More Than Just Numbers
Every year about this time all parishes in the Episcopal Church are required to submit something called the Annual Parish Report to their dioceses.
The four-page report focuses on two areas – membership and budget. We are asked how many members are in the congregation, how many baptized, how many confirmed. We list the number of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funeral during the past year. We tell how many people have joined the church and how many have left.
We report how many services have been held and what the average Sunday attendance is.
And then there’s the money. How much pledged income, how much income from other sources, how much invested income do we have? What is the budget?
And of course, since it is the church, all of these questions and computations follow arcane rules so cumbersome and complex that there is an 11-page booklet of instructions on how to fill out this four-page report.
Clergy have long lamented that numbers, while important, do not give the whole story about a parish. Growth and health are often things that cannot be told in quantitative ways.
As a response to that critique, this year we were asked to fill out a “fifth page” for the report, with three questions that required essays and narratives, not numbers.
I took the questions to the vestry for discussion. Although I wrote the essays, the content comes from our vestry. I’d like to share it with all of you.
1) Where is the joy and spiritual growth in your community?
When asked this question, vestry members immediately cited Adult Education (both Sunday and Tuesday mornings), Godly Play for our children, and sermons as sources of spiritual growth. We have a dynamic adult education program, with up to 50 people participating through the year. Both our Sunday morning and Tuesday classes cover a variety of subjects, all of which have at their heart the question of what it means to live faithfully in today’s world.
People also cited the many opportunities of service (see the question below) as another means of spiritual growth.
Joy is evident throughout our community. We see it in Sunday morning worship, the joy of music and prayer. We see it in special liturgies that recognize life’s milestones, such as the Blessing of the Backpacks and Blessing of New Drivers. We see it in our times of fellowship, such as coffee hour, Second Sunday breakfasts, foyer dinner groups, and special events. We see it in the care we have for one another in times of great joy and sadness.
2) How is the love of God expressed through your worshipping community to your neighborhood and the world?
We very intentionally try to serve our neighbor both locally and globally. Locally, we are active in Family Promise, an organization that serves homeless families. That means that four weeks a year our church becomes “home” for up to four families. They eat breakfast and dinner here, and sleep in our Sunday School rooms. It is very labor intensive, but we get some help from parishioners from Holy Innocents and St. Anne’s.
Other local services include a school supply drive every year for Path Academy, a DeKalb County charter middle school that serves the children of immigrants and refugees. We also regularly serve at Emmaus House and Holy Comforter.
Globally, we have a relationship with the Msalata Theological School in Tanzania. Every year during Lent we collect money to replenish what they call the St. Dunstan’s Medical Fund, which provides mosquito nets, glasses, and medicine for the community, as well as funding a nurse to serve the community’s needs. We have also paid for repairs to a well there.
In addition, we try to respond to immediate crises that arise in our country and the world. This year, we took up special collections for Trinity Church in Gatlinburg after the fires there and for the Bishop Tharp Institute in Haiti after the hurricane.
3) In what ways are people sharing their experiences of spiritual growth and joy beyond their worshipping community?
One of the most important ways we do this as a community is through our website. We invested the money to redo the site this year, and it is bringing new people to our community. On the website we share sermons, music, newsletters, and photographs – all with the hope of attracting new people to our midst. The site gets hits from all over the country. One recent sermon received more than 500 hits. In conjunction with the website, we keep an active Facebook page, which also spreads the news of our community far beyond our walls.
We also open our doors to different groups, including Mary and Martha’s Place, AA, and different musical events.
Vestry members also said they frequently told their friends about their church, letting them know that there are alternatives to Christianity beyond the stereotypical fundamentalist version of the faith that is so often portrayed as the norm.
Vestry members also cited church members’ participation in events such as the Women’s March on Washington and in Atlanta as examples of publicly living out our faith.
Thank You from Haiti
Thank you for your generous gift to assist in recovery from the devastation caused to BTI and the people of Les Cayes and Beraud by Hurricane Matthew. Your gifts have enabled us to provide food and clothing to students and families in need, to repair or reconstruct damaged structures on our campus, and to replace damaged computers and lost supplies. You have helped provide scholarships for many of our students, as well. It is difficult to imagine the conditions the South of Haiti experienced, and even more difficult to imagine our trying to recover without your assistance.
We so appreciate your support during our time of need. We will pray for you and hope you will continue to pray for us.
God bless you!
Rev. Dr. Kesner Ajax
Executive Director and Dean
Bishop Tharp Business and Technology Institute
Les Cayes, Haiti
A Holy Lent
The penitential season of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the joy of Easter, began on Wednesday, March 1. Here are some of the things we are offering this year to help you observe a holy Lent.
Daily Reflections – Two pamphlets of daily reflections are available in the narthex. A booklet published by Episcopal Relief and Development explores what it means to live faithfully in community. What can we do in partnership that we cannot do alone? A second pamphlet is “Living Well Through Lent 2017: Listening With All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind.
Hope Chests – In keeping with the theme of being in partnership, we will once more be collecting money during for the Msalata Theological School in Tanzania. Every year the school uses the money we spend (about $5,000) to replenish the “St. Dunstan’s Medical Fund,” which is used to buy mosquito nets, glasses, and medicine for people in the community. The money also pays for a nurse to come to the school for an hour a day, which is many people’s only access to health care. Take a Hope Chest on Sunday and bring it back full on Easter.
Stations of the Cross – Our Christian Education committee is sponsoring a church-wide project during Lent to make crosses, or other representations, of the Stations of the Cross. Each of the 14 stations reflects a moment in Jesus’ last journey from his arrest to his crucifixion. Information about the stations and art supplies will be in the parish hall throughout Lent. We invite you to choose a station and make a cross or other artistic interpretation. Choose a partner to work with, if you’d like.
Towards the end of Lent we will put the crosses along our nature trail. On Palm Sunday, during Sunday School, we will walk the stations, praying at each stop.
Adult Sunday School – The Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount. Jesus began his public teaching by laying out a blueprint of how his followers are to live, in a way that honors the kingdom of God, not the realm of the emperor. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes, telling us who is among the blessed in the reign of God. It’s not who his listeners expected – the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who seek justice, the compassionate, the pure in heart, the peace makers, and the persecuted. During Lent we will take a closer look at these teachings of Jesus that turn the world upside down, and discover what they have to say to us today.
Visit a Mosque Day
The Atlanta Muslim Community has organized a city-wide #VisitAMosqueATL day on Saturday, March 11, from 3-6 p.m. Area mosques will open their doors to the general public. Although most mosques are always open to the public, this is a chance for individuals and groups to enjoin in a casual setting with Muslims from their neighborhoods. The goal is to strengthen communication and understanding across communities and allow people of different faiths to get to know one another on a more personal level. You may check to see if a mosque near you is participating. Several from St. Dunstan’s plan to go to the Roswell Community Masjid, at 345 Market Place, Roswell, 30075. Parishioners Peg Maloney and Bob Trukenbrod have visited this mosque before and say that the imam is gracious and eager to engage in dialogue about our faiths.
The history of the Christian Church and the history of music are in many ways inseparable. Music became an integral part of Christian liturgies, and a great deal of the music of past centuries exists because of the church’s need for such music. During this Lenten season at St. Dunstan’s, some of our music will be selected from the traditions of the past:
- A choir anthem from the Middle Ages, a time of great creativity and energy in music for the church: “Sion, praise thy Savior singing” is No. 320 in our Hymnal 1982. The tune and the text came together sometime in the 12th or 13th century.
- Three Medieval hymns: “At the cross her vigil keeping…” (No. 159); “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle” (No. 166) and “Now, my tongue, the mystery telling,” both sung to the same chant melody known as “Pange lingua.”
The church also continues to support and inspire composers. Here are two selected examples from our Lenten anthems:
- A setting of John Donne’s 17th century poem “Wilt thou forgive that sin” (No. 140) by Kay Henckell Smith (d. 2011)
- “Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake,” a 16th century poem, set by David Ashley White (b. 1944)
At St. Dunstan’s, we think of our weekly Eucharistic gathering in two related ways: as a time set apart—a respite—from the noise and confusion of the secular world, and also as a living, relevant, testimony about the realities we all confront. Our goal is to be able to gain strength to go back out into the world “to do the work [God] has given us to do” (BCP 366). This is the context for the musical choices we make.
I don’t want our church music to be always stuck in the past, nor am I interested in modern musical trends for their own sake. Neither of these will automatically give us what we need from our music. But, some melodies and texts have stood the test of time, and others sing to the Lord a new song in powerful ways.
To get the full range of musical choices, consider including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services in your Holy Week schedule.
Our sympathy to Tom and Gwen Barnett on the January 23 death of Tom’s mother, longtime parishioner Norma Barnett.
Thanks to all who helped make the Shrove Sunday pancake breakfast a success! Special thanks to Claudia Gimson for organizing the event; to pancake chefs John Gimson, Connor Mark, Bob Wolfson, Alan Toney, and Mark O’Connell. And thanks to all who brought food, helped decorate, and stayed to clean up: Elizabeth Wong Mark, Mary Kathryn Wolfson, Bob Longino, Deb Dee, Sibley Fleming, Vivian Siggers, Joni House, Harriett Smith, Pam Weed, Lindsey Reece, Jackie and Reese O’Connell, Jessie Leyden, Lee and Gilda Morris.
New Americans Celebration
One important aspect of refugee ministry is to be a public advocate in support of those who come to our country fleeing persecution, war, and famine. Refugee assistance agencies are hosting a “New Americans Celebration” on March 7 at the State Capitol to educate our lawmakers about refugees. Everyone is invited to attend. Here are the details:
The New Americans Celebration is the annual day of education and outreach for refugees, immigrants and Georgia community members who support them. Every year we welcome more 200 volunteers to the Georgia State Capitol to learn about engaging with your legislators and to reach out to tell them why you feel refugees should continue to be welcome in Georgia.
Never been to the Capitol? Don’t worry! Each year, more than 60 percent of our volunteers are visiting the Capitol for the first time. We hold a pre-event training so everyone learns just how easy it is to tell their legislators about their support for refugees and immigrants in Georgia.
This year’s training will be held at Central Presbyterian Church at 201 Washington St SW, Atlanta, GA 30303 (across the street from the Capitol). Check in will begin at 7:45 a.m. with training kicking off at 8 a.m.
Pre-event training helps you learn how to find your elected officials, and how to better advocate when speaking with them.
After the training we will cross the street to the Capitol to take materials to and meet with lawmakers. The day will end with our third annual USCIS Naturalization Ceremony, to be hosted in the State Capitol Rotunda. The event will feature former refugees who will be sworn-in as U.S. citizens right in the heart of Georgia’s Capitol.
A Prayer for Lent
Forty days alone, a wilderness of thoughts,
tempting and inviting thoughts,
which could so easily have distracted you
from your task, your mission, your vision.
Yet you emerged, stronger and more attuned
to all that had to be done, despite a time constraint
that to our eyes would have seemed hopeless.
We too live in stressful times.
Demands are made of our time,
that leave so little
for the important things of life.
We are easily distracted in the wilderness of our lives,
by every call to go this way or that,
to turn stone to bread
leap from mountains, and do all that would keep us from the truth.
We listen to the voices of this world,
and ignore the one who endured all this and so much more,
and emerged triumphant, that we might not have to suffer so.
Forgive us, God,
when we get distracted from our task.
Forgive us those times when we try
to be all things to all people,
and fail to be anything to anyone. Amen.
Daylight Saving Time
Daylight Saving Time begins Sunday, March 12, at 2:00 a.m. Please remember to set your clocks forward one hour before you go to bed on Saturday night, March 11.