*Between this week's conference and a few unforeseen circumstances, this letter and the weekly e-newsletter are going out a day late — apologies!
I am writing from the Matthew 25 Gathering, an annual gathering of Anglicans committed to works of justice and mercy. It's always refreshing, challenging, and thought-provoking to be around Anglicans who care so deeply for those on the margins and who order their lives in service to others. I have loved spending time here with Russell, Johanna (who works with Restoration Immigration Legal Aid), and friends from over the years who are quietly and faithfully doing incredible works of justice and mercy. Please talk to me, Russell, or Johanna on Sunday if you're curious to hear more!
Thanks to those who stuck around for Sunday's parish meeting! Below is a summary of what was discussed and prayed together for those who missed it. You can also watch the livestream of the meeting on YouTube (gold stars for church dedication for anyone who does so!).
PARISH MEETING RECAP
In her final parish meeting as our warden, Nancy brought her now-familiar pile of rocks, a remembrance of God's faithfulness. She helped us remember all that has happened since our last parish meeting and to celebrate the ways God has been faithful to us through good and hard things:
3 baptisms, 5 new members
Welcoming baby Ginny Williams!
A Holy Week of prayer and repentance, and a jubilant Easter resulting in a broken baptismal
Pentecost with multiple languages and paper airplanes!
Rogation Day blessing our collective work
Loss in the community of children, parents, relatives and friends, and saying farewell to many beloved members who moved away
Passing the one-year anniversary of my becoming Incarnation's rector
Summer Wild Wonder with various animals (both live and balloon), Latin dance, and so much more
Our collaborative summer preaching series on The Psalms that Shape Us (you all are so amazing!)
Visits and lunches with our outreach partners: Justice Ventures International, Casa Chirilagua, Little Lights, and Intervarsity
SUNDAY MORNING COFFEE
Hiring Russell as our Curate, thanks to a generous grant from Restoration Anglican
Solidifying Katie's permanent (no longer interim!) status as our Associate Rector
Holding our first-ever quarterly Healing Eucharist in August
Blessing the animals on Saint Francis Day
Moving from Randolph Elementary to Drew Elementary, and then deciding to stay!
Our second annual fall retreat, just last weekend
Beyond these recent memories, Nancy also reflected on God's favor, protection, provision and faithfulness over her entire 4-year term as warden. She reminded us how we became a self-sustaining parish in just one year. How we have worshiped in six (!) different places. How we grieved the sudden loss of a beloved warden in 2020. How we've continued a weekly pattern of Tuesday-Thursday midday prayer since 2020, what Nancy called an "invisible power source" in our church (join us!). How we weathered a global pandemic together, pivoting creatively again and again, yet somehow managing three (!) ordinations in that time. And how we made it through a rector transition with a strong, united, prayerful, and peaceful vestry. God has been SO faithful.
Speaking of vestry, we also announced the results of our vestry election: Buz Schultz, Will Montague, and Grant Sung are our newest vestry members! (Read their bios again here.) They join me, Kaitlin, Kim, and Jared to round out our vestry, and we'll start our work together next month. Please pray for us!
We also said goodbye to our three INCREDIBLE outgoing vestry members on Sunday: Tom Pienaar, Jenni McSwain, and Nancy Sung.
Tom has been an enormous emotional and spiritual support to me as a warden this year. He made our processional cross and helped me purchase the church van, among his many, many, many contributions to our community life! Tom embodies the wide-open welcome that Incarnation hopes to extend to all people, and I've been grateful on vestry for his consistent voice for those on the margins.
Jenni has been a steadfast and faithful presence on vestry, full of wisdom. As our property-scoper-outer, she's seen us through multiple building moves (there is probably not a rental property in South Arlington that she hasn't researched for us!), and as the head and sole member of our Personnel team, she's helped us recruit and interview a LOT of people, and then to hire the very best of them! Jenni stepped onto vestry in a moment of deep grief for our church, and her calm demeanor and dependable willingness saw us through some stormy waters.
Finally, Nancy has the rare distinction of being a warden for a full 4 years (a one-year term followed by a three-year term), being our first-ever warden (alongside Eric Owen), and being the warden who saw our church through a pandemic, multiple moves, and a rector transition. Nancy has a gift for building things that endure and for reminding us to celebrate what God has built (exhibit A: her pile of rocks). She has also been an invaluable sounding board, listening ear, walking companion, and prayer support to me in my first year as rector.
Because of the unique nature of her contributions, I thought it fitting to present her with the first-ever Incarnation Golden Dumpster Award, given to wardens who make exceptional contributions to churches worshiping next to dumpsters during global pandemics.
I really cannot fully express how grateful I am that this particular team — Tom, Jenni, Nancy, Kaitlin, Kim, and Jared — are the vestry that I had the privilege of working with in my first year as rector. They are all humble servant-leaders and have been a constant source of strength and encouragement to me. Thank God for our incredible vestry!
Budget and Finances
Jared led our discussion of our finances. You can read the full update that he shared here. And as promised, here's a link to our budget for Fiscal Year 2024 (Oct 1, 2023 - Sept 30, 2024). This budget keeps income projections very conservative, while holding expenses steady from the current year. The largest change to the budget is a reduction in our outreach giving from 15% of our income to 10%, in order to reduce our deficit while still giving generously.
This budget estimates a deficit of $78,501. Our Finance Team and Vestry are monitoring this deficit closely and taking steps to eliminate it over the next few years. Our cash position remains strong, thanks to generous gifts made in Incarnation's early years. Therefore, we are able to fund our deficit from our reserves as we invest in right-sizing our staff team for the work that God has given us to do. I'll talk more about money below, near the end of this letter.
Finally, I want to remind you that all of our financial reports are available to anyone at any time; please just ask me (or Emily, or anyone on vestry or finance team)!
Josie led us on a tour of the children's spaces as we begin a new Atrium year together. In the early church, the atrium was the architectural space outside the sanctuary where new believers were taught about the faith, and we use the term in the same way at Incarnation. On Sunday, we walked through each of our Atrium spaces together and prayed the italicized blessings for the coming year:
Mustard Seed Atrium (Nursery, ages 0-3): 10am in the Courtyard
Nursery care for our youngest children beginning each week at 10am in the courtyard.
Lord, bless this space and the young children and caregivers who will use it. Help them to know your lovingkindness and to be nourished here by the care of your church. Amen!
Good Shepherd Atrium (ages 3-6): 9:30am in the Foyer
A place of prayer designed for children's age and developmental level, using Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (our Montessori-based faith formation program).
Lord, bless this Good Shepherd Atrium and the 3-6 year olds who will work and pray and play here. May it be a place where they hear you calling them by name and find a home in your sheepfold. Amen!
True Vine Atrium (ages 7-12): 9:30am at the Tables
Older children meet for prayer and bible study at the tables at the far side of the sanctuary. When church begins, children take the provided materials to their seats to worship with their families, or continue working quietly at the tables.
Lord, bless this True Vine Atrium and the 7-12 year olds who will work and pray here. May this be a place where they learn to ever more abide in you, and you in them, as you tend their lives and make them fruitful. Amen!
The Whole Sanctuary
We closed with a blessing for the whole sanctuary, acknowledging that children of all ages are welcome in the sanctuary as full participants in our community (I wrote more about why here). Adults practice hospitality by welcoming the noise and wiggles of our youngest worshipers; children practice reverence by using whispers and quiet movements. We’re all practicing becoming like little children in God’s kingdom!
Lord, bless and protect this school which has become for us a tabernacle. May the children of Drew Elementary come to you and know your embrace.
Please bless all the people of this church, of every age, as we worship together. Help us to love each other, to welcome each other, and to learn from each other.
May we all come to claim your stories, and the worship of your church, as our own. May we all know you as we are known by you, and love you as we are loved by you.
And may we all grow in wonder, becoming as little children so we may know you better. Amen!
Finally, I closed by sharing a few things that I'm thinking about as we head into the next season of our life together as a community, and I invited your discernment.
First, I've been thinking and praying a lot about the upcoming election year. The last election cycle was hard on churches, and ours was no exception. How might we prepare now — "strike while the iron is cold" — for the challenges and temptations we might face, before the stakes feel too high and the political temperature too hot? How do we need to be better formed as Jesus' followers in order to resist the idolatry, self-righteousness, and othering that often marks our politics? I have a lot of thoughts about this, but for now, I'd love to simply invite you to ask these questions with me as you reflect on your own relationship with politics and your experience of the last election cycle. I suspect many of us probably have still have some reflection, lament, repentance, forgiveness, and healing that needs to be done, four years later; I know I do.
Place and Neighbors
Second, I'm thinking a lot about place and neighbors. We are a church that was planted with a particular geographic place in mind: Columbia Pike in South Arlington. We planted in hopes of welcoming our neighbors along the Pike, and we've always been intentional in how we try to lower barriers to entry and extend hospitality with those neighbors in mind. We still hold office space at Greenbrier Baptist, a property in the heart of what we originally envisioned as Incarnation's neighborhood, and we have increasing opportunity to use the grounds and sanctuary there for neighborhood events. Five years ago, Morgan (another one of our planting priests) and I prayer walked that neighborhood together once a week for over a year.
This year, our Greenbrier neighbors have utilized our Spanish-English outdoor Stations of the Cross, come to the sanctuary to receive prayer, and participated in large numbers in our Saint Francis Day service. We have other events on the horizon that we hope our neighbors will join, and LOTS of percolating ideas about how we might use the Greenbrier property to gather, bless, and provide sanctuary in a neighborhood experiencing significant upheaval. It feels like some of our early seed sowing is beginning to bear fruit in that neighborhood, five years later.
And yet at the same time, we've moved our Sunday worship off the Pike for the first time; Drew's neighborhood is geographically and culturally distinct from Greenbrier's, even though it is still in South Arlington and barely a mile away.
Even more significantly, the makeup of our congregation has shifted a lot over the past few years. We aren't all clustered around a central zip code anymore, and neither are our neighbors. People come to Incarnation from Springfield, Burke, Vienna, different parts of DC, even Montgomery County, Maryland — and everyone is building meaningful relationships with their neighbors where they already live. You are good neighbors and stewards of the places you live, and I love hearing your stories.
So, given all of the above . . . how do we think about our place and neighbors now? How do we best steward our place, time, and resources to love our neighbors? How do we think about the geographic gap between our Sunday worship location and our Monday-Saturday daily lives? How do we think about the Greenbrier neighborhood? How do we steward the relationships we've already cultivated there, and a physical property (the church and grounds) that is wide open with opportunities for outreach and blessing?
And finally, in a broader sense, how do we communicate the life-giving gospel of Jesus' kingdom to our neighbors? What does that look like in our particular cultural moment, our increasingly post-Christian society, and (for some of us) in a deconstructed and reconstruct[ed/ing] faith?
It's all a lot to wonder about (welcome to the inside of my brain, it's so noisy in here!), and it's all full of delightful, not-yet-imagined possibilities for what God might do.
Invitation to Discernment
I don't know the answers to any of the questions I posed above. And I don't want to strategize my way ahead of whatever God is doing in our community. When the way isn't clear, we slow down and wait for God to light our path. I want to invite you all into that process of watchful discernment along with me.
And so I closed the meeting inviting you to pray about two questions:
What do you think God is calling this community to be or do?
What do you think God is calling you to be or do within this community?
We will take time to pray about these questions together various ways in the coming months. I'm really looking forward to learning what you all hear from God as you discern. Please share any thoughts, passages of scripture, images, or whatever else emerges in prayer.
Finally, as one aspect of discerning your own calling in this community (question #2), I asked you to consider how you steward your finances within this church.
We are running a deficit budget, as we shared. We are also taking steps to balance our budget over the coming years, and in the meantime, we have plenty in our reserves to cover our shortfall. We also have a frugal, flexible, and creative staff committed to "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." We have been richly blessed as a church. Further, God always provides for the work he calls us to do; there is no scarcity in the economics of the kingdom. In other words: I'm not worried. But I am asking you to consider how God might be inviting you to participate in those kingdom economics through your financial giving to this church.
That sounds like churchy jargon for "give us all your money pleeeease!" — but I truly mean it as an invitation. Money is a major part of how we orient our lives and priorities to follow Jesus and live out his kingdom; that's why Jesus talked about it so much. And so I hope you will include it as one aspect of your broader discernment. Thank you for allowing me to ask, and please let me know if you have questions, thoughts, or concerns.
The Heart of Incarnation
I closed out this time by reading a document that our vestry put together a few years ago, in a process guided by one of our diocesan canons, as part of their preparation for the rector search. It was the vestry's attempt to capture the "sine qua non" of Incarnation; the essential heart and distinctive characteristics that make Incarnation Incarnation. We've re-read it each year as a vestry, and I continue to find it grounding, inspiring, and true. No matter what we discern for our community, no matter what the future holds, I pray that these attributes remain:
A place of refuge: for women, for people who have had a rough time in their previous church, for people considering giving up on God.
A welcoming safe space (true hospitality), where anyone, from any background, with any faith or no faith at all can find acceptance, community and care.
Liturgy that inspires and connects, pointing the community to a God who loves.
A community rooted in orthodox doctrine, with insightful, accessible teaching, which grapples with the messiness of loving application to real world situations and relationships, and prioritizes togetherness.
A space to wonder at God’s beautiful image reflected in works of natural and human creation, and in the faces and cultures of the world.
Active engagement, care, and expression of the Gospel, locally and globally, believing there is no people group beyond the reach of Jesus’ love.
Access to pastoral care from the priest and from the community.
May it always be so — amen!
Katie closed us in this prayer used by hospital chaplains, reminding us that our church often operates as a hospital where the wearied and bruised receive God's care:
Thank you, Lord, for your presence with us this day. As we depart from this space now, we ask you to bless us throughout the remainder of the day and guide us safely home. Do not let the learning and conversations of this gathering die, but, instead, may they continue to ruminate within us and bear fruit in our ministry throughout the year, until we find ourselves together again. We ask this in the name of Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
All that, plus snacks, in just under 45 minutes! Thanks for a wonderful parish meeting, and thanks for being you. I really love being one of your pastors.