Whether it is called the Annual Congregational Meeting, the Annual Meeting, or Vestry – that once a year special time is once again upon us. Most parishes across this country will, in the first several weeks of this new year, call together its members in an ‘annual’ meeting, to hear reports, set plans in place, and approve both statements and budgets. All across this land, parish clergy, Churchwardens, and Treasurers share an existential ‘shudder’ at preparing for annual meetings. It is fashionable to ‘groan’ at yet another forthcoming meeting of everyone in the parish.
And yet, it my experience (even though I play along and groan with all the others) that ‘Vestry’ meetings (as we call them in my Diocese) are usually pleasant, helpful and life-giving opportunities. They are a place where we look back with pride at what we have done, assess candidly where we are, and look forward with keen excitement about where we are headed. Virtually without exception, I have experienced annual meetings as places filled with grace and unbounded generosity – generosity not only of financial means but also generosity of spirit and wisdom. These annual meetings provide us with a chance to say thank you to those who so unstintingly support the mission of the church. They give us a moment in which we can express our own gratitude at all that we have been given, and the enormous privilege of sharing with others. Always remember that the church is one of the last places in our society where people freely and openly give of their substance and support – entirely – the mission of God in our midst – the mission in which we have the wonderful challenge of participating.
For the vast majority of our churches, we completely fund our own operations – no government grants, no ‘core funding’ from an external source, no pot at the end of the rainbow – just honest and generous souls who catch the vision, are ennobled by the experience, and are moved to contribute, many exceedingly generously, to what we are and what we do. What a gift is that!!!!
Even when things look bleak, and often they do, angels in our midst reach out and make sure that programmes are funded, ministries are resourced, staff are paid, buildings are beautifully and lovingly maintained, and God is praised, day after day and week after week. Are there times when more is needed? Absolutely! Are here not moment s when we wish that we could give more? Of course here are! Aren’t there folks among us who we think could do more or give more? Sure there are, and there always will be. But what a magnificent thing this ’giving’ is and how fortunate we all are to have what we have and to be able to give what we give.
My experience also is that these meetings – Annual Meetings, Vestry Meetings, Congregational Meetings, whatever they are called – invariably end up being moments when those of us called to leadership in the church have a wonderful opportunity to say ‘thank you’ so those who so generously support the church with their stewardship. Even if times are tough and things are not as ‘rosy’ as we might like them to be, remember that it is those who are there and the gifts they have given us which need to be lauded and celebrated – it is not the time to lament over who is not there or how much has not been given. Rather, it is a time for upbeat optimism and profound thanks!
May all those meetings be sunny and bright; may a real spirit of thankfulness prevail; may exciting ministry continue to be generously undergirded. As Simeon says in this season of Candlemas: For mine eyes have seen your salvation….a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.