This is a long letter. Please read it through. I have a high value on action; following through on commitments made, on words matching deeds. This letter recaps promises made and kept.
On June 7 this past year we returned to in-person worship at the Farmers Market and I returned to you after my Covid illness and convalescence. In that sermon, I shared with you four very clear convictions that emerged from my time away.
Tomorrow Is Not Guaranteed
The first was personal and it involved a rebuke and my repentance.
I lived as though my tomorrow was guaranteed. And, the Lord firmly rebuked me, bringing to mind the words of James 4 (13-15),
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
And I repented. My tomorrow is not guaranteed. My deep sense of gratitude to the Lord for His kindness has not faded.
The Parish and the Diocese
Secondly, the Lord made clear to us that our future – yours and ours – are intertwined. Over the years as Bishop of the Diocese, I found myself torn by two responsibilities: the parish and the diocese. The fire two years ago began to reorient me toward the parish. The Coronavirus has completed it. This parish – you – are my first ministry love.
In October of this year, I completed a transition in our diocese that has transformed both our diocese and our parish (though you may not have fully noticed). I created a new diocesan structure. Specifically, I created two “areas” within our diocese, North Carolina and South Carolina. I’ve appointed Bishop David Bryan to be the Area Bishop over South Carolina and Bishop Terrell Glenn to be the Area Bishop over North Carolina. This necessitated Terrell and Teresa to relocate to Raleigh, something already in their hearts and led us to Rusty and Laura Graves, as Rusty is the new Lead Pastor at City Church.
While I remain the Diocesan Bishop, setting the vision, mission, and culture for the Diocese of the Carolinas, both David and Terrell execute the daily matters that arise within a diocese. This has allowed me to turn my time, energy, and presence to our congregation. The most visible consequence of this transition has been my increased presence in the pulpit. And, the Lord has seemed to bless both our parish and our diocese with this new organizational structure.
You Are a Witness to the Glory of Jesus Christ
Thirdly, while I was in the ICU I felt led to 1 Peter 1, beginning in verse 3:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
And here’s the part I particularly want you to hear:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Friends, these past two years have been trying – literally by fire – but we: you, me, we have been tested and the genuineness of your faith – our faith – St. Andrew’s faith – is being displayed.
And here’s what I think that means: because of what we’ve been through together these past few years the Lord has given us a platform – an open door – to give witness to the glory of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives. He is already using your faith as a witness to Jesus Christ. I have seen this personally as I have spoken to more non-Christians about Jesus in the past 6 months than I have in the past few years. I have also had any number of St. Andrew’s folks speak with me about their increased personal evangelism and many have introduced me to friends/family/colleagues that they have brought to our worship services or some other St. Andrew’s function. It’s been extraordinary. We looked a few weeks ago at the Holy Spirit closing and opening a door in the life of the Apostle Paul. We are in a season of the Holy Spirit opening doors. Be bold; make the most of every opportunity.
Commitment to Our Local Community
Finally, I felt compelled to renew our commitment to our local community. Over the years we have developed outstanding International Missions. Something I am very proud of – significant partnerships in ten countries. But while I was looking at Judea, Samaria, and the world, I lost sight of our Jerusalem. And I am sorry for that. It’s not an either/or proposition. It is a both/and.
This month marks our 20th anniversary together. Howard Rambo, the then Sr. Warden, asked me in that interview process where I saw myself in 25 years. I said, “by the grace of God, the Rector of St. Andrew’s.” And I remember telling the Vestry and Search Committee that one of my goals was to make St. Andrew’s the kind of church that if we disappeared our absence would be felt throughout the community. The Spirit has awakened that conviction.
The most immediate consequence of this awakened conviction has been our commitment to tear down and rebuild a house for Greta Johnson. Greta has been our unknown neighbor on Rose Lane for many years now and it was only in the past year that we discovered the unlivable condition of her home. By God’s grace and your generosity we have raised the needed $250,000 to rebuild her home (yes, you can still donate, continued donations will allow us to do more than a basic rebuild – make checks payable to St. Andrew’s and write “my Jerusalem” on the memo line). The Town of Mt. Pleasant has signed off on the demolition. And, at this point, we are waiting for Greta to remove the possessions she wishes to keep. We anticipate demolition to begin in early 2021.
An Extraordinary Year
Friends, this has been an extraordinary year and the Good News of Jesus Christ has gone forth from this parish in unprecedented ways, in spite of restrictions. As I close please let me say one last thing; almost 30% of our giving takes place in the month of December with most of it taking place in the final week of the year. I am confident that we – the Vestry and Staff – are good stewards of your gifts, and I am confident that you can see the fruit of this leadership and stewardship. As you consider your year-end giving, would you please consider giving to support the ministry and common-life we share?
Thank you for the innumerable ways you have supported our family in this year of my illness. Thank you for the ways in which you helped to advance the Good News of Jesus Christ. And, thank you for your ongoing participation in the life of St. Andrew’s. We are both humbled by the opportunity and the privilege of serving you.
By God’s grace, here’s to the next 20 years together!
With much love in Christ Jesus,
Steve & Jacqui