Friday, January 29, 2021

An Annual Meeting Report

I post this because many of you may identify, and need some encouragement. I will be reading it on Sunday, January 31, at the St. Benedict's Annual Meeting.


For the Annual Meeting of St. Benedict’s ACC in 2021.

Fr. Hart, Rector. 

To speak of the State of St. Benedict’s Parish during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is like firing a shot in the dark. No clergyman was ever trained for what we have been going through. No normal protocols are in place for it, and no handbook was ever written for it. I have no interest in every armchair quarterback’s expertise on masks or vaccines, or even on the disease itself. For understanding the virus as much as possible, this parish has a physician with Duke University Hospital, and it is my personal policy to listen to Dr. Karen St. Claire more than any other member of this parish when it comes to medical matters. It is my personal policy also to listen in the same way to Dr. Gordon Ibeanu on the subject of the vaccines.

          However, when it comes to the effect of the pandemic on the parish, we have to take into account perception. Perception affects us as much as reality. Therefore, whatever opinions individuals may hold, including the rather absurd conflation of scientific reality with politics (a very real indicator of how much some people revel in fantasy), the reaction to what is going on has come at a very annoying time. It is annoying to me personally. I have watched the ups and downs of both membership and attendance for almost twelve years here. I have seen many people join our parish, but usually just enough to replace those who have departed this mortal life, or have moved away. In 2019, and early in 2020, we saw growth in the ways that matter. Our active membership had been growing, and it was reflected not only in more predictable and regular attendance, but also in the parish income. People were joining us, in general, because they loved what they experienced at our services. This was not, as in times past, mostly disaffected Episcopalians, as a good percentage of new members expressed delight in finding traditional and liturgical worship for the first time.

          As things stand now, however, we must all hope and pray that people are not happy with staying home on Sunday morning. It is not that I want our people to be generally unhappy. But, for their spiritual health, I hope and pray that they are getting quite tired of missing church. Perhaps some of you think they are wrong to stay home, and others think they are doing what is right. Again, the perception prevails that being among several people in a church service is neither safe nor wise until the pandemic is over. I respect their decision, and I have made the repeated offer to visit them with the Reserve Sacrament (which some have responded to positively, and others by saying they will be back in church soon – something I prefer not to hear when I would rather go to them now). I continue to feed them as much as I can, with the help of James Lazenby, by making videos for every Sunday, and for special Feast Days.

          Due to the pandemic our ministry at the Startford Senior Care Facility has been suspended since March of last year. I am ready to resume it again when they allow us back in. Our hope to have a new Sunday School program has also been put on the back burner. We have a good number of children in the parish, but several of them are at a pre-school age (including our newest member, whom I baptized last month).

          A new ACC church is forming in Raleigh, and it has been because members of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church approached the Rev. Dr. Michael Carreker to help them do so. As a result, our own membership will show that his extended family has relocated to another ACC church. I have mixed emotions, sorry not to see them here, but pleased to see that we have a sort of St. Benedict’s Plant.

          We have a Postulant in our parish, who is also studying at Duke Divinity School; so, pray for Nicholas Harrelson. He was wounded serving in Iraq, and has a family that includes a son, and another child on the way. The Archbishop and I are very pleased with what we see, and have hopes for his ministry.

          I had a dream back just before Easter, and I woke up laughing. It was a splendid Sunday morning, and people were suddenly attending in good number. We had just completed our Sunday Mass. But one thing, that made sense only during the dream, was what made me laugh upon waking up. As a postlude, James was playing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins. I thought about it, and considered that I dreamed that, quite likely, because the song was featured during the very happy ending of the story in the movie. We know that, because of vaccines, people will soon feel safe gathering in church again. I will not expect our organist to play that selection. But we can expect a happy ending. Let us be ready to rebuild and restore, and go forward.

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