-- Ephesians 1:8-12
GOD’S WORK, OUR HANDS
by the Atonement Praise Band
Isn’t it crazy how we get a little lazy when we’re running out of energy
Then all of a sudden the Lord shows up to show us how things could be
We leave our boats behind and go off to find the way of generosity
CHORUS: When we’re doing God’s work with our handsWe’re doing and pursuing God’s work with our hands, it’s God’s work, our hands
Isn’t it funny when we’re running low on money how it causes such anxietyIt makes us so pathetic that we can’t be sympathetic to our wayward neighbor’s plea
But the hungry and the thirsty are filled with grace and mercy when they’re given God’s own currency
Come to the water, every son and daughter, and get what you need for free
We look around at the country and town, people don’t understandWe give them a surprise and we open up their eyes when we lend them a helping hand
Did you ever see how you can grow a tree when you plant a little mustard seed
The birds of the air make their home in there and God gives them all they need
Isn’t it a wonder how things work out according to the prophecy
The gifts of God’s Spirit are all poured out on people like you and me
We’ve heard it before: the church is not a building -- the church is people. It seems in the last few years, we’ve been worrying about our building, focusing on our building, and spending lots of money on our building. The big story last year was getting the renovated front of the building nearly finished (there are still a few finishing touches left to be done). Not so this year. The big story in 2014 has been the people serving in ministry here at Atonement. People have been stepping up and stepping into new positions of leadership. There are some new faces filling important ministry roles, and some new people jumping into ministry with both feet.
One of the most time-consuming and central roles in a congregation is that of treasurer. Our new treasurer, Carol Rothgeb has made a huge impact this year, bringing confidence and clarity to our church finances. Concerns about the state and accuracy of our books have been put behind us thanks to a financial audit and to Carol’s many hours of work reconfiguring the whole layout of our finances. She has spent hours researching different financial institutions and the products they offer in order to find the most appropriate and secure places for us to have our savings. Improvements have been made all the way around, not the least of which in the organization and ease of understanding the treasurer reports.
Our long-standing financial secretary, Donna Averill, heads to Texas this month to be near her daughter. Year after year, through many challenges and changes, Donna has faithfully led the process of ordering the envelopes, counting the money, and reporting on the churches weekly income. In addition to this, she has been in charge of the Time and Talent surveys. Her smile, dedicated heart and yes, even her stubbornness will be greatly missed. Taking over for Donna, Jamie Bartell will be the new financial secretary and Robin Boyd has been working for several months now coordinating Time and Talent. Our thanks to both of them for their willingness to serve and to help fill Donna’s big shoes.
We’ve also seen the face of new member Dick Lambert working hard. You may have seen him with a camera in hand, taking pictures of people and places in the church for the newsletter. After filling in for Carol Reams as newsletter editor when she was on vacation, Carol was so impressed with the job he did that she asked him to take it on for good. Dick has told me he wants to make the newsletter the best it can be, which he feels means using ample pictures and keeping the articles short and readable. Thanks, Dick, for tackling this big job.
New leaders are in place for some of our ministry teams as well. Carol Reams has been coordinating the prayer ministry this year. We had several conversations and a luncheon to discuss possibilities for ways that team could promote and lead prayer in the congregation. They are meeting regularly, and have many good ideas for possible prayer projects.
They are looking at more than simply being the “food committee” of the church, but actually coordinating some activities and programs that will give us all chances to get to know each other better. Karen Erickson, who joined Atonement recently along with her husband Paul, has volunteered to lead a resurrected caring team. There are many people excited about this, and many who have said they are willing to help, so I am really looking forward to seeing the directions this will take this year.
Atonement members are also taking on roles beyond our congregation. You may remember that our own Scott Giesking is helping the Tampa Conference of our Florida-Bahamas Synod with their communications. At this year’s annual conference gathering, our own Nils Lenz was voted conference vice-president. I wonder when he’s going to get back at me for nominating him? (Just kidding, Nils…)
He is the head of the reconstituted Building Team. This is the group which is working to design a new multi-purpose building that we’ve been raising money for through the capital campaign. Many people have remarked that it’s hard raising money when we don’t know exactly what this new building is going to look like, or what it’s made of, or what the layout is and what’s going in it. To help answer those questions and get us ready to begin construction once the campaign is over, Terry and the Building team have been engaged in conversations with ministry leaders and other members. They will be bringing possible layouts and bids before the congregation in a few months.
In addition to all these new volunteer leaders, we’ve also added a staff member this year. For me to begin to step back from full involvement with the praise band, it was clear last year that we were going to need to hire someone with more experience and musical training. God led us to Kenneth Watts, a man who already leads several community ensembles, church choirs, and musical groups. Even with his very full schedule, he was excited about working with us and the praise band was impressed with his array of talents. He will not only be directing, but also singing with the group, and occasionally adding some flare with trumpet or tambourine. Not only are we back on track with the 8:30am service, but we will be adding a Christmas Eve service, led by the praise band, at 4pm on Dec. 24. We are pleased to welcome Kenneth to the team.
Ministries moving forward
Some long-term projects made considerable progress this year, especially our columbarium and capital campaign ministries. The columbarium was placed late last year as a final resting place for ashes. After many months of wrangling over words to get the paperwork right, the niches are now available for purchase and inurnments will be starting soon.
The capital campaign celebrated its first anniversary in February with an impressive talent show called “Acts of Atonement.” Another is being planned for the second anniversary, this coming February. The capital campaign is nearing the $150,000 mark, which is ¾ of the way to the initial goal of $200,000 and ½ way to our “miracle goal” of $300,000 by the end of three years. With the new “treasure hunt” program, everyone is encouraged to find valuable items in their homes that they can turn into cash donations toward the campaign. This new building will be the biggest project our congregation has done together, so let’s keep making the capital campaign a priority for our special giving.
Sunday school made big strides this year as a whole cadre of volunteers responded to Jan Gerle’s plea for help. She had been doing most of the teaching by herself, and with more children showing up it was not possible to continue that way. Fortunately, she now has enough help that she has been able to sit in the worship service on Sundays and share some of the responsibilities, like Children’s moments, with others. This group of volunteers will provide a strong foundation for a Christian education team that will meet next year and look at ways to strengthen our faith formation program. We also had an awesome Day Camp this year. Even though the Lutheran camp was struggling with changes in administration and we weren’t sure until late in the year just what week we were going to be able to hold it, children showed up in record numbers and most of it was paid through generous scholarships bought by members.
At the same time that our numbers of younger children are growing, the youth leaders are dealing with a big drop in the number of older youth among our Atonement membership. With most of the last few years’ youth group members graduated, that leaves just a few available for youth meetings and other events. Still, they are planning a trip for next July to the National ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. Stay tuned for more info on that.
Our condolences to Scott Giesking, whose mother Alice passed away a few weeks ago. Scott had been keeping admirable focus on his duties as council president despite his mother’s progressively ailing condition. He has stepped aside for the rest of the year, and Julie Kaufmann has graciously stepped up to lead the council and annual meeting.
My areas of focus in 2014
My biggest project this year was working with the Vision team to update and refine our congregational vision. The vision is our planning document, and the previous version was put together in 2009. How amazing it was to look back at it and see all the many items that we had accomplished since then, and to realize what a different congregation we are now. Today we have new opportunities that have come to us through new members, through changes in the community, and through successful ministries like WELCA and the food pantry.
In order to collect the ideas and insights of our members and the desires and dreams of our ministry teams, the Vision team conducted a number of events this year to stir up thought and invite prayerful input to the new vision. We invited people to accompany us to the synod assembly in Orlando, where a series of workshops had been opened to the general public. We put together a cross of ministries to raise awareness of what kinds of things go on at Atonement and where the biggest needs are. We had a special emphasis on September 7, God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday, with a luncheon after the service, followed by a session of asset mapping. The asset mapping took place in the fellowship hall, where people sat together at tables and answered a series of questions on post it notes. Once everyone’s notes were posted all over the walls, each group brainstormed what new ministries and events could come out of their collected ideas. The results became part of the new vision.
Our new bishop, Bob Schaeffer, was also encouraging congregational planning this year. He asked all congregations to report on where they stand with their own planning processes, and we of course were ahead of the game, having already started to work on Vision 2015. The synod distributed planning guides to all congregations, and we lifted a page from that particular book when we organized a community leaders forum in October. Representatives of the business, health, political, and law enforcement communities were all present to dialog with the vision team on strengths and needs or our community, as well as how the community perceives us at Atonement. I found it interesting that despite our small size, there’s a perception that Atonement is a wealthy congregation that is able to mobilize considerable resources to accomplish things. I remember a story about a little boy who defeated a guy named Goliath, and what that story says about the power of faith.
The Vision document has been included as the previous post in this blog, and I hope everyone takes the time to read it and ask where your place might be in that future we are imagining. New horizons have been lifted up for all members and leaders to consider, along with projects that would fall into the areas served by specific ministry teams. Each ministry team is being asked to take up their list, to discuss and prioritize each task, and to brainstorm with the council how best to accomplish them. Some teams may end up handing tasks off to another group, or they may want help starting a new group to get certain things done. Pastor and council stand ready to assist however we can.
Following on the success of last year’s OUT-WORD Bible study, I spent a couple months working up a new DVD-based Bible study. This time, the topic was the book of Revelation, and the images that are portrayed in John’s visions. A group has been going through it, and I hope it has given them some new insights about this most difficult book. Both this set, Revelation: Prophecy Remixed, and the previous Bible study Your Spiritual Survival Kit are available if you would like to try hosting a 6 or 7 week home Bible study group.
Weddings have also played a big role in my year. In addition to weddings at Atonement and Duane and Kay’s vow renewal, a fellow pastor asked me to perform his wedding. I spent a cheerful Saturday in Lakeland performing the ceremony for my friend, Rev. Robert Wise and his new bride, Donna. I also had a dear old friend invite me to his wedding, so Susan and I made the long plane ride to Seattle, then drove up to Vancouver, British Columbia to be join the celebration. When Alex Lenz got married in South Carolina, 16 of our Atonement members were able to be present for that. For those who couldn’t make it, we had them on speakerphone Sunday morning, so the rest of the congregation was able to offer best wishes to the happy couple.
In my personal life, 2014 has been a big year. With my younger son Brian graduating and my older son transferring from Pasco Hernando Community College to USF, we now have two children in college at the same time. It has been challenging logistically and financially, but it’s nice to be able to say that both boys are working, which helps a lot. Brian has been giving music lessons through Bigel and Notables music stores. George works down the street from our house at the Marathon station on 54. With George working Sundays, we’ve missed him in church. Susan also made another trip north this year to be with her grandmother in Michigan as she turned (gasp) 100 years old.
All in all, 2014 has been a wonderful year. Atonement continues to make big strides and move toward new horizons. My love and thanks to all of you Atonement members and ministry leaders. You have all been a huge blessing to us, and to your church family at Atonement. Thanks go to all of you for all you do, but most of all to the God who gives us all things, and His Son Jesus, whose love we share – the One in whose name we have hope, strength, and perseverance. As we continue doing God’s work with our hands, may the Holy Spirit bless you and may you grow in grace as you make big strides in your own walk with the Lord!