A Message from Pastor Stephen
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
We’ve never experienced being the church under these conditions before.
Our beloved church building has sat dormant for months, with no indoor services held since March.
We went without the Eucharist for six months before resuming once-monthly outdoor celebrations in September with Communion distributed to those at home.
We miss one another’s physical presence deeply. Meanwhile, the world around us is in turmoil, as we face a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, struggles for racial and social justice, a fraying fabric of American democracy, and—at least in our area—the repeated traumatic experience of wildfires.
In a chaotic world, we are assured that Jesus Christ is always the same, and always with us. And our mission remains the same: in the words of the catechism in the Prayer Book, it is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” How we go about this can look very different in different situations. Right now it includes Zoom services, distanced to-go meals at Open Table, Eucharist on the lawn, online classes and fellowship groups, and all kind of things we never experienced before this year.
Our annual pledge campaign looks different this year too. We can’t gather for a Harvest Party or an Ingathering Dinner, can’t place our pledge cards in an offering plate and carry them proudly to the altar. Yet the reason why we do this never changes. Each year, we ask our members to pray and discern how much each of us, from the financial resources God has entrusted to us, will dedicate to the work of this congregation in the year to come. We give because we know our identity as children of God and members of Christ’s Body is central to who we are; because we know everything we have comes from God, and we are accountable to God for how we use it; and because we truly believe God is at work here at the Church of the Incarnation and we want to be part of that.
This year our parish faces some tough financial realities. Since 2015 we have been running deficit budgets and drastically overspending our financial reserves. In 2019 our Vestry made the decision to commit to a pathway toward financial sustainability by closing our spending reductions, our 2020 budget managed to reduce this deficit by more than half, to about $48,000. Closing the remaining gap will not be easy, yet it is essential for our parish to be able to thrive in the future. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our operations considerably and created economic instability for many of our members and friends.
As you’ll read in Mark Neumann’s letter, our Vestry remains committed to living within our means as a parish. We—the members and friends of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation—are the ones who collectively pool our resources to make church happen. Whether what results from that is a lot or a little, whether our programs are extensive or lean, we will continue to be the Body of Christ, loving and serving God and neighbor here in the heart of Sonoma County. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
At the end of the day, we give not to meet an obligation, nor to meet a budget. We give out of gratitude and thanksgiving to the God who is with us in good times and bad. As you’ll read in the FAQ in this packet, I’m convinced the best way to do this is simply to set aside a prayerfully determined percentage of our income. Will you join me? If you are in a position to increase your percentage this year, thanks be to God for that. If not, prayerfully consider what percentage is possible and appropriate for you this year, and thanks be to God for that too.
I’ve never had a year like this, and I bet you haven’t either. In all of it, I’m so grateful to be part of this beautiful, beloved faith community. God is indeed at work here at Incarnation, transforming lives for the better through the good news of Jesus. That good news is something that will never change.
In Christ’s love,