"A Year in Review: A Light in the Darkness", Remarks from the Annual Parish Meeting by the Rev. Miles Brandon:
"A Year in Review: A Light in the Darkness", Remarks at St. Julian's Annual Parish Meeting by the Rev. Miles Brandon, Vicar, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church:
I want to share a few reflections on what we have accomplished together in this year of tremendous challenge…and tremendous opportunities to be…to really be the church…to love all well…to connect and learn and worship and serve in new ways that we might not have ever even tried or conceived of outside this pandemic…the isolation and division and disease and physical distance that together we have faced. It is for times such as these that we, the Church, exist, and I believe we have answered the call of this season resolutely, faithfully…"growing in relationship, loving all well, and discovering intimacy with Christ" in new, deeper and transformative ways.
So here are a few of the things we, together, not me…by a longshot…but we have accomplished together in 2020.
1. We began the year by suffering the loss of one of our own children, Caroline, who we love and adore. And though paling in comparison to the enormity of her loss and just beginning to address the grief and years that will be required to put the pieces back together, we honored her life at the largest service ever held at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church which they generously leant us, demonstrating the great love Caroline inspired and her family continues to inspire in so many; we fed hundreds of grieving loved ones; we promised to indeed never forget Caroline and have not; we loved and cared for her loved ones; we offered counseling and a safe space to grieve for her friends young and old…and we have continued to love on her family as they continue to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Being ourselves the agents and an expression of God who is entirely present in that very same valley…always with us.
2. We met the pandemic head on…following the direction of our bishop…we moved our entire church online…pastoral care, spiritual formation, worship and outreach…and our attendance and participation actually increased. Hundreds and hundreds of phone calls, emails and text were sent to stay connected and provide for the social/emotional needs of our community. We created multiple surveys to solicit feedback on our work, which were highly supportive, and then used them to evolve our COVID response along the way. We formed 3 task forces: St. Julian’s Forward, which has met almost every week since March, to address health and safety concerns and developed a plan, both approved and applauded by our diocese, for resuming in-person worship in the fall…and we hope again in the next few weeks. We developed a Technology task force who visioned, purchased, and installed the tech needs to offer worship from church with a very high production value. We developed a Connections task force to check in regularly with every family in the church to be sure we remained connected, met needs, and shared important information. I will give thanks for each of the people involved in these task forces later in the meeting by name. And the result has been a church that has thrived and grown in number, financial giving, and spiritual wellness through this most difficult season. We successfully returned to limited in person worship for 3 months with no community transmission of the disease, hosted a baptism, and developed a robust rsvp and consent system to make this all possible. In addition to worship, our growing fluency using tech has also created opportunities to develop our pastoral care ministry with consistent and healthy participation in our living compass wellness circles and support groups for healthcare workers, teachers, and homeschooler. Our Thursday night Women’s Ministry has thrived in COVID and been a needed support system for many, as has our Women’s Bible Study. Our Student Ministry has also stayed deeply connected through weekly online gatherings. And, I think we had our most beautiful Christmas Pageant ever led by Jennifer Cowles and Katie Saunders that has been viewed hundreds of times. Jennifer has worked faithfully to provide weekly children’s chapel each week online without missing a beat and recruited wonderful leaders, Jenny Warfield and Jen Philbrook, to continue weekly Christian Ed with our youngest church members. And she brought our VBS program fully online last summer that had a significant participation, when many churches simply canceled their 2020 summer programs. Our Outreach ministry, under Paige Suffredini’s leadership, has gotten very creative…having parades to collect food and supplies for new apartments for Foundation Communities. They have raised thousands of dollars for the Episcopal Church in Navajoland who has suffered more than most through this pandemic, and, led by John Suffredini and Jack Ely, they organized delivery of freezers and food to the Episcopal Church in Navajoland’s feeding program. They collected shoes for asylum seekers at the border and supported Charlotte Whitaker’s annual toy drive which moved online and was very successful (way to go Charlotte!). In response to the Killing of George Floyd, our adult spiritual formation leader, Tony Baker, and his team spent the summer months addressing racial justice and reconciliation, with classes swelling when thought leaders from the African American community were invited to join us. We doubled down our Public Advocacy work…hosting two town halls in the City of Austin and Williamson County with elected officials to significantly increase rental assistance, nearly $40m, for those who lost jobs due to COVID. And, we were very involved in leading the largest non-partisan GOTV effort in the state, which dramatically increased voter turnout in two traditionally low voter turnout districts in Williamson County…which made the front page of the Austin American Statesman. As you will see, we also had our most successful fall stewardship drive in our history, secured a $33k PPP loan, made application to have that loan forgiven, finished the year with a budget surplus, launched a “4th Year Pledge to Good Soil” Campaign, and, under Justin Sutherland’s leadership, communicated with the congregation more regularly and transparently about our finances that ever before.
3. Lastly, in 2020, at the very beginning of the year after the diocese placed their years long attempt at identifying property back into our hands, I formed a small real-estate task force who identified a piece of land for a permanent home found by Laura Tomaszewski. We worked with diocesan attorneys to develop a contract that was signed; completed a building program for a phase one building project that included about 100 of our members; formed a closing task force who meets weekly to oversee the work of our consultant Brian Birdwell who is leading the closing process; successfully rezoned the property with the City of Cedar Park; negotiated responsibility of the development of a water line required by the city with the land owners; and have cleared most of the significant hurdles before our closing on the land in the late summer. And really, I am not exaggerating when I say this, I am just scratching the surface.
And in conclusion, I want to reiterate what I said at the beginning…this was a WE effort and not a ME effort…and I am going to try and give everyone the gratitude they deserve for their good and Godly work and ministry this year as we move through this meeting today…but there are 3 people in particular, who partnered with me this year, and whose tireless efforts, kindness, wisdom, and dedication…not to me…not even to this special church…but faithfulness to God in Christ...allowed and empowered us to be the church…for these very day for which we were called into being. And, they are Bea Smith, Jack Ely, and the Rev. Jonathan McManus-Dail. And really a fourth, who worked more behind the scenes…the one keeping me upright and encouraged and empowered and confidant…and this has been no small task and been true, not just in 2020, but really from when we first dreamed of St. Julian’s to this day…and that’s Ashley my wife. You’ve never had just a vicar…you have always had a partnership...helping cast and lead the vision. I am so thankful for each of you…and I hope you will all join me now, in your favorite zoom way, in showing your gratitude for each of them as well.