It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to budgets and stewardship. The finance committee has already met to draft a budget for next year. Now, in November, we come to ask you to underwrite that budget with your tithes and offerings. There’s been a lot of talk in this year’s election about the middle class. Well, we are a middle class church, I think. We’re not rich but we are also not without resources. Those who built this church and cared for it over the past 119 years have provided a legacy of resource and giving that keeps us comfortable. For this responsible stewardship over many years, we should be deeply grateful.
This has been an eventful year in the life of the congregation as we considered the careful work of our Strategic Planning Task Team and then voted to stay in our building, directing our efforts and our resources toward renewing our congregational life. To this end we have been working in the areas of worship, community life, sharing our space and reaching out to the larger community.
Over the past several months, we have been looking in depth at why and how we worship. This conversation has gone on in worship services, in Sunday School and in Adult Spiritual Formation, in business meetings and in informal interactions. A major focus of this work has been when and how we encounter God. We have begun to consider what it might mean to “practice the presence of God.” This involves not only what we expect from worship, but also what we bring to it. It asks how we prepare ourselves to encounter God in our formal worship time and in our daily lives. Currently, we are doing some of this work under the wise and inspirational guidance of Jennifer Davidson, Assistant
Professor of Worship and Theology at the American Baptist Seminary of the West. This exploration of worship is invaluable and crucial to our ongoing life as a congregation – a church whose mission is rooted in worshiping God. I encourage ach of you to participate as fully as you can in the service of our vision of renewal.
Then, we have been looking for and creating opportunities for us to gather as a community. We have increased our monthly intergenerational potlucks to twice a month and added a Friday night time for our youth as well as a monthly brunch for the women of the congregation. Everybody does not at‐ tend all of these events, but if you have attended any of them, you can attest to their value in getting to know one another better, in sharing a meal and in laughing, playing, learning and praying together. We have also created a face‐ book page and a twitter account as a means of connecting to one another and to the wider community through social media. We are currently working on ways to improve and expand these modern means of communicating and community‐building.
We determined as part of our renewal plan that, though we have a lot of wonderful community activities going on here, we want to broaden and strengthen the spiritual life that’s contained in and spread out from this space. One avenue of exploration was to share the space with another congregation. After some prayer and consideration, we have decided to pursue the possibility of planting a new congregation in this space. To this end, we have been in con‐ versation with
several people about planting a Chinese or pan‐Asian congregation here. Planting a new church means we recognize the need for a congregation that reaches out to people and meets needs that we do not in our current configuration. A church plant will look and function differently but work co-operatively with our own congregation. By sharing the space with a congrega‐ tion that we help to create, we are doing more than just renting space. We are looking for opportunities to share in outreach, education, community and wor‐ ship as well as in stewardship of our facilities. I am very excited by the preliminary conversations we have had and am looking forward to seeing how they will unfold in the days ahead.
Our outreach to the larger community includes the experimentation we are doing online and with social media as well as with how we present ourselves to the many people who are in and out of our building. Our hospitality is a keyelement to cultivate as we invite others to join our various activities and programs. How do we say personally, in print, online, in our décor and throughout our space, “You are welcome here. Come, see what we’re about. Come, meet Jesus and encounter the gospel. Come, join us in practicing the presence of God”? As we discussed at the Quarterly Business Meeting in October, I am planning to use my sabbatical to complete the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction at San Francisco Theological Seminary. I’ve long been concerned for those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” wondering how and where that spirituality is nurtured. Does the church have a role in providing resource for those who make this claim and what would that resource look like? My concern for the spiritual life of our congregation as well as the wider community has led me to this program. It is my hope that it will lead to a deepening of my own spiritual life, to that of our congregation and move us toward spreading spiritual nurture beyond our congregation as a means of outreach to the wider community.
Well, this has turned out to be a rather lengthy report on where we are with renewal. Initially, I was going to write about gratitude, but it seems important that you know the kinds of things we are trying to accomplish when we ask
you for your support. Frankly, I am grateful for this “middle class” congregation. Our resources are not unlimited, but as our theme for the year suggests, we are “a caring and generous people.” I see this every day in the life of FBCPA. I see it in our history and I believe it is there for our future. I am grateful that you are a caring and generous people and I trust that, with God’s guidance and grace, you will continue to sustain that identity as we move into the future.