The Rector’s Annual Address 2022

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 

St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 30, 2022 (Rector’s Annual Address)

We haven’t been singing many communion hymns during this pandemic, but one I love begins, “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face.” There’s an intimacy conveyed in it, along with a recognition that all we really need to make it through this life is Jesus Christ.

I’m not sure how Moses would experience this hymn, however. Because he was never allowed to see God face-to-face. With our Exodus reading we find ourselves with Moses up on Mount Sinai, the site where the 10 Commandments were given. Now, at this point, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge between God and Moses. God called Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt; and Moses led them through the Red Sea, beyond Pharaoh’s reach; Moses and the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years; the people had mistreated and mistrusted Moses; they had built the golden calf. 

And here they were, getting ever closer to the Promised Land, when Moses boldly asks to see God’s face. He’s basically saying, ‘I know your name and you’ve been with me all these years, but isn’t it about time you fully revealed yourself to me? I want to see your face.”

And God says, ‘I will always be with you, but you cannot see my face.’ There is just too wide a chasm between humanity and God. ‘But I’ll tell you what,’ God says. ‘I’ll hide you behind a rock and cover you while I pass by. You can see my back, a part of me, but not my face. Not the fullness of my glory.’

It’s a curious story, one that reminds us that while God is always present with us, God can never fully be known to us. At least not in this world. The Jesuit writer James Martin shares a story in his book Learning to Pray that offers some helpful insight into this passage. He tells of an abbot in the Middle Ages who was asked by one of his monks if he had ever encountered God. In other words, he was asking the abbot if he had ever had a vision or seen God face-to-face. “After a long silence the abbot answered frankly: no, he hadn’t. But, said the abbot, there wasn’t anything surprising in this because even to Moses in the Book of Exodus God said, ‘You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ God says that Moses will see his back as he passed by him. Thus, looking back over the length and breadth of his life, the abbot could see for himself the passage of God.”

And I find this insight so helpful. We don’t always see God right in front of us. But so often we see God in retrospect. We can look back on events or seasons of our lives and see God’s hand so clearly.

Which is helpful as we look back upon another year of pandemic life and ministry at St. John’s. We began the year still in the midst of our 62-straight weeks of worshiping exclusively online. Holy Week and Easter services were all online. Though at least this time around we were able to offer outdoor communion on Easter Day. On Pentecost, we held our first in-person service with limited capacity and online reservations. After getting our bearings and watching the Covid numbers plummet, we even had nearly two months without masks, before the Delta variant arrived. And we finished the year with the Omicron surge, and a variety of Christmas services offered inside, outside, and online. And throughout this time, we made the decision to continue live-streaming our 10 am service as we fully embraced hybrid worship — one congregation with two audiences.

We may not have always been able to see God clearly in the midst of the frustration and anxiety and stress of this second year of pandemic ministry, but God has been with us through it all. Which, like Moses, we often only recognize after the fact; after looking back at the blessings that have emerged despite the hardships; after seeing how this community has not just survived the past 12 months, but has faithfully followed Jesus in the midst of all the uncertainty and fear.

This has felt like a transition year in many ways. We did take that monumental step of moving from online worship to once again gathering in person. But it has also been a year of reimagining what it means to be a community of faith. We’re still a bit awkward as we find our footing in a world that is neither fully online nor fully in person. Please know that whether you worship in person or online on Sunday morning, you are a full member of this community. The virtual pews are just as important as the wooden ones. This sense of worshiping with some we cannot see takes some getting used to. But at one level, with the communion of saints that surrounds us, the church has been worshiping with those it cannot physically see for thousands of years.

And while we’re not “back to normal,” this year was one of return in modified form. There has been great joy in once again seeing and hearing the choir and choristers, albeit in masks; the revised Holiday Boutique was a triumph of flexibility; our Stream Team and Digital Ushers have forged new ministries of keeping people connected; our Anti-Racism Ministry continues to raise awareness and help us confront our own complicity in unjust systems; Free., our ministry that addresses period poverty by providing free menstruation supplies to those in need, has both taken root and taken off; we implemented Godly Play as our new Sunday School curriculum and have already witnessed the engagement and enthusiasm of our children (and just as an aside, introducing a new curriculum in the midst of a pandemic was a bold move — but I’m so grateful to Jack, our Sunday School Leadership Team, and our teachers for making this happen); Youth Ministry and Confirmation Class have seen some of the largest numbers we’ve ever had; we have continued to reach out our hands in love to those in need — from food drives to Laundry Love to B-SAFE.

The Vestry also made the decision to invest in our first ever full-time Sunday School Director. This is a major step forward for this community and Bird Treacy will help us live into our goal of passing on the faith to the next generation in creative, fun, and life-giving ways. 

We did start the year by boarding up the Great West Window. Many of the Cornerstone Campaign projects were begun in 2021 — the widening of the driveway; masonry work; the heating system upgrades, adding air conditioning, which may not seem like a big deal today but talk to me in July. But the window restoration was the most visible of our capital campaign projects. They were gone for eight months and I’m actually glad we were able to regather while the windows were still boarded up. It made the windows’ return that much more meaningful, a powerful and bright symbol of the importance of our sacred space from which we were exiled for so long. 

On behalf of the entire community, thank you to everyone who has helped make these projects possible. We’re not done though! We have some roofing work to do and we’ll be refreshing our beloved worship space with a paint job and better lighting and some work on the floors. But I still look at this campaign that started for a building we could not yet be in, as a campaign of hope for this community. I’m proud we were able to successfully pull this off and incredibly grateful to our campaign co-chairs Jane Carr and Barbie Dwyer.

In the midst of the ways in which God has blessed this community over the past year, it’s still important to acknowledge the disappointments and grieve that which we have missed. It was rather demoralizing to have yet another online Easter; we couldn’t hold our Not-So-Spooky Haunted House for the second year in a row; SummerFest feels like a distant memory; we miss our blow-out coffee hours and festive parish picnics; not seeing all the children come into the service after Sunday School still stings; and I know I miss the days of walking into a packed church and actually seeing all of your faces, rather than just your eyes. In the grand Covid scheme these are relatively minor when compared to the ways we have continued to love one another, grow in God, and serve the wider community during this time. But it is painful nonetheless. 

A word about a major staff transition. Dorothy, our beloved sexton for the past 25 years has finally and officially retired. She was planning to retire just as the pandemic hit but, Dorothy being Dorothy, she hung on in a limited capacity to get us through that time. Always giving of herself to others, always with good cheer and a smile, always with a heart for service, Dorothy has long been part of the fabric of St. John’s. Most of us, myself included, haven’t even been able to envision a St. John’s without Dorothy. But the time for her to bid farewell to this place she served so faithfully for so long has arrived. 

Of course, Dorothy being Dorothy, she was adamant that we not do anything to publicly celebrate her ministry among us. But she has been so moved by the cards and the collection we took up as a goodbye gift. And of course, with her daughter Myriah taking up the Sexton’s mantle, we’ll still be able to ask Dorothy where to find the Advent wreath. Or that giant wooden cross we bring out for Good Friday. And we can give thanks to God for sending Dorothy to serve among us this past quarter century.

I remain so grateful to the lay leadership of St. John’s, from committee chairs to Vestry leaders to those who serve in various ministries in ways both seen and unseen. Regathering has meant a pretty serious volunteer deficit — for a variety of reasons. And if you are interested in getting involved in a particular ministry, please do reach out! 

I mention a number of thank you’s in the written version of my report, but I did want to publicly thank our Wardens, Deb Hayes and Tom Pyles for their ministry. Their passion for St. John’s is a big reason why we continue to thrive as a community of faith. No one signs up to be a Warden during a pandemic. Yet they have handled this time with deep commitment and profound grace, always acting in the best interests of this community. 

After two years as Junior Warden and two years as Senior Warden, Deb Hayes will be leaving the Vestry. Few have approached parish leadership with Deb’s level of passion and care and I know you join me in gratitude for helping us navigate this unprecedented time in the life of this parish. If I know anything about Deb, it’s that she’ll bring her energy and compassion to a whole host of new ministries in the days ahead. St. John’s is better for Deb’s presence in our common life. And I will personally always value her leadership and friendship.

In the end, please know that your faith in God and your love for this community continue to inspire me every single day. Be Faithful, Be Flexible isn’t just a motto, it’s a mantra. One that has seen us through some difficult times, and one that is ultimately rooted in hope. Rest assured that here at St. John’s we will keep looking ahead and moving forward. 

My friends in Christ, whatever the future holds, we are sustained by the love of God in Jesus Christ. That is the bedrock upon which we live and move and have our being. Our love for one another, sometimes tested amid trying circumstances, is what binds us together as a parish community. It remains a privilege to serve with and among you as your rector. May God bless us all in the year ahead. And through our ministry, may we continually seek to come face-to-face with Jesus Christ.


The Rector’s Annual Address 2021

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 

St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 31, 2021 (Rector’s Annual Address)

As I’ve taken some time to reflect upon the year that has passed, I promised myself I would not use terms like “unprecedented” and “new normal” or even “dumpster fire.” At one level, 2020 was all of those things. And much, much more. 

At St. John’s, as in the world at large, the past 12 months have been revealing in ways both painful and hopeful. At this time last year, we were gathered in Upper Weld Hall, following a lively service in the church. We had just received communion, hugged each other at the Peace, shook hands on the way out, scooped out a bowlful of Dorothy’s famous soup, grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat next to one another ready to celebrate another full and fruitful year of ministry at our beloved parish. We looked back and we looked forward, ready to enter a new year with faith and vigor. 

There is much to mourn as we gather around our computer screens this morning. This global pandemic has taken its toll not just through lives lost, but through traditions sacrificed and communities dispersed. Our hearts ache for the deep connections and relationships formed through this parish. We yearn to be together, to worship and laugh and weep and rejoice as one. 

Yet, since March, we have made the commitment, as difficult and heartbreaking as it has been, to love one another by staying apart. We care too much and love too deeply to risk the health of the body of Christ that is St. John’s. As much as I miss being with those whom I love, I am so proud of each and every one of you for embracing being the church in new ways. This has not been an easy time, but it has been one of profound faith and love. The resilience of this community has been a joy to behold, even amid trying and frightening circumstances. We have never stopped praying and worshipping, learning and loving, reaching out to strangers and one another. And those are signs of a deep, vibrant, and abiding faith.

Not that any of this has been easy. We have all had to learn new skills and adjust our expectations and engage in new ways. I, for one, never thought I’d become a televangelist or do ministry in such a two-dimensional fashion. I never wanted to be an amateur epidemiologist or video production specialist. Our Sunday School teachers never wanted to learn how to teach virtual classes. Buffy never wanted to learn how to use Garage Band to blend voices into a digital choir. Jack never wanted to teach Confirmation Class and lead Youth Groups online and become our resident expert on all things Zoom. Yet here we are.

We have all adapted to hold this community together, to keep everyone safe, to reach out to those in need, to welcome those tuning in from all over the country, and to keep faith at the center of our lives, even as everything else swirled around us. From Zoom Sunday School to Youth Group Pop-Ups, from Virtual Choir Anthems to Zoom Morning Prayer, from Children’s Chapel to the Online Christmas Pageant, from the Drive-Thru Pet Blessing to socially-distanced outdoor baptisms and burials, the flexibility and creativity of this community has been astounding.

We have, of course, had to let go of a number of beloved traditions that give context and texture to our common life. Besides worship, I’m talking about events like SummerFest, the Not-So-Spooky Haunted House, the full-blown Holiday Boutique, Parish Picnics, Movie Nights. The list of things we grieve goes on and on.

But this time has also forced us to return to the essentials. From the moment we shut down, the COVID Response Team sprang into action, pairing those with needs in our community with those who could lend a hand. From postcards to St. John’s face masks to conceiving our Pandemic Prayer Network, the members of this team embodied our response to this crisis and continue to do so. Just this week, they launched an effort to assist fellow parishioners who need help making online vaccine appointments. 

The other group that arose during the early days was the Regathering Task Force. This faithful crew has met weekly throughout the pandemic to examine state and diocesan guidelines, look at our context, and make decisions based on our guiding principle of loving one another. This has been a tremendous responsibility and has not been easy work. I assure you, everyone has opinions. But the task force has stayed faithful to its mission and I will continue to lean on them for guidance moving forward as the health climate changes and restrictions, hopefully, begin to ease.

Our outreach efforts continued as the need in our local area grew. From food drives to backpack collections to Christmas gifts to B-SAFE to Laundry Love, people at St. John’s have continually given of themselves and their resources during this time. It’s been inspiring to watch faith-in-action take place at a time when people need help now more than ever. In fact, a number of parishioners with the means to do so have quietly given to my discretionary fund, allowing me to directly assist families in our community and beyond, who are unduly shouldering the burden of this pandemic.

I can’t say enough about our Associate Rector’s ministry throughout this time. Her passion and compassion, her giftedness and doggedness have helped keep our children’s and youth programs not merely treading water but actively thriving. This has been a particularly challenging time for our families. Many of you are simply overwhelmed and the existential fatigue is real. Jack’s invitational approach and ability to creatively adapt to the changing needs of our youngest parishioners has been inspiring. And on a personal level, it’s hard to express just how helpful it’s been to have a valued colleague, friend, and pandemic comrade-in-arms literally at my side during this past year. 

In the midst of everything else, we ran a successful capital campaign. Yes, it was disappointing after two years of planning to scale things back. But I applaud the Vestry’s decision to move forward, focusing on our most urgent building needs. While not everyone was in a position to donate to this campaign, we were very clear that this was fine. That putting off the campaign – the first one we’ve done in 15 years – and deferring much needed maintenance, would only mean higher costs in the future. The campaign leadership did a tremendous job pulling this all together and I am so very grateful to everyone who supported our Cornerstone Campaign to secure the long-term future of our sacred space.

Is the church pleasing everyone and meeting everyone’s needs? Of course not. Online worship and formation don’t resonate with everyone. Some feel we’ve been too cautious with our regathering plan. Not everyone agreed with the decision to move forward with a capital campaign – even in its scaled back version – in the middle of a pandemic. Some people think the church has become too liberal; others think it’s too conservative. But I’ll tell you this. The leadership and staff at St. John’s has never worked harder or been more committed to the ministry of this church and the needs of its people than they have been over the past year. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes our approach feels strategic, sometimes it feels like we’re stumbling around in the dark. But always, I believe, with love, compassion, and faith at the center of it all.

There is, as always, more work to be done. In the days ahead, our newly-formed Anti-Racism Task Force will be offering ideas and practical ways that we can truly live into being an anti-racist community of faith. This past year we bid farewell to our Sunday School Director, Alexis MacElhiney, after five years of ministry among us. That leaves a large hole in our parish and, while Jack’s role, for now, has moved to focus primarily on children, families, and youth, we do need to address this critical piece of our common life. 

There remains a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the world, in our nation, and here at St. John’s. While we’re all hopeful that we will be able to fully regather in person, we don’t yet know when that will be or what it will look like. There are a number of individuals and families who pledged to support St. John’s financially in 2020 who have not done so in 2021. Some of that is rooted in economic reality and some is a lack of engagement with online church.  Ultimately, this impacts the ministry we are able to offer through this community. 

A post-pandemic church will look different – none of us can know for certain what the future holds and what changes are in store. The church and the world will look different in the years ahead. And I am convinced, knowing this parish, that we will continue to faithfully adapt to whatever comes our way. But what will never change is the hope upon which our community is built. 

On the wooden reredos behind the altar, underneath Jesus’ feet, are carved the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. Jesus proclaimed “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” And that is precisely why even as everything changes and shifts under our own feet, the bedrock of our faith endures. For Jesus Christ is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” 

My friends in Christ, despite all the challenges we’ve faced this past year – and perhaps even because of them – it remains a privilege to follow Jesus alongside each and every one of you. May God bless us all in the year ahead.

The Rector’s Annual Address 2020

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 26, 2020  (Rector’s Annual Address)

There’s an old gospel blues song, first recorded in 1930 by Blind Willie Johnson, called “John the Revelator.” As is common with blues songs that emerged from the Mississippi Delta, no one really knows who wrote it, and it’s been recorded by a variety of artists over the years. From the country blues legend Son House to the Blues Brothers to Depeche Mode to Dave Matthews.

John the Revelator is another name for John the Evangelist, our patron saint, the author Son House The 1970 London Sessions John The Revelator-2of the gospel that bears his name, and by tradition, the writer of the Book of Revelation. 

Revelator simply means “one who reveals” and in particular, one who reveals the will of God. That is precisely what John the Evangelist does in making Jesus known to the world. But on this Annual Meeting Sunday, as we look back at the past year and look ahead to the year that is to come, I want to pause and help us reflect upon the ways in which we make God known in this community and the world. 

Because as a community of faith, our primary calling is to be, like John, revelators. Revelators of God’s love, revelators of reconciliation, revelators of justice, revelators of hope. We do this through worship and outreach, through invitation and compassion, through service and teaching. As individuals we have daily opportunities to reveal God’s love to the world; as a Christian community revelation stands at the core of our mission. And we engaged in some innovative and faithful revelating over the past 12 months. 

One of the hallmarks of this year has been our commitment to increased racial understanding and reconciliation through our Sacred Ground program. We have walked this ground with authenticity and intentionality; sometimes hesitantly and haltingly, but always with open if broken hearts. With this as our year-long educational and spiritual focus, we are mid-way through our journey through the chapters of America’s often painful history of race and racism. We continue to face hard truths about race and culture in a world so desperately in need of racial healing and understanding. And we have been faithfully shepherded through this process by parishioners Holly Carter and Caitlin Slodden. I am so grateful for their revelatory leadership, and for everyone who is participating in this challenging but important work. This is what it means to be a revelator of God’s love.

This year we also embraced a new approach to children’s ministry at St. John’s. Love First, as a children’s ministry for the whole church, has reminded us that children’s formation is not glorified child care, but a gift to the entire congregation. When children are seen and heard and loved and valued as integral members of the parish, we all benefit. This has been most visible as we have started offering occasional All Ages Worship services throughout the year.

I recently announced that St. John’s will be the new home for Love First as we take on the role as the flagship parish for a growing ministry that is now being used by over 40 congregations. This new partnership will allow us to continue to strive for excellence and creativity as leaders in the movement to nurture the faith lives of our children both here in Hingham and in the wider church. I am grateful to our Sunday School Director Alexis MacElhiney, our Sunday School Leadership Team, and our volunteer teachers for having the courage to embrace this new approach. This is what it means to be a revelator of God’s love.

In 2019 Laundry Love, an outreach ministry of the parish that offers dignity to individuals and families through clean clothes, expanded from its initial location at a laundromat in Hull to a second one in Weymouth. The small but dedicated group of parishioners who lead and serve in this relational ministry are actively breaking down barriers between and among people in our communities. They are sharing God’s love in practical, tangible ways, serving as examples to all of us that small acts of kindness make a major difference in the world. This is what it means to be a revelator of God’s love.

This month also marks the one-year anniversary of Jack’s ministry among us. It’s hard to express just how much of an impact she’s had on this community. The Middle School Youth Group is thriving, her passion for justice is contagious, the depth of spirituality she has brought to this community through her seasonal mini-retreats is inspiring, her creativity working with children has been a joy to behold, and you may not know this, but she’s the only one around here who drinks more coffee than I do. This is what it means to be a revelator of God’s love (not just the coffee part).

Two years ago, at the Annual Meeting, we kicked off the process for exploring the idea of a capital campaign. We have made a lot of progress, received a tremendous amount of feedback, have committed to moving forward in 2020, and are still in the process of determining what projects we will focus on in light of congregational priorities and what we think we can raise. Our 2020 Cornerstone Campaign will come into focus in the months ahead. But in the meantime, as the process continues to evolve, I remain incredibly grateful to everyone who cares so deeply about the future of this church. For all who participated in the feedback process, to the members of our Building Committee and Vestry for their continued leadership, and to all of you who make the mission of St. John’s part of your life. This is what it means to be a revelator of God’s love.

Time precludes me from mentioning all the revelatory ministries at St. John’s, but I did want to highlight a few that have marked 2019. I certainly could have mentioned many others and much of this work is contained in the Annual Report itself, which will be available after the service. But all of this — and all of you — are what knit St. John’s together into a beautiful tapestry of a faithful, thriving, and joyful parish.

Looking forward, there will be several staff transitions at St. John’s in the coming year. Our longest serving staff member, our amazing sexton, Dorothy Manley will be retiring in June after 25 years among us. Our highly competent and ever-loyal administrative assistant Evelyn Czaja will also be retiring after 13 years. I am grateful for their service, as I know you all are, and they will be missed. This will leave a void here but also gives us an opportunity to rethink these positions based on our current needs and our mission moving forward.

I remain so grateful to the lay leadership of St. John’s, from committee chairs to Vestry leaders to those who serve in various ministries in ways both seen and unseen. We don’t just go to church, we are the church. And everyone here does so much to build up the body of Christ. From your prayers and presence to financial generosity to volunteer hours there are so many ways to serve at St. John’s. And I know I don’t say this often enough but a) thank you and b) if there is a ministry you see that you would like to get involved in, please do reach out to me. Ministry  opportunities shrouded in mystery are not how we like to do business around here, but I realize it can unintentionally come across that way sometimes. 

That old song John the Revelator is in the call and response style brought over by enslaved Africans and which found voice on Southern plantations. And call and response is a helpful way to think about how we can all serve as revelators of God’s love. Jesus invites us to encourage one another, to lift one another’s burdens, and to bring life and light to the world. Call and response. We listen to God’s call and then we respond to it, as individuals and as a community.

My friends in Christ, it remains a privilege to follow Jesus alongside each and every one of you. To proclaim Jesus in Word and Sacrament as a fellow pilgrim on this journey of life and faith. May God bless us all in the year ahead.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2020

The Rector’s Annual Address 2019

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 27, 2019 (Rector’s Annual Address)

What will the St. John’s of the future look like? I think about this often. I wouldn’t say it keeps me up at night, exactly, but I do regularly ponder the question.

Last year at this time we embarked upon a period of discernment. As a parish, we gathered in small groups to dream about the future and share our own ideas of what St. John’s might look like in the days and years ahead. There’s a physical side to this, of course, but more importantly, a spiritual side. How will we as a parish continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ in this community and beyond? How will we be nurtured ourselves through Word and Sacrament to go out into the world and do the work we have been given to do? How will we reach out to the least and the lonely and the lost in authentic, compassionate ways? How will we continue to build up the body of Christ, whose physical manifestation in our context is the community of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts?

These were some of the questions that informed our discernment process, and continue to resonate as we determine next steps. What became clear is that any future physical improvements we choose to undertake must support the spiritual mission of this parish. 

And in this vein, I believe we are now ready to start thinking about our broader capital22549912_10214012124487939_5694482563769331061_n needs. To this end, we have a committee in place that is analyzing the discernment data, looking at our recently completed capital reserve study, speaking to those involved in various ministries, and consulting with staff on issues of space use. They will then meet with an architect to draw up some possible plans for improvements to our physical plant. These aren’t just frills or gilding the lily that is St. John’s. These will be mission-driven improvements dictated by our vibrant, Christ-centered ministry.

Once we have some renderings, we will bring them back to the congregation and ask you to rank all the possible projects as high, medium, or low priorities. Obviously we won’t be able to do everything that we have dreamed about. Which is why the next step, if we decide to move forward, would be to conduct a feasibility study. This would give us an indication of how much money we would be able to raise if we decide to undertake a capital campaign. So the results of the feasibility study paired with the ranked priorities would provide the roadmap to the projects that we, as a parish community, could fund. 

What would these be? I’m not exactly sure; and that’s a decision we would need to make as a community. But some of the things that bubbled up through our discernment phase were a choir room, expanded Sunday School space, a refurbished kitchen, additional parking, a sanctuary face-lift that might include air conditioning, enhanced lighting, and repairs to our beautiful but aging stained glass windows, a conference room, and a heated swimming pool at the rectory. Okay, one of these things didn’t actually make the list. But the possibilities are exciting and I’m eager to see how this all unfolds.

As I reflect on 2018, I also want to reiterate just how grateful I was for the great gift that was my four-month sabbatical. I have never traveled so much in such a short period of time, as my adventures took me to Florida for Spring Training with Ben, coffee farms in Nicaragua and El Salvador, Baltimore and Washington, DC to visit my mother and brother, Seattle to experience the heart of American coffee culture, an Orthodox monastery in Pennsylvania where the monks roast and market their own coffee, a video game tournament in Chicago with Zak, and Rome and Amsterdam with the whole family. All courtesy of a clergy renewal grant I received from the Lily Foundation. My time away also gave me space to finish the manuscript for my book on coffee and faith, and I look forward to sharing Holy Grounds with all of you when it’s released the first week of April.

One of the great joys for me was returning to a parish that, as I had fervently hoped, did not just tread water in my absence, but actively engaged in new ministries. I was thrilled to see a congregation with a budding sense of self-confidence in its own ministerial abilities. While I was gone you tried some new things and took a creative approach to ministry. One example was a refresh of our usual year-end picnic. Rather than grilling after church, you invented an early evening Summerfest, complete with worship, rides, food, a chowder contest, and live music. It was a great success with nearly 300 people joining in the festivities and, quite frankly, I’m sorry I missed it! You also welcomed a group of youth from South Africa, as we continued to live into our evolving global partnership. And, who could forget, you nearly burned down the church at Easter!

The Vestry also received the aforementioned discernment feedback while I was away and, following a retreat at the convent in Duxbury, focused on addressing some of the non-capital issues that arose as a way to improve life around St. John’s. Through the impetus of several Vestry task-forces, a number of small but effective changes were implemented. Streamlining the communion flow by starting from the back pews; tweaking the coffee hour circulation; forming a communications committee and conducting a communications survey to learn how we might better communicate with parishioners and with the community. I was delighted to see such spiritual and organizational maturity take place while I way away.

And, speaking of the Vestry, when Danielle Magner moved out of state, rather than wait for me to return, the leadership decided to fill the open Vestry position. They didn’t engage in hand-wringing and wait for me to come back to offer my opinion, they prayerfully charged ahead; and I was so proud of them for doing so.

2018 was also a year of transition as we bid farewell to the Rev. Noah Van Niel and his family after nearly three and a half years of ministry among us. I was pleased with the care, intentionality, and love that accompanied their leave-taking. Noah expressed just how much this place and all of you positively impacted these early years of his vocational life and we sent him forth with prayer and goodwill into the new ministry to which he has been called in North Carolina.

The Annual Meeting serves as an opportunity to look both backward at the year that is past and forward into a future brimming with hope and possibility. It is telling, perhaps, that our new Associate Rector, the Rev. Jack Clark, began her ministry the first week of the New Year. I am delighted that she has joined us on our continuing journey of life and faith. Authentic relationships take time to build and Jack has begun this work with enthusiasm, wisdom, and a gentle spirit. It will be fun and inspiring to see how this relationship evolves over the coming years. Even though it’s been barely a month, each day I am moved by Jack’s passion for justice, her deep faith, and her insights, and I am reminded that collegiality in ministry is one of the great blessings of serving at St. John’s.  

With the addition of Jack as a member of the clergy team, we have reason to be optimistic about the ways in which we will engage with God in the days and years ahead. We are poised to grow in our collective and individual relationships with Jesus — all of us. Me, you, our children, our teenagers, our young adults, those of us in middle age, and the seniors among us.

But we also have a responsibility, a deep and profound responsibility, to share this good news of Jesus Christ with others in this community and beyond. I speak often about keeping one foot firmly planted within our four walls while simultaneously stepping outside the friendly confines of this parish. Otherwise we risk becoming an insular and inward-looking club. That’s the spiritual danger for a thriving church, for people who truly enjoy one another’s company. It’s easy to ignore what goes on beyond our walls as not our concern. But we do this to our spiritual detriment. And we must continually guard against this temptation, even when it takes us outside our comfort zones. No one ever said being a Christian would be easy, that following the way of Jesus would be without discomfort. But it is the path of salvation, the way of finding meaning in the chances and changes of this mortal life. It is the way of freedom and peace.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it remains a privilege to follow Jesus alongside each and every one of you and to proclaim Jesus in Word and Sacrament as fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith. May God bless you, and may God bless us all in the year ahead.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

2018 Patronal Feast (Rector’s Annual Address)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 28, 2018
(St. John the Evangelist)

“It’s not about the numbers.” You hear this a lot in church circles. It’s a way of remindingTim.Headshot.Edited people that there is more to church life than can be conveyed by statistics. That the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be quantified or reduced to a spread sheet. That the pastoral relationships between clergy and parishioners cannot be collected as data. That the inspiration that comes through soaring music and challenging sermons and engaging education programs cannot be relegated to a spiral-bound report. That spiritual growth cannot be measured.

And of course, it’s true. It’s not ultimately about the numbers; it never has been. But often the people who insist most vehemently that it’s “not about the numbers” are the same people serving congregations with dwindling numbers. Parishes stuck in survival mode. Congregations spending their energy on merely keeping the doors open, rather than boldly sharing Jesus’ message with passion and creativity. This is not meant to belittle anyone or any congregation — it’s tough out there. All over the country, pews are emptying. Here in Massachusetts, according to a recent survey, we’re living in a place tied with New Hampshire as the least religious state in the entire union. Which is shocking to me. But across the Commonwealth, church attendance is dropping and financial contributions are down. The church as an institution is changing in dramatic ways.

Now, I don’t believe this is entirely a bad thing. Without the social and cultural pressure to go to church, the people who are in the pews are more committed to following Jesus. And it certainly makes for a fruitful mission field as we seek to share the Good News of the Gospel with an increasingly secular society. We do have a compelling story to tell; one that offers hope and meaning to a world that so desperately craves it. But the evolving nature of our cultural context also highlights just how much of an outlier St. John’s has been in recent years.

By all the measurables, 2017 was a banner year at St. John’s. Attendance was at an all-time high, as was financial giving; registration for Sunday School and Confirmation Classes was off the charts, as was participation in Youth Group and our children’s choir. Our annual Holiday Boutique was more successful than it has ever been; our Not-So-Spooky Haunted House was wildly popular in this community and beyond; Outreach programs like Laundry Love took hold. We’ve never done more baptisms in a single calendar year and even our intimate Wednesday morning service is outgrowing the chapel.

Now, it may not be all about the numbers, but numbers do matter. They can point to an underlying vitality and presence of the Holy Spirit infusing what we do at St. John’s. Our Average Sunday Attendance was up 6% in 2017 and this fall alone, from Homecoming Sunday through December, attendance was up 11% over the same period last year. Pledging also increased by 12%.

To offer some broader context, in the last four years attendance has increased by 22%. In real numbers this means that on an average Sunday there are 45 more people in the pews than there were in 2014. That’s significant. And it’s why if you think coffee hour is more crowded or that there used to be more spaces in the parking lot, you’re not nuts. During this same time-frame, giving went up 31%. Which is astounding. And it’s why we’ve been able to hire additional staff, increase our outreach budget, and make needed repairs to our sacred space.

21762198_10213830343183520_2148731484658337247_nWhile we know it’s not ultimately about the numbers, these numbers do point to something extraordinary happening up here on this hill. Which is why I think rather than saying “It’s not about the numbers,” a better and truer statement would be “Numbers don’t tell the whole story.” There’s more to it of course, but numbers do matter.

And around here they highlight the fact that an increasing number of people are drawn to encounter God through St. John’s and they are being inspired to give generously to support the mission and ministry of this place. Rest assured that the God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,” never sees you as just a number. And neither do I. You are a beloved child of God and I hope you take great pride in being part of this particular, vibrant community of faith.

This is not to say that we’ve figured everything out or that we don’t have our challenges. We do. While our challenges tend to be “good problems,” like limited parking and overcrowded Sunday School rooms and packed pews and overstretched staff, they are still issues that demand attention.

This is precisely why we are entering into a parish discernment phase in the weeks and months ahead. The time is right to discern where God is calling us as a parish in light of our continued growth. We could just stumble forward and hope for the best. I mean, things are going well! But in order to do this intentionally and faithfully and strategically, we need to take a broader look at our ministries, staffing requirements, and explore the possibility of raising some money to make sure our facilities meet the requirements of our mission. I want us to harness this incredible growth and the amazing spirit that pervades this place. It is truly a special time at St. John’s and we have both an obligation and an opportunity to make the most of this moment in our history.

This time of discerning who we are and who we want to become must be a communal process because we are, all of us, St. John’s. St. John’s is not just a beautiful building but a community of faithful people. And so we will be asking lots of questions in our small group discernment sessions. Things like, how can we be more accessible and inviting? In what ways should we interact with the wider community? How does our physical plant support our mission? What are your dreams for the St. John’s of the future? We’ll hear more about this process from our consultant, Leslie Pendleton, at the Annual Meeting but this is simply an invitation to participate. We need your insights and input to make this the fruitful, productive, Spirit-driven process that I know it can be. And, frankly, it’s exciting! I am incredibly jazzed about seeing where this will lead us in the years ahead.

In the meantime, as many of you know, I will begin a four-month sabbatical five weeks from now. I’ll be doing some traveling and some writing and some coffee drinking and some writing about coffee drinking. It will be an opportunity for me to recharge and renew and reconnect. And I think the timing is right as we reflect on a full and fruitful year that is past, and look forward to an abundant future together. Four months won’t be long and while I will miss you all dearly, I have great confidence in our lay leadership — our Wardens and Vestry — and Father Noah to carry on in my absence.

You know, in times of uncertainty and confusion, faith is an anchor. It grounds us and provides hope. It offers perspective and meaning. It shines a light in darkness. St. John’s, as the physical manifestation of our faith, serves as a beacon to all who enter these doors. And St. John’s, as the communal embodiment of our faith, demonstrates the power of God’s love. At its best, this is a place of inspiration and beauty; a place of motivation and challenge; a place of relationship and joy. I am proud of the ministry we have done together over the past twelve months and I am grateful to everyone whose presence and participation helped to build up the body of Christ that was St. John’s in 2017.

In the end, it’s true that Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, not count them. If we continue to feed the children of God, to minister to all who enter our doors, the numbers will follow. We can and should be grateful that God has richly blessed this community. And in return, our calling is to continue to share the Good News of Jesus’ love with passion, integrity, and faithfulness.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it remains a privilege to follow Jesus alongside each and every one of you. To proclaim Jesus in Word and Sacrament as a fellow pilgrim on this journey of life and faith. Thank you for doing your part and may God bless us all in the year ahead. 

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2018

2017 Patronal Feast (Rector’s Annual Address)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 29, 2017
(St. John the Evangelist)

One of the things I love about Annual Meeting Sunday is the opportunity to look back at the past year and reflect upon all the ministry that takes place here at St. John’s. It’s not always easy to find the time to do this amid our busy, deadline-driven communal life. It’s tough to revel in the successes and God-inspired moments that take place on a regular basis. And that’s to our detriment — whether in parish life or our personal lives. But the Annual Meeting forces us to press the pause button and take a long, hard look around. And, wow, there is some great stuff happening at St. John’s!

11147146_10206517117957460_4176512140477409887_nNow, statistics alone can’t tell the full story of a faith community, but they can shed some light on how things are trending. And I’m always seeking to understand what’s behind the numbers. It encourages me to wonder what it is, exactly, that has allowed us to not only grow numerically but to thrive spiritually over the past 12 months?

What is it that has seen our average weekend worship attendance rise by a whopping 20% from the year before? Sure, it helped that Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday which counts toward this figure but even without that, attendance is up 12%. And just to put this growth into context, nationally church attendance fell almost 4% during this period. In the Diocese of Massachusetts attendance decreased by nearly 6%. So we are bucking some pretty strong trends here on this hill in Hingham.

And what is it that allowed us to realize over an 8% increase in money pledged to support the work and ministry of St. John’s? Why is giving higher than it’s ever been in the long history of this parish?

Not surprisingly, I have some theories. And I want to name four reasons I believe things are thriving at St. John’s. It’s not that we can bottle this stuff and share it with the wider church but there are some transferable attributes if congregations truly do want to grow.

First, strong leadership. We have a Vestry that is dedicated to the mission of the church, passionate about their faith, supportive of clergy and staff, and willing to take some risks.

You know, this isn’t a for-profit religious corporation we’re running here. I’m not the CEO, the Vestry isn’t the board of directors, you aren’t the shareholders. We’re not gunning for a hostile takeover of neighboring congregations. We’re a community of faith that seeks to follow Jesus in word and action; a group of people that strives to inspire one another to live with compassion and boldly proclaim Jesus as our Lord; an inviting place that shares the peace of God with all who enter these doors. The Wardens and Vestry understand this and they are committed to continuing to grow in faith and service.

Second, keeping one foot firmly planted within the four walls of the church and one foot outside the church. Yes, holy space is important and this is a beautiful, inspiring place to gather and grow spiritually. We have a responsibility to maintain it to the best of our ability and available resources. But this must be balanced with looking outward, with doing outreach in the community, of being citizens of the world, of welcoming the stranger into our midst.

This isn’t a given in faith communities and we have had to forge a new way of doing church as we continue to live in an increasingly secular society. It used to be that the church didn’t have to reach beyond itself too much. Sure, there were good works to do and people in need to serve but people came to church because they always had. Of course many were deeply devoted to their faith, but many came partly out of habit and partly because it was simply the cultural norm. Plus, there was nothing else to do on a Sunday morning. Well, these days there is plenty to do from watching TV to surfing the web to playing youth sports to going out for coffee to heading to the mall. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, just that it’s the reality.

Now I know this change hasn’t always been easy; that it’s meant a different model of ministry. But there’s a reason I spend time online and writing newspaper columns and sitting in coffee shops in addition to meeting the pastoral needs of parishioners and writing sermons and planning liturgy. The church — and I mean this both globally and here at St. John’s — must be in two places simultaneously. Out in the world and here in the sanctuary. This is the balance we seek to strike. We don’t always get it right — I don’t always get it right — but I think we succeed more often than we fail.

Speaking of failure, the third reason we’re growing is that we’re not afraid to fail. That doesn’t mean we plan on it or rush hastily into new ideas or programs but if you’re not willing to take risks in ministry, you can quickly become paralyzed. To me this was never so evident as it was when Dan Fickes came to me with his crazy idea about wanting to host a Halloween event for younger children.

Now, usually when this happens, I nod my head, say something like “Hmmm. Sounds…interesting,” and hope the person gets distracted and forgets about it. But I was intrigued when Dan started laying out his vision and soon enough, I was sucked into his All Hallows’ vortex and we had organized a small team to plot and plan ways to pull off a large-scale community event.

There were logistical issues with recruiting an army of volunteers, publicity, graphics, 14369914_1785888681655821_3722973629077628514_nHalloween-themed crafts, and food in the midst of a very full fall season at St. John’s. But we decided to take a chance on this idea and what emerged in our Not-So-Spooky Haunted House was pure magic. The church basement was transformed into an enchanting, interactive exhibit intended to delight and entertain before visitors were brought back up to the non-spirit world of Lower Weld Hall for donuts, cider, and crafts.

Over two weekends we had 1,800 people through, made some money to support the church, and were able to convey the message that at St. John’s, faith and fun are not mutually exclusive. And it all came about because we weren’t afraid to have something flop.

Finally, gifted staff. Every January I invite the parish staff over to the rectory for lunch. We do this after Christmas and call it an Epiphany party since, well, we’re busy in December. But what a joy to look around the room as we were opening our Yankee Swap gifts this year and see this amazing group of talented and dedicated people. We really are blessed right now and it’s important to take a step back and just recognize this. Our support staff regularly goes above and beyond and our program staff is making the spiritual magic happen on a daily basis. I am very proud of the ministry they are engaged in with all of you and it is a joy to call them colleagues.

Much of the fruit of our labor is highlighted in the full Annual Report. But I wanted to mention a few new initiatives that took place in the past 12 months. Projects we have undertaken to enhance our ministry both here on the hill and in the community.

In addition to the Haunted House, we redesigned our parish website, introduced an online giving option, held an adult education series on climate change that has morphed into the creation of a dynamic new Green Team at St. John’s, held another wildly successful Holiday Boutique, laid the groundwork for Laundry Love, an exciting new outreach initiative that kicked off last week, had more people than we’ve ever had at our Christmas services, started two weekly prayer groups, implemented healing prayers on the last Sunday of the month with the help of our beloved Sisters of St. Margaret, saw not only an increase in Sunday School numbers but also more regular attendance, added an online directory, grew the children’s choir, and started a Youth Group Steering Committee. Among other things.

But I’m most proud of what you can’t quantify, like spiritual connection and joy and the wonder of a small child learning that God loves her more than she could ever even imagine and the deep peace of a man slowly slipping out of this world supported by love and prayer and a rekindled passion for working for justice in Jesus’ name and a teenager’s making profound spiritual connections even when he’s not willing to admit it. This is why we do what we do around here. This is why we put so much effort into our respective callings — whether that’s to lay or ordained ministry. This is why I encourage you to be drawn ever deeper into the life of this parish. You will encounter Jesus, you will be transformed, you will be made new.

This is precisely what St. John the Evangelist set out to record when he wrote his gospel. He sought to testify to the Light of Christ that had entered the world so that others might hear and believe through his testimony. And here we are, 2,000 years later, as a faithful community seeking to follow Jesus.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it remains a privilege to follow Jesus alongside of you. To proclaim Jesus in Word and Sacrament as fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith. And to share the peace of God that truly does surpass all understanding.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck


2016 Patronal Feast (Rector’s Annual Adress)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 31, 2016
(St. John the Evangelist)

What a difference a year makes! Last year at this time we were in the midst of a great transition at St. John’s; a tidal wave of transition. We were juggling search committees — for a new organist, a new curate, and a new church school director. We were raising money for a new boiler. We were shoveling snow. Again. And, while I’m not sure it always showed on the outside, staff and volunteers alike were scrambling to keep things running relatively smoothly during what was an unusual period in the life of the congregation.

Now, the transition was all due to “natural causes” — a deacon, curate, organist, and 12509625_10208293170037652_7598648998966109163_n
youth minister all happened to leave within the same few months and all for good reasons. It was unusual, to be sure, but it also afforded us a great opportunity to reevaluate our staffing needs in light of the priorities we outlined through the Charting Our Course strategic planning process.

Through the congregational feedback process, at both the vestry level and for me personally, we heard what was important to all of you and we acted on it: youth ministry, adult education, pastoral care, music — all of the priorities we identified have been addressed either programmatically or through staffing. And while I have my own opinions about how things are going these days, I most value what so many of you have told me: that the parish has never felt so active and vibrant, that there is a spirit at St. John’s that feels both holy and energizing; that the worship and music are transcendent; that we’ve assembled an inspired team of staff members to help us carry out our mission; that the presence of God has infused this community in very tangible ways.

All of which is testimony to the fact that we have emerged from a period of great transition and, if we’re honest with ourselves, a fair amount of uncertainty, stronger, more faithful, and better positioned to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ on the South Shore. Yes, I feel a sense of relief at having made it through a trying year and also a great deal of satisfaction as I look around this place and soak in all the good things that are happening.

Last year, during my Annual Address, I encouraged you to “Get a good look at the back of the bulletin — because, God willing, the staff listing will be a lot different in the months ahead.” Oh, and it is. If the previous year was all about “goodbyes,” this year we did a lot of welcoming. We welcomed Buffy Gray as our organist-choirmaster, we welcomed Noah Van Niel as our curate, we welcomed Alexis MacElhiney as our church school director. And I have to say, I much prefer the welcoming. Especially when it comes to welcoming such extraordinarily gifted and committed people to St. John’s.

One of the things I love about having Father Noah around here — besides getting to hang out with Vincent on a regular basis — is the fresh perspective he brings. Yes, to the parish and to our collective spiritual life — but also in the ways he invites me to think about situations and experiences that I may have taken for granted. In one of our weekly mentoring sessions, he asked me, “How do you approach the Annual Meeting?” And my first answer was fairly flip — “stressfully.” I mean, there are reports to collect and collate and proofread and there’s a lot of work that goes into the whole process and there’s always the deep rooted, if irrational, fear that something will arise to divide the congregation.

But then as we talked more about it, I started focusing on the things I love about the Annual Meeting. So much of life in ministry is deadline driven — sermons, bulletins, newsletters, planning for the next liturgical season — in other words just trying to make it through the week. And it occurred to me that what I really appreciate about the Annual Meeting isn’t so much the meeting itself but the preparation involved. Because in order to prepare for it, you must take a step back, you must go to the mountaintop to see the bigger picture, to get up into the balcony and reflect upon the whole operation — in order to get an authentic grasp on how things are going; to see what opportunities await and what challenges might arise.

photo 4-1And so taking the time to head up to the mountaintop, whatever the impetus, is important. And it’s a pretty nice view these days. Here are some things that I’ve observed.

  1. We have an incredible group of parishioners at St. John’s. People who are passionate about their faith — not just in the abstract — but who are living it out in their daily lives. People who care deeply for one another. People who are eager to engage with and deepen their faith. People who want to make a difference in the world.
  2. We have a truly amazing staff. People who view their work in the church as a calling. People who take the initiative and are willing to try new ideas and take new approaches to ministry. People who are willing to work within the guidelines of our broader mission while not being afraid to fail. People who enjoy doing ministry with one another and with all of you.
  3. We have been drawing many new individuals and families to St. John’s over the past several months. This is, of course, a sign of vitality and growth but also a reminder that, in Jesus Christ, we are offering something that people so deeply desire.
  4. We are blessed with many generous parishioners who take their financial stewardship seriously. People who give from their hearts because they believe in the mission of St. John’s and recognize that we can only do what we do here because of one another.
  5. We have a beautiful church. I mean, the landscaping project out front — wow. It was funded by several parishioners who saw a need and decided to do something about it, so it wasn’t funded out of our operating budget. Not everyone can see a need and address it on that scale but we can all see things that need doing and, rather than complaining, just take care of it (with proper committee approval, of course). And so I continue to be inspired not just by the greater curb appeal itself but by the process by which it came about.

So how do we keep this moving forward? How do we insure that this moment of satisfaction doesn’t morph into complacency and spiritual lethargy? Well, that’s easy, really. We focus on those two simple words Jesus speaks to Peter, as recorded by John the Evangelist: “Follow me.” Because when we take seriously Jesus’ call to discipleship, there’s no time to pat ourselves on the back.

And so, embedded within these observations are four goals that I have discerned for the year ahead. Goals that, with some prayer and hard work, are utterly attainable.

  1. We must continue to do exactly what Jesus invites us to do; to “follow” him. Deeper discipleship is an abiding goal of every individual Christian and Christian community. And so, going deeper through devotion and embracing opportunities to be formed more profoundly in Christ, remains our first priority.
  2. Related to this, we can’t let this parish become a “staff run” church. Yes, we have some incredibly talented and committed folks here. But their jobs aren’t to do everything for us but rather to enable us to grow in faith. They are here to support and lead but also to nurture and raise up. They are partners with us in ministry not doers of ministry for us.
  3. It’s fabulous that we have more people coming to St. John’s. Attendance is up, participation in programs is up, giving is at an all-time high. But we must all be attentive to newcomer incorporation. We can’t let new members of the parish navigate the wilderness on their own and hope they find their niche here. We all must be better at engaging and inviting and connecting new members to ministries at St. John’s. That’s not someone else’s job, that’s your job.
  4. This is an expensive place to run. The buildings — the church, the parish hall, the rectory, and the curate’s residence aren’t getting any younger. And being fully staffed, the personnel costs, including benefits, continue to rise. While we had a balanced budget last year, we are presenting a slight deficit budget in 2016. I’m confident we will make up the difference but with rising costs, we need to face reality about our financial future. We need to grow the endowment and encourage those who can give more but are not, for whatever reason, to increase their annual financial commitment to St. John’s if things are to remain financially sustainable in the long run.

“Follow me.” There’s a holy urgency to this command. “Drop everything and follow me.” Not after we’ve finished doing the dishes or figured out how to balance the budget or put the baby down for a nap. But right now, in this very moment. Following Jesus is precisely what has brought us to this point. And following Jesus is what will allow us to thrive in the days, months, and years ahead.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it remains a privilege to follow Jesus alongside of you. To proclaim Jesus in Word and Sacrament as fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith. And to share the peace of God that truly does surpass all understanding.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

2015 Patronal Feast (Annual Parish Address)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 26, 2014
(St. John the Evangelist)

If you’ve ever seen the Broadway musical or the movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” you know the iconic opening number includes the refrain “Tradition!” The main character, Tevye, sings about the reason various societal roles exist in his village, from the matchmaker to the Rabbi. The refrain sets the tone for the rest of the show as the characters struggle with how to maintain their traditional values as the inevitable change swirls around them.

As I thought about my annual state-of-the-parish report — this refrain kept running through my head but with a slight twist. If we were to come up with one word to describe this year, and in particular the last few months, it would be “Transition!”

Just to review, starting in mid-October, our deacon left to take a job in New Hampshire; our assistant rector left to take her own church in Oregon; our organist left to take a position in Illinois; our youth minister left to pursue graduate studies, and the boiler died. “Transition!”

I have never experienced such transition in such a short period of time in a parish setting and yet, as tempting as it is, I will demonstrate heroic restraint and not refer to this whole situation as staff “deflation.” Usually such staff turnover would be the direct result of conflict but the good news in our situation is that all of it was for good reasons and so we sent Geof, Anne, Fred, and Ken off with our prayers and best wishes. The boiler, however, is another matter and I still have not forgiven it.

But amidst all of the change, I am truly excited about the opportunities that are ahead as we rebuild the staff to better reflect the priorities that came out of the Charting Our Course strategic planning process. So rather than spend a lot of time looking back, I thought I’d spend this time looking ahead to share my vision for what this reconstituted staff might look like. The Vestry and I have been discussing and strategizing how we can best meet the needs of the parish moving forward while embracing what we perceive to be God’s plan for St. John’s.

One thing that’s become clear to me is that having a very part-time youth minister is not a model that works in this community. Since youth ministry is above all relational, we need someone running the youth groups who is local, around, and available. The position description for the next curate has been written with youth ministry as a priority. This person will be a generalist, a priest for the entire congregation, but with an emphasis on youth ministry. Whatever other gifts this person may bring, a passion for youth is non-negotiable.

Because of this, the part-time youth minister position will be morphed into a part-time Church School Director. We rightly place a high priority on this program aimed to strengthen the spiritual lives of our youngest children, yet we’ve never had a staff position to be accountable for Church School, to work with, train, mentor, and inspire our volunteer teachers, and to bring new energy and creativity to the program. The Church School Leadership Team has done tremendous work and I like that model a lot — we just need someone to work with and support them in ministering to our children and their families.

The organist-choirmaster position is another terrific opportunity to bring in someone to work with the adult choir, reinvigorate the children’s choir, and offer a level of excellence in the Anglican musical tradition. I want the St. John’s music program to be the gem of the South Shore; a ministry of our parish that will appeal to a wide audience of people who value and appreciate excellent choral music. We have the singers, we have the instrument, now we need the right person to bring this program to new heights.

There are search committees in place to help me find the right people to fill these positions and I am committed to taking my time in building the ministry team here at St. John’s. We’re not going to hire anyone out of desperation — nothing good ever comes out of that. And, while I appreciate your prayers and patience in the meantime, I do not intend to do five services in 20 hours by myself next Christmas. Get a good look at the back of the bulletin — because, God willing, the staff listing will be a lot different in the months ahead.

I also want to take a moment to discuss the top priority of our strategic planning process: pastoral care. The feedback from the parish indicated we could be doing a better job in this area. Pastoral care is, in many ways, the heart of what we do as a parish community because it’s about relationships. I’ve enjoyed the process of getting to know many of you in deeper ways over the past year; I love to hear your stories and visit with you and find out what’s going on in your lives, and learn about your hopes and dreams and fears and passions. There’s a deep sense of joy and satisfaction in this for me personally and I hope you will reach out to me for whatever reason or even if there is no specific reason at all. I love serving as your rector primarily because I truly do love all of you.

While I encourage people to contact me anytime, I’ve also decided to keep a two hour block open every week for anyone who wants to drop in to chat. To keep it informal, I’m going to hold this at my “satellite office” — Redeye Roasters. Obviously if you have something of a more confidential nature to discuss, you can make an appointment to meet at church. But starting next month you can stop in on Fridays between 10:00 am to noon for “Redeye with the Rector.” If no one shows up, that’s okay since I’ll likely be finishing my sermon. But I do hope you’ll stop by sometime and we’ll just see how it goes.

As I’ve said often over the past year, pastoral care is about clergy/parishioner interaction, yes, but it’s also about all of us taking care of one another. I am particularly pleased with how this has played out with the newly formed Pastoral Response Team. You’ll find details about this in convener Kim Roell’s report but it’s all about communication and coordination of services for parishioners in any kind of need or adversity. In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul encourages us to “bear one another’s burdens.” Practically speaking, this is precisely what we’re doing — with prayer, meals, conversation, and communion. I am most proud of this community for embracing the Charting Our Course charge to be more intentional about caring for one another.

As far as one of the key markers of congregational vitality goes, our Average Sunday Attendance is down a bit this year. We still have over 200 people at worship on any given weekend but there’s always room for more — both numerically and spiritually. What this doesn’t measure is the passion for the gospel and the many initiatives taken by members of this community who see a need and take action.

425980_10152932448010909_2753728607219259727_nHere’s a concrete example. Last month a couple of parents with younger children told me they wanted to put together a Sunday movie night. I thought it was a great idea especially because it was consistent with one of my mantras: “never let the clergy get in the way of ministry.” In other words, if you see an opportunity for creative ministry, go for it. Before I knew it, they had made an announcement that they’d be screening the Polar Express, encouraged kids to come in their PJs, and even arranged with the North Pole for Santa to make an appearance. The organizers were a little worried that only a few families would show up but in the end they had about 50 joyful children eating popcorn, drinking hot chocolate, and having a grand time. Which fit right into another one of my mantras of parish ministry: “kids having fun in church is a good thing.” I came in just as the kids were convinced that Santa Claus was really “Father Tim” — which threw them for a major loop.

This is the kind of story that will never find its way into an annual report — it can’t be measured by statistics — but it is precisely why we can come together to celebrate this community in all its joyfulness and holiness. Stories like this fill me with hope as I spend the next few months juggling various search committee and seeking to put together a ministry team that will help us move ever deeper into our communal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

Tradition holds that in his old age St. John the Evangelist preached the exact same short sermon every week: “Brothers and sisters, love one another.” When members of his community asked why they couldn’t, at least occasionally, hear a different message, he replied, “When you have mastered this lesson, we can move on to another.”

We can never hear that message of love too often — of Jesus’ invitation to “love one another as I have loved you.” And I think St. John’s in Hingham is a pretty good place to do just that.

© Tim Schenck 2015

2014 Patronal Feast (Annual Parish Address)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 26, 2014
(St. John the Evangelist)

Well, the honeymoon’s over. I’m in my fifth year as your rector and so it’s about time. You’ve realized I can’t be all things to all people and I’ve been reminded that parishes are fully human institutions. You’ve discovered first hand my strengths and weaknesses and I’ve discovered the gifts and limitations of the parish.

But that’s okay because what is a honeymoon anyway but a relationship lacking in depth? A superficial relationship full of excitement and promise, but short on reality. If the honeymoon is a time when a priest and parish get to know one another, life after the honeymoon is a time when we learn how to live together. Which means, as in a marriage, learning to handle the inevitable ups and downs with honesty, patience, understanding, encouragement, and forgiveness.

Now don’t get me wrong; the honeymoon was wonderful and this building has been a stunning “honeymoon suite.” We’ve done quite well together during this period; the church grew, financial giving went up, and there was lots of energy coursing through the parish. But for a variety of reasons, attendance is down a bit; pledging is down a bit; and while we’re still thriving by most measures and comparatively speaking we’re doing exceedingly well, I’m used to standing up on the Sunday of the Annual Meeting and talking about percentage increases across the board. And I can’t do that this year.

You should know that this blip isn’t unusual — all the studies point to years four and five of a rector’s tenure as the most challenging for both priest and congregation and my personal experience bares this out. But this is also, ultimately, very good news. Because once a rector and congregation push past this mark, they typically enter into an incredibly fruitful period of ministry together; a time when we have worked through the difficult part and now trust and love one another more deeply.

I still believe the Charting Our Course strategic planning process came at a good time. Any earlier and it wouldn’t have authentically reflected people’s thoughts on life at St. John’s; any later and we would have missed an opportunity to get us headed in the right direction. The timing was right to take a long, hard, objective look at our parish — its ministries, governance, leadership, and overall mission.

In a faith community, this type of process naturally stirs up great passion and emotion and the feedback piece of Charting Our Course showed that people care deeply about this parish. I am so very grateful to everyone who participated in this project and for the over 800 individual comments recorded and diligently categorized by our hardworking committee.

In general, the parish is highly satisfied with the experience at St. John’s especially regarding preaching, liturgy, and the strong sense of community. Yet there are several key areas that need improvement and demand attention.

The data indicates that a good portion of the congregation feels their pastoral needs are not being met. That’s not acceptable to me as pastoral care is at the heart of what we do as a community of faith. I’m proud of our pastoral team — a tremendous amount of pastoral work gets done behind the scenes by the clergy, though it’s not something that will show up in a report. In teasing this issue out with the Vestry, with the wardens, and with the Charting Our Course committee, I’ve come to understand that there is a great hunger for a more personal connection with me as the rector.

What I can’t change is my personality and who I am. Some feel that I am emotionally distant and I’m aware that I can come across as not caring but I assure you that’s not the case. I care deeply and passionately about the mission of St. John’s and the people who drive that mission and those fed by that mission. I love what I do, I love doing it here in Hingham, and I look forward to continuing to do so in the years ahead.

What I can change is my approach to certain situations and the allocation of my own time and spiritual energy. While there are large numbers of “fixed” pieces in any given week, there is some flexibility in switching priorities around that I can spend on building deeper relationships. But I need your help. Relationship is a two-way street and so if you’re not feeling connected, please reach out to me. In turn I will be more intentional about reaching out to you and together we can create a culture of communication that better reflects the spirit of Christ in this community.

The other major piece of feedback was about our youth program. Parishioners are not satisfied with it and named it the number one priority for the church to address. Since then, after a year-long search, we have hired a new Youth Minister. I’m excited about Ken’s ministry among us and I’ll be taking an active role in helping set up structures of adult support and input to insure more people are invested in this program. There is no reason, with committed parents and the support of the entire community, that youth ministry can’t thrive at St. John’s.

You’ll hear more about the plan during the Annual Meeting itself but those were two areas I wanted to specifically address. Overall, I believe St. John’s is in an enviable position right now with the opportunity to bring even more connection and meaning to people’s lives through our faith in Jesus Christ. In a word, we have been richly blessed. I’m hopeful for the future and excited to see how this process continues to evolve and unfold as together we discern where God is calling us as a parish in the years ahead.

DCF 1.0Perhaps it was the whole language of Charting Our Course but I’ve been thinking about sailing recently. My father was an avid sailor so I spent some time on boats growing up and while the image of the tiller makes the most sense when reflecting on charting a course, I’ve been thinking more about the keel. The keel is that heavy weight on the bottom of a sail boat that prevents it from capsizing. The breeze may blow a sailboat back and forth — the wind can be your friend when  a stiff breeze keeps you humming along at a good clip. And it can also be a challenge when a storm blows in and the water gets choppy. Through it all the submerged keel quietly does its job of keeping the boat afloat.

Here at St. John’s the keel is not the church or the vestry or the rector — relying on any of these for protection amid the inevitable storms that swirl in parish life will only lead to shipwreck. Our keel is Jesus Christ. And so as we focus on the priorities and direction of this parish, we do well to remember that it is all for the glory of God in Christ. All the best laid strategic plans in the world won’t help if we aren’t cognizant of the keel. In the gospel appointed for today’s celebration of John the Evangelist, Jesus says very simply, “Follow me.” That is precisely and ultimately what we are all called to do as individual Christians and as a Christian community.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am honored and humbled to serve as your rector. And while I will certainly mourn for aspects of it, I’m glad the honeymoon is over. May God bless us all in the year ahead.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2014

Patronal Festival — St. John the Evangelist

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 30, 2011 (St. John the Evangelist)

“Do you have anything to declare?” After a long international flight the last thing anyone wants to do before finally getting home is to encounter a long line at U.S. Customs. Bleary-eyed, you root around the bottom of your carry-on bag until you find your tattered passport. You hand it to the grumpy Customs Agent who doesn’t even have to pretend to be nice because he doesn’t work for any airline and has already qualified for a government pension. Then you fill out some forms that are about as easy to decipher as the Broward County butterfly ballot and prepare to answer the inevitable question: “Do you have anything to declare?”

At that point, resisting the temptation to declare that you are thoroughly annoyed, you must confess to having that bag of mangos or the carton of Turkish cigarettes or the two bottles of Italian merlot. All of which is a far cry from the mother of all declarations: the Declaration of Independence. But a lot better than having to declare for bankruptcy. 

The first letter of John offers several declarations. And as you listen to them it’s helpful to remember what a declaration really is. It’s not a casual or off-handed remark. To declare something is to make it formally known. It transcends mere announcements like the ones you hear over the airport loud speaker telling Bob Smith to meet his party at Baggage Claim D. Rather, a declaration is a statement of identity.

In this light, listen again to John’s words: “We declare to you,” he writes, “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

John’s declaration is teeming with passion and holds within it a burning desire to share this faith that has been both revealed and experienced. The faith that is declared is not something abstract but one that engages all the senses – it is heard and seen and touched. And if, as tradition has held, St. John wrote this letter as an old man, he did indeed speak from experience – the experience of having known Jesus both in bodily and resurrected form. Yet his passion to share the Good News of Jesus Christ has not faded one iota in the intervening years. If anything it has grown bolder and stronger with age.

As we celebrate our patronal feast this morning – the day set aside to honor our patron St. John the Evangelist – it is worth reflecting upon just how much we as a parish community also have to declare. When you dig a little bit, John’s declarations echo our own declarations. Because our public witness to the gospel of Christ in this small piece of God’s kingdom is a declaration. We thrust our cross deep into the soil and declare to anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see what we have heard and what we have seen and what we have touched concerning the Word of Life that is Jesus Christ.

We do this in a variety of ways. Through our Sunday morning worship, through our website, through conversations formal and informal, through committee work and outreach to the wider community, through the sharing of our lives with one another – in joy and sorrow, grief and laughter, spiritual hunger and spiritual nourishment. All of which combines into a lived declaration of faith. Not a faith with easy answers or pat responses to life’s difficult questions but a living, breathing, life-giving declaration that Jesus came into the world so that we might have life and have it more abundantly in him who is the savior and redeemer of the world.

At this morning’s Annual Meeting we will spend some time reflecting upon the year that is past even as we set our sights toward the future. Over the past 12 months there have been many tangible signs of our continued declaration of faith here on the corner or Main and Water Street. Both attendance and financial support for St. John’s rose over 20% in the last year. And at a time when so many churches are struggling with numbers in both categories, this is a testament to the effectiveness of the particular ways in which we declare our faith. Something in our collective approach to sharing the gospel is resonating with the wider community.

But numbers only tell a piece of the story. There is a warmth and vitality that exists within these walls – you can’t help but feel it on a Sunday morning. This is a place where all are welcomed irrespective of religious background or situation in life. Let’s face it; from the outside looking in St. John’s doesn’t seem like the friendliest place. Our façade is intimidating – from the street it looks a bit like a well-fortified castle. Inside, people are pretty dressed up and the clergy and choir and acolytes parade around in fancy vestments. But we do all this to give glory not to ourselves but to God; to draw people into the majesty and mystery that is at the heart of the incarnate God.

And this all gets back to the unique ways in which we declare of our faith. And not just from the pulpit or the altar but from the pews as well. Which is an important distinction because I can declare from up here until I’m blue in the face but unless we all declare our faith out in the community by inviting people to come and see what is taking place up here on the hill, by not being afraid to live out our faith in the world – even when it’s uncomfortable – we won’t have much to declare.

So while we have much to be proud of as a vibrant community of faith here on the South Shore, there is still much work to be done – I’ll highlight some goals for the coming year during my report later this morning. We have more to do not because bigger is necessarily better or more programs automatically translate into a deeper relationship with God. But because we are continually called to make bold and holy declarations of the Christian faith. And as we do this with spiritual authenticity, I am confident that the blessings will be more than we could possibly ask for or imagine.

In this context, when the question is posed, “Do you have anything to declare?” We can all respond with a resounding “yes” and a hearty “amen.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2011