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Parish Meeting Recap

We held a parish meeting on Sunday, May 5, after church. Below is a recap of what was shared for those who couldn't attend. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Megan faithfully setting up the Good Shepherd Atrium before church

Warden's Update

Our vestry warden Grant Sung had some unexpected airline delays in returning from an overseas work trip, so he shared his notes with Nancy Sung (our jokingly dubbed "warden emeritus") who stepped in and shared his report. This was a "by the numbers" recap of our life together since the last parish meeting: baptisms (3), confirmations/receptions (5), new members (3), babies born (2), choir (twice, and 27 people strong at Advent!), meals delivered (30+ and counting), hikes (4), midday and morning prayer (weekly, faithfully), outdoor tent worship (3 times!), outreaches to neighbors at Greenbrier (200+ hot dogs on Halloween, a handful of neighbors for Saint Nicholas in December, dozens of pancakes flipped on Shrove Tuesday), an outpouring of support to Russell during his hospitalization (countless hospital visits, miles driven, poems read, songs written, and dollars contributed), and our first Border Encounter team (9 members, 2 countries).

Nancy shared four words from Grant in closing: Joyful. Gentle. Rare. Generous. Joyful and gentle mark our worship together. Rare and generous mark our model of pastoral ministry that takes time for people in a city and age when that is, indeed, rare.

Children's Ministry Update

Megan Westmoreland has served faithfully for two years as the catechist in the Good Shepherd Atrium (ages 3-6, meets in the narthex). Her peaceful presence and skill as a catechist is a gift to our children; please tell her thank you when you see her on Sunday (and every Sunday!). Megan explained more about what the Atrium is, how children and adults engage with God there, and what the younger children have been learning over the past Atrium year, including their practice of silence and their growing wheat seeds. She also reminded us that Atrium begins at 9:30am before church, and that this extra time helps children engage more deeply with their work.

And she put out a call for helpers! (Note: we also need nursery helpers!) We use a children's faith formation program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which requires training for adult catechists. This training is enriching for the catechist's own spiritual life, offering a wonder-filled way of encountering Jesus through story, stillness, and embodied practice. If you are curious to learn more, please reach out to Josie:

Josie then shared about the work of the children in the True Vine Atrium (ages 7-12), who have been creating a collaborative mural throughout Eastertide depicting the resurrection sightings of Jesus. She also reminded us that part of the work of spiritual formation at any age (not just kids!) is learning the church calendar, because it helps us engage time differently, through seasons of life, growth, death, resurrection, and paraousia — that day when Christ will be all in all.

Josie also oriented us to our current moment in the church calendar: on the cusp of Ordinary Time. During Ordinary Time, children's programs pause (except for nursery) and all ages worship together in the service throughout the summer. For this reason, I want to offer a few practical reminders as we head into the summer (I'm stating these a bit more strongly than Josie did, using my Rector Voice TM):

  • We welcome children in the service so they can begin to absorb the rhythms of the liturgy at any developmental stage. Sitting close to the front to see the action, encouraging whispers, and using mats on the floor near parents with quiet materials, are all helpful ways of connecting children to the liturgy while minimizing distractions for other worshipers.

  • Parents are responsible for their children in the service (this is also true of small groups, retreats, and other church events). Although friendly ushers and church aunties and uncles are always around to help, it is parents' job to know where their children are and to ensure that their children are treating property and people with kindness. Parents, please keep an eye on your children, and please don't put ushers and other volunteers in the uncomfortable position of following your children into the parking lot or off-limits areas of the school. This is both a matter of child safety, and a courtesy to our gracious volunteers and our generous hosts at Drew.

  • The recent abuse investigation at TFCA highlights the importance of knowing and abiding by our child safety policies. Most of our children's activities happen in full view of the entire church, and this is by design — it keeps things safe and transparent (and joyful!). We encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with our policies and to consider going through our child protection training on June 23. As the Bishop's letter said, "if you see something, say something"; it is 100% okay to raise any concerns or questions you have about anything you observe on a Sunday.

Discernment Process Update

At our last parish meeting in October, I invited the congregation to consider two questions:

What is God calling Incarnation to do or be?

What is God calling you to do or be at Incarnation? Then during Lent, I invited you to prayerfully consider those questions again, and to engage with Lent as a season of discernment. We put some butcher paper on the back wall at church so you could respond with post-its; we held a few Zoom calls; and we invited small groups to consider these questions as well. Why these questions? Why now? Our congregation has experienced so many changes. Moves, pandemics, rectors, people coming and going, so much change. And we’re growing — we grew a lot last year! — and we all feel the kinds of questions and tensions that come with even good changes and good growth. Whenever things around us are changing and we aren’t sure what to do or how to think, we pause. We listen. We ask God to anchor us in who we are and the work he’s given us to do.  At our parish meeting on Sunday, I shared several big themes that came out of the discernment time:

  1. Keep doing what we’re doing. What we have heard from across the church is that Incarnation really is who we think and hope and say that we are as a church. We aren't perfect, and we still make plenty of mistakes and have plenty of gaps. But in general, the response to the question of “what is God calling Incarnation to do or to be” was: what Incarnation already is. But to open our doors wider and sink our roots deeper in the work God has already given us. We heard across the board that we really are a place of worship, a place of incredible welcome, and a place of wonder — especially for people who’ve been hurt by the church and feel far from God and outside of community. This is who we are and will keep being. This is still the work Jesus is giving us to do. It’s a big work. I shared a few visions from the discernment process that capture this:One person shared a vision he had of a field. The field used to have structures like fences and barns to contain the harvest, and it used to be surrounded by a menacing woods. But all the structures had been completely overrun by a golden harvest that could not be contained. Grain was spreading everywhere, knocking stuff down, couldn’t be stopped. And instead of those woods encroaching inward, the field was expanded outward and pushing back the danger. This person had a phrase that came with the image: “Refreshing the church-weary.” And the sense that the church-weary constitutes a very big harvest field. And he also explained that for church-weary people, it is very hard to go out “as laborers into the harvest” because they’ve been wearied and often harmed by the church, and they just want to be safe. But perhaps Incarnation is a place where people can find enough hope and restore enough safety to go out again. And maybe this harvest of the church-weary is pushing back the dangers and overtaking the barriers that caused so much harm in the first place. And another person shared a vision of Incarnation as a waystation for travelers. Like a hospital, but more comprehensive: healing is offered here, but that healing looks different for each individual. And the healed ones are learning to heal others in turn.And because I’m a pastor, I get to see that happening, and it’s pretty amazing. That was the main insight from our discernment: we are who we say we are, and we just need to keep doing and sharing what we have. But there were two other themes that I also highlighted:

  2. A particular calling or gift for “ordinary faithfulness.” We seem to be well-suited to helping people listen and look for God in their everyday lives. That’s right there in our name; the incarnation is about God-with-us right where we are. Our small groups are one reflection of this ordinary faithfulness. They are so ordinary; just eating and praying. Nearly every person in this church and some people who aren’t in this church are in a small group; at last count it was over 90 people, which is amazing (that's more than attend church some weeks)! I haven’t yet made it around to all of your groups, but what I have seen so far is really special. Simple, faithful, incredibly hospitable, prayerful communities who are taking care of each other in the ordinary stuff of life. Kids who are learning the life of faith by being in the room where it happens. And in some places, neighbors being invited to the table. Our Sundays are another reflection of that ordinary faithfulness. A lot of phrases to describe our worship that have bubbled up over this time of discernment. They all have a throughline of simplicity, humility, flexibility — the kind of durable spirituality that carries us through our ordinary lives. I shared just a few of these phrases at our parish meeting (I wish I'd had time to read them all!):  Joyful gentleness. Messy reverence. Relaxed holiness. A place of belonging. Friend to sinners. A safe place for people to let down their pretenses. Being relaxed, welcoming, and participatory. A refuge for misfits. Stoop to enter. The gift of tears. An abundance of relationships. Let the children come to me (and we’re all children). Sundays are not a performance. The staff actually love each other. A place where the Spirit dwells and is poured out. A place where people who wouldn’t otherwise be friends live in community because they love Jesus. Seeking Jesus with our whole hearts.

  3. The tension we hold between pilgrimage and permanence. Incarnation has always lived in this tension. One person said, “when God dwells with us, he goes all in; and wherever Incarnation has been, we go all in.” Multiple people reminded us not to be fearful about facilities and locations, and that “God has been with us in every new tabernacle.” That’s in our name too; the incarnation means God with us, all-in, wherever we are. This pilgrim mentality is a wonderful strength of our church, but it’s also tiring. There is a tension in always feeling unsettled, and many of us are feeling this tension.

So . . . what is next for us? Well, one thing that often comes out of a season of discernment is clarity around what the next questions are. One post-it put it this way: “Watch, pray, listen, and maybe then ask questions.” There are real questions that are starting to emerge with greater clarity. How long can we sustain worshiping in a school without burning out our staff and volunteers? Should we be looking for a more permanent space? What is our path to financial sustainability? How do we make sure that all our people — whether in Maryland, the District, or Virginia — have equal access to the ministries of this church, to pastoral care, to community, to ways to serve right where they are, and especially to something they can invite their church-weary neighbors into? 

These questions will become more clear with time. We will keep listening. We are not in a hurry. But in the meantime, our mission is clear: we will keep running the hospital. We will keep laboring in this field of the church-weary. We will keep doing what we are doing. But we will do it with renewed clarity and intentionality. We will strengthen our capacity and sustainability in the present, while keeping ourselves flexible and open-handed to the future.

A vestry member, Buz Schultz, closed our time by reading a poem he'd written about Incarnation in response to the discernment time. It was incredible!

Financial Report

Financial Update. Jared Noetzel, our vestry member who sits on the Finance Team, shared a financial report that you can read in its entirety here. I will share the summary portion of that report below:

Through the first half of FY2024 Incarnation has had both expenses and income below budget. Diligent management by the staff have kept actual expenditures $4,650 below what was budgeted. Additionally, not reflected in this figure are the $26,315.80 that Incarnation collected for special offerings in the first half of FY24. This is a staggering amount for a church of this size, and a testament to the incredible generosity of this community. However, income from offerings is approximately $21,400 below what was budgeted at this point in the year. Apart from our offerings, IAC received a one-time gift of $25,000 from Restoration Anglican Church last year, which is the reason that the total actual income still exceeds the budgeted income.

Taken together this has resulted in a realized deficit of -$10,636 through the first 6 months of FY24. However, IAC has committed to give 10% of our offerings to outreach. As such we have accrued a commitment of $14,600 to outreach which we expect to distribute in the coming months. Thus, our accrued deficit through March totals -$25,236. 

IAC is in a strong cash position with $279,000 in reserves and operating accounts. However our expenses regularly exceed our income by roughly $7,200 each month. At that rate, assuming nothing changes, we have approximately 27 months or 2.3 years until we would drop below 3 months of operating reserves. Given our commitments to the Diocese and outreach, we would need to increase our monthly offerings by $8,470 per month to break even.

Vestry Report. Will Montague, our other vestry warden, then shared the vestry's perspective on these numbers. While Incarnation is not presently in a crisis, our persistent deficit is a concern to the vestry. There is little, if any, "fat" to cut from Incarnation's budget; therefore, vestry will budget wisely with the resources available in faith that God will provide for our needs. However, our current trajectory of spending down our reserves is not sustainable in the long-term; if nothing changes, we will eventually have to make hard choices down the road. This concern was brought to the congregation's attention last year, and vestry wanted to raise it again now, in a spirit of transparency, well before we reach a crisis moment. Vestry will seriously consider these matters as we enter our next budget cycle. Will closed by encouraging each of us to consider giving generously to help meet our financial need.

Pastoral Perspective. Finally, I shared the following pastoral perspective on our financial situation. God has given us good work to do as a church and a very large field to work in. We are providing refuge and welcome for people who are considering giving up on God or church. We’re grappling together with the challenges of living out our faith in a loving, ordinary way. We are actively and generously extending the love of Jesus into places where it’s not yet known, through our outreach giving and service. And we are providing access to pastoral care for people who need it, both from the priests and the community.

And yet, money is tight. We’re committed to the work God has given us and we’re extremely frugal with our money, but we live in an expensive area, and this model of ministry requires people to pull it off — pastors who aren’t too busy to be pastors, who are able to be in the trenches with people.

Money is tight for many of us as individuals too. We’ve got kids with special needs and aging parents and medical bills and student loans and high housing and food costs. Whether as a church or as individuals, it's easy to look at our resources and feel all the constraints; to see a world of scarcity and hold back our resources in fear.

But our relationship to money is a big part of our "ordinary faithfulness." Our money is one of the main areas where God strengthens our trust that he really does love us, that he really does provide for us like a Father provides for a child asking for bread. It’s another place where our image of God can be healed. So I want to invite us into that place, even though it feels a little awkward, and a little scary.

I believe that God is calling us forward in faith as a church, to a deeper trust in him to meet our needs. And so I ask you to be generous and faith-filled as you consider your giving to Incarnation. I can promise you that nobody around here is interested in lining our pockets, building an empire, graduating from “messy reverence” to a more polished form of worship, graduating from “ordinary faithfulness” to a different model of ministry that takes us out of the pastoral trenches of the everyday. All we want is to generously extend the goodness and blessing of what God is doing among us here, to keep laboring in the fields of the church-weary and the world-weary.

If you are curious to learn more about our finances, Incarnation's full financial reports are always available for anyone who requests them; please just ask! The vestry monitors these reports every month.

Vestry Changes

Finally, we announced that Kaitlin Conway will step down from her vestry service at the end of May. Kaitlin is getting married this fall and she and Timothy will be transitioning churches at that time. We are releasing her from her vestry term early with enormous gratitude for the work she has done to build this church; Kaitlin is truly a foundation stone of Incarnation. She has been worshiping with us from the very beginning, and her hospitality, service, warmth, fun, honesty, and leadership have helped make Incarnation who we are. We will miss her massively, even as we are delighted for her upcoming marriage. Please pray for Kaitlin as she navigates the transition to a new season in life.

Our bylaws stipulate that if a vestry term ends within 5 or fewer months of the next vestry election (in October), the seat simply sits empty. Therefore, we will not hold a special election to replace Kaitlin's seat on vestry; instead, we will elect 3 seats rather than two in the fall election. Perhaps God is calling you to serve on vestry?

Thank you for reading this far and for caring about this church so much! I welcome your thoughts, questions, and prayers. It's a gift to be your pastor!

With so much love,



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