FR. JOSEPH ALSAY - 2021 RECTOR'S REPORT SHARED SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2022 AT SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
Well, here’s to another unique year in the life of the church and in our daily lives as well. As we wrap up 2021 and look forward to a Spirit-filled and amazing 2022, we are still battling with Covid-19 and now have the Omicron variant in our midst. But we have been here before, and if 2021 is any indication, we are only going to come out stronger, more connected, and blessed by the Holy Spirit. We can truly say that our “Tests” have become our “Testimonies.” Like Peter and the disciples, we have seen God’s prevenient hand at work in the lives of those around us. I mean, look at our familiar gospel reading of the “miraculous catch” assigned for today: Most of us tend to think of fishing as something that is to be relaxing. You want a folding chair and a book when you fish. Cast out the line, sit down, and read a book until something bites. But being a fisherman in the first century was a tough life and required hard labor. First century fisherman would stand on the edge of the boat and cast large nets into the water and then haul the nets back in. For hours and hours a fisherman would continue to cast the nets into the water. A lack of fish was not only a disappointment but was the loss of a paycheck. In today’s story Peter and the others are exhausted after working all night. Now it is morning and they finally call it quits. They bring the boats into shore and begin washing their nets. All of us have had bad days like this. We have had days where we look at life and see complete emptiness: When we feel that we are wasting our time. When we are discouraged and frustrated. Things did not go how we had hoped and high expectations fall in flames. For all of our efforts and for all our time, we are not getting anywhere. We try to make more money only to never have more saved. We try to improve our talents only to never receive the promotion. We try to upgrade our possessions only to have more headaches and more things break. We become dismayed in life and wonder what is the point? So, after a hard night’s work with no success, Jesus comes along and tells Peter to try one more time! Can you imagine the look Peter might have cast Jesus’ way? With great resignation, Peter agrees to Jesus’ request to let down the nets. “It won’t do any good, but I will do what you say.” Peter has absolutely no expectations here, except failure. “I am only doing this because you say so, Jesus. But when I pull these nets back up, I am going to tell you that I told you so.” One final time, Peter and his men let down the nets. Suddenly, they felt a pull like they have never felt before on those nets. The pull on the nets is so great that the nets are beginning to tear. They signal for the other boat to come over and help them get the nets up. But there are so many fish in the nets that they fill both boats and they begin to sink. I would imagine that if the camera were to pan to Jesus in this event, we would see a little smirk from Jesus. The unimaginable has just taken place. Peter and his crew have worked hard, fishing all night long, and did not catch one fish. It the middle of the daytime, Jesus tells them to go out and they immediately catch two boatloads of fish. 16 How different things can be in life when Jesus is on the boat! How dramatic the results can be when Jesus is with you on your journey! It would be useful to recount to you all the times I have seen God answer our prayers for spiritual and physical needs. I have been with people written off by doctors, given only days to live. I have seen doctors shake their heads, unable to explain why a recovery took place. I have seen lives change from discouragement, disappointment, and futility to purposeful, energized lives with Jesus. Peter believed trying again was a waste of time. Why should this time be different than the last two thousand times they had let down the nets? It was different because Peter was turning loose of his own expectations and obeying Jesus. “All things are possible with God.” We, like Peter, may have felt equally discouraged and disheartened as COVID raged on and consumed our lives. And just when we thought it was about to end, it came roaring back with ferocity! Who would have thought that after almost two years and with so much to be discouraged about, we would have had a miraculous 2021? Here are just a few of the miracles that happened: - Jesse Heath was able to step in as a new staff member to oversee our Youth and Family ministries. - For the first time ever we participated in the 155th Anniversary of Juneteenth with Temple B’nai Israel. - The Bella Voce Chamber Choir became our Artist-in Residence, giving us the opportunity to broaden our reach into the arts community in Oklahoma City. - We were able to continue and even expand our outreach initiatives to our wider OKC community with numerous service projects and significant financial contributions. - I made 279 contacts with current members through face-to-face visits. - We provided financial assistance to two local Episcopal parishes (St. Maria de Virgen & St. James.) - A significant donation from a member allowed us to have the badly-crumbling church parking lot repaved. - We had the best stewardship drive in the 40+ year history of St. Augustine’s. And these are just a few of the amazing ways God has filled up our nets in 2021. If you haven’t already done so, please read our annual report to get more details. We have got a lot going on! Do you feel ready to reflect God’s love into the community in new and exciting ways in 2022? Maybe I’m like Peter, but I sure did not expect all this as we entered 2021! As usual, God had bigger and better plans than I thought we could tackle. We as the community of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church were ready for that challenge! Thank you all. We started off the year with online worship, finished with our new hybrid version and as masks and social distancing has been needed at varying degrees, you all have stuck with us, and I thank you for that! I find comfort in knowing that this community of faith walks together in this, even when things are not exactly how we might like for ourselves. People are always thinking of others and caring for all. Thank you all. 17 Know that God is with us, know that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in this place, and know that that same Spirit of God is calling us to new and exciting places! I am honored to walk this journey with you as your priest! As I close, I want to especially thank our courageous Clergy, stellar Staff, vivacious Vestry, mighty Ministry Leaders, vibrant Volunteers, and magnanimous Members that have kept things together in these crazy times. My heartfelt thanks goes to Mike Hall—vestry member and Todd Branson--Jr. Warden, who both served their roles with admirable dedication. They will be missed and I encourage you all to let them know how much we appreciate their service. I wish to extend my thanks and appreciation to Renee Bauer and Sherry Dale who have agreed to serve another year on vestry. They each have valuable business experience and insight that has proven time and time again to be of great help in our decision-making process. Thanks to both of you. Finally, I especially want to thank our tireless and loving Sr. Warden, Marian Moon, for her devoted ministry, seemingly unlimited time, benevolent support to this church and the wider Diocese of Oklahoma, sage advice and thoughtful counsel, unwavering faith. It’s been said that “7” is a biblically perfect number or the number of “completion.” Our beloved Marian has served for 7+ years as Sr. Warden and has become not only an iconic institution all to herself but, has been a true blessing not only to the church, but to me as your priest. I could not have asked for a better Sr. Warden to serve with in these trying times. Thank you, Marian! Jesus encourages you to try again. Like Peter, you may ask and wonder, “what is the point?” Try again, but this time with Jesus on board. Try again, this time trusting Jesus. Try again, this time obeying Christ’s words. Try again, this time letting Christ lead your life. Quit trying to do things by yourself. Put an end to the feeling of futility, frustration, and emptiness by letting Jesus lead your life.
~Rev. Joseph C. Alsay, Rector, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.