Our congregation may not realize this, but on the Fourth Sunday of Advent we had more people worshipping in our pews than our entire congregation’s membership. On an average Sunday we worship a little over 100 people, and we have about 150 members total. At St. Mark’s we try to be as accurate as possible in our reporting, and if we are unsure about the actual attendance numbers, we always choose a lower number. We do not want to fool ourselves that our growth is greater than it might be. When one considers our Sunday morning attendance, this means that on an average Sunday over two-thirds of our congregation is attending worship, and this does not include our daily masses and weekly prayer services.
This past Sunday when we had our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in the evening, as well as the well-attended morning masses, our total number of worshippers far exceeded our total membership. I knew that Lessons and Carols would be a popular service, but I was stunned to see just how popular it actually was. The choir outdid themselves again, especially when you consider that our music program is largely a volunteer effort. Similarly, the congregation rallied around the service. Our Senior Warden, Sandy Leialoha, with a small group of helpers, offered a beautiful reception following the service. The fact that we are able to produce such an effort, especially when you consider the size of our church and the available resources we have for budgeting, was truly miraculous.
The success of Lessons and Carols is just one snapshot of our people’s faith at work. Behind the scenes of this past Sunday's success, was the hard work of the prior Saturday’s Christmas cleaning and greening of the church. At 8:00 am a large group of volunteers were eager to work. We could not give out instructions quick enough. One volunteer even showed up at 7:00 am to get a head start. The Parish Hall received a thorough cleaning, and the Lanai was scrubbed. In the church the trees and greenery were placed, and the crib was assembled in the Lady Chapel. (The Magi and baby Jesus are still hiding.) The church was also thoroughly cleaned. Due to Tim and Theresa Valadez, everyone enjoyed breakfast burritos that sustained us for the morning's work. (By the way, that little one in Theresa’s womb was taking his cue from John the Baptist on Sunday. All during high mass he was kicking his mother!)
You may have noticed how the acoustic in the church has dramatically improved. St. Mark’s used to be a rather dead space acoustically for singing. This has been successfully reversed. So many of you have commented on the plastering of the front wall and how beautiful it is. Depending on the time of day, the stained glass windows light up the front of the church with a new brilliance. We had already witnessed this effect in the Lady Chapel, and now we are enjoying it to a greater degree at the High Altar. The plastering of those two walls, along with the work done in years past on the ceiling, have created a much better environment for congregational singing and choral worship. The chanting at the liturgies is stronger as well. On Saturday morning, some of our more svelte volunteers removed the carpet from the center aisle, which also required waxing of the church floor. The carpet was looking very, very old, and with its removal, we have a very, very new acoustic. On Sunday we discovered just how vibrant the space has become for singing.
But this is not all. The outpouring for seniors in our community was great two Sundays ago. Did you see all of the baskets in the Lady Chapel? On the following Monday those baskets were delivered by Theolinda Matsumoto and her crew, and within a few hours the phone started ringing at the church as people called to say “thank you.” Your baskets touched a lot of people. For some seniors, the basket they received will be the only gift they receive all year long. Many of them are the forgotten ones of our society, and those baskets showed them that they are worthy of love.
Yesterday such outreach work continued. Last night a group of our volunteers provided the dessert for 50 homeless persons in our community at a dinner at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on King Street. Every year on December 21 the outreach agencies of Honolulu come together for a Memorial Service in honor of the homeless who have died in the past year, and a meal is served. Central Union and the Knights of Columbus provided the main course, and St. Mark’s provided the dessert.
Perhaps all of this dedication explains how our projected stewardship income for next year has topped $200,000. This is something I am careful not to brag about, but it is worth mentioning. We have a very dedicated congregation, and this is true when it comes to our money and our time. In a day and age when many churches are struggling, we have many reasons to be thankful.
As Christmas gets closer, I am grateful that all of the liturgies are ready. All of the bulletins were duplicated last week, the church is decorated, the choir has learned their music, and the acolytes, servers, and ushers are ready. This week is solely about enjoying the mysteries that shall unfold before us again. I am very excited about the Pageant and Family Mass on Christmas Eve. The children continue to prepare themselves, and the cookies for the reception are already being delivered. The Christmas Eve and Day Solemn Masses will be beautiful as they always are. The time has come to sit back and enjoy these holy days. I wish you and your loved ones a very holy Christmas.
Father Paul Lillie
PS: Check out the poster below advertising our Christmas services.