2012 Rector’s Report

Our Annual Meeting, my fourth as Rector of Grace Church, took place yesterday.

Here are excerpts of my report to the parish:

“Where Anglican tradition engages the contemporary world, Grace Church opens its doors on Madison’s Capitol Square, inviting all to join us in sharing the love of Jesus Christ in worship and in outreach to our neighbors and the world.”

Our new mission statement, appearing above and on the Annual Meeting agenda received final approval from the vestry at its October meeting. The statement was almost three years in process of development with input from vestry members, staff, and parishioners. Even Bishop Miller weighed in. The lengthy process of formulation reflects the seriousness with which those who participated in its crafting took the task, but a mission statement is not an end goal, an accomplishment. It is the articulation of who we believe we are called to be as Grace Church on Capitol Square. Now comes the greater task, living into and embodying that mission as we seek to live out and proclaim the gospel.

If there is a dominant theme in my ministry at Grace, it has to do with adapting to the rapidly changing context in which we live, both the larger culture, and more importantly, within Christianity and most particularly, within the Episcopal Church. The old certainties have given way and we are charting new territory. It’s tempting to look at the stone walls of Grace Church that have stood for more than 150 years on this corner of Capitol Square, the oldest building still standing on the square, and imagine that Grace will be here in 150 years as well. But members of our Buildings and Grounds Committee can tell you that the foundation on which those walls stand is not permanent.

The Master Plan process is one way of helping us move into the future. It is a courageous, even daring, move into the future. Our physical plant was designed with the ministry and mission needs of the nineteenth and twentieth century in mind. It no longer suits our purposes or needs. More importantly, it limits how we might engage the future and our neighborhood. It has shaped how we live in our community. The remark we so often hear from passers-by, “I walk past this building every day, but I’ve never been inside,” is more than sad; it reflects the priorities we have had—that this building exists for us and not for the city. Think about all of those marathoners or tri-athletes or visitors to Taste of Madison or Art Fair on the Square, who run or walk by the closed doors of Grace while we complain that there’s no parking. How can we connect our congregation’s life to the lives of all those who live, work, and play downtown? How can we share the good news of Jesus Christ on the sidewalks of Capitol Square, not just inside our red doors? The Master Plan and whatever renovations result from it will be a failure if we do not ask those questions as well as questions about accessibility, functionality, and attractiveness of our space.

While we work to strengthen and enhance the physical spaces of Grace Church, we also need to work on strengthening the ties of community that bind us together. Those of us involved in the Master Planning process were overwhelmed by the response and involvement of so many people in the early stages of providing input. That’s a sign of the vibrant life of our community. But we need to do more. We need to find ways of building opportunities for fellowship within the parish that go beyond coffee hour. We also need to work at deepening our relationships with Jesus Christ.

I was surprised to discover from the survey we handed out during worship services in September that more than 40% of those who responded have been attending Grace for less than five years. What are we doing to incorporate them into our parish? How are we providing opportunities to become disciples of Jesus Christ? These are urgent questions that come up again and again as I meet with newcomers who are looking for ways to get involved at Grace. I hope this will become one focus of the vestry’s activity in the coming year.

The full report (pdf) is available here: Rector’sReport_2012

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