most welcome at God’s table. For 12 weeks this summer, they helped lead us in worship as my “side-by-side” summer assistants. Grown children requested baptism and were marked as Christ’s own forever. And when Cameron Schwarz cried out, “when is it my turn?” during the Children’s Good Friday service, he set in motion our call to offer this coming summer’s Vacation Bible Camp – called, appropriately, “It’s My Turn” - for children on the Autism spectrum. All of us here, at one time or another, have received the gift of God’s love, and nothing makes my heart sing louder than being a part of passing that gift of love on to the next generation!
Of course, the huge new thing this year was our construction. Making our church building accessible has been a hope for years, a dream for decades, and this year, it has been brought to life! We built, blessed, and dedicated a brand new organ, which Jim plays so remarkably! There are so many self-less people to thank for making all of this a reality. It all started when Brian Siegel got lost in some day-dreams during the Bishop’s visit a few years ago. Then he and Janet turned the dreams into actual plans, and together with our vestry leadership, staff, capital campaign team and our contractor Nick Navarino, they took up the mantle and ran with it. 
But most of all I have to thank all of you.  YOU are the heart of St. Paul’s, and our faith without limits will now enable us, for the first time ever, to welcome all people, without limitation. Sure, noise and some inconvenience have been part of this process, and yes there were times when Mary Jo (our parish administrator) and I had to bring out the noise-cancelling headphones. There were also some times when we had to huddle around the altar just to hear the prayers of our Wednesday Healing Eucharists. But this has been over 20 years in the making. We have done this new thing together following God’s voice and the Spirit’s lead, and the year ahead will be ripe with even more new ministries and expressions of our faith as we live into this newly accessible building.  
Here at St. Paul’s, we are God’s people, but we – YOU, this incredibly special congregation - are also THE people God has called to do things, old AND new, in a new way.
In the year ahead, as we live into our newly accessible building and engage in new calls for mission and ministry, may we have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and heart to act, knowing God is doing a new thing with us, in us, and through us. Amen.