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Annual Report Sunday 

“Patience, Perseverance, Persistence”

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Romans 5:1-5

February 27, 2022

 

A word about Ukraine…

My friend and fellow pastor, Robert Gamble, is a Presbyterian mission worker in Ukraine.  Robert has spent much of the last decade building relationships with orphaned and displaced children and then getting them off the streets and into more safe environments. 

Robert has helped hundreds of children move from abandoned buildings  and  underground tunnels to orphanages of Ukraine. However, when Robert began to realize how overstressed those orphanages had become, with tens of thousands of children being warehoused, Robert started training foster parents.

Robert’s emphasis over the last several years has been in recruiting and training adults who could receive one child or more from the overcrowded orphanages. See thischildhere.org.

 I am not sure where Robert is located today.  His last email was from a small city on the Danube river across from Romania. Visa rules and prudence required him to leave Ukraine and leave behind for now his important work, and his plan is to fly from Romania on March 4.

Today, we pray for his safety, for all the children and families he has helped, and for all those lives which will be disrupted for generations because of this incursion. While today we recognize the challenges we faced as a church in 2021, we cannot imagine the challenges of the people of Ukraine.

 While we celebrate the good things that have continued to happen in the church despite the pandemic,  we pray for the churches of Ukraine, that they may continue to gather for worship, for prayers, for the breaking of bread and fellowship.

We cannot yet see the end result of this unprovoked and uncivil attack on a sovereign state, but we are aware that the severe impact upon the families and children of Ukraine will be years in the making. Robert Gamble, and all who support him, will have that much more work to do in the decades to come.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

These annual reports that we produce each year are historical documents.  As we look forward to our upcoming bicentennial as a congregation in 2025, these annual reports provide an invaluable historical record of the ministry of this congregation.

As we continue into the year 2022, it is helpful to look back at 2021. As human beings, it is important to recognize the paths that we have trod, to celebrate what was good, to confess what was not so good, and to glean what we can from our experience.  In reviewing the historical record of 2021, I can make several affirmations.

First, your staff and session worked patiently together through many challenging decisions, multiple disappointments, and creative adaptations. On many days, we lived the definition of patience, which is defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”

(Oxford languages)  For the most part, we were all able to do that. God gave us the patience to endure difficult circumstances together, as one. 

Second, the volunteers of our church persevered through all sorts of challenges in order to continue the ministries of the church, especially the ministry of worship. The Livestream Team could offer a long list of the technical challenges they faced, some of which could be anticipated; many of which could not.

Our volunteers lived the definition of perseverance, which is defined as “persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”

The Livestream Team, and the ushering crew led by Dene Dixon, and the youth ministry, and the Compassion Camp, and Matt McMahan and the choir persevered in doing ministry well despite difficulties, despite setbacks and delays, despite the obstinacy of the virus.

Our church volunteers have been, as I Corinthians 15 encourages: “steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (15:58)

Third, you, our congregation, have persisted through quarantines and quandaries to remain faithful to the mission of DPC, and you have remained steadfast in your loving support. Most of you showed up – not always in person, often online – but you showed up.

You participated. You committed to worship. You logged onto Zoom. You gave regularly. Persistence is defined as “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition” (Oxford languages) You stubbornly continued to gather on those zoom calls and watch those youtube videos and participate in drive throughs and outdoor events.  Thank you for your persistence!

Each of these words we are highlighting today – patience, perseverance, persistence – has to do with overcoming difficulties, and facing challenges, and continuing to move forward despite opposition.

To be honest, 2021 was in many ways a difficult year, a challenging year. While we talked often about the “silver linings” of 2020, 2021 was different. In some ways, 2021 was more difficult than 2020 because we had expected it to be “normal.” We had all expected to “get back to normal” sometime last summer,       but the delta variant rose its ugly head in August, then the omicron variant showed up in December.

Patience, perseverance, persistence.

Today, we need to acknowledge the grief that many have shared during the pandemic. We have grieved over loved ones who have died, some expected, as a relief, and others as a shock. We have grieved over canceled plans and hoped for events. We have grieved over isolation and not being able to visit dear friends when they were ill or gather in support of families for memorial services. We have grieved over broken marriages.

We have grieved over how worship feels different. Even though our total worship numbers actually increased during 2021, it has not felt that way. Since half of our participants have been online, and only half or less in person, the sanctuary has often felt rather empty over the last year.

But throughout the challenges and griefs of 2021, this congregation has endured. And through our endurance, the character of our congregation has deepened. And the deepening of our character has produced hopefulness.  And hope does not disappoint us.

So what can we glean from the experience of the past year?

First, the post-covid church will not be the same. In any new season of church life, we can never go back to the way things were, because things are always changing. But this has perhaps never been more true than now. The hybrid church is with us to stay.

We have one elder who lives 45 minutes away. It makes no sense for her to drive an hour and a half – through Atlanta traffic – to participate in a one hour meeting. A zoom call may not ideal, but it works!

We have another elder who will be traveling a good bit to a second home over the next few years. It did not make sense for her to curtail her plans so she could respond to the call to serve the church, nor was it necessary for her to drop out of volunteering.

Again, a zoom call can suffice, from almost anywhere. Online services and hybrid meetings are here to stay. Part of our new reality is that many will continue to worship from home, or from out of town while traveling, or in their car from the parking lot of a soccer tournament. 

Second, there is much hopefulness regarding the character of the church in a post-covid world. Many have been examining what is most important to them, and how they spend their time. Many have realized how meaningful it is for them to live as a part of a loving community of faith. And new people are showing up because they are hungry for the love and fellowship we enjoy in this place. They are hungry for meaning and purpose in a world that seems so off-kilter.

The changes in culture, and the changes in people’s habits on Sundays, on the surface may seem fearful for the church, but ultimately, these changes may lead to a deepening of the character of our ministries, because the world is hungry for hope.

Your neighbors are hungry for hope and warm fellowship, especially with all the less than hopeful news these days and the loneliness that has become endemic. Sharing hope and warm fellowship, sharing the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ, is what we do every Sunday. Loving one another is what we do every time we gather.

Our scripture from Romans and our own experience teaches us that, even in the midst of suffering, even through the trials of grief, even through a pandemic, “hope does not disappoint us.”

Hope does not come not from our own resources.  Our hope comes from the grace and power and peace of Almighty God, the grace and power and peace that we have come to know in Jesus Christ.

Through Jesus Christ, you and I have obtained access to the grace in which we stand. And when we situate our lives in grace, we can rejoice and even boast in times of suffering, because we know that these difficult times are not all there is. 

We know that this pandemic too shall pass.

We know that the church has been through difficult times before.

Lord knows that the church in Rome in the first century went through difficult times, and persisted.  The church in Ukraine has been through extremely challenging circumstances, and yet persists.      

We know that suffering can produce endurance, and endurance can produce character, and character can lead to hope, and hope will not disappoint us. Hope will not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts, and we have continued in that love, in this church, even over the last two years.

Today, we celebrate the ministries of this congregation during 2021. Even in the midst of a pandemic that kept coming back and refusing to go away, you patiently refused to give in. You persevered in worshiping and gathering and serving and praying.

And, as you will see in the following slideshow, you persisted in your commitment to be a vibrant church.

Friends, enjoy these images, images of you – images of a vibrant church in the midst of a pandemic.

And, before we begin the slideshow, I offer many, many thanks once again to Frank Mastrogiacamo who put this slide show together…

On this Annual Report Sunday, grace and peace and hope to you all!

Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia

February 27, 2022