Every year when it comes time to prepare for the Annual Meeting, I am humbled by the ministry reports that come across my desk. I hope everyone will take the time to read the reports within the Annual Meeting Booklet. For a church our size, we have so much ministry happening, and this is a great testament to our lay leadership at St. Mark’s. We continue to make some wonderful strides at St. Mark’s, and challenges that we initiated a few years ago are beginning to show some fruit. For instance, this year’s reports actually include updates on our ministries with children and youth. This has not always been the case. Our traditional areas of strength – music, worship, outreach, formation, and stewardship – continue to grow and mature. I am even happy to see some light breaking through in regard to our capital campaign. We are on the verge of making some healthy progress soon.
We have enjoyed several highlights this year. I cannot name them all, but I do want to mention a few. This fall we began to offer Evensong and Benediction on Wednesday nights at 6:15 pm, and more people from the congregation and community are availing themselves for this worship. The choir has been of generous service in this project, and I am grateful to our choirmaster, Mike Dupre, and our new organist, Steven Severin, for their leadership and support. Wednesday nights have become an oasis of peace in the middle of the workweek. If you have not attended Evensong and Benediction on Wednesday nights, I encourage you to do so soon.
This past All Saints we admitted a strong catechumenate class. Most of the catechumens are former Roman Catholics, but not all. They are slowly learning the ethos of the Episcopal Church, and this coming Lent we will ramp up their formation quite a bit. One catechumen has already been baptized, and several will be confirmed this Easter season. When Bishop Fitzpatrick makes his annual visitation on February 19, the catechumens will have an opportunity to meet with him for catechesis (instruction and formation). Please keep these newest members of our church in your prayers.
This year St. Mark’s participated in the Honolulu Pride Parade. There are several photos of this event on the parish website prominently featuring our banner, “God loves you – no exceptions.” We had a sizeable and energetic contingent walk the parade, and it was rewarding to witness how well we were received in the community. So often Christians are the ones voicing the exclusion of the LGBT community, so it was a great witness that we could be a positive influence showing our city that God loves all of God’s children, no exceptions.
One the great highlights for me at St. Mark’s this past year, and perhaps for my entire ministry with you, was the Epiphany Solemn High Mass that concluded our Christmas celebrations. When an usher came into the sacristy and said, “Father, we have run out of programs,” I was in complete disbelief, because we had duplicated over 90 programs. I thought that perhaps a stack of programs had been lost or forgotten. When the procession left the sacristy, and I saw all the people, I quickly realized that we definitely did not run enough programs. I could not believe it. This past Epiphany was a fulfillment of what I believe St. Mark’s can be. It was a night of vital worship with a beautiful reception, welcoming visitors from many churches nearby and across the island. The church rarely talks about worship as outreach, but we can do outreach through our worship, especially when you consider that most churches are not able to offer celebrations on the high holy days such as the Epiphany. It was a special bonus to have two choirs for the Epiphany mass, and I hope everyone has enjoyed the photos of our children dressed up as the Magi. This was St. Mark’s at our very best. The next weekday high holy day is Thursday, February 2, when we celebrate the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, also known as Candlemas. There will be a high mass with the choir and the blessing of candles at 6:30 pm. The parish website is always up-to-date with the latest information, listing all our special services – check it out.
I want to draw your attention to the other annual meeting reports as well. John Schamber and Theolinda Matsumoto have done excellent work sharing the progress of our capital campaign. Like everyone else, I too am eager to get the new house on a stronger financial footing, and we have made good strides. I also look forward to the renovation of the kitchen and the further beautification of the church. I especially keep praying that the floor tiles in the church will hold out for just a little longer!
Be sure to fathom how much outreach work our church does. It is often quiet and in the background, but it is noble work indeed. I love the fact that when we promote our values of justice, inclusion, and compassion, we are not shrill, working to include as many people as possible. St. Mark's genuinely cares for those in need.
Sandy Leialoha, our senior warden, who I plan to appoint for another year, has challenged us to dream more. I think she has given us some good food for thought in her report this year. I am not ready to let Sandy take a break yet. I, and St. Mark’s, still need her as our senior warden. I frankly like it that she often ruffles everyone’s feathers, mine included! She is an honest prophet. I would be remiss if I did not publicly thank our treasurer and acolyte master, Michael Ida, and our assistant treasurer, Suzanne Kagawa. They give an incredible amount of time to St. Mark’s coordinating our finances. If we had to pay for such a person to do what they do, we would have no money for the choir, or I would have to become part-time. Everyone at St. Mark’s owes them a deep mahalo. Be sure to read the extensive treasurer’s report.
Kudos are also due to the choir, the vestry, the various worship ministries, the stewardship ministry, the volunteer gardeners, and those I have been remiss to mention. The reality is that St. Mark’s can only thrive in a sustainable way when the lay people of the church commit to making everything work. Priests come and go, and ultimately a rector can only do so much to make a church vital. The laity always have the potential to make a greater impact. For several years one of our strategic planning goals has been to develop the lay leadership of the parish. When we view this year’s reports we can see how we are making progress in this goal.
Worship, outreach, and formation continue to be our strengths. As we embark on 2017, I want to encourage everyone to make the following goals:
- In addition to attending church every Sunday, make space to worship God at least once during the week. Make it a spiritual practice to attend a weekday service.
- Participate in the church’s formation activities. Consider attending the Friday Bible Study so that you can better understand the scriptures. Come to the Sunday forum to learn more about the faith. St. Mark’s offers many different types of formation classes for everyone.
- Continue to deepen your stewardship practice. If you do not make a yearly pledge, make the commitment to do so in 2017. The reality is that those who pledge are the backbone of the church. Such pledging units allow the church to properly plan the budget and the church’s finances. Without the pledgers, there would not be a church for those who do not pledge.
- Participate in our outreach activities. The media is so full of stories about the problems that the homeless create. Why not experience an alternative narrative? Sign-up to serve a meal to the homeless with Family Promise or at St. Mary’s. In doing so we all discover that the people labeled “problems” are God’s beloved children. There are other ways to serve the community as well.
- Pray for St. Mark’s. We are very fortunate as a parish, and we are lucky to be experiencing quiet, deliberate growth. That being said, the current times are not easy times for the church. Many churches continue to struggle, and more will be closing soon. More than anything else, churches need prayerful and committed people who are passionate for the Gospel. Let us all pray that we might be passionate for the Good News of Jesus Christ.
It continues to be my pleasure to serve you as your priest. Together we have been entrusted with a great gift from God. Our corner of the kingdom needs St. Mark’s, and St. Mark’s needs all of us as we seek to better follow Christ.
Father Paul Lillie
Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Honolulu