Several years ago, Melissa and I brought home a large item we had purchased at Home Depot. We wrestled it through the back door, set it down, and breathed a sigh of relief. I went into the kitchen for a glass of water, and when I got there, I noticed we had left the back door wide open. Out the window, I could see the gate to the back yard was open, too. I did a quick scan of the house, and our dog Abe was nowhere to be seen. I ran outside in a panic, fully expecting that Abe was long gone. Instead, he was standing, frozen, in the middle of the driveway. You could almost see the thoughts turning in his head, about whether his familiar life in the house, or his new found freedom were the better deal to pursue.
In many ways, it feels like we are in a similar position as a cathedral family today. Almost four years ago, before I had given any thought to being your dean, you all made the decision in to go in a bold new direction. After broad congregational consultation, you outlined a vision to take the gifts we have in here out into the neighborhood, the city, and the diocese. You wanted this cathedral to grow, and to re-focus on children and youth. After I arrived and we spent some time getting to know one another, we launched a five-year plan that seeks to put much of what you hoped and prayed for in place.
Today, we are a growing congregation. In the past two years, we have added 65 new members. Our Average Sunday Attendance grew from 151 in 2014 to 175 in 2015, and it is about 185 since September. Our annual giving has grown from $214,000 pledged in 2013, to $266,000 pledged for 2016. We have more young children than we’ve had in at least a decade. We have more programs, more outreach, and more people committed to learning how to follow Jesus together in this place. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have at least one first-time guest on a Sunday morning.
It seems to me that we are growing for a couple of key reasons. The first and most important is all of you. The most common thing I hear from all of you is that “there is a new energy around here.” That new energy is because so many of you have enthusiastically embraced our vision to be a vibrant, joyful, inclusive community committed to loving each other and the world around us like Jesus. You’re telling your friends, you’re inviting people to join us, and you are telling the story of what God is up to here.
We are also growing because of where we have invested time, energy, and money. Our strategic plan includes four key focus areas: making disciples of Jesus, excellence in liturgy, music, and the arts, serving the poor and marginalized, and supporting children and families in knowing and loving the Lord. You’ll hear more downstairs about our progress, but last year we launched new initiatives and strengthened existing ones in each of these key areas. In 2015, we made the decision to stretch ourselves and bring on Marty Wheeler Burnett as a full-time Canon Precentor. That move, along with Christine Misek’s heroic dedication to our kids, has allowed us to expand our Sunday morning schedule to include children’s music and children’s chapel in addition to our existing Godly Play Sunday School program and weekly youth group. These investments have a direct connection to our increased attendance and membership.
And we are growing because of what the diocesan leadership has invested in us. In August, we welcomed the Reverend Sarah Miller, whose many gifts and generous spirit have expanded our capacity for ministry, and directly impacted our growth. Sarah’s compensation is paid entirely by the Bishop’s Society, and it is an extraordinary gift to us.
Christine, Sarah, and Marty have all made a clear and measurable impact on our growth this past year. Along with Deacon Ellen Ross, Stacy Gustin, and Maurice Thompson, they keep everything we have going. In 2015, we also received a United Thank Offering Grant that allowed us to bring on Teresa Houser as the Friends of Tamar coordinator. Every single member of our staff works long hours, they take on extra tasks, and in any given week they juggle so many different balls that it makes my head spin. All of them could make more money and work fewer hours somewhere else. They’re here because they love Jesus and they love you. We can’t possibly thank each of them enough.
There is new life, new faces, new energy, and we have every reason to be hopeful about our long-term future. But we also have challenges in front of us. Last Saturday, the Chapter approved a budget for 2016 that projects a significant deficit in our income. This is nothing new for us. We have operated with deficit budgets for many years now. The extraordinary thing is that even as we’ve increased our expenses by investing in people and programs to grow our congregation, our deficits have held steady at the same level for the past three years.
Because of the generosity of those who sat in those pews in previous generations, we have a sizeable endowment to support our work. A responsible but growing draw from that is how we are covering our annual deficits. We can cover our expenses over the next few years without incurring any significant risk to the long-term principle, but it’s important to be moving every year toward a balanced budget. In order to do that, we’ll need those who have never made a financial pledge to Trinity to join the dozens of households who in the last few years have either supported Trinity for the first time, or increased their giving substantially to support our growing mission. The Chapter and I have a goal of fully balancing our budget no later than 2020.
Despite those challenges, the worst thing we could do in this moment is give fear a prominent seat at the table. We are in this position today because we have been willing to step out in faith that that the same God who has sustained us for 159 years will sustain us for at least that many more.
So the Chapter and I intend to keep moving forward, and keep investing in growth. We will be working in 2016 to make plans to increase our staff capacity in children and youth and clergy. We have Mother Sarah with us for about another twelve months, and we can’t afford to lose the momentum that comes with having an outstanding assistant priest on staff.
The choice before us in the next several years is a lot like the one that Abe faced in my driveway. Step back into what is familiar and safe, or continue to step out and give ourselves over to the God whose power will change our lives and our world. This glorious building, the riches of our tradition, everything we have here, aren’t simply things to be protected and preserved for their own sake, but rather as gifts to be opened up, and shared, and given away, that the life-saving and world-changing love of Jesus might be seen and known more and more.
And beloved, here’s the deal: if we choose faith and love over fear and safety, we’ll only be doing what the people of Trinity have been doing through all the history that we hold so dear. Can you imagine the faith it took for Jackson Kemper to ride out here in the 1850’s to try to start something in this new and strange place? Can you imagine the faith it took for Robert Clarkson to imagine this grand cathedral, and the work and toil and commitment it took to pay for it and build it? As you read about everything we’re doing in the annual report, as you sit here this morning and bask in this glorious space, remember that the only reason we have any of this is because of what people before us risked and gave.
I’m asking each of you to do two things in 2016. First, I need you to pray every single day for the life and ministry of this place. If every one of us is praying for Trinity every day, I have no doubt that we will be astonished by what God will do. Second, I need you to spend some time discerning how you can best use the time, and energy, passions, and financial resources you have to invest in what God is doing here. I am convinced that we already have everything that we need. It is up to each of us to decide how we’re going to use it all together to bring Jesus’ endless life and love to a world that is starving for it.