Seeing What’s Possible

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Epiphany 5
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 and Luke 5: 1-11
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.
1 Corinthians 15: 9-10 (NIV)


Here we are again, approaching our Annual Congregational Meeting next Sunday. It’s a very important meeting. For those who may be new to the church or for those who have not been to an annual meeting even though they might have been around the church for a while, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain what happens.

The meeting will be held next Sunday following worship. Some people bring a lunch and we give you a few minutes to eat yours if you bring one. Then we start the meeting. The first thing we do is look back at 2018 and try to do some honest evaluation. Each of the committees has a report in the Annual Report and you are encouraged to read them before hand. Then we elect some people to various offices in the church. Then we take a look at the goals and objectives that we set at the last annual meeting. And yes, we are one of the few congregations that you will see that actually sets goals. And once we have finished with the evaluation, then we talk about the proposed goals for 2019. Those goals are presented by the Church Board and, if approved, will function to guide the work of this congregation for the next year.

We also do something else here at Cottam United Church. We take a couple of Sundays before the annual meeting and talk about the goals during worship. So rather than me preaching a traditional sermon, I provide a presentation that we hope will ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that everyone is fully informed before the annual meeting even begins. It also means that if you have any questions about anything in the Annual Report, you can actually ask them before the meeting even begins.

Today, we begin that annual process. This morning, I’m going to do a very short review of our 2018 goals and then I’m going to outline the three goals that the Church Board is recommending for 2019.

But before we do that, I want to ground this message in Scripture. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NIV) says this:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.  Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The point I want to emphasize with this passage come in verse 9 where Paul talks about him being the least of all of the apostles. And yet, even though he was the least, he achieved great things for Christ. He planted many churches throughout Asia and Europe. He wrote one-third of the New Testament and his influence is still felt today. Even though he was the least of all of the Apostles, he was able to see what was possible for those who put their faith in the Lord. As our annual meeting approaches, we need to see what’s possible too.


So let’s start by reviewing the 2018 goals. I’m going to highlight the three ministry goals and one property goal.

1.       The first ministry goal was to continue to process of assessing the needs for hiring additional staff. The Hiring Task Group worked long and hard to come up with what it thought was the best proposal for the congregation. In the end, it presented a position description to the congregation that would see us hire a three-quarter time person whose job it would be to help create and implement a comprehensive ministry programme for families with children and youth from junior kindergarten to grade 12. That proposal was presented at a congregation meeting on October 16 and passed by a very healthy margin. It was also ratified by Essex Presbytery which cleared the path for us to hire someone.

The reason we haven’t hired anyone yet is because we are still trying to get the funding in place. But having a clear position description will help that process. There is small group looking into funding options and grants now. So good progress was made there. It’s not finished but it is certainly much farther down the road than it was last year.

2.       The second ministry goal was to increase active volunteer participation of church members and adherents with a minimum of three additional local mission initiatives. The idea here was to encourage people to not only donate their money – which we are really good at – but also to roll up their sleeves and get involved in some of them. While we did have some people volunteer at the Downtown Mission in Windsor and the Gleaners in Leamington, we didn’t quite make the cut of three additional local mission initiatives. So while our involvement increased we could still probably do a better job or it. So maybe we need to explore other ways of encouraging people to get involved.

3.       The third goal was to explore the possibilities for shared ministry with Wheatley United Church and South Mersea (Hillman) United Church. As you will read in the Annual Report, it soon became apparent that Hillman really wasn’t interested in doing any shared ministry but that Wheatley was quite interested. And so, after many fruitful meetings, we presented a proposal to the congregation at a meeting on October 16. That proposal was for Wheatley United Church to purchase 10% of my time from Cottam United Church which means that I effectively become their minister. The congregation approved that proposal. It was, of course also approved by Wheatley. It went into effect on January 1. What that agreement does for them is open all kinds of doors. Specifically what it means is that Wheatley can hire a lay person to do most of their worship leadership. All I do is weddings, sacraments and administration which takes about two days a month.

John Cats, who we are getting to know, was hired by Wheatley and is now doing most of their worship leadership. Having consistent worship leadership is working very well for them. We are also hoping to explore other ways in which our two congregations can work together for the mutual benefit of both.

So, that was all positive.

4.       I also want to talk briefly about another goal for 2018. It was to finalize the proposed Prayer Garden. Just to remind everyone, the idea was proposed that we turn the side yard into a prayer garden that would be available to the community, sort of our gift to the people of Cottam to make a great place to live even better.

The group looking after that project engaged an architect who came up with a plan. To our surprise, the plan takes up most of the side yard with greenery and walking paths. But it also leaves lots of possibilities for alternate uses. For example, during the turkey supper, there will still be lots of places to park if we need it.

Since most of you haven’t seen the drawings, I’d like to show them to you now. This drawing shows a meandering path from the sidewalk to the quiet place where people can sit and pray or think or just take a load off. We hope that we can put a small fountain or water rock there. Over on the left side by the church we’re proposing a flat pad that can be used for a variety of purposes including an outdoor concert venue. As you can see, there is still lots of open space for that can be used for other purposes including parking.

The reason we haven’t moved ahead with this is because it is supposed to be financed through our Memorial Fund but with the down turn in our finances last fall, we though it unwise to use that money when it might be keeping us afloat temporarily. As soon as we get our financial house in order we hope to move forward with this project. Any feedback, of course, is very much appreciated.

So that’s our 2018 goals. Generally, we did a pretty good job of meeting them.


Let’s now move on to the proposed goals and objectives for 2019. There are three of them. I’m going to talk about one today and the other two next week. Again, the whole idea is to try to ensure that you are fully informed of what we are proposing and that you have some time think about them. And don’t forget to read the Annual Report where these goals are also outlined.

The Church Board is proposing the following three goals for 2019

1.      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.

Today, I want to explain the first one. And then we’ll move to the other two next week. So what does it meant to develop a strategy for welcoming, engaging and retaining parishioners in the Cottam United Church and why do we need to do that?

The why part of the question is probably the easier question. We, as a congregation, have been blessed with quite a number of new families in the past few years. Many of those families are younger with children. Last fall alone, we had about fifteen new people start attending our church on a regular basis.

These new families also represent a changing demographic within our church. The average United Church congregation is aging and shrinking. Because of the significant number of new families who have started attending, we are actually getting younger and growing. The interesting thing, however, is that that growth does not necessarily show up in our worship attendance or in our finances. I want to address both of those issues.

Our attendance has been fairly stable over the past five years. Last year, attendance was actually up about 5%. But why isn’t it up more with all of the new people? The reason is because we have also lost a number of people through death, mobility issues or relocation. The people that we lost tended to be people who attended almost every week. The new people we gained, however, are more sporadic in attendance. They are younger with other family and work commitments which means that they tend to come to worship every second or third week rather than every week. So it takes two or three new people to make up for one person who no longer attends. So, while there are probably more people involved at Cottam United Church than ever before, we don’t necessarily see it in our attendance. The reality is that that is probably not going to change. That’s the way it is and we need to adjust to it and work with it.

The reason why our finances have not improved is related to the attendance. The people we lost tended to be older people who had raised their children, put them through school and paid off their mortgages. Consequently, their disposable incomes were higher and they gave more in the offering plate. The newer people may come with lots of children and ideas and enthusiasm. But what they don’t come with is very much money. That’s because they are still raising their families, they are saving for post-secondary education for the children and they are still paying off their mortgages. So it often takes four or five new givers to make up for what we have lost with older givers who are no longer with us. That’s a thumb nail sketch of what the changing demographics mean to our church. But what do we do about it?

What we have in our church is a variety of different generations. What sociological studies tell is that different generations do things differently. They also respond differently. Baby Boomers are different that Gen Xers are different from Millennials are different that Gen Zers. We’re actually pretty good at understanding and responding to Baby Boomers because that’s who many of our key leaders are. What we have to do is learn how to minister more effectively to the younger generations. How do we welcome them of every generation? How do we engage them? How do we inspire them to become more active in the ministry of this congregation? Or to put it another way, how do we minster to new people so that they become fully committed followers of Christ? That, by the way, fits quite nicely into our mission statement which is to know Christ and make him known.

That’s important because research also tells us that the more people are committed to the ministry, the more willing they are to support the church both time-wise and financially. The truth is that we need to understand how to better do that. What we don’t want to do is become a way station for people along the way where they come for a while and then disappear. We want them give them a reason to stay here and minister with us. We want to let them know that they are involved in something bigger than all of us when they engaged in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

The good news is that there are models out there that have been used very effectively for this purpose. And there are some churches that do this very well. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel but we may have to change and adapt the wheel to suit our unique situation and meet our needs.

Paul talked about how he was the least of the apostles and yet look what he accomplished. He saw the possibilities and he did whatever he had to do to accomplish what he knew God was calling him to do. The same holds true for us. Cottam United Church along with the whole community of Cottam is changing. That means that there are kinds of possibilities out there. It is up to us to seek them by discerning God’s will for us. When we do that we will fulfill our mission to know Christ and make him known.


Holy God, you are in our world. You are in our communities. You are in our lives. You are in our hearts. You are with us every moment of every day and for your constant presence we give you thanks and praise. You are with us in the laughter. You comfort us in our tears. You lift us up in times of pain and offer us the healing protection of your enfolding wings. You come to us in love. We return to you in love.

Although we have received our salvation by faith and not by works, it is a comfort to know that you care about the things that we do for others. Enable us to always do all that we can for others, taking full advantage of every opportunity to be an example of your love and character. Thank you for your unconditional love and unfailing promises.

We pray for ourselves as we approach the Annual Meeting next week. We pray, O God, that this will be a good, constructive and godly meeting. Enable us to hear everyone’s voice but especially yours. Give us direction. Give us courage and give us a kick if and when we need it so that we can continue to be your people in this place.

We ask your special blessing upon Ruth Anne and her family and friends as they mourn the death of Lyle. Thank you for his life and all that he did for his family, his church and his community. Bring them, O God, to a place of peace.

We lift up in prayer those who have been sick at home or in hospital this week. We remember, especially, Sharon and Mary. Bless them as you have blessed us all with your Healing and Holy Spirit.

God, you are our Heavenly Father, the one who nurtures and supports us through all of life. It is our desire that we be always willing to follow your leadership and instructions regardless of how it may appear to others. Help us to have courage and strength to go anywhere and do anything that you ask of us. May we go without hesitation or reservation, confident that all things will happen according to your great purpose.


February 10, 2019 / Epiphany 5


Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; Luke 5:1-11 ; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11


ONE: Give thanks to God with all your hearts;

ALL: Let us sing praises to God.

ONE: God answers when we call;

ALL: Let us worship God with gladness.

ONE: The love of God is eternal;

ALL: Complete in us, O God, the work that you have begun.


We enter your presence, God of Grace, and bow down within your Holy Temple. Your love and your faithfulness rise through the ages. Your name is supreme among all names. Answer us as we call upon you, O God of Creation. You are faithful to fulfill the promises that you have made and, so, we lift up our voices in praise to give you glory, honour and blessing. Come down from your heights and care for us. Redeem us in your love.


God of Earth and Ocean, you have called to us but we have not always been faithful to answer. Sometimes we are timid. Sometimes we are shy. Often we hesitate to cast our nets into the waters of life for fear that they will come up empty and we will be disappointed. Forgive us, again, for our doubts and uncertainties. Enable us to see beyond our narrow vision and to follow Jesus where he leads.


When Jesus calls, he leads. When he makes demands, he provides. When he promises forgiveness, he redeems. Walk in the light and stand in awe of the One who gave his life as a ransom for all that we might be freed from our sins to live and answer the call of God.


For all of your goodness, God, we give you thanks. How can we respond but by giving back a portion to you for your work? We send these gifts in Jesus’ name as signs of love and faith to answer your call to mission and ministry.


Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John, to becomes fishers of humanity.

We, too, are called to reach out to those to whom God has sent us.

Go, in Jesus’ name, to cast the net of salvation into the waters of our community.

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