I’ve been the pastor here at St. Paul’s for just over 16 months, and a lot of things have changed over those months.
When we arrived to St. Paul’s in July of last year, our daughter Clementine was only 6 months old. She couldn’t say a word. She wasn’t crawling yet. We were still combing her hair in ways to hide her bald spots. Today, Clementine is different, and that’s a good thing. She has a favorite song, a favorite color, she goes down slides by herself, and this week she formulate her first sentence all on her own. She said, “I see snow.”
Before coming to St. Paul’s, I had no experience in being a lead pastor. I had been a youth pastor for 8 years. If you’re doing the math, that means some crazy pastor hired me, to be a youth pastor when I was only 20 years old. Before coming to St. Paul’s, I was only used to preaching at most, once a month. I had only ever done 2 memorial services, and one of them was for a gathering of 3 people. Today, I am different, and that’s a good thing. In my first year at St. Paul’s, I’ve performed 5 memorial services. I’ve formed sermons and sermon series that I pray God has used to inspire, move, and direct you to our loving Christ. I’ve held hands with people as we’ve listened to last breaths of their loved ones. I’m changed by St. Paul’s, and that’s a good thing.
Today, St. Paul’s is different, too, and that’s a good thing. If you’ve been a part of St. Paul’s longer than 20 years, then you know that this congregation has persevered and endured much more than any community should. Before we came to St. Paul’s, there was anxiety. The future wasn’t certain. Attendance and giving were slipping. There were even talk about going back to one service. Then, your insane District Superintendent, Kim Fields, decides to send you this 28 year old kid, with no lead pastor experience, who isn’t even ordained. Yeah, I could tell you were nervous. But when I came, I came and I hit the ground running, and you ran with me. We can make jokes about my age and the way I dress, but you all gave me so much more than a chance, you welcomed my family and me into your family. We joined together in ministry in this last year, God has moved in mighty ways, and St. Paul’s is different today, and that’s a good thing.
In this past year, we welcomed 42 new members. 7 transferred from other churches. 7 were new confirmands, 28 were new or renewed professions of faith. We celebrated 10 baptisms, 9 of which were adults and teens, and 1 was an infant. I know you’ve noticed, but our worship attendance is up 19.7% this last year. God has brought a number of new people into our community this last year, but we’ve also said goodbye to a number of friends and family this year. Some we have sent to other communities, whether across the state or across the country, where they will serve God and bless the world in new settings. Some we sent into the loving hands of our Lord and Redeemer. We rejoice in their love and example until we join them at the last. Today, the make up of our congregation is different, and that’s a good thing.
In whatever worship service you are a part of, there are people that you do not know. I encourage you to reach out to them. In this past year, we delivered over 80 mugs to first time visitors, usually in the afternoon of their first visit. I encourage you to reach out to someone you don’t know, invite them to lunch, share the hospitality and love that St. Paul’s is known for.
We’ve grown deeper as well. This fall, we added 3 new small groups to our existing Adult Sunday School and Bible Studies. Today, there are over 60 adults regularly engaged in a Small Group or Class.
We added to our staff this year, Sarah Kalkwarf, as director of Children and Youth Ministries. We made a few changes to our Sunday School Program. Last year we averaged less than 5 elementary aged children in Sunday School. This year, we have offered two Sunday Schools, during each service, and in the past two months, we’ve averaged 15 children between them. We expect this to grow, and I know it will. This moved around our service times, which we are always evaluating. It’s different, and that’s okay.
Our mission and service activities are as strong as ever. Giving and serving in many local and global ways. This past year we sent 14 people to Oklahoma for disaster relief, and supported teams to Nova Almeida, Brazil, and Haiti. In this coming year, we hope to send more people, both on domestic mission trips, and a trip to Brazil.
As we have grown in number, in faith, and in mission, we have also grown in finances. Today, St. Paul’s Finances are different, and that’s a good thing. We initially budgeted to bring in about $****** dollars in 2014 for regular operating budgets. By September of this year, we passed that number. That is not including any above and beyond giving to special missions or memorial funds.
Because of this difference, the Church Council gathered in August to amend the budgets to improve and repair parts of our physical church building. We repaired and refinished our roof, we’ve replaced broken windows, we replaced our worn out and inefficient furnaces, replaced our sanctuary chairs, we are in the middle of replacing carpet, and getting a new copy machine. This is just a short list of the bigger improvements to St. Paul’s. We are different today, and that’s a good thing.
But God is not done with us, church. Our services are full, our building is being cared for, so what is next? Where do we go now? God has certainly blessed St. Paul’s this year, but just as God blessed Abraham and Jacob, we know that this blessing is not for our own to hold on to; it is not for our benefit alone and prosperity. But God has blessed us to bless the world. God has blessed us to bless and transform lives in Idaho Falls and throughout the world. God has blessed us with new people, new life, and new vitality. And we are called, to give, bless, and change the world.
We are called to be an alternative community of Grace that holds open the door for all those who feel disconnected with God and a community of support. We are called to welcome and embrace those that feel unwanted and unloved anywhere. We are called to introduce them to our God who saves and strengthens. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And that is what we will continue to do.
God has blessed St. Paul’s, so that St. Paul’s can bless those who are not yet a part of St. Paul’s. So when you worship here, consider visitors and those who are not yet part of the community. When you serve at the food bank, make room for those who are not connected to serve along side you. When you gather in your small groups, make room and invite those who have no groups, small or otherwise. You are blessed to be a blessing for others.
St. Paul’s is different today, and that’s a good thing. God is blessing us. Let’s bless others. One of the biggest and best thing you can do for St. Paul’s is dream with God. What you hope for, will come to pass. If you are waiting for the ceiling to cave in, and for disaster to strike, it just might. But if you believe and dream and hope for God’s continual renewal and transformation of lives, then God will use you, and you better believe that will come to pass.
Thank you for all your hard work. I am so blessed to be a part of this community. I will not give up, let up, or slow down. Transformed lives are at stake. We are blessed to be a blessing. Thank you for being a part, and running this good race.TL;DR version: With God’s help, we are killing it over here. And we aren’t going to stop.