The Pastor’s Report
2011-2012 was the year, I think, when “the little church with the big difference” moved into higher gear in its attempt to live into our contemporary mission. As I look back over the year and think about the people who make it possible, I think of Marge Royle’s hours and hours and more hours(!) of service, Louise Stewart’s tireless efforts over many years, Conrad Reising’s faithful stewardship of our church finances (and Ginnie Keith’s of BASES), Lois Reising’s patient and persistent management of our publicity, and Darryl Haffner’s eternal vigilance. I speak for us all when I say that we thank God for the grace and generosity of these people and of all the anonymous others.
Much of what we accomplished during these past months is detailed in the President’s Report, but let me add a few words about the guiding principles that motivated our choices.
Worship: Efforts are always ongoing to develop new liturgies – with images, music and spoken word blended together – as a way of deepening our spiritual experience and of attracting new members. During Advent, we met weekly for morning prayers. During Lent, we had evening services on Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. There were festival services on Christmas Eve and Easter Morning. Several new multimedia meditations were added to our collection.
This year, the season of Creation included a dedication of breads for the world on World Communion Sunday, the fourth annual blessing of the animals, and performance of Paul Winter’s “Earth Mass.”
The Adult Christian Education Program continued in two ways. One was a Lenten group that met after church on the Sundays in March for a viewing and discussion of the PBS series, “The Bible’s Buried Secrets.” It was well received and the time slot seems like a good one for Adult Education programs. so we will continue the program.
The other was the expanded emailing of the Sunday prayer and sermon and it has also had a positive response. While it has become increasingly clear that church membership has become less and less a function of appearance of Sunday mornings, it is also clear that this doesn’t mean a weakening the ties that bind us to each other – or so people have indicated by sending back positive comments.
An Overview: On the joyful side, we were delighted to baptize Bryan and Colette Nigro’s new son, Landon James, on October 16th, 2011.
But on the sad side, we lost many friends and supporters in the calendar year 2011-2012: Anne Kreuder, Barbara Taylor, Jean Fried, June Kays, Marge Riso, Ruth Nuse, Ruth Skrips and Thelma Zukosky. We feel their loss keenly and in many ways. We remember them fondly and give thanks for the blessings they gave to us.
A Vision: We have become part of the new spirit of Christianity emerging in the world today. It is a Christianity that is often found in little churches like this one who become transformed by simple but profound practices like hospitality, concern for our neighbors and a desire to understand and practice our ancient faith in ways that work in our world today.
To this end, we are doing our best to focus on our outreach to the community. A meeting was held regarding ways to do this and little things are starting to change. For examples of just a couple, the Offertory on Communion Sundays now includes a basket of suggestions and we each take one and then do a special something for someone that month. On Christmas day, baskets of treats were shared with local businesses that were working on the day everyone else was enjoying.
So this is my prayer for our new year: may this little church make a big difference in the lives of all our people and also in the lives of the people we meet along the way.
BarbaraThe Rev. Dr. Barbara Ewton
Our journey of faith in 2011-2012 began with a deficit budget but with the conviction that we have an important mission and that if we concentrate on that mission, God will give us the resources we need. At the end of the year, we can look back and see how that is happening.
Our mission, I believe, is first, to be a special community of faith where everyone is welcomed and helped to believe that God loves each of us just the way we are, and second, to share that belief with the community and the world. Our big challenge, not just this year but into the future, is to find ways to let the community know about us and invite them to join us.
So let’s review some of what has been happening.
In Worship and Faith Formation
This past year was one of continuity in many good things. Barbara continued to inspire us with creative, multisensory worship, both on “regular” Sundays and during holidays and holy days. And the world’s most loyal choir of Gladys Singewald and Danny Taylor, along with organists Kim McLennon and Debra Courtright and her family continued to enhance worship with their music. On behalf of the congregation, I thank each of you for your efforts.
Our Services of Advent Peace continued. Our Lenten study series moved to Sundays after church where quite remarkably nearly everyone who attended worship stayed for a second hour, watching a fascinating DVD on Biblical archaeology, and discussing how what has been learned about those ancient times brings new insights into our faith today.
We need to continue to find ways to invite others to participate with us. This may involve changing the way we do some things to become more accessible. We’re learning that Sunday mornings are not the best times for everyone. And so Council is considering experimenting this summer with Sunday evening worship instead.
In Mission and Service
Jesus was clear that his disciples need to feed the hungry. In these difficult economic times, we have expanded our Thanksgiving food collection into an ongoing practice. Each week, when we shop for groceries we remember those who need help, and our food box grows. Also, on Super Bowl Sunday, our “souper lunch” raised funds for the Montclair Human Needs Pantry. On Christmas Day, we started what we hope will become a new tradition, as we delivered packages of cookies to people in Verona who work on Christmas so that others may celebrate.
Support for our project in Awka, Nigeria continued, mostly through sales of African crafts, as well as a “back-to-school” collection of school supplies. Pam DiPietro, Ginnie Keith and I staffed a booth this year at the Garden State GreenFest, selling recycled products from African and other developing nations. Not only do efforts such as this raise funds for our project, they also tell the community that our church is one that cares about others beyond our doors and also cares about the environment.
One of the major ways the church serves the youth in our community and increases our visibility is through the use of our building, for the Robin’s Nest II daycare and preschool, several Cub and Boy Scout troops, and our own BASES, providing Before and After School Enrichment for Students. Thanks especially to Arlene Toombs and Marlene Nigro for providing this important service for Verona families. In the next year, this service may expand to provide care for part of the summer, as well.
In Property and Grounds
Our church home is important, both for worship each Sunday and to the families who use it in the community programs we house. This year saw an unusual number of needed repairs, both major and minor. Significant work on the roof was needed to repair a leak over the Founders’ Room. Fortunately, a generous grant from the Central Atlantic Conference’s program for small churches in small towns covered the cost, for which we are very grateful. Leaks in various places including basement pipes pushed Council to start a campaign to add a water softener unit to the furnace to minimize future occurrences. The mild winter was kind to our utility and snow removal budget, providing the funds to cover other repairs.
In June, our new tenants, the Ragan family, moved into the manse, after is was vacant for nearly a year. Once people were using the building again, things started to break, usually at the most inopportune times. Darryl Haffner spent many, many hours at both the manse and the church fixing things, arranging for repairs, and purchasing a new dryer with the help of Pat Haffner, his purchasing assistant, and they both deserve our thanks. As a result, the manse is in much better shape and the church building continues to serve us all well. A set of motion-detector lights in the back parking area is the most recent addition, benefitting all who use the church at night, making it safer, and also saving energy.
Although the year began with a deficit budget, it ended with a few dollars in the bank. Welcoming the Ragan family as tenants in the manse in June certainly helped. However, generous members and friends made the difference. Also, the church was the main beneficiary of memorial gifts for Jean Fried, thanks to the thoughtfulness of the Fried family, for which we are all grateful.
Thanks also go to Conrad Reising who has completed his 5th term as Treasurer this year, juggling bills during some months with tight cash flow, but managing to get them all paid, while figuring how to save in some areas, as well.
In Membership and Evangelism
Like many other congregations, we have continued to see a decline in membership and attendance, due in part to a significant number of deaths in the family this year. We continue to try many things to get the word out about the welcome and support we offer all who would come. Lois Reising continues to keep the media informed of our activities, and this year Pam DiPietro distributed yellow door-hangers announcing our Easter service to Wedgewood residents.
We also have been active in seeking new ideas. I attended an Evangelism event in Detroit in November, and Barbara, Pam and I attended the New Jersey Association Vitality Workshop this spring. Both events were very helpful in suggesting ways we can become a more vital presence in our community. In February, we held an IdeaFest one Sunday after church, when members brainstormed a long list of ways we can serve others and increase our visibility in the community. We have implemented some already, and some you will see throughout the year. We need some volunteers to make some others happen.
Two significant transitions occurred this year. After many years of service, Heather Ayers, our office manager, left in October to take a position with the UCC Pension Board. We still miss her, but are pleased to say that our new office manager, Jeannine Pond, has quickly made herself just as indispensible. Welcome, Jeannine.
With this Annual Meeting, the Secretary of the church, Louise Stewart, will be completing her 11th year in office. She is not seeking reelection, although very fortunately she will remain on Church Council. We all owe Louise a large debt of gratitude as she has expanded the job description of Secretary to include anything else that needs to be done. I’m thrilled that Pam DiPietro has agreed to serve as our new Secretary.
One of the marks of a vital church is that it is willing to change to meet new challenges. The years ahead will bring lots of new challenges to our little church, I can guarantee. As I said at the start, our principal challenge will be to find ways to let the community know that they are welcome in our faith community and to continue to widen the circle. And we know that, if we concentrate on doing this, God will continue to provide the resources we need.
See you in church!