A Report from the Sr. Pastor – October 2016

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The Charge Conference of the City Road Chapel United Methodist Church was held on Tuesday, October 18 at 6 p.m. The Charge Conference is the annual meeting of church leaders with our denominational representative (currently, the Rev. Harriet Bryan, Superintendent of the Nashville District) to review our ministry in the past year and prepare for the coming year through the election of church leaders and looking at staffing. Part of the meeting includes reports from our pastors, and the following is my report for 2016:


Our Vision

To be a community of disciples of Jesus Christ
committed to growing in Christ and sharing God’s love
leading us to make a difference in Madison

 

Dear City Road friends and Reverend Bryan,

The United Methodist Book of Discipline requires that all appointed clergy submit a report to the annual Charge Conference regarding “…the state of the church and an account of pastoral ministry it relates to ¶340 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.” While any written report is inadequate to the task of fully reflecting the nature of God’s work in the world through a congregation, this is my attempt to paint a picture of what God is doing in our midst, as well as offering a report of my work here at City Road.

As is my normal practice, I’ve taken some time to review last year’s report and I confess that many of the things that I reported last year seem like they are from far in the past. At this time last year, I was reporting on the work of a strategic mapping team (which was adopted by the Church Council) regarding our mission and focus. That mission understood that part of our future trajectory would include creative partnerships with other organizations working together to carry out God’s work in Madison. During the past year some of those partnerships have come to fruition, including our relationship with the Metro Nashville Homelessness Commission and the Society of St. Andrew (who both now have offices in our building. During the past year we have explored our relationship with our area homeless population through providing emergency shelter space during the coldest days of the winter, and opening a day shelter for folks to get out of the cold. Certainly, there are other partnerships that I mentioned in last year’s report that didn’t work out, but in exploring these options we continued to engage in discerning God’s desires for our church.It’s been an interesting year. Since I last reported, we have borrowed $600,000 to replace the heating and cooling system in the new education building, and then went through a major capital funds campaign to work toward repaying that debt, being able to pay off $250,000 of our loan, and continuing to raise money to ultimately

It’s been an interesting year. Since I last reported, we have borrowed $600,000 to replace the heating and cooling system in the new education building, and then went through a major capital funds campaign to work toward repaying that debt, being able to pay off $250,000 of our loan, and continuing to raise money to ultimately pay off the entire debt in just a few years. Since I last reported, we have had staff transitions in our office manager position and our music director. We have seen our Shadetree ministry to community children reconfigure itself and move to a new location, and are excited about the possibilities for that work. Our community meal has continued and we’ve seen a recent uptick in the number of persons being served. God has been faithful in many, many ways.

And yet, I would be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge that there is a sense of anxiety running through the congregation about the current state of our church. The numerical decline that has been present for many years has continued. We have seen several friends and families transition to other congregations that more clearly meet their needs programmatically, geographically, or theologically. With the decline in people attending there is anxiety about our ability to meet our financial obligations. And, seeing the continuing decline, there is uncertainty about the future direction of our church.

The Trustees and the Finance and Staff Parish Committees have been active in making sure that we are good stewards of the resources given us. The current situation of the church has led them to propose staffing changes to reflect the financial realities we face. As such, we will be discontinuing our youth ministry position with the 2017 budget (January) and will be discontinuing our associate pastor position at the change of the conference year (July 2017). These were difficult decisions to make, and are driven solely by financial concerns and not by missional ones.What this means, however, is that more than ever City Road Chapel MUST become a lay led

What this means, however, is that more than ever City Road Chapel MUST become a lay led congregation in order to move forward. We have cut our staff to the bare minimum, and any programs or projects to emerge will require all of us working together to make sure they happen. Our future is completely tied to our ability to rise to new levels of cooperation and creativity as we discern God’s vision for our church, and then work to make that vision a reality. NONE of us will be able to sit back and coast, thinking that someone else will pick up the slack. If we are unable to pick up the mantle and carry out God’s mission in tangible ways, then City Road’s future prospects are limited at best.I know that there are concerns among some about my leadership of the church, and I encourage you to be in conversation with the members of the Staff Parish Relations Committee about those concerns. This has been a hard year as we’ve functioned for much of the year without an office manager and your pastors have had to take care of many administrative tasks, leading to our dropping the ball in other areas. As we shrink our staff, the demands will only increase, and there will be a limit to what the pastor can accomplish. I make no claim of having all the answers for the future of City Road or any special hotline to God about his desires for our church. What I know is that it is important for us to maintain a Wesleyan influence in our community, and that the current demographics of our neighborhood demand that we take seriously the needs of our neighbors. The Wesleyan approach to faith and our commitment to taking seriously Christ’s teaching from Matthew 25 to feed the hungry and clothe the naked has been what City Road Chapel has been about for many years, and those are the things (I believe) upon which our future is built. God’s church is not built on programs, buildings or the charisma of the pastor. The foundation of God’s church is the belief that God is at work in our midst, that God is not finished with us yet, and that we have the power to make disciples and transform the world if we will lay down our desires to follow Jesus wherever he leads us.

I know that there are concerns among some about my leadership of the church, and I encourage you to be in conversation with the members of the Staff Parish Relations Committee about those concerns. This has been a hard year as we’ve functioned for much of the year without an office manager and your pastors have had to take care of many administrative tasks, leading to our dropping the ball in other areas. As we shrink our staff, the demands will only increase, and there will be a limit to what the pastor can accomplish. I make no claim of having all the answers for the future of City Road or any special hotline to God about his desires for our church. What I know is that it is important for us to maintain a Wesleyan influence in our community, and that the current demographics of our neighborhood demand that we take seriously the needs of our neighbors. The Wesleyan approach to faith and our commitment to taking seriously Christ’s teaching from Matthew 25 to feed the hungry and clothe the naked has been what City Road Chapel has been about for many years, and those are the things (I believe) upon which our future is built. God’s church is not built on programs, buildings or the charisma of the pastor. The foundation of God’s church is the belief that God is at work in our midst, that God is not finished with us yet, and that we have the power to make disciples and transform the world if we will lay down our desires to follow Jesus wherever he leads us.

This isn’t easy. All the signs seem to point toward decline and despair. And yet, as Jesus reminded his disciples on his way to the cross, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid . . . I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” The most common reminder in the scriptures is to not be afraid, for God is with us. Things may look bleak, and we may think we are on the road towards death. Yet we worship one who is all about bringing forth life out of death. We have to decide if we really believe in the promise of the resurrection. If not, then the future prognosis for City Road Chapel is bleak.

I am trying to the best of my ability to be faithful to God’s call in my life to preaching and teaching God’s word, administering the sacraments, and facilitating the order of the church as specified in my ordination. I recognize that I have gifts in some areas, and failings in others (for which I ask your forgiveness). I also acknowledge that the demands of family (the care of my father and daughter) have gotten in the way sometimes of my ability to be as present to you as I would like. I have been working to simplify my life, cutting out some of the other activities in my life that created time pressures.One of the things that I continue to need to add is a more robust schedule of professional growth and spiritual renewal. While I was engaged in several United Methodist related activities last year, these tended to be more focused on work than on learning about and growing in my love of God. I am scheduled to attend a workshop in November with Brian McLaren about some of the cultural transitions the Church is facing today. I am also committed to scheduling a week-long monastic retreat in the coming months focused on spiritual renewal and worship planning.

One of the things that I continue to need to add is a more robust schedule of professional growth and spiritual renewal. While I was engaged in several United Methodist-related activities last year, these tended to be more focused on work than on learning about and growing in my love of God. I am scheduled to attend a workshop in November with Brian McLaren about some of the cultural transitions the Church is facing today. I am also committed to scheduling a week-long monastic retreat in the coming months focused on spiritual renewal and worship planning.

We are currently engaged this month in thinking about a love that is bigger than us. That, my friends, is where our focus must live – in the amazing and magnificent love of God that is never failing. God’s love is big enough to bridge any differences we may have, and it’s wide enough to welcome all sorts of people into our midst. As a favorite songwriter once said:

The best thing I can tell you is God loves you. I can say that from my heart. I know that it’s true.
The best thing I can tell you is God loves you.He sent His only Son as living proof.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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