Turning Things Around

Pastor Kim Gilliland
February 13, 2022
SCRIPTURE: Luke 6: 17-26
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Luke 6: 22 (NIV)

THE BEATITUDES

Our Annual Congregational Meeting is coming up in two weeks on February 27. If you’ve been around this church for any length of time, you will know that one of the things that we do at the Annual Meeting every year is set goals and objectives for the coming year. You also will know that I take some time in the week or two before the Annual Meeting to share those goals and objectives with you during the sermon time. That purpose of that is so that you can get an expanded version of why the Church Board is suggesting those goals and objectives and also to give you some time to think about them before the meeting.

This year is no different, except that you’re going to hear about them today. Normally, I would do this the week before the Annual Meeting which is next week but next week I will be in Wheatley administering the sacraments so I won’t be here. So you are going to have an extra week to contemplate the suggested goals and objectives for 2022.

This year, the Church Board is suggesting four goals. I’m going to expand on them but just to put it all out there, here they are:

There is a common thread to all of these goals and I want you to be aware of it because it is important. We have gone through two years of a global pandemic. And we’ve come through it fairly well. But, like most churches, we not the same church that we were two years ago. Our in person worship attendance is down to about half of what it would normally be. Our Sunday School hasn’t been functioning as it normally would. We haven’t even tried the nursery. Financially, we aren’t in bad shape but the longer people are away from church the less likely they are to keep up with their financial support.

None of this is anyone’s fault. It’s primarily the result of government restrictions that made it impossible to be the church we were in 2019. But we are hoping that we coming to the end of this pandemic and want to be ready to resume our programming once things open up. So that’s the common thread pulling all of this together. In a nutshell, the Church Board believes that it is time to rebuild this church and the rebuild starts in 2022.

But before we talk about that in detail, let’s as always, ground ourselves in Scripture. We’re going to do that with the Beatitudes which are found in Luke 6:20-23 (NIV):

Looking at his disciples, he said:

Blessed are you who are poor,

          for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

          for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

           for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

          when they exclude you and insult you

          and reject your name as evil,

          because of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

This is one of the most well known passages of the New Testament. It’s also one of the most radical because it does what Jesus does best which is to challenge the prevailing assumptions of the day by enabling people to see another side of the story. That’s exactly what Jesus is doing in this passage. He takes all of the negative things in life and turns them into positives.

Whoever thought of the poor as being blessed? Jesus says they are because the kingdom of God is theirs. They might be poor now but just wait and see how God will turn that around in the coming kingdom. What about the hungry? Jesus says that in the kingdom they will have lots to eat. And then there are those who weep. They will laugh in the kingdom. And blessed are those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus because they will be rewarded for their faith in the kingdom of God.

Jesus has a way of turning things around. And he has called the church to do the same thing. Jesus calls us to turn around and to see things in a new way. And that’s what are goals for 2022 are all about. They are about turning things around and rebuilding the ministry of this congregation.

REBUILD THE SUNDAY SCHOOL

We begin with the first goal; to rebuild the Sunday School. Here at Cottam United Church, we have always had a strong Sunday School programme. That’s because we have a significant number of young families in our church. I actually had to add them up a couple of months ago for another project. I discovered, to my surprise that we have about three dozen families who are attached to this congregation who have children anywhere from newborns to high school. That’s a lot of families, especially when compared to many churches that don’t have anywhere near that number. And it seems that at any given time, one or of those families is expecting another baby. That only adds to the number.

And what about all of those new houses being built in Cottam? And what about all of the houses that have changed hands in Cottam in the last few years. The reality is that Cottam is going through a transition. An entirely new generation is moving in and they have hoards of kids. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many children around town as I see now.

That represents a huge potential. The problem, however, is that in order to get those families in church, whether they already have a connection or are brand new to the our community, we need to offer the programmes that make that will attract them and make it possible for them to give us a try. Primary among those programmes is Sunday School.

I can’t tell you how pleased I have been with the number of children we have been coming to worship on Sunday when all that we’ve had is junior church. If you aren’t familiar with junior church, it gathers all of the children into one group and provides a video or a craft or something for the children to do. That, of course, takes adults to plan and oversee junior church and we had some adults step up to do that. Junior church has had anywhere from two to twelve children in it on any given Sunday. But junior church does not replace Sunday School because it puts all of the children in one group. I don’t need to tell you that trying to keep a single group of children occupied when their ages vary so much is not easy. It is far better to have separate classes for different age groups like we used to. In that environment, with age appropriate material, we can do a far better job of telling our children about Jesus.

But it doesn’t stop with rebuilding the Sunday School. We also need to reboot the nursery. Nursery here means pre-school children. Our nursery has not been open for two years, since Covid-19 first hit Essex County. We looked a number of times at starting it up but the task was just too daunting. It would have required an incredible number of adults to supervise, to keep social distancing between the children, to sanitize surfaces over and over again. We just didn’t have the resources to do all of that.

But it’s time to turn that around. Lots of families that have Sunday School age children also have nursery age children and we are far more likely to engage them if we are able to offer something for all of their children. So, when we say that we want to rebuild the Sunday School, what we really mean is that want to offer a full range of programmes for all ages of children. That starts with Sunday School and nursery. But we don’t have to stop there. What about having some mid-week children’s programmes? Maybe we could offer a music programme after school on Wednesday’s or some other day. We can get as creative as we want to be. But it starts with rebuilding the Sunday School and rebooting the nursery. That will be the beginning of turning things around.

INITIATE A YOUTH PROGRAMME

How else do we turn things around? The second goal is the initiate a youth programme. That follows directly on the heals of rebuilding the Sunday School because it serves a very similar purpose. It’s a way of reaching out to the community with something that they find valuable.

One thing that two years of pandemic has done for us is to provide a core group of youth group age children to begin youth programme. We have had strong youth groups in the past but we haven’t had one for few years because all of our youth grew up and went off to post-secondary education. They became adults and we didn’t have enough youth to do much with. All of our children were too young. But in two years, that has changed. Those children are now youth and we need to provide something for them.

And here’s the other thing. I believe I’ve told you before that I received a call from a parent in town asking me if we had anything for youth. Her daughter was bored and wanted something to do. Did our church offer anything? I had to tell her that, currently, we did not offer any youth programming but that we would be open to starting something up. I know that that we have at least two adults who are willing to help with a youth programme but we would need more than that. Could we pull people from the community who are not currently part of the church to help with this. Why not? Anything is possible.

But note too that the goal is not to start a youth group. The language – and this is very intentional – is that we want to start a youth programme. A traditional youth group would meet on a Friday or Sunday evening and play some games, maybe have a bit of a study, sing some songs and eat something. Snacks are always big draws for teenagers. They always have been and they always will be. And maybe a traditional youth group is a good place to start.

Youth programming, however, can be so much more than that. Again, what about a mid week group. As with younger children, could we start a music programme? How about a drama programme? What about musical theatre? Or what about sports? I know at least one church that purchased a pool table and invited the youth to come and play pool after school. It was a huge success. There are all sort of possibilities when we are willing to think outside the box. And when we do that, we can turn things around.

INCREASE OUTREACH THROUGH WORSHIP

The third goals is to improve congregational and community outreach through worship. As already mentioned, our in person worship attendance is about half of what it should be. Before Christmas, we were building and worship got to be about three-quarters of normal pre-pandemic attendance. But then the omnicron variant hit in the new year and attendance again sank. I get that. People don’t feel safe in groups. Omnicron is very contagious even if it is much less vilulent.

The lower in person attendance has been partially offset by an increase in online attendance. So, to be quite honest, between our in person and online worshippers, we are roughly the same as we were before the pandemic. But was want to improve both of those numbers. Our goal is to raise both in person and online worship attendance by 20% in 2022. Please note that we are counting online worshippers as genuine worshippers. We are not saying that if they don’t come in person that they don’t count. They count every bit as much and we need to welcome them in whatever way they want to join us. I confess that part of me hopes that some of the online people will return to in person worship but there is no guarantee of that and so we take people as they come.

There are a few things that we need to consider if want to increase attendance by 20%. First of all, we need to offer quality in person worship. I think we already do that but are there somethings that we need to tweak or change? We need to be open to that. And what about our online presence. We have had various technical challenges with live streaming which we hope are now being ironed out. But if we are going to increase online worship by 20%, we have to offer a consistent quality product because if we don’t, then are dozens of other churches that can. So when it comes to an online presence, we are competing with the world which is rather daunting if you think about it.

Worship is important because it is often the first face of the church that the community sees. That means that maybe it’s time to think outside the box with our worship? What about offering outdoor worship in the nice weather. When we get stage built, what about Sunday evening worship with live music, lawn chairs and snacks? Why not? What about an evening of worship music, indoors or outdoors that may attract people? We are limited only by our imagination. There are all sorts of things that we could do turn things around.

ENCOURAGE GREATER VOLUNTEERISM

The final goal is to encourage greater volunteerism. And this may be the most important goal of all. That’s because none of this stuff happens without volunteers. Volunteers are the backbone of any church and the engine that makes things work.

We have a very good and consistent group of volunteers that help out with various ministries of our church. In fact, we did some research and discovered that we a pretty consistent group of volunteers numbering in the mid to high 50’s. That pretty good for a church this size. And everything that any of those people do, whether big or small is greatly appreciated.

But here’s the reality; as in most volunteer organizations 20% of the people do 80% of the work. And that 20% gets tired. What we need is for the other 80% of the people to consider doing a bit more. I know that lots of us are busy. I know we have seniors who say that they have already done their part and that it’s time for the younger people to take up the slack. On the other hand, I hear from younger people who say that they’re working overtime to pay the bills, that they’re trying to raise the kids and maybe look after their aging parents too.

We’re actually blessed here at CUC because we have wide range of age groups in our congregation. I’ve always said that the demographics of a church should mirror the demographics of the community in which it exists. And I think we pretty well do that. What  that means is that between our youth people, our middle agers and our seniors, we have a huge potential of volunteers who come with a vast array of abilities, gifts, experience and energy. By the grace of God, we need to tap into that. And we can.

No one’s asking you to spend every spare moment at the church but if all of us just did something, it would make a difference. Can you help out in Sunday School once a month? Are you willing to help organize the nursery? Do you have an idea for a midweek programme for children or youth? Have you ever considered being a presider during worship? Do you like to sing? Our audio-visual team could sure use some help. Or are you better at fixing stuff? Heaven knows we need people who can do that. Do you like gardening? You do know that we have a garden beside that church that is well used by the community and always needs some TLC.

We aren’t asking anyone to do everything but if all of us did something, it would make a huge difference. What is God calling you to do?

But here are a couple of things that we need to understand. The first one is that we are not alone in needing volunteers. Almost all organizations face a shortage in a way that they never have before. But we can’t use that as a excuse because the other side of the volunteer coin is that people will volunteer sacrificially if they believe that their time and efforts make a difference.

For the past few years, Cottam United Church has been trying to make a difference. We have tried to brand ourselves as a hub within our community. Those efforts are paying off. We have more and more people and groups asking to use our space. We have more and more people who recognize our church as a gathering place within the community. Even just welcoming new businesses in town on our sign out front of the church pays dividends for us.

What we are doing has been making a difference and I am convinced that as Covid draws to a close, we will make an even bigger difference. And in doing so, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we will turn things around. As it says in Luke 6:20-21 (NIV)

Blessed are you who are poor,

          for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

          for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

           for you will laugh.

Well, there you have it: our congregational goals for 2022. Two weeks from now, at our annual meeting, you will be asked to approve them. I hope you do. And I hope that each of us will consider what part God wants us to play in the ministry of our church.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Holy God, we give you thanks for your faithfulness in all situations. You are a God of hope and you lift us up above our difficulties into a new and glorious life. We appreciate very much the life that we live today. We are surrounded by many good and beautiful creations. We have the privilege of knowing many good and godly people. How can we fully acknowledge your greatness and our overwhelming gratitude for all that you have done for us? Still we thank you for life. 

Thank you that we can be confident of your love and the certainty of your promises. When we turn to you, we can have joy in situations that would otherwise cause worry, anxiety, or despair. We can have that joy even before the solution are available to us because you are totally reliable. Thank You for the comfort and assurance that you offer. Your love is always a Rock upon which we can absolutely depend.

We pray for our nation as we struggle through protests and disunity. We pray for peaceful dialogue and honest understanding. We pray that vitriol will be replaced by compassion and mercy. And we pray for leadership from our governments which seems to sadly lacking right now.

We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We pray for Mark, Carol, Pauline, Rachel and all others who have been ill in body, mind or spirit. Heal all of us of all of our wounds by the power of your Spirit. In the midst of our prayers, we thank you for the wonders of medical science and the quality of life that it offers to us.

God of Hope and Grace, we are thankful that you care about all that concerns our lives. Enable us to always keep our hearts and minds focused on you and your way of doing things. We hold fast to the hope that we have in you. In doing so we will be able to make wise decisions and live lives filled with wisdom and discretion. We can then rest secure in you, free of worry or fear because we know that we have done the right thing. Thank you for peace in our hearts and for your great unfailing and unconditional love. We pray these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

February 13, 2022 / Epiphany 6

SCRIPTURE

Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE: Blessed be the God of Creation

ALL: who watches over the assembly of the people.

ONE: Come, let us worship the one who gives us life;

ALL: let us give praise to our Shepherd and Friend.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Father God, we seek to be open to you today. Open our hearts and minds by the grace of your Spirit that we be willing and eager to learn more of your wonderful Good News. Sometimes in can uncomfortable to follow you. Sometimes we are required to change our attitudes or our way of doing things. Enable us to always be willing to surrender to your will and way. We seek to embrace you as you have embraced us.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of Compassion, we wander away from your path and walk in sinking sand. We are grateful that present circumstances are never permanent in your sight. Regardless of what has happened in the past, you are able to restore situations that would otherwise be impossible. Enable us to focus on your unfailing love and your unlimited mercy and grace. Despite our sinfulness, you offer us hope and assurance. We desire to set our hearts to trust you in all of life’s situations. Lead us into greener pastures of service to you and others.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The sinfulness of humanity has given way to the grace of God. The power of the Cross is the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Receive the Good News. When we confess our sins, God heals us and makes us whole.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

We express our thanksgiving through the offering of our tithes. We give in trust, not knowing what you, O God, will do or what difference our gifts will make. We give in faith, knowing that you waste nothing but rather make everything work for your purpose when we offer it in Jesus’ name. Receive our gifts, O God of Creation.

COMMISSIONING

We have shared in song and prayers. We have offered to God our thanksgiving and praise. May we go back out into the world as transformed people, renewed by the power of the Spirit and the grace of God’s amazing love.

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