“THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING”
“The State of the Church Address, January 29, 2006”
Delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe, Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, NV
[Anthony de Mello] Once upon a time there lived a man who invented fire. Having invented it, he headed north, where there were tribes in the high, snowy mountains. He began to teach them his fire-making skill. He showed them the value of warming themselves in the winter, cooking their food and using fire to clear out brush. They were very grateful and learned quickly. When the tribes had mastered this skill – and without waiting for personal recognition – the inventor packed up and started off to pass along this gift to other tribes.
Soon he found such a tribe and began teaching them, as well. After awhile, the man had built a wonderful reputation among the peoples of the region. But the tribal priests started to become restless. Before the inventor’s arrival, they had faithfully taught the tribes how to sew together animal skins to stay warm and how to make clearings with crude wooden tools. But now, with the advent of fire, they feared the loss of their own popularity. So they plotted against the inventor. They had him secretly murdered and then banned all fire-making by the man’s disciples. Within two generations, the people had lost the art of making fire.
To mollify the people – and to allay their suspicions – the priests put a picture of the man on public display in the temple and told the people to venerate this great inventor of fire. They also had all the fire-making tools put on display during the worship. They developed a ritual and a whole liturgy for venerating the tools and the inventor of the art of fire-making. This adoration was passed on for centuries...
…but there was no fire.
Such is the state of many churches: they have all the right liturgical moves…but none of the fire. I have never doubted that we have fire-making skills. So the question for us is not whether to pass on the fire-making skills, but how.
Well, in three months (or maybe a year if you consider the fine work of Nancy Joslin and the Search Committee), we’ve started defining how.
For one thing, we’ve started to re-connect with the Diocese of Nevada.
* In this regard, Jim Kelly has been ordained as an Episcopal priest and is now serving on the Diocese’s Standing Committee.
* I’ve agreed to serve on the Commission on Ministry and do some consulting on Christian education programs in neighboring parishes…
* …and my wife is working on a new diocese-wide initiative to take care of clergy families. It’s called F.O.C.U.S.
In a similar way we’ve taken steps to re-connect with our Tahoe community.
* We’ve had ecumenical Thanksgiving worship experiences with both the North Tahoe Hebrew Community and St. Francis Catholic Church.
* We’ve worked with the Parasol Foundation to collect coats and winter gear for children.
* Two weeks ago Peggy Harrison and Connie Skidmore organized the first meeting of the Women of St. Patrick’s, a group that will exist both for spiritual growth and outreach to the community.
* We’re already well-known in the community for hosting many 12-Step programs during the week. Well, we’ve added another one – OA, or Overeaters Anonymous – for those with eating disorders.
We’ve even been involved in some national initiatives.
* We’ve bought school supplies and gifts for children overseas through “Operation Christmas Child,” and stuffed decorated shoeboxes with presents.
* In October we collected over $10,000 at a very successful fundraiser and $2,400 more from one of our special funds to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
* Plus, every week the Knitters Guild is busily crafting hats, Afghans, and warm clothing for hospitalized children, Tahoe Forest Hospice, and helmet liners for G.I.’s in Afghanistan and Iraq.
You may also be aware of some of our new parish programs.
* You already know that Eric Strotz and the Gollery’s and Patty Franklin and Jan Howell and David Vomund do a great job with the Saturday Night Alive! service. And you’re familiar with the excellent work of our Altar Guild folks and lectors and chalice bearers and ushers and greeters and counters on Sundays. But we’ve initiated some new things, too.
* We’ve started an adult education class on Sunday mornings at 9:10 a.m. We’ve talked about subjects on the philosophy of religion and began a new “Bible 101” class three weeks ago.
* Godly Play is now offered to the children of this parish on Saturday nights. It’s a Montessori-based teaching technique that engages children with storytelling. Through the generosity of some of our parishioners, we’ll soon have a fully equipped Godly Play classroom. Judy Morrison is helping with that and, at the same time, Caroline Cutler and Kathy Vomund are meeting with the youth in Classroom 3.
* In the fall we’ll be introducing Education for Ministry (EFM), which is a four-year program sponsored by the University of the South and includes church history, scripture, and theological reflection. Connie Skidmore and Jim Kelly have already agreed to be co-mentors.
* We celebrated Advent with Thursday suppers and a brief candlelit Compline service. As far as I know, we’re the only parish in America that incorporates bells and traditional Anglican chant for Compline. And this is possible because David Brock is such an accomplished and versatile musician.
* We’re planning a similar arrangement during Lent on Thursday nights. We’ll include a 5-part series about the Episcopal Church. Folks who attend are eligible for confirmation if they desire.
* We’ve installed an On-Wave hearing assistive system so that people who’ve had a hard time hearing the sermons and liturgies will never miss a single word again.
* We’ll begin a special “Spirituality and Aging” seminar on Fridays during Lent. It’s a project with major foundation funding and will be facilitated by our own Jane Rohrer.
* Lainie McFarlin continues to put in a ton of hours putting together our excellent newsletter, The Shamrock. As you’ll see, our format is growing and changing.
* We’re working on a new, coordinated computer LAN system with DSL capability for the Parish Administrator, Rector, Priests, Music Minister, Newsletter Editor, Accountant, Pre-School and guests. Ron Young has already spent hours re-wiring the place to make that happen.
That’s three months’ worth of fire-making. And it’s only the beginning of the beginning. Remember how packed we were at both Christmas Eve services? Wouldn’t it be neat if Sundays looked like that? Here’s how to do it: whenever you see a visitor, the question that should be going through your minds is, “How can we bring all the resources of St. Patrick’s to bear to help them grow spiritually?” I believe that if we act with integrity and purpose, God will take care of the rest….
We’ve also had some organizational changes. We’ve separated the administrative functions from the bookkeeping ones. In fact, we’ve hired a very reputable and personable accountant to maintain our books, as this was simply too much for a half-time administrator to handle. Jim McFarlin has worked yeoman’s hours to get both our operating budget and designated funds in order and, with Jim Clark, is presenting our 2006 budget at the Annual Meeting. Our publishing of this – and last year’s budget results – for all to see represents our emphasis on financial transparency.
Likewise, we’ll make every effort to really use all of our existing organizations. We’ll follow established processes and include as many inputs from parishioners as possible. That the new Nominating Committee under Nancy Joslin has complete freedom to recruit outstanding candidates for the Vestry and present them for election is one example of this. Another is the Vestry’s election of both the Senior and Junior Wardens. Speaking of whom – I don’t think I’d be here today were it not for the hard work of both the Search Committee and our Wardens, Emy Gurowitz and Rem Paul. That they helped us find a place to call home is a vast understatement. Rem helped us to find a house and Emy helped us to qualify for the loan. I wonder – do you think it was a coincidence that you had a mortgage loan executive and real estate agent as your Wardens in 2005?
I’m sure you’re aware of the next item. It has to do with Dave Mussatti. As soon as I read the Parish Profile a year ago I realized what a special man this is. Time and again -- in the times of chaos and crisis – Dave stepped up to the plate. I believe that God had a special plan to bring the humility, class and knowledge of Dave Mussatti to bear in the times of St. Patrick’s most critical need. You can be proud of him. I am. And I look forward to working with Dave and Jim Kelly this year in a spirit of collegiality and trust.
It will be especially important in 2006 to be on the same page because we’re looking at some king-sized opportunities. In December Dave and I approached the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Sierra Nevada College and proposed that St. Patrick’s Church provide chaplaincy services for the students and faculty of the college. It would include counseling, teaching, worship and a closer mutual relationship with their music and religion departments. We could tell she was excited about the prospect. She wondered why, in over 40 years, no other church in the Tahoe Basin had made such a proposal. When we work out the details, this program will not only benefit the College, but help give St. Patrick’s an identity in the community as a congregation that supports both education and intellectual inquiry.
And, anyone who has attended our organ concerts or listened to Joy Strotz and the Sierra Nevada College Choir Christmas program or the Toccatta group perform Handel’s “Messiah” right here in our church building would understand that St. Patrick’s Church is considered by many to be Incline Village’s version of a Center for the Performing Arts. I’d really like to honor musical excellence by hosting even more musical events.
But our outreach also must find a way to serve the members and friends of St. Patrick’s who are not here year-round. Fortunately, we have the technology to do just that. Using the excellent computer skills of Karen Barney, we already have a terrific website. And we can make it even better. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the folks who winter in North Carolina and Las Vegas and Florida could be a part of our worship and education through streaming video and interactive bulletin boards on our website?
There are some other outreach projects I could see us engaged in, not the least of which might be a foreign mission – perhaps building a school in Mexico or El Salvador or an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Or perhaps a national project, in New Orleans or Navajoland.
But before we could do something like that, we’d have to have our mortgage truly burned. We’ve made some strides towards that goal in the last few months, paying down the principal by some $28,000. But we need to make this a priority because mortgage payments comprise some 14% of our operating budget – over $45,000 every year. Imagine – once freed from this responsibility – what we could do with THAT money! As of January 29, 2006, things look very bright for this parish. People are energized. Classrooms are being used. Relationships are being forged.
And fire is being made.