I decided this year I would do something different for our annual meeting.  I am going to give most of my remarks as priest in charge in this sermon rather than at the meeting itself.  It is my hope that more of you will hear them and meditate on them.  If the business of the church isn’t showing the work of the kingdom and gospel, we might as well all go home.

Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

What an amazing reading from our gospel today.  It is perfect for an annual meeting, especially one where we have so much to celebrate. Fishing can be hard work.  My dad always had an old, beat up, cabin cruiser that he puttered around with.  Any weekend when the weather was good, he could be found out at the dock at sheepshead bay in Brooklyn working on his boat. Sometimes I would get to go fishing with him.  That usually meant a box of Dunkin Donuts or perhaps pancakes at McDonald’s for breakfast.  And I admit to you, that those two things were two of the reasons I went.  I didn’t much like fishing, except that it was a chance to be with my dad.  I did like that.  Donuts and pancakes were a nice bonus that kept my mind off of worms and baiting hooks.  There were even times when I caught more fish than my dad; I have always wondered if those days were “fixed” so that I would catch more.  Now when my mother went, it was a different story; she used leftovers as her bait; hotdogs, meatloaf, chicken… It didn’t matter; she brought it and threw it out into the water.  When she came fishing she always caught the most fish.  My poor father.

Anyway, what I learned from my mother’s unorthodox fishing habits was that you have to use what you’ve got to fish.  It worked for my mother and it works for us too.  Just like Jesus’ disciples we are to leave our physical and spiritual nets and follow him.  He will give us what we need in order to fish for people.  And let me say… that has been the story here at St. Michael’s.  I told you when I got here, that if God wanted a church at 909 Reel Road we would be given what we needed in order to be a community of faith for ourselves and for those whom we hadn’t met yet.  And there have been times when I really wondered if we had all lost our minds by still being here.

Let me share with you some numbers, and first say that numbers do not tell the whole story, but they do have meaning.  Let’s face it; even the church has to pay the plumber and the trash bill.  So we need money in order to minister.  For pledge year 2021, right smack in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic, our total amount of pledged income was $87,308.  The vestry and I were sweating it just a bit, and thankfully we had some money in the bank to help.  And, our diocese was quite generous in alleviating some costs that year.  In pledge year 2022, our pledged income was $118, 452.  Much better.  In pledge year 2023, it was $133,920.  Now.  2023, the year that we have just passed has been an amazing year for so many reasons.  The diocese gave us a grant for $40,000 to replace the income we had lost during the last three years due to covid.  That restored our bank balance to something less frightening.  We had a Strategic welcoming grant for $8,000 to do our floors and clean our carpets and some other things.  We continued our women’s study group to talk about the Radical Hospitality that the gospel demands of those in the kingdom.  Sunday bible study and worship was amazing with our praise team crowing. There were donations of food, clothing, and toiletries to Longview community ministries.  We began the work of looking for our next group ministry – and our missions committee is working on going to area meetings to see who we might partner with to take care of veterans and the homeless in Longview, especially perhaps where those two communities intersect.  Wednesday night fellowship has been a regular part of our week sometimes having as many as 25 people during the summer.  I have taken on a new job as area missioner to the smaller congregations around us, with some of you coming with me on these trips to meet new people and to make sure I get to where I need to be…Because, me

In the gospel of John it says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  A professor of mine in seminary said that God did not just dwell and casually hang out with us, but the sense of dwelt was one of pitching one’s tent in the community to establish the close relationship that Jesus would have with all of us.  His tent pitching was one of complete giving of himself to the everyday life of the world that he loves so much.  I want to say to our family who has come to us from Woodland Christian Church, thank you for pitching your tent with us.  I know the pain of leaving a church that you love and I am so grateful for the relationships that brought you here.  No longer are you part of our extended family, you are just “us” now.  I am so incredibly grateful for you and your willingness to trust and love us.  Now we just love each other and what a beautiful thing that is.  Now if I could just get y’all to mix up the seating a little.

So… Here’s a few more numbers to celebrate.  Our promised pledges for this year?  $154,580.  For the first time in many years we are able to add a line item for major repairs.  We are in the process of fixing the foundation of the Joshua House so that we might attract a new ministry into that space.  And here are my favorite numbers…the diocese defines a small church as a church with an average Sunday attendance of 50 or less. So going into 2023, our average Sunday attendance was 48.  Definitely respectful coming out of all the covid mess.  We were back on track to numbers at least close to when I go here in 2019.  So for 2024 reporting numbers, congratulations, St. Michael’s.  You are no longer a “small church”.  Average Sunday Attendance going into 2024 is 54.  That’s a big deal.  What excites me about THOSE numbers is that it means that for the most part, when people visit, they tend to stay for a spell.  It means that our quirky way of being church is meaningful to at least some.  It means we are doing something right.

In a meeting I was at recently, someone asked if the rest of us would help them with a retreat because they didn’t feel equipped to do it.  The facilitator of the group said, “you have all that you need to do this work”.   That is a powerful message for all of us.  In our gospel today Jesus calls fishermen, men who worked hard to keep their families fed; Jesus called ordinary people to do the work of the kingdom, and he calls us, ordinary people to do the work of the kingdom, to spread the gospel in what we do for others.  I am so very proud of this congregation. I am humbled and proud to be its priest and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us this year.  New ministry opportunities are ahead of us.  God has shown his faithfulness in helping us through some really tough years; now we are equipped with faith, hope, and love, to go forth from this place to do kingdom work in the world.  We have all that we need.   Thank you Jesus for calling us by name and showing us your incredible faithfulness.  May we use the gifts you have given us wisely, so that we might further the work of your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.