SHINING LIGHT INTO THE DARKNESS
Today, right after worship we will be holding our Annual Congregational Meeting. One of the main reasons for that meeting is to approve the goals and objectives for 2018 as suggested by the Church Board. Just as a reminder, the three ministry goals and objectives are as follows:
1. Continue the process of assessing the needs for hiring additional staff.
2. Increase the active volunteer participation of church members and adherents with a minimum of three additional local mission initiatives.
3. Explore the possibilities for shared ministry with Wheatley United Church and South Mersea (Hillman) United Church.
Last week we talked about the third one because that is the one that is brand new, only really coming to us as a result of a letter that was received from Essex Presbytery in January. Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise, meaning that to consider it means that we have to start thinking outside the box.
This morning, I want to focus on the first two goals as we prepare to gather for our Annual Meeting in just a little while. To do that, we going to be reflecting on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6.
Let’s begin with 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NIV) where the apostle Paul says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel or the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
What this is saying is that evil a part of this world. The reference to the “god of this age” refers, of course, to Satan. It says that Satan has blinded people to the light so that they cannot see the glory of Christ who is the image of God. We all know that to be true. The evidence is all around us. We need only look at global terrorism or environmental destruction or the pain inflicted on people by sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar. This kind of pain inflicts the world with darkness and spreads a pall of suffering over the face of humanity. Evil is real. Evil is here.
But then Paul turns a corner and says this in 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (NIV): “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Is there evil in the world? Absolutely. But as the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to counter that evil with the gospel of hope. We are to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope in this world and in the next. We are the lights that shine in the darkness to chase away the darkness and bring hope to a hurting world. That’s what we are called to do and that is where the other two goals are intended to take us. Let’s briefly look at each of them.
HIRING ADDITIONAL STAFF
The first goal is to, “Continue the process of assessing the needs for hiring additional staff.” This is very similar to the goal from last year which was to, “Consider the viability of hiring a second ministry staff person.” But there is a change of wording and I want to tell you why. It doesn’t seem like a big change but it could be. Last year’s objective was very specific. It talked about considering hiring a second ministry staff. The task group that is looking at this thought that it was a bit too specific. Here’s why.
We began this project with the idea that we needed a youth and children’s pastor. But as we began to look into the needs of this church moving forward we began to realize that there are other needs as well. The bottom line is that we’re not sure if we should be looking at hiring one person or two part time people. Maybe what we’re looking at is two people sharing the same job. We’re not really sure because we are very early in the process but we also felt that it was best to open up the goal a little bit so as not to tie the hands of the task group. It sort of goes with last week’s message of thinking outside the box. This is just something that we never thought of until we were into it.
Note that I’m not saying that we’re going to hire two people. I’m not even saying that we will hire one person. The task group will have to make a recommendation later on. All this does is give us more options.
So far, what we have done is ask most of the committees to provide a wish list of what they would like to see in a new staff person. What skills would be important? How could each committee benefit from another minister? We now have a pretty extensive wish list that we need to review and prioritize.
One of the big questions, of course, is how we would fund more staff. We’ve discovered that there are a number of grants available to us for a project such as this. I also mentioned last week that if we join in a shared ministry arrangement with Wheatley United Church, that the money that we receive from them for my services could go directly to paying for additional staff. There are other options that we are also looking at. The longer term goal, of course, is that if we do hire additional staff, that it will also increase our ministry and get more people involved in the church. So hopefully this new minister or ministers will end up paying for themselves. And good staff tends to do that.
What kind of a minister are we talking about? There are various categories of ministry in the United Church so which one is it? What we’re talking about here is something called a Congregational Designated Minister (CDM). This person is hired by the congregation and supervised by the congregation. That is different, for example, from me. I may be hired by you but I’m supervised by the Presbytery. This new staff would not be supervised by the Presbytery but by us.
I also want to give you some idea of a possible timeline. Let’s just say that we decide that we really do want to hire someone. If we do, we probably want that person to start in the summertime in order to get some plans going for the fall. It may or may not work out that way but if that is our goal, then the task group would have to make a recommendation to the Church Board in the next couple of months. If the Church Board agrees with the recommendation, then we would have to call a special congregational meeting for the purposes of hiring more staff. That has to be approved at the congregational level. The Church Board cannot do that all by itself. So keep that in mind because, ultimately, you get to add input and you have the final say. That would have to happen no later than May. If the congregation agreed with the proposal, then it would have to be approved by Presbytery Executive. What we would have to send to send to Presbytery is job description including tasks, hours and proposed rate of pay. If the Presbytery approves then we can start looking for the right person and there is no further involvement from Presbytery.
At the same time, we would have to get all of ducks in line for the finances and grants and we would probably be best to have a funding plan that would take us out about three years.
But there is a reason for all of this. It’s because we want to let our light shine out into the darkness. We do a pretty job here at Cottam at meeting a lot of needs but there are a whole lot of other needs in the community and in this area that are not being addresses. Cottam is a community in transition. There are more and more children and youth in the town as many houses are changing hands. There are some programmes in Cottam for these children and youth. There baseball and soccer. There are Brownies and Guides and all of the various levels in the guiding movement. There is talk of bringing Scouting back to Cottam. But there are all kinds of kid who still have lots of time on their hands. There’s Gosfield North Public School up the road which, as far as I know, doesn’t have any organized Christian presence in it. Yes, there are staff and students who are Christians but I don’t think any of the churches are reaching out to the schools system. Could we do more children and youth programmes? Could we start a Parent and Tot group. Could we have monthly dances for the youth? Could we do VBS again? Are there midweek programmes that we could establish, a children’s choir or a youth chimes choir? I don’t know. There are all kinds of options. But wouldn’t it be great to let that light of Jesus shine out from this place so that it draws people in and encourages them to seek the Lord with all of their hearts. That’s what this goal is all about.
The last goal that I want to talk about is this: “Increase the active volunteer participation of church members and adherents with a minimum of three additional local mission initiatives.”
This is also another way of shining the light of Christ into the darkness. I’ve already mentioned some of the things that we could be doing to minister to children and youth. But what about the rest of this community? What other needs are there in Cottam that need to be addressed and how can we get involved in meeting those needs?
I’m going to offer personal critique of this congregation. I’m now in my fourteenth year at Cottam United Church and you might be stuck with me for a while yet. This is actually a very good church filled with great and faithful people. When it comes to doing mission, do you know what we’re really good at? We’re really good at raising money for missions. Last year we raised almost $19,000 for M&S. For our four major mission projects – those are Downtown Mission, Essex Foodbank, Windsor Youth Centre and Gleaners – we raised an additional $11,500. With all of the various and sundry other things we do, we raised a total of over $34,000 for Mission and Outreach last year. That’s something like 15% of our total income which is pretty amazing. We’re really good at raising money for a good mission cause.
Do know where we could improve? We could improve at our volunteer participation in mission and outreach. There is a reason why we choose the Essex Foodbank, Downtown Mission, Windsor Youth Centre and Gleaners as our four key missions was specifically because those are mission in which people can actually get involved. You can go to anyone of them and volunteer and they’d be glad to have you. I know that everyone thinks it’s a good idea and I also know that not everyone can do this because you’re just in the wrong stage of life. But we can do more than we are doing. It would be great to get a carload of people to head down to Gleaners even one morning a month. It would be great to send down another car load of people to help serve meals at Downtown Mission or the Windsor Youth Centre.
The reason why this is so important is because while writing a cheque can change the life of someone else for the better, when we actually roll up our sleeves and get involved it changes us for the better too.
This specific goal, however, talks about local mission initiatives. We haven’t exactly defined what we mean by “local” but suffice it to say that we’re probably talking about something close by, say somewhere in Essex County.
But what about Cottam? There’s a real temptation to look around Cottam and say that there don’t seem to many needs out here. Just to live in Cottam means that you’re probably in the middle class because you need to have a house and car to live here. It’s not like you can hop on a bus and go anywhere.
But that doesn’t mean that people don’t have needs. Do you realize how many lonely people there are in Cottam? There a lots of lonely people everywhere. What do you think it would mean to them to have community dinner once a month or so and just invite anyone who wants to come to join in. Just throw in a free will offering, have a home cooked meal and get to know your neighbour. Those ministries often start out slowly but they also usually grow as people become familiar with them.
Here’s another example. While most people in Cottam have a job, there are a lot of people who have no idea how to handle their money and up to their eyeballs in debt. Wouldn’t it be great to start a programme that would address those needs? There are various faith based Christian programmes out there that are available to us and that we could use to reach the community.
There are all sorts of other needs in this community and it is part of our mission to reach out with the intention of meeting those needs. In doing that we can shine the light of Christ in our community.
Ultimately, we as a congregation are called to make a difference. We make a difference when we meet real needs in real ways in real time. That’s our challenge.
So there you have it. Those are our
three proposed mission goals and objectives for 2018. Let’s think outside the
box and see what light God will shine on us as we head into our annual meeting
in just a few minutes from now.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Heavenly Father, your light fills the morning sky in radiance and wonder. Even in the night, the lights of heaven mark off the days and give direction to those who have lost their way. Shine upon us. Fill us and renew us. Make us conscious of your presence with us and within us. We call upon your name which is, for us, a sign of wholeness and salvation. Wash us in the blood of your wounds that we may be whiter than snow.
Fill us with your grace, O God, and enable us to draw ever closer to you. Keep our eyes focused on you and your way of doing things. Help us during the upcoming Lenten season to prepare ourselves for you kingdom were every tear shall be wiped away.
Bless us, O God, as we head into our Annual Congregational Meeting later today. Open our eyes to new possibilities for ministry both locally and globally. Help us to shine the light or Christ in the world so that you can make a difference through us.
We pray for the Church, for Christians all over the world of every nation and denomination. Thank you that, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we are one. May we, in unity, reach out to the world with your message of hope, reconciliation and peace. We pray, especially today, for our neighbouring United Churches in Essex, Woodslee, and Kingsville. Thank you for the mutual support that is available when needed. Thank you for their prayers.
We lift up in prayer those who suffer loss. There are those who have lost loved ones, who have lost employment or health. Others have lost important relationships and connections in their lives. There are even those who have lost their faith. Be with all those who mourn, no matter what the loss. Rock them in your arms and give them strength and courage against their sorrow. Heal their broken hearts and grant them peace.
We think about those who have been sick this week either at home or in hospital. Grant all of us, your Healing Spirit that you may reign in our hearts as you touch our minds and bodies.
God of all Creation, inspire us to
live beyond ourselves. Enable us to be the Christian story to the people of
this world. May we be faithful to your call and loving in our actions. We pray
in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 11, 2018 / Transfiguration Sunday
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Mark 1:40-45; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
CALL TO WORSHIP
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.
Let us praise the One who has lifted us up.
Let us praise the One who restored our lives.
Let us praise the One who grants us eternal love.
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
In wonders, great and small, we see your strength and gentleness. We hear your goodness in the laughter of a young child and in the wise words of seniors. We feel your tenderness in a supportive hand upon our shoulders and in the silence of a still, quiet night. We call to you and you and there. We think of you and you touch our spirits. We worship you and you honour our praise. How great and giving you are, O God of the Ages. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, we come to you as people who fall short of your holy purpose. We have sinned in thought, word and deed. Forgive us when we fail to live with compassion. Even during those times when others intend to do us harm, you care for us. We are grateful that we do not have to fear because your mercy and grace will never fail. Help us to forgive those who either have or intend to harm us. Enable us to know that you will provide for our every need. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The infinite love of God has brought us home from the eternal abyss of sin. Whenever our sinfulness leads us away from the way of God, the gentle hand of our Creator draws us back into the circles of mercy and love. We give thanks to the One who gave his life for all.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Many and great are your blessings, O God. You have given us in great abundance. We offer back to you all that we have, represented by these tithes and offerings. Bless these gifts and the givers, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
the world with a tender and daring love to do the work of Jesus Christ. And all
that you do, do it for love, and by the power of the Spirit.