2020 IN REVIEW - TO GOD BE THE GLORY! FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I think it goes without saying that 2020 will be remembered as a very strange and difficult year. In fact, you’ve probably heard it said more than once--it was an “unprecedented year.” When we met together in person last January for our Annual Meeting, none of us could have predicted that in a few short months we would end up having to abruptly shut down in person worship at the direction of our Bishop and spend the majority of 2020 physically distanced from one another, worshiping and meeting together virtually for the remainder of the year. But here we are. I will be perfectly honest with all of you that this has been one of the most difficult years that I have experienced in my fifteen years of ordained ministry. No amount of seminary training could have prepared me for the changes that I have had to face this past year. Not only did I have to learn how to better navigate the world of technology – not exactly one of my strong suits! – but I have also had the challenge of continuing pastoral care for all of you from a distance. I have also had to make difficult decisions about things like canceling our in-person Christmas Eve services, trying to balance the often conflicting goals of what would be most spiritually beneficial for everyone versus what I should be doing to keep everyone safe in the face of the pandemic versus keeping me and my family safe from the virus. I have also served as a sounding board to my fellow clergy colleagues, many of whom are frustrated and struggling with the same issues that I mentioned above. As I said, it has been a hard year. 15 That said, I am very thankful and grateful for two things. One, I am thankful and grateful for God’s continuing fountain of grace, mercy, and love given to me in Jesus Christ. As I read the Bible this past year, I can honestly say that listening to God’s Word has sustained me through all the ups and downs that I had to face. God’s Word has given me hope and filled me with joy no matter what difficulties have come. Without a doubt, Jesus is the Bread of Life who sustains not only me, but all of us through both the good times and the bad times. As is promised to us in the Scriptures, Jesus is sovereign over everything and everyone. Knowing that He is sovereign over all this mess that we find ourselves in gives me great comfort and hope. I hope and pray that it does for you as well. The second thing that I am thankful and grateful for is all of you. As I have said in the past; I am always and utter amazed at how you - the People of St. Augustine’s - live out the missional exhort of Jesus in the world. Despite the many and unforeseen challenges we faced in 2020, your zeal, vigor and determination to accomplish God’s work was not thwarted. Might I remind you of a FEW things we accomplished, in the midst of the 2020 pandemic: • Collected and distributed over 700 Easter baskets for the Jesus House. • Offered the following online services: Music Mondays Noonday Prayer, Words of Wisdom on Wednesday, Wednesday Adult Bible study, Friday evening Compline, Virtual Children’s Moments. • Raised $7,000 for the Regional Food Bank which was matched dollar for dollar by the Vestry. • Offered several opportunities to the parish for virtual connection through “Game Nights.” • Offered a spooktacular Drive through Trunk or Treat event with over 500 cars attending. • Hired Fr. Lance Schmitz as Associate Priest for Youth and Families. • Initiated a “Shepherd’s Group” whose primary responsibility is to be in contact with the members of SAC. • Responded to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal by raising $9,000 with an additional $5,000 given from the Outreach budget to be given to Historic Vernon A.M.E Church, Tulsa. • Had a successful 2021 Stewardship Campaign, in which we have pledged equal to what we did in 2020. To these things and so much more I say “To God be the Glory.” Might I also take this opportunity to thank our courageous Clergy, stellar Staff, magnanimous Ministry leaders, vibrant Vestry and vivacious volunteers whose dedication, skill, knowledge and faithfulness ensure that SAC is a viable community of faith. That said, as I have tried to make my way forward through this past year as your pastor and priest, I have been very thankful for your patience with me and all your kind, encouraging, and supportive words along the way. They have meant the world to me, and very often, by God’s grace, they have been the pick-me-up that I needed at the time you said them. As with all of you, I certainly long for the time when we can all be together again in person and when we have coffee, break bread and visit with one another the way we’re used to. I am hopeful that in 2021 we will begin to make our way back there. I am going to leave you with some words from St. Paul. They are some of my favorite words in all of Scripture, and, I believe, an appropriate word for the time we are living in. Even though we all wish and hope for 2021 to be better, we do not honestly know what the year is going be like. But no matter whether 2021 is a good year or a bad year, we have this promise to cling to: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who 16 was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘“For your sake we are all being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.31b-39 NRSV, emphasis added). Remember that you are justified, forgiven, and loved by God in Jesus Christ, and there is nothing that can separate you from that love. Thanks be to God!
~ Fr. Joseph C. Alsay, Rector, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church