It’s been good this morning to celebrate the sacrament of baptism for Everly. It is always such a moving experience to give thanks to God for birth of a child and to dedicate that child’s life to God. It’s part of what the church does and part of our sense of who we are.
Having a good sense of who we are is going to be the main focus of my message today. It’s going to be a little bit different than a normal sermon because we have two congregational meetings coming up in the next couple of weeks. Each of those meetings is for a different purpose because we have to make some congregational decisions. And as you know, before we make important decisions, we try to ensure that everyone is as well informed as possible. Part of sharing that information happens on the Sunday morning before the meetings.
We are having the first meeting next Sunday, September 25, immediately following worship. At that meeting we will be asking you to approve the church profile that we have been working on. This profile are intended to describe who we think we are as a church and how we see our mission. The surveys that we completed last week were part of that.
The second meeting will take place the following Tuesday, September 27 at 7:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. The focus of that meeting will the transfer of the Kyiv Home Project from the Taveirne family to our congregation so that we can move forward with this ministry. The other thing we want to do is update the congregation on how we believe this project will best benefit the people it is suppose to help. We entered into the Kyiv Home Project without knowing exactly what we were doing since it was new to all of us. But the committee has learned lot in the past few months and we want to bring everyone up to speed to ensure that we are all on the same page.
To do that, we have invited Mike Morency – not the football coach – to come and speak to the congregation next Sunday morning. Mike is the Executive Director of Matthew House in Windsor which is a ministry to refugees and other immigrants who are new to Canada. Our committee has learned a lot from Mike and the people at Matthew House and we want you to learn what we have learned.
But an obvious question is: why don’t we just deal with both issues are the same meeting. Why two meetings? It’s because we want don’t want you to go into the meeting for the Kyiv Home without having some time to think about what Mike will be saying next Sunday morning. We aren’t expecting either meeting to be very long. Mike, by the way, is an ordained minister so he will be grounding everything he says with Scripture and will be staying after worship next week to answer any questions you might have during our fellowship time.
WHO ARE WE?
Okay, so that’s a brief synopsis of what we’re looking at for the next couple of weeks. But before we do anything else, let’s ground ourselves in Scripture today too. Reading from 1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NIV) we read these words:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
This, of course, is part of Paul’s letter to Timothy and in it he is giving some guidance as to how God wants us to live our lives. What does he say? In a nutshell, Paul begins by telling Timothy that he should pray for all people, especially for those in authority for those are the people who help to provide a stable society with laws and good government. And that’s good news for the church because it is far easier to share the good news in a stable society than in one that is falling apart. He summarizes that thought in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV) where he writes: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
I want to use that as a jumping off point because what Paul is doing is echoing our mission statement which is, “To know Christ and make him known”. That’s the same thing as saying that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. That happens when we know Christ and make him known. That’s why everything that we do in this church is done to support that mission statement. Please keep that in mind.
It should be no surprise to anyone who has been around the church for the last few months that we are now in a time of transition. I’m going to be retiring at the end of May 2023 and you are going to have to find a new minister. One of the things that you have to do before you can even begin the search process is figure out who you are. Over the past little while the Church Board has been gathering information about this congregation. We’ve been talking amongst ourselves and we sent out a survey that people were asked to fill out to share their thoughts. All of that information went into what is called a church profile. That profile is a statement of who we think we are. It’s an important document because it will be posted on the United Church of Canada website for everyone to see. And it’s the first document that potential ministers are going to see if they are considering looking at Cottam as a potential call.
As I said, the Church Board has been working on this for the past six months or so. At our last Board meeting we approved the final draft of the profile and next week we want to bring it to the congregation in the hope that you will approve it too. I will tell you that it’s not actually a single document. It’s four documents that go together. The first one is the Financial Viability Worksheet. This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a summary of our financial position going back six years. John Logan had the unenviable task of going back over the records to pull all of this stuff out. The whole purpose of this document, of course, is to demonstrate that the church is financially sound and able to pay a new minister. And you will see from Financial Viability Worksheet that you are.
The second worksheet is the Real Property Worksheet. This one simply lists our property assets other than the church property. We have two. We have the lot beside the church on which the Prayer Garden was built and we have hopefully will have the Kyiv home as well. So that’s pretty clear.
Next is the Demographics Worksheet. This describes our church. Are we urban, rural, small town? We’re small town. What is the age breakdown of the church? How many people do we have in various age categories? How far do people travel to get here? Those how are employed, what do they generally do for a living? What gifts for ministry do we see in our people? Do we have a junior church, nursery, youth group and choir? What is our community like and what other churches are in Cottam? Those are all demographic questions?
The next document is the Living Faith Story. That is a description not of demographics but of beliefs and how we live out those beliefs in our community. It describes how we see our current mission and what we have done to fulfill that mission. It contains information on some of our projects like the Prayer Garden. It lists the missions that we actively support. It describes our worship style and our governance model and how well we connect with other churches in the area.
The financial information and the property information don’t really require much discussion. They are just facts based on numbers. But the demographic and faith story worksheets are far more subjective. The Church Board believes that we came up with good information but you also need to approve them.
What I can tell you is that all four documents are being emailed to the people who are active in our church. We’re not sending them to everyone on our mailing list because that includes a lot of people who aren’t really part of the church on an ongoing basis. So, you should expect to see a copy in your inbox. For those families that don’t use email, we are making a few hard copies available for you. They are at the back of the church to be picked up on your way out today. But we are only making a few copies and we know who doesn’t have email. So, we would ask that those who do have email not take a hard copy.
I can’t describe for you, in the time we have this morning, everything in the profiles but I do want to give you some general notions in broad brush strokes.
As a congregation, we pretty closely reflect the community in which we live. Our members and adherents are predominantly middle class people of European background. Most of our people live in their own homes which are generally single family dwellings. The average age of our congregation is probably younger than most United Churches and, once again, reflects the community of Cottam which is also one of the younger communities in Essex County.
We see ourselves as a diverse group of people. We may not be very diverse racially because, to be honest, Cottam isn’t very racially diverse. But we do have a great diversity when it comes to ideas and ideologies. We described ourselves as tending to be evangelical in our theology. What that means is that are Christ centred and biblically based.
While we are diverse in our social and political attitudes, we don’t see our role as promoting any particular social or political agendas. Rather we encourage individuals to go out and support those causes to which they believe God is calling them.
We see ourselves as a congregation that has a heart for mission. We actually support quite a few mission projects both locally and internationally. Locally, we actively support The Essex Food Bank, Downtown Mission and Murchadha House. We do a campaign every year for Christmas hampers for families in need. Last year, eighty-one families benefited from this programme. We also are active in the Samaritans Purse Christmas show box campaign, collecting up to 100 shoe boxes for children around the world. Our Mission and Service Goal is $12,000 which goes to our national United Church office for mission projects around the world. Many of our families sponsor children through World Vision or Compassion. Many also support Teen Challenge which is an addiction recovery centre.
Over the past five or six years we have worked hard at developing a hub model of ministry. That means that we also actively seek to become part of our community. In fact, we want to become a hub in Cottam, a place were people gather and feel welcomed and accepted. That has meant that we now partner with many other local agencies and organizations for the benefit of our community. For example, we partner with the Rotary Club to support 2nd Cottam Scouting. We partner with local businesses who help support our turkey supper. Last year those businesses funded the take-out bags. We have also partnered with the Town of Kingsville which provided significant grants for our Prayer Garden. In turn, the profits from last year’s turkey supper were all given back to the Kingsville to provide such things as benches and bike racks for Cottam. The latest partnership is with Trinity Anglican Church down the street. Together, we are starting a Youth Group in Cottam beginning next Friday. And, of course, our biggest partnership is with the Taveirne family which approached us to help them with the Kyiv Home Project. Together, we are building a house in the new Woodridge Estates which will be used to house displaced people beginning with Ukrainian refugees and those at risk of homelessness. This is a huge project which has actually garnered national attention for Cottam United Church.
We cannot forget Wheatley United Church. We have been involved in a shared ministry agreement with the good folk at Wheatley now for three years. This has provided stability for Wheatley United Church and some financial benefits for Cottam United Church since Wheatley now pays for 10% of my salary and benefits. We also share resources and support each other’s events. This has been mutually beneficial to both congregations and we hope to continue this relationship into the future.
Worship is a very important part of the life of Cottam United Church. It has changed over the past few years because of Covid and it continues to develop as we come out of the pandemic. Our worship style tends to be contemporary. We like music and seek to provide a balance of contemporary worship songs with some traditional hymns. Singing is led by a worship team and we are working to rejuvenate the choir this fall. In terms of music, Stephanie is also developing a music studio at the church which is a growing music ministry to our community. Because of the pandemic, we were forced to pivot in our worship expectations. We now have up to date tech equipment which allows us to livestream our worship and provide recorded messages on a weekly basis.
Cottam United Church sees itself as being in a rebuilding mode. Many things changed during the pandemic and many programmes need to be rebuilt, including junior church, youth programmes, Bible study options, pastoral care for shut ins and worship attendance. We have made strides forward in all of these areas and will continue to rebuild in whatever direction God takes us.
One thing we need to work on, however, is our relationship with our denomination. While we used to have fairly strong ties to the Essex Presbytery, that has not translated into much involvement with the new regional council. We probably should address that in the future.
A lot of this stuff won’t surprise any of you. It simply describes the kind of church we’ve been trying to be. It hasn’t happened by accident. Most of this was very intentional. The exception, of course, being the Kyiv Home Project that sort of just fell into our laps earlier this year. But everything else has been the product of hard work and sense of dedication to the ministry of Jesus Christ in this place.
I do want to touch briefly on the surveys that we asked you to complete and which became part of the profile. We got twenty-seven online responses and eight hard copies for a total of thirty-five. That’s actually a pretty good response rate. Much of the survey results were predictable but there were some surprises as well as some affirmations.
One of the affirmations was the value that people place on strong biblical teaching. Everyone, 100%, either agreed or strongly agreed with this.
One of the biggest aha moments came when we looked at who actually filled out the survey. 51% of respondents were regular worship attenders. Those are the people who we expected to fill out the surveys.
29% of respondents described themselves as people who would like to attend worship on a regular basis but life often gets in the way and makes it difficult. These are often people who are somewhat active in the church but more so on the periphery. So, the question becomes, is there anything that we can do to help overcome the obstacles that get in their way. We’ve never really addressed that and maybe that’s a challenge for the future.
Moving on, 8% of respondents appreciate what the church offers in terms of important life passages such as weddings, funerals and baptisms but they really don’t anticipate being part of the church on a regular basis. And, just to be clear, that’s perfectly okay with us. But again, it might be important to explore how we might be able to better connect with this segment of our church community.
The last group of respondents was, perhaps, the most surprising. 12% of respondents have no desire to attend worship or become active in the church but they think that Cottam United Church offers valuable services to the community and therefore want to support it. This indicates that we are making a difference in our community. People are recognizing that what we do is important and life changing. And they don’t want to lose that which says to me that what we have been working at is bearing good fruit.
Jesus is alive and among us. The Holy Spirit is with us providing strength, insight and wisdom. This is who we are, the people in this church in this community. This is what we hope to continue to be as we move forward in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
As Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:3-7 (NIV): “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.” Not only did God appoint Paul to this ministry. He appointed us all to share his good news.
That is a summary of the profile that you will be asked to approve next Sunday after worship. We’re actually hoping that everyone will have a look at the profiles ahead of time. And during this week, if you have any questions, do hesitate to approach myself or one of the Board members.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come before you, Great God of Creation, to offer our thanks for the wonder and the beauty of the world around us. We see, once again, the changing seasons. The evidence is all around us. Birds are flying south. Insects are less numerous. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn bright colours of red, orange and yellow. The days are getting shorter and nights cooler.
We thank you for harvest, for crops ripening and for the bounty of creation. All that we have, O God, is from you. We might till it and we might plant it and we might work it but apart from you favour none of it – or even us – would exist. All that we have and all that we are, we owe to you.
Thank you, O God, that you are in the changes. Thank you that are with us in all transformations of life. How blessed we are to have you by our sides every moment of every day. When we feel alone, remind us of your presence. When we need assurance, speak to us in soft whispers of love. When we need comfort, touch us with your healing balm of forgiveness and salvation.
We give thanks for the life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth who will be laid to rest tomorrow. Thank you for all she did in her life of service and thank you for the example she was for all of us. We pray for her family as they grieve and seek to fill the roles that she so ably filled.
We pray for those who mourn this day. May your healing and strength ripple through them like an ever flowing stream of grace. God, hear our prayers.
We pray for those also, who are sick at home or in hospital. We remember, Carol, Mark, Ron, Rachel and Hazel. Grant them your Healing and Holy Spirit.
There are times in our lives when we need direction. There are times when we stumble and fall. Especially in those times, help us to follow your leadership without hesitation or reservation, for we know that your wisdom and knowledge are greater than ours. We know that your plans for us are always for good and that you will bless us with help and hope by the glory of your grace. Enable us to place our trust in your unfailing love in every situation of life. We pray our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 18, 2022 / Pentecost 15 / Proper 20
Psalm 79:1-9; Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Luke 16:1-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-7
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come into the presence of the Almighty God
who heals us of our wounds and lifts us above our trouble.
Come, let us worship the Lord of Love.
Come, let us praise the Holy One.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Heavenly Father, we humble ourselves before your throne, aware of your presence in our lives and in this place. We need you in our lives as we need you in this day. We need to experience, once more, the comfort of your Spirit. You are Peace and in your presence we find peace. You are Justice and in your presence we discover justice. You are Love and your love lifts us on beacons of light so that we may shine above the darkness. Come, fill us up with overflowing that we may overflow with the goodness of all that you have to offer to us. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Hope and Mercy, we humble ourselves and bow down before you, aware of our sinfulness. In our conceit, we seek to be self-sufficient but our strength fails us and we turn to you again. We claim that you created us but we turn from your ways and follow pop psychology and self help books as though they were the Gospel of life. You offer us eternal life but we throw it away by putting our faith in the things that we have made, idols made by our own hands. Thank you for the breath that you give to us. Help us to surrender our whole lives to you and walk more closely in your way. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The heavens rejoice when a sinner stands at the foot of the cross and repents. No matter how far we may wander, no matter how deep we may plunge, God’s mercy brings us back to the Path of Life. Believe the Good News. Jesus died to save us all and rose again for our salvation.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
In appreciation of all of your goodness, we offer back to you a portion of our bounty. Your blessings are great. Your generosity is boundless. Fill us with the same Spirit with which you give that we might be a blessing to others. Amen.
God has met us here in this place. God will follow us out into the streets and the communities in which we live. We are witnesses of the Gospel of love and healing. May we live it and share it with joy.