Today, along with Christian Churches around the world we observe what is known as Pentecost…a time when we remember the coming of God’s Holy Spirit and the birth of the very first Christian Church.
As Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised that the Holy Spirit would come and empower us and comfort us, and today’s Scripture reading from the Second Chapter of Acts is about that very event.
Now, today, I want to read two sections of that story, the first is about the actual coming of the Spirit, and the second part is what life looked like in that first Christian Church.
We read this from Acts 2:1-12:
When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world.
When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages.
In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?
We are from Parthia, Medes, and Elam; from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia; from Pontus and Asia, from Phrygia and Pamphylia, from Egypt and the regions of Libya near Cyrene.
Some of us are from Rome, both Jews and Gentiles converted to Judaism, and some of us are from Crete and Arabia—yet all of us hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things that God has done!” Amazed and confused, they kept asking each other, “What does this mean?”
And then we read from Acts 2 43-47
Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed….
Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
The Word of the Lord…Thanks Be to God
Let Us Pray
Lord, from this your word, continue to teach us about you and your ways. Help us to continue to build the kind of community that is empowered by your Spirit. Speak to us through these words and through the whispers of your spirit. We pray in the name of Christ. Amen.
The State of the Church Address is a long tradition here at DeWitt where the Senior Minister gives a yearly report to the congregation on the status of our ministry together. It’s hard to believe, but this is my 9th State of the Church Address. What is it they say, “time flies when you’re having fun.”
And I want to say this, right at the outset that I am more optimistic about where we are as a congregation, and where we are going, than at any previous point of my time as your pastor.
Any of us who have followed the news about Churches, and especially Mainline Churches know that this is an extremely difficult time for congregations across the country and especially for churches in the northeastern United States.
From 1953 to 1968 most churches that opened their doors thrived, and since that time, there has been a continual decline that has rapidly accelerated with each passing year. This April, The Washington Posted printed an article with this headline “If it doesn’t stem its decline, mainline Protestantism has just 23 Easters left.” So what is a church to do?
After spending 42 years on Church Staffs, and 33 years as an ordained minister, and 25 years as a Senior Minister of a Congregation.
After receiving a Doctorate in Church Renewal and writing a dissertation on the Turn Around of Mainline Churches, here is what I believe to the core of my being, and here is my advice to Christian Congregations about what to do. BE THE CHURCH!!!
Don’t let fear paralyze you and keep you from being the church. Be the church and trust that God’s Spirit is at Work.
We could end the message right here, but I want to take the next few minutes to paint a picture of what I believe that looks like, what our mission is and how we can do that mission in our present times.
I actually don’t believe that the mission of the church has changed from that first Church that we read about in the book of Acts, but how we live out that mission must always be changing because the culture we live in is always changing.
The church with a capital C is a community called together by God, empowered by God’s Spirit, to be God’s body in the world. We are not a movie theater where people come “to see a show.” We are not a society of do-gooders. We are not Onondaga West, a Country Club that exists to serve its members…
We are the church, a community called by God to do life together….
And to do God’s work together and to be God’s presence in a world that at times, can be a very dark place. Jesus said we are to be salt and light to the world. So How Do We Do That?
I believe it starts with Worship. Scripture tells us not to neglect assembling ourselves together because God is at work in us as we worship together….
As we praise God in Song, as we pray together, as we hear the Word, God changes us as and draws us closer to Him and to each other as we worship together.
Second, we are the church as we grow people up. Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry, Adult Groups, are all about growing people in Spiritual Maturity.
Third, is about serving. God has given us all gifts to use to serve His Body and to serve the world around us. From teaching to ushers, from serving the hungry, to using our administrative gifts. When people serve, people make a difference in the body and in the world, and when people serve, they grow. People who use their gifts to serve in areas where they are gifted tend to be joyful people.
Connecting people with God through worship, Growing People Up, Using Our Gifts to Serve God by Serving Others. That’s our Mission. That’s actually our Mission Statement, by the way.
So, let’s repeat those words together.
CONNECT, GROW, SERVE.
What is Our Mission? CONNECT, GROW, SERVE.
How Can We Be the Church?
CONNECT, GROW, SERVE.
What are we going to do when it seems that churches all over the place are declining and dying?
CONNECT, GROW, SERVE.
We are going to continue to be the church, we are going to continue to trust that God’s Spirit is at work in us and through us. And we are not going to get all in a dither about institutional survival.
So how are we doing, and where are we going?
In worship, my dream is that we continue to explore ways to connect God with people outside our doors. That we continue to use all the gifts of all our people to worship in ways that connect people to Christ.
With three worship services and two worship spaces, and with many talented artistic people,,, we have the opportunity to try new forms of worship that speak to new generations and to people who presently do not attend church or have any connection with God.
While I admit, that I have been frustrated in the past by our lack of movement in this area, I am now encouraged…
A new task force has been meeting to explore how we can expand our worship experiences to connect better with younger generations and with people who are presently outside our walls.
I have asked Pastor Alan to take the lead on this. Someone asked me the other day why I wasn’t leading this initiative. I said, “because I’m old.” And they just nodded their head. I was hoping they would have a disagreed with me.
One of the most important tasks of churches is handing on leadership to the next generation. Personally, I’m far more concerned about future generations than I am my own. There are way too many “one generation churches;” they do well for one generation or two and then they close their doors because they cannot adapt to a changing culture. Think of the Crystal Cathedral as just one example…Somebody moved the cheese.
When it comes to DeWitt Community Church, we’ve been around for 206 years, so it’s not like we haven’t done this before. And it’s not like we can’t do it again. It’s slow, but it’s happening.
In the area of growing people up, we have made excellent progress this past year, and much of it has bubbled up from people taking invite and trying new things.
The age-based groups that gather for dinner and fellowship, the new IF groups started by Chrissy Rudnick & Kay Paulsen. The Adult Study Groups lead by Betsy Snyder and Pastor Alan. It’s all forward progress growing up Disciples of Christ.
In the area of Serving, we have experienced a great deal of forward progress. From the serving teams that serve food at the Samaritan Center, to the amazing work of our Stephen Ministers, to our Youth and their work with Summer Servants, to our support and hands-on involvement in our Mission of the Month, including this month’s mission…Meals on Wheels.”
For the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to ride along with one of the drivers who delivers the meals, and it’s helped me to see that it is more than meals that are delivered, that it is a human connection to many who have little. This is hands and feet kind of stuff. This is being the Church. This is being the body.
The first sermon I gave here was on July 13, 2008, and the title was what? Do any of you remember? “It’s Not About Me.”
Too many churches are built around their Pastors, which is not the Biblical model. It’s not about me, it’s not about you either it’s all about we, and what God can do when we use our gifts together.
Churches are about being the body, no one has all the gifts, but together, God has given us so many talented people and getting them in the game and using their gifts and their ideas and their energy is what it means to be the church.
I want to use this last few minutes of the message for today to share with you what I am thankful for and excited about as we close out this program year and prepare for year 207. And then, I want to challenge you in one particular area.
I am thankful to be fully staffed after almost three years of being short staffed. During those years we not only had to find ways to cover for people who had moved on, but we also had to find the right people to fill those roles, which is no easy task.
I am thankful for Pastor Alan, and his work in this area and so many others. He and Chrissy and his family have been a true blessing to our congregation.
I am thankful for our new staff members, For Ben, our new Children’s Director….
I’ve never had a “bearded one” serve as a children’s director…that is new, but I love his energy and passion and I’m so glad he’s part of the team.
I am thankful for Gloria and her work with our Children’s Music, and for our new Adjust Minister, Cindy Mapstone who is an absolutely great addition to our Pastoral Staff.
I am thankful for all of our current staff, for Alan, for Bill, for Kay who has done such outstanding work. For Abel, who is without a doubt the best organist and accompanist I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.
I am thankful for Nick who has covered so many areas not in his original job description. I think his job description changed weekly there for a while, and I never heard him complain. I’m thankful for Mary who has such a great spirit and loves leading our youth and the youth ministry team.
I am thankful for Kristen and Shena and Karren who have who have lead so well in leading our children’s ministry over the last few years.
I am thankful for the office staff, for Jill, Ellen and Peter who do so much to keep things running and for Jane, who keeps track of our finance.
I am thankful for Mick Thorpe, and his building team of Renaldo and Liam. We call him Pastor Mick, because he cares so much for not only our building but for everyone who walks through it. He is the best Facility Director in America.
I am thankful for so many people who use their gifts to make this body strong. From the Choir and Bell Choirs members who spend many hours rehearsing so they can be such a blessing in our worship. I want to thank our ushers who do such a great job of making people feel welcome as they walk through our doors.
I want to thank our worship assistants who have grown so much they have developed their gifts of leading in worship. Wasn’t it great to have Elizabeth Wimer give the message on Mother’s Day?
As it says on the back of our bulletin, we are all Ministers. All of us have a place in ministry. God doesn’t just call seminary graduates to do ministry, God calls all of us.
There are so many people who work behind the scenes, from people who plan budgets, fold & stuff bulletins, to people who oversee the building and grounds, to the people who do the circle garden and serve on the Altar Guild….
This is the Body at Work. This is BEING The Church. This is BEING the Body.
There is one group of people that I want to especially thank today. As some of you know, one of the houses that we own and rent out was in pretty bad shape after the last tenants departed. There was a volunteer team that totally renovated the house and saved us a significant amount of money that we didn’t have.
Thank you Chuck and Terry, Mike, Kimberly, Jim, & Chip Doolittle. Thank you Steve & Diane Burrell, Joel Stabb, Keith Butler, Joe Fox, Lynn George, Warren Matchel, Dave, Lynn, Ryan and Mike Boshart!
And now I want to close with some exciting news about three things that we’ve been working on, that are in progress.
First we have made an offer and it has been accepted to purchase the house at 106 Grenfell. The church sold it in 2006 due to financial challenges. Owning it is a part of our master plan for parking should our parking privileges at the mall go away.
With this purchase, we now have this needed parcel, and from day 1 it should produce revenue to help with our building expenses.
I am thankful for our smart business people who are always looking for ways to move our mission forward.
Second, we have been in on and off discussion with the YMCA for over 5 years about doing child care during the week in our building…in space we only use a few hours a week.
Their values and ours align perfectly. They are the largest provider of child care in Onondaga County, and this gives us one more way to be a Community Church for the Community.
They hope to start small by using two rooms this fall, and both of our organizations believe that it has the capacity to grow significantly, and that is backed up by surveys the Y conducted this spring.
Third, we had our first meeting last week at exploring how we can reach out and include International Students in our Fellowship. I’m really excited about this possibility…it is a part of living out our motto…A Christian Church for all people.
So the state of the Church is strong, even in these times where many churches are closing their doors, we have reason to be optimistic.
Now, before I close I want to mention one area that has been a challenge for many years, and it continues to be a challenge that we must overcome, and that is in the area of financial stewardship.
We have a significant number of people who give faithfully and sacrificially, that’s what funds so much of what happens around here, but we have quite a few people who give in the zero to under $100 dollar range. That is hard for me to understand.
More important than supporting an institution, giving back to God is a part of our faith. It is about putting God first, by honoring Him with our offerings. It is really about Spiritual Maturity.
So I want to challenge you to really, seriously examine your practices when it comes to giving back to God. What percentage of your income do you give back to God and God’s work through the church?
I was talking to some folks from a church down in North Carolina a few months ago, a church just a little larger than DeWitt, not in a wealthy area, but similar to our location, and their giving income is just over 1.4 million… We’re at about $600,000
Because of their generosity, they are doing some pretty amazing things….
20 % of their budget goes to local and international missions. They are making a huge impact on their local community and in places like the Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Now I say this not to shame us, but to challenge us. When we all are faithful in giving sacrificially, God can do amazing things in us and through us. Being Generous is part of the DNA of being the Church.
The last thing, I promise. Today, after the 11AM service, we will be honoring our three pastors emeritus by dedicating a plaque in their honor. Dr. Alex Carmichel, Rev Ted Taylor, and Hap Wooten.
DeWitt Community Church has been truly fortunate to have gifted leaders both lay and clergy who have served through the years.
And I am both thankful for their services, and the service of so many others. And I am truly humbled by the opportunity to follow and build upon their work.
The future is bright, not because we are cute or clever. Not because we are brighter or stronger, but by being the church, by being God’s people together, God’s Spirit is at work in us…and through us.
Lord God, We give thanks for this church and its many years of ministry. Help us not to just rest on our past accomplishments, but to realize that you are calling us to a new day of ministry, connecting with, growing up, and serving new generations in a new day. Help us be the Church, in this new age.
We pray in the name of Christ. Amen