Grace Notes

VOLUME 2, NUMBER 36, JULY 31, 2011

Rethinking Mission and Ministry in Westwood and Bergen County
This I was reading an essay by Ray Mayhew called "Embezzlement: The Corporate Sin of Contemporary Christianity?" The essay raises a hard, but important issue for the Church. Pastor Mayhew writes that in the patristic period the practice of the Church was to give almost everything it collected in offerings not to the upkeep of the clergy or church buildings or program or to the institution of the Church, but to those in need. Today the average church spends about $85 out of every $100 collected for the internal needs of the Church, but in the patristic Church almost all of the money collected was given to the poor.

Pastor Mayhew's big question was, as the title suggests, whether by spending money collected in church for the maintenance of the institution (which really isn't giving it away so much as paying for services since we all get something out of it—pastoral care, pastoral counseling, facilities for Sunday worship and Christian formation, etc., and some of us get job with compensation) instead of using it to support the poor, who are really Christ for us (Matthew 25:40, 45), we aren't in fact stealing something that belongs God.

The suggestion of Pastor Mayhew may sound extreme, but, with some awareness that I am not writing in my own self-interest since I am part of the institution being kept up, I think he raises a good point. The Old Testament makes provision for the upkeep of a priesthood, but the New Testament doesn't say anything about giving money for the upkeep of the Church, but only to take care of orphans, widows, and the like. Aren't our budgets (from the parish level to the Diocesan level to the whole Episcopal Church) inverted from what they ought to be? Shouldn't most of our money actually be given way for God's work among the poor? Really given away? Shouldn't we stop even thinking of it as our money?

I write this not because I want us to make a drastic change in how we budget (though it wouldn't hurt us to really pray over this question), but because it intersects with another issue I've been thinking about for a while.

For some time I've thought that in our part of God's creation—in this corner of Bergen County, we spend even more time, energy and resources in maintaining institutions than the Church does in many other places because we have so many parishes and missions in such a small area. In itself having many congregations in a small area isn't a problem. What makes it a problem is the small size of each of these congregations and the problems our small size brings.

There are a half-dozen congregations within a very small driving range in District 9 (that part of the Diocese of Newark in which Grace Church finds herself). As of 2009, each of these half-dozen congregations had an average Sunday attendance of somewhere between 42 and 80—which means we are all at level where we struggle to keep staff paid and buildings working and so are (perhaps understandably) conservative with our time, energy or resources and tend to use much less than God might want us to use in caring for the poor. I don't think numbers are a great way to understand what's working and what isn't in a particular congregation, but as I look at the numbers, I ask myself, if these were two congregations instead of six and we weren't duplicating so much institutional spending of energy and resources, what kind of ministry and mission might we be able to do?

A few of you know that Annunciation, Oradell is now without a rector. I have reached out to the leadership of that congregation to begin a conversation about how we might be able to serve them and work with them in the weeks and months to come. I have also been talking to priests in our district for a while about how we might begin to think about sharing ministry and, thanks be to God, the priests in District 9 actually seem less concerned about competition than they do about being the Church and carrying on Christ's mission and ministry. There may be real possibilities to engage in more effective mission and ministry in this area in the future.

I don't know what the future holds for us, for District 9, or for the Episcopal (or any other) Church. I don't know what God's plan for us is. My prayer is that whatever it is, it will allow us to re-learn the stewardship and giving practices of the early Church and be more the Church God created us to be—like Christ, really giving ourselves away.

--Father Rhodes

MASS ON THE GRASS... On August 14 we will take our faith and worship outside of the four walls of Grace Church as a public witness to the community of our life and presence by celebrating Mass on the Grass at 10AM. This celebration will be one way that Grace Church will address the growing sense that our parish (and the wider Church) needs to make herself known to the community in which we live, worship and minister. After Mass we will enjoy a modest picnic of sorts and the Christian Formation Committee will explain their plans and begin to recruit for the first Messy Church event this fall.

FOOD FOR FRIENDS... Summer means that school is out. The kids may like this but parents who cannot make ends meet and who must depend on school breakfasts and lunches for their children's nutrition are pinched harder than ever. We may expect then an increase in the number of parents who must turn to places like St. Paul's Community Development Corporation Food Pantry, which receives our Food for Friends donations. St. Paul's especially welcomes high protein items, such as beans and canned meats. Otherwise, their wish list asks specifically for tuna, cereal, peanut butter, rice, coffee, and pasta. Alternatively checks may be drawn in favor of St. Paul's Community Development Corporation and marked Food Pantry. Please send checks directly to St. Paul's at 451 Van Houten Street, Paterson, NJ 07501. Thank you.

WANTED... Large wooden table that will seat 12 to 14 people comfortably for a newly planned conference room. Please speak with Chris Scott for more information confirming your donation.

Coffee Pots... We have been able to purchase two new coffee pots for use at coffee hour from the contributions you make to the "Sunshine Pot". Thanks to all who have so generously contributed to make this possible.

Thank You (1)... toLeslie and Tom Bisdale who have generously donated a case of wine to be usedfor Mass, a gift that is very much appreciated by all of us!

Thank You (2)... to Susan Thanisides who spent a big part of last Saturday weeding the flower beds on Harrington Avenue and on the corner and who brought flowers to make our public space more beautiful.

Ministers of the Assembly

July 31August 7
MP Officiant and LEM (8 am)Debbi GellerCharles Keil
Lay EucharisticCharles KeilJim Freeman
Ministers (10 am)Larry ToppinLeslie Bisdale
LectorLarry SundenMiriam Colwell
Intercessor (Prayers)Theresa PeterDaisy Toppin
Chief ServerIy OkunlolaDebbi Geller
AcolytesBunmi OkunlolaEmily Thomas
Debbi GellerJustin Hirstius
CountersJim FreemanAki Okunlola
Susan SchneiderJanet Delaney
Altar GuildBillie EvansDaisy Toppin
Theresa PeterLeslie Bisdale
Coffee HourMickey HafemannDaisy Toppin
Billie EvansTheresa Okunlola