Building Community

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Epiphany 4
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 5:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
“But God choose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God choose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
1 Corinthians 1:27 (NIV)

ANNUAL MEETING PREP

One of the big events in the life of this congregation is the Annual Congregation Meeting that happens next week. For those who are guests or new to this congregation, we do things a little differently here than at some other churches. One of the key features of our Annual Meetings is the setting of Goals which, quite frankly, most churches don’t do at all. But they should just like we should. That’s because if we don’t set goals than we don’t know what we are trying to achieve. And if we don’t know what we’re trying to achieve, chances are that no one else knows either.

That means that a few pages of our Annual Report are dedicated to evaluating how well we did with the previous year’s goals and then setting new ones for the upcoming year. The Church Board has spent considerable time and effort into discerning God’s will for us. What I’m going to do is lay them out there so that everyone, as much as possible, is fully informed before we sit down next week and prayerfully consider these proposals.

Today, we are going to evaluate how well we did on the goals for 2019 and touch on one of the goals for 2020. Next week, we will discuss the remaining goals for 2020.

But first, as always, let’s ground this in scripture. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 says this:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

What this tells us is that we need to aware that what God wants of us does not necessarily make sense to the world. Or to put it another way, the wisdom of God is not necessarily the same as the wisdom of people. In fact, what is wise to God often seems foolish to people. It’s God’s way of turning the world on its head.

Let’s keep that in mind because a lot of the things that we have done and are trying to do are happening because you have had the courage to look outside the box in order to accomplish what we believe God is calling us to do. Cottam United Church is getting a reputation for looking at ways of doing ministry that are unique and different. Some people might think that is foolish. But we’ve come to believe that it is simply faithful.

EVALUATING 2019

Let’s start with last year’s goals. So how did we do in 2019?  If you recall, we had three goals last year. They were as follows:

  1. To develop a strategy for welcoming, engaging and retaining parishioners in Cottam United Church.
  2. To fill the Family Minister position that was approved by the congregation.
  3. To consolidate our finances by developing an effective stewardship programme.

Let’s look at the first one. How have we done in developing a strategy for welcoming, engaging and retaining parishioners at Cottam United Church? The bottom line is that we’ve made a good start. When we set this goal last year, I don’t think any of us really realized what a huge task it would be. Some people have read books. Others have participated in webinars. We’ve gone to some workshops. All of these taught us a number of things. One of the big ones is that we need to work on changing the culture of the church from being simply welcoming to being hospitable.

Here’s the difference. Welcoming someone is pretty easy. You shake their hand, say good morning and engage in a brief conversation. That’s welcoming. Hospitality is far more than that. Hospitality includes trying to take into consideration the needs of guests who walk thought the door for the first time. When someone does that, they will come with all kinds of questions. What door do I walk through; the one of the left or the one on the right? Where are the bathrooms? Do they have Sunday School here? Is there a nursery and how do I get to it? If I need to use the elevator, is there someone there to assist me? Welcoming people are nice and kind; that’s good stuff. Hospitable people actively anticipate the needs of their guests even before they walk in the door. Some people might think that’s a bit foolish, trying to anticipate another person’s needs. But remember that the wisdom of God seems like foolishness to people.

A small group of people has begun to do that. They are in the process of doing a hospitality audit. They are trying to put themselves into the shoes of that first time guest. That might seem foolish to some people but it’s not. You would not believe the number of things that they have identified that we could do better. So far all they have done is moved from the parking lot, through the front doors, up the stairs and poked their heads into the sanctuary. It’s really quite mindboggling when we look at ourselves from the viewpoint of the guest. And so, while we have made some headway on this goal, it is a long way from being accomplished and, hopefully, it will remain as a goal for 2020. But I can say more about that next week.

The next goal is to fill the Family Minister position. That goal got held up for quite a while, the simple reason being that one of the grants that we needed took forever to come through. It finally did in the fall. If you recall, we then had a congregational meeting at which we set up a Search Committee that has been hard at work ever since since. We received literally dozens of application, many of which didn’t fit at all. But we received seven or eight good ones that we had to consider seriously. We hope to finish the interview process next week and have a name to take to the Church Board shortly after that. At that point the Board will call a congregational meeting at which you will vote on the candidate. If all goes well, we may have someone in place by the end of March. So we believe that we are coming to the conclusion of that goal and that it will be completed in the very near future. There are those who thought we’d never get this done, that we were foolish to even try but we’re almost there.

The third goal was to consolidate our finances and develop and effective stewardship programme. As you may recall, our finances took a deep dive in 2018 for a number of reason. We went from a $20,000 surplus to a $20,000 deficit in twelve months. That was not good but it was also an eye opener for us that some things had to change. The Finance Committee got to work in 2019 with the support of the Board to try to remedy this situation. They developed a really good stewardship programme using some excellent United Church resources. That programme rolled out in the fall and our finances become to show improvement. While are still not where we should be – we ran a $7,000 deficit in 2019 – it was far better than the previous year. There is still work to do on this goal but we believe that the structure is in place to continue to move us in to the future toward financial stability. And so, we believe that this goal, as far as possible, was achieved in 2019.

That’s just a very brief summary but, on the whole, we did well with our goals in 2019.

GOALS FOR 2020

Now let’s move to the goals for 2020. Here they are:

Goals for 2020

  1. To complete an Alpha programme during 2020.
  2. To continue to develop a strategy for welcoming, engaging and retaining parishioners in Cottam United Church.
  3. To build an entertainment stage to the west of the church building.
  4. To double the use of the church building during the day.
  5. To build a storage shed and cage for propane tanks.

What I want to focus on this morning is one of the goals. It’s the one that will probably garner the most question and, therefore, I want to make sure you have good week to think about it and ask those question before our annual meeting next week. It’s also just about the most out-of-the-box goal we’ve ever considered. As you might guess, it’s goal number 3: to build an entertainment stage to the west side of the church building.

To tell you the truth, when the Church Board considered this goal, we realized that some people might wonder how this is part of the mission of the church. From our standpoint, the big question is this: what does a stage have to do with our mission statement which is to know Christ and make him known? That’s an important question because one of the things that we have always said is that our goals must relate to our mission statement.

But before we get into that, let’s look at what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about building a 10’ by 20’ stage just to the west of the church. Hopefully it would come with a roof and look something like this picture. It may not look exactly like this but this is the concept. It’s a very simple design but also very functional.

The idea came originally came from the Prayer Garden Committee. In the process of talking with the Town of Kingsville about Community Improvement Grants for the prayer garden, we became aware of the Kingsville grant. It’s not the same thing as the CIP grant but is available for community outreach projects in the town.

At the same time, we were looking at ways in which the prayer garden could be used to bring more activities to our community. We had some informal discussions with the Parks and Recreation Department and they were quite supportive. That’s how the idea of a stage first come into being.

With a stage, we could see all kinds of possibilities. We could have summer concerts. There is the possibility of having some acts in Cottam from the Kingsville Folk Festival. Parks and Recreation could bring their portable screen and show movies like they do in other places in town. During the Cottam Yard Sale and the Horse Show, we could have entertainment going on. We also could do outdoor worship in the good weather or even weddings. There are all kinds of possibilities.

What this would do is make our prayer garden a very key gathering place for the community. And that is completely in line with the direction that we, as a church, have been taking the past few years. We have been focusing on enhancing our position as a gathering place for Cottam. The word we began to use recently is hub. We are working to be a hub in Cottam, one of the centres from which the love of Christ spreads out to our neighbours and friends.

The benefits are numerous. Local businesses like the idea because it will bring people into the community. We have a new restaurant coming to town. The Calabria is becoming the Iron Brand. I went over and met the new owners and they are hoping to open in a couple of weeks with burger and pasta menu. There are plans for a new bakery down on the corner of Talbot and Belle River Road. There is also the hope that the old CIBC bank building that is currently being used as a food preparation place for greenhouses will reopen as a restaurant or pub. Having entertainment with an outdoor stage will be really good for those businesses. So it helps the community.

It also helps us. Not only will it draw people to Cottam United Church and enhance our position as a hub in Cottam, it also provides some important fund raising opportunities during the summer months when offerings tend to go down. We could set up a confection stand in the church hall were coffee, chips, pop and other refreshments could be for sale during events. We’ve already spoken to the people who run the winter markets at the church and they’d be interested in setting up some booths where they too could sell their wares both inside and outside. Imagine how many more hotdogs we could sell during the Cottam Yard Sale if we had a live band playing on the stage for entertainment. It would create a carnival type of atmosphere. That could be really fun. There are just all kinds of possibilities.

And that’s how it fits into our mission statement. The early church grew exponentially not because it was wealthy and had good leadership and programming. It grew because it was involved in the community and the community saw that it was trying to make a difference in their lives. Because of that the people began to ask what made these Christians different from other people. And so they came and discovered that the difference was Jesus. People are not interested in a church that is primarily concerned with what happens within its four walls. What they are looking for is a church that cares about them, their families and their community. We want to be that kind of church. We want to be a gathering place. We want to be a hub. A stage, like the prayer garden, is visible sign that we take that vision seriously.

But there are some very good questions that need to be answered. First of all, how would we pay for it? We’re not exactly flush with money. We have already submitted a grant application to the Town of Kingsville for $8,500 which, we believe, will cover the cost of materials. We had to do this because the grant applications were due on October 31, 2019. We don’t yet know if the grant was approved. If it was and we approve this project next week at the annual meeting, we can move ahead this spring with construction. If the grant was not approved, then we can either drop the project or look for other sources of funding. And we’ve become very good at that over the past couple of years. But what if the grant was approved but we decide not to approve this goal next week? If that happens, then we simply say thank you but refuse the grant from Kingsville. So nothing is tied in anywhere.

But who will build the stage? Len Fitch is a retired construction contractor. We have already spoken with Len and he is willing to supervise the project with volunteer labour. In fact, he’s already gone out and asked for volunteers.

People have asked about maintenance. That’s a good question. In terms of construction, it’s a treated wood base with a composite deck. It should be pretty durable.

And what about insurance? As far as we can tell, it won’t impact our insurance. One of the key factors is the height of the deck. As long as it’s below a certain height, we’re good. And we will remain below that height. We checked with Parks and Recreation about event insurance and, if we go through the town, insurance runs at about $10 per event as long as there is no alcohol involved. And we are not foreseeing anyone selling alcohol.

I’m not saying that the Prayer Group Committee or the Board has everything figured out but we think we’re far enough down the road that we can seriously consider this project both for the positive impact it will make on our community and the way it helps us to make Cottam United Church a hub within our community.

We, on the Church Board, are aware that this goal is a stretch. But remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NIV): “But God choose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God choose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” I’m not saying that we should definitely do this and that we would be foolish not to do it. But I am saying that it is not so far out of the box that we should not give it some serious consideration. As a minimum, it really challenges us to think about what it means for us to serve our community and be a place where people can gather.

Please take these thoughts home and prayerfully consider them. Most of the info is in the Annual Report and if you have any questions, you are encouraged to speak with any of the members of the Board of the Prayer Garden Committee. You don’t have to wait until next Sunday.

That’s enough for today. Next Sunday morning, we will go over the rest of the goals for 2020.

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