Food Pantry—A Jubilee Ministry alleviating food insecurity

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Jubilee Ministries.

By Nancy Johnson
Food Pantry Coordinator

People in the Grand Traverse area are hungry, often very hungry. In fact, one out of four people in this region experience food insecurity. Food security, defined by the USDA, “means access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” This means that so many of our neighbors go to bed at night after missing one or more meals that day due to no food. They also worry where they can obtain food for the next day, and the days after that.

Many years ago, a few Grace Church parishioners started to address this hunger by providing food in the undercroft of the church. In 1976, Grace established the first food storage program in Traverse City, which was called The Pantry Shelf and was directed by Fern and Ralph Orcutt. Over time, it has expanded and moved a few times – from two different locations in the church’s basement to a small room in Jubilee House to its current home. An extensive renovation of the garage behind Grace, made possible by Ray and Frances Spedding, facilitated this move in 2014.

In the past, we provided clients with a bag or two of basic groceries, pre-filled by our volunteers. But now we give a flexible shopping experience, providing a variety of emergency food options for those in need. We are an active member of the five-county Northwest Food Coalition, a justice-minded group of food pantries, baby pantries, and meal sites. We get weekly deliveries from Food Rescue, a program of Goodwill Northern Michigan, which provides the pantry with tremendous amounts of produce, meat, bread, and other items.

Partner churches supply us with food and cash donations, and we participate in local food drives. Grace parishioners have also been generous through the years by donating food as well as cash to buy needed items – all tremendously appreciated. Because of these gifts, we can occasionally offer the “fixings” for an extra dinner to our clients beyond their normal allotment of food. What fun, and what a blessing!

What is my prayer for our future? I pray that Grace will continue this vital ministry by providing nutritious food to our neighbors in need, and that those who live in the Grand Traverse area will become more secure in their food accessibility. May a family never go hungry again!

We have lost a few volunteers recently, so I invite you to consider joining us during distribution days on Mondays and Fridays, beginning at noon. If you feel God leading you to minister in this way, please contact me at

What will you share in our Grateful Harvest?

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Stewardship.

Dear Friends of Grace,

As I write this, the heat of summer is hanging on with a vengeance, delaying the inevitable fall colors and welcome cool temperatures. The seasons are definitely in transition. In much the same way, Grace is also in a period of profound transition. We’re celebrating our 150th Anniversary; a monumental milestone, to be sure. We’re also welcoming a new Intentional Interim Rector as we continue the search for a new rector. Amidst all this change, we have a great deal for which to be thankful. Our friends and family. This beautiful community we call home. The chance to celebrate our faith together. And, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to impact the lives of the hungry, homeless and hopeless.

Hence our Stewardship theme: A Grateful Harvest. A time to reflect on those gifts in our own lives for which we’re grateful. A time to consider how we can best share these gifts in the service of others. A time to commit to actively give of our “bounty” to impact the lives of our church community, the greater community and the world.

Over the next few weeks, you will hear compelling stories of those who have committed to being stewards of the ministries here at Grace. You’ll learn of the journeys that have led them to stewardship and their personal reasons for supporting the important work we do. During this time, we invite you to reflect on these stories and consider your stewardship commitment. Commitment Weekend will be October 21st and 22nd.  During this weekend, we’ll offer our pledges during worship and commit to our work together in sharing A Grateful Harvest.

With gratitude for all God’s blessings,

Karl Bastian
For the Stewardship Ministry Team


Jubilee Ministry’s Community Lunch – Feeding Body and Soul

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Jubilee Ministries.

By Kate Wood
Community Lunch Coordinator

This is a simple, concrete ministry that fulfills the gospel call to feed and care for those in need. It also nourishes body and soul, feeding God’s people both in the giving and the receiving!

As with many things at Grace Church, the idea of serving a free meal to our neighbors in need came out of a discussion among parishioners. In 1991, Chris Black organized and served eighteen “guests of Grace” at the inaugural meal. This is believed to be the first such offering in Traverse City, and now several churches serve community meals throughout the week. Grace serves lunch every Friday from 12 noon to 1 pm. This food ministry is funded by generous donations of community and parish members.

Community Lunch is one of Grace’s three Jubilee Ministries – the Food Pantry and Jubilee House being the other two. There are over 600 Jubilee Ministry Centers in The Episcopal Church, a national program that encourages a ministry of joint discipleship with poor and oppressed people to meet basic human needs and to build a just society. The national program started in 1983, but Grace did not become an official Jubilee Ministry Center until 2005.

Over the years, Community Lunch has had a legion of volunteer cooks, dishwashers, and servers. We now average about fifty people per meal. Those served include struggling neighbors, elderly people on fixed incomes, and the homeless. A nourishing meal served on the parish’s “china” gives a sense of welcome to those eating and a focus on hospitality for the volunteers that serve.

All the team members of this ministry say that they receive far more in blessings and joy serving and sharing than they ever thought would be possible when they first began. This is a ministry that has had generations of Grace families participate due to its episodic but constant presence.

Many of you may be aware that Community Lunch is also served at Grace every Sunday at 1 pm, hosted by a group of dedicated volunteers from area churches, who have been faithful in their service to this ministry.

It is our hope that Community Lunch continues as part of Grace Church’s long legacy of faith, allowing us to add life to the community we live in. If you are interested in learning more about this ministry and how you might help, contact me at or 231-941-5785.

Our times are in God’s hand

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Voice of the Vestry.

By James Deaton
Junior Warden

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:14-15a).

Jr. Warden James Deaton

Jr. Warden James Deaton

Part of my job description as a managing editor is to create publishing schedules, making sure they’re realistic given the project’s scope. I’m also responsible for monitoring progress and checking in with writers and graphic designers to ensure we meet our deadlines. It works well, most of the time, but sometimes the schedule gets delayed for a variety of reasons.

Significant parts of a cookbook are accidentally skipped over during the editing phase. Receiving permission from copyright owners to reprint previously published material takes longer than anticipated. Illustrations for a children’s book are substandard and more work must be done. A writer becomes ill and dies, leaving a project unfinished. Through these experiences, to my chagrin, I’ve learned how to step back and recalibrate a schedule.

Too often my work mindset bleeds over into my spiritual life. I place markers into the future and set expectations for where I hope to be in my life of discipleship—in prayer, in church attendance, in tithing, in reading scripture, in ministry involvement. Goals are good, and the call to lead a holy life is a serious one, but sometimes I box myself in so tightly that the work of the Holy Spirit is easily snuffed out.

During this time of transition in our life together as a parish family, it’s easy to appreciate the orderliness of the processes and procedures that manage our life together. We follow Robert’s Rules of Order in our meetings. We create checklists when planning for events. We depend upon a set worship schedule. We need these things to keep us on task—they give us stability and structure. But how can we also value the way God moves in mysterious ways, leading us down a new path to the beat of a different drum?

Something is stirring at Grace. The Spirt of God is alive and well. Recently I felt this in a profound way—in our singing together, in honest words spoken and received, in God’s Word proclaimed with conviction and truth, in grace given through bread and wine at the altar rail, in the embrace of a dear friend, in a kind smile from a visitor, in hearty laughter around a table at coffee hour.

I have no doubt that God is here with us, even when things don’t happen according to our timetable. While we move forward in the days ahead, remember to care for and love one another as our God has loved us. Give each other the space needed for the grace of God to work. And listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, who may ask us to change our schedules to focus on more important work.

Anniversary Open House will focus on history and outreach

Posted by & filed under Events, Grace Notes, Ministry of the week.

Oct. 14-15 Poster

Grace Episcopal Church warmly welcomes the public to a slate of events scheduled for October 14-15, 2017, in celebration of their sesquicentennial. An open house will be held on Saturday from 2-4 pm, featuring docent-led historical tours of the church campus and a spotlight on outreach ministries. On Sunday, an old-fashioned hymn sing at 4:30 pm will be followed by a potluck.

About the Open House

Throughout the month of October, Grace’s anniversary celebrations turn to their legacy as a downtown church with a historic commitment to outreach. The community is invited to learn more about this legacy of faith by visiting on Saturday, October 14, from 2-4 pm. Docent-guided historical tours of the church campus will begin every half-hour, and will include the sanctuary, rebuilt in 2005, various displays of historical items related to Episcopal worship and music, Jubilee House, and the Food Pantry. Informational displays for other Grace outreach ministries will also be set up in the parish hall. “We worship and pray together each weekend in the sanctuary, but ‘church’ really happens outside that structure when we build relationships and strive to meet the needs of the community by providing essential resources,” says Ann Hackett, parish administrator and anniversary committee co-chair.

Worship services on Saturday at 5 pm, and at 8 and 10 am on Sunday, will be centered on an intentional recommitment to their Jubilee Ministries—Jubilee House, the Food Pantry, and Community Lunch. Former rector and retired priest, The Rev. D. Edward “Ed” Emenheiser, who led Grace from 1994–2007 during a pivotal period in Grace’s recent history, will preside, vestry member Eddie Grim will preach, and the worship will be set on God’s justice and Grace’s renewal of vows as a Jubilee Ministry Center. All are welcome.

On Sunday, October 15, two public events focused on the long-held traditions of singing together and church potlucks will conclude the weekend’s activities. At 4:30 pm, Grace’s Chancel Choir and Grace Harmony, the church’s contemporary music group, will lead an old-fashioned hymn sing. A few core hymns that have historical importance in the life of Grace will serve as anchor pieces in between requests for favorites. “Hymn singing has been an important part of the Episcopal liturgy for generations. We hope to honor that legacy by joining together and singing some of our favorites through the ages,” says Katherine Will, music and worship coordinator. Immediately following, at 5:30, all are invited to share in a Sunday supper potluck. Guests are encouraged to bring a favorite dish to pass—a nostalgic recipe from childhood or a comfort food that has special meaning. Both events will especially interest those from other churches who enjoy these traditions.


 About Grace Episcopal Church

This year marks the sesquicentennial of the presence of The Episcopal Church in Traverse City. The first recorded Episcopal worship services held in Traverse City were in 1867, led by a missionary priest from Muskegon. Grace officially organized in 1873. The first church building was constructed on State Street in 1876, and the parish was formally admitted to the Diocese of Western Michigan in 1877. In 1897, the church was moved, by horse, from its original location to its present site. The parish hall, to the west of the church, was built in 1966.

At the end of the twentieth century, Grace had outgrown its worship space and so a new sanctuary was built in 2005. This new worship space mirrored several of the architectural design features of the original sanctuary. Some elements from the previous sanctuary, such as stained-glass windows and certain altar features, were also preserved and incorporated into the new one. More historical insights will be given in the docent-led tours during the open house.

Grace Episcopal Church is located at 341 Washington Street, at the corner of Washington and Boardman Avenue at the edge of the Boardman Neighborhood Historical District in downtown Traverse City. Free street parking is available, along with a small parking lot with handicap spaces behind the church in the alley off Boardman.

More articles about the history of Grace are being published on their anniversary page:


About Grace’s Outreach Ministries

Grace Episcopal Church has been a trailblazer in Christian outreach ministry for many decades:

  • In 1976, Grace established the first food storage program in Traverse City, which was called The Pantry Shelf and was directed by Fern and Ralph Orcutt. This evolved into Grace’s Food Pantry, which currently offers a variety of emergency food options for those in need.
  • In 1977, Grace’s rector, The Rev. Tom Stoll, his wife Sterling, and others were responsible for the beginnings of hospice care in Traverse City. The triggering event was the terminal illness of Helen Furman who did not want to stay in the hospital to finish her days. She and her husband Pete were members of Grace and owners of the Ben Franklin store on Eighth Street.
  • The first CROP Walk in Traverse City was held in 1981, and Fr. Tom Stoll was the coordinator. CROP Hunger Walks are community-wide events sponsored by Church World Service, a national organization, and organized by local congregations or groups to raise funds to end hunger at home and around the world.
  • In 1991, Chris Black initiated community lunches at Grace on Fridays. She served eighteen guests. This is believed to be the first such offering in Traverse City, and now several churches serve community meals. Grace continues to serve lunches every Friday.


Grace is one of over 600 Jubilee Ministry Centers in The Episcopal Church, a national program that encourages a ministry of joint discipleship with poor and oppressed people to meet basic human needs and to build a just society. The national Jubilee Ministry program started in 1983, but Grace did not become an official Jubilee Ministry Center until 2005.

“Grace has provided a lot over the years, and continues to be actively involved in the well-being of the people of Traverse City, but our crown jewel is our Jubilee Ministries,” says anniversary committee co-chair James Deaton. “Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping those on the margins of society, befriending the down-and-out—we take Jesus’ words very seriously.”

Full-time intentional interim will join Grace in October

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Interim Rector, Voice of the Clergy.

The Rev. Kathryn Costas

The Rev. Kathryn Costas

By Clare Andreasson
Sr. Warden

The vestry is delighted to bring you the news that the Rev. Kathryn Costas has accepted a call to serve as full-time Intentional Interim Rector at Grace Church.  We finalized our covenant with her at our vestry meeting on Tuesday, September 19.  She will begin working with us the first week of October.

Kathryn has significant experience in working with parishes in transition.  She comes to us with the highest of recommendations.  She will serve as rector-in-charge of our parish, fulfilling all the responsibilities of rector at Grace.  In addition, she will lead us, as a parish, through a process designed to prepare us to recommission our search committee, relaunch our search, and ultimately, call a new full-time rector.  This process will include looking at our heritage and embracing all the rich variety that makes us Grace, reviewing our membership needs and our way of developing and organizing new and effective leadership, attending to our connections to the diocese and the communities of which we are a part, defining and redefining our sense of purpose and direction, and developing congregational and pastoral profiles.

Once our search committee is recommissioned, the Rev. LaRae Rutenbar will serve as a consultant to that committee, working closely with Kathryn and the parish through the search process.

An intentional interim is a rector with very specific training in leading a congregation through the central tasks of an interim period.  There is a fairly small group of rectors nationally who have this training.  Both Kathryn and LaRae are intentional interims.  In addition, they are highly regarded and in demand.  We feel immensely blessed to have these two women working with us as we continue to live into this season of transition.  Personally, as senior warden, I feel a great sense of hope and anticipation.  I believe that the work that lies ahead will bring us life and growth and joy.

Kathryn will be living in the first-floor apartment of the Brown House.  We are working intensely to prepare and furnish that apartment to make it a pleasant home for her while she is with us.  We would be thrilled if you would like to help us.  Contact Ann Hackett ( if you wish to make a donation to help defray the cost of furnishings.  Contact Ann or Charlene Allen (231-421-5252)  or Karla Herbold (561-214-2200) if you wish to provide work hours and “elbow grease” to ready the apartment itself.  They have a list of the tasks to be done.  Anything you could offer, however small, would help.  We want Kathryn to feel very welcome.

Garden provides resting ground for departed

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Ministry of the week.

By Linda Schubert
St. Fiacre Garden Guild

Statue of St. Fiacre in the Garden of Remembrance and Reflection

Statue of St. Fiacre in the Garden of Remembrance and Reflection

Grace Church’s Garden of Remembrance and Reflection echoes its message of Enter in Peace with perennial plantings in soft, calming colors. Entering through the vine covered archway, St Fiacre statuary (holding a bouquet in one hand and a spade in the other) beckons us to sit awhile in quiet prayer while tuning out the street sounds in favor of birdsong.

This garden is tended, as are all gardens surrounding the church, by a dedicated group called St. Fiacre’s Garden Guild. The guild was established in 2005, when parishioners interested in gardening organized to create an all-encompassing landscape plan that defined the whole of the church campus with coordinated shrubs, plantings and irrigation.

The building of the new sanctuary necessitated the building of this new memorial garden. Cremains interred in the former memorial garden (situated between the sanctuary and commons) were reverently moved to this new place of rest. That fall we established the colorful garden border on the West side of the parking lot now known as Marion’s Garden (in honor of parishioner Marian Warbasse) which bloomed heartily the following spring.

On a cold, misty weekend in January 2006, with great help from Dixie Stephen’s son, Kent McGill, we began an almost six month project: reworking the grounds and parking lot for the memorial garden.  Kent came in with heavy equipment and moved the brown shed and a portion of a deck behind the brown house– a tricky move with barely two inches to spare and only a branch from a bush knocked off. He helped move earth behind the brown house, took loads of brush away, and scraped rock and debris from the North (alley) side of the parking lot.

Our eager group of Guild members labored persistently throughout the summer – working the earth and feeding it with nutrients, including Schubert’s composted horse manure.   We took out rocks, built structures, and painted.  Bob Bosch built the stately entry arch.  Finally the fence was up, the paths in place; it was time to plant and mulch. By September the garden was ready to be blessed.

Nowadays,  a typical gardening day might include answering questions from visitors and parishioners alike.  Once we found a young man from downstate who  was resting on our garden bench.  He had no place to stay while his young son was recovering at Munson.  We directed him to the Spedding Food Pantry, Jubilee House, and other services. Two men came to pay their respects to a mutual friend whose cremains were recently interred near the pine tree, but they had forgotten the location. We directed them to the place and consoled them in their loss. Oh, and we did have some time for garden tending.

The gardens at Grace Church were honored to be chosen as part of the Friendly Garden Club’s 32nd Annual Garden Walk on July 17, 2014. We welcomed over 1,000 guests through the church doors and around our well kept gardens plus provided space for the refreshment and restroom break.

Amid laughter and earthworms, we have often worked alongside Jubilee House folk. We benefit from their help and friendship, while they appreciate having a way to give back to Grace Church.

Perhaps this place cannot be compared to an old Anglican churchyard cemetery. Yet in that tradition, it provides an honored resting ground for our departed while offering respite and refreshment for the living. May we all rest in peace.

Our strength grows with our youth: Register them for Church School

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Ministry of the week.

By Donna Olendorf
Director of Children & Youth Formation

“The strength of our church grows with our youth,” wrote vestryman Bob Bursian in 1973, capturing the spirit of Christian Education that has been present at Grace Church since its very beginning.

In fact, the roots of our Church School reach back to a time before Grace was even born, the early 1850s, when Episcopalian Albert Tracy Lay held Sunday School classes for children of all denominations in the early settlement of Traverse City. Even though written documentation is scarce, Sunday School classes were an important part of our early church life. By April 1878, a line item for Sunday School had been added to the budget, and in 1879 a Christmas tree was purchased and all the Sunday School children were given presents.

Official recordkeeping appears to have started in 1884, when Grace Church School registered 50 children and 8 teachers, with rector the Rev. Joseph S. Large as superintendent. From that point on the history of Church School reads like a stock market chart, with highs and lows corresponding not to financial markets but rather to the fervor of the rector and the dedication of parents.

Church School children in 1957

Church School children in 1957

Enrollment peaked in the 1960s when space got so tight that the vestry launched a building program for a new parish hall that would include ten Sunday School rooms and a teenage area. “This is the first stage in our long range expansion program,” wrote the Rev. Francis J. Foley on January 15, 1964. “Our children must have adequate facilities in which to learn of their Christian heritage.” By 1965, 156 children had registered for classes. Due to lack of space, classes were combined for grades five through nine and met in the new jail. On May 23, 1965, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the new parish hall, which was completed in April of the following year.

Many of the contributions from that era still remain in use, including the altar, the cupboards, and the custom-made dividers, which were financed through a deluxe buffet dinner, hosted by Mrs. Roy (Ellen) Brigman, who served as head of the Grace Church School primary grades for 20 years. Upon Ellen’s resignation in 1967, Maxcella (Maxcie) Latimer was promoted to superintendent of the Church School, where she served in a variety of roles until retiring as a nursery caretaker c. 2012.

The 1970s and 1980s were a stable period for Church School, thanks in part to the formation of a Christian Education Commission that was formed and divided into two task forces: 1) Church School, and 2) Continuing Education. Chaired by Kay Rickard and Barbara Coulter, the commission met regularly and kept both programs on track. Some of the stability as well can be attributed to many families who baptized and enrolled their children at Grace following the completion of Lamaze classes taught by Sterling Stoll, the wife of The Rev. Thomas Stoll. The classes were held in the basement of the Parish Hall.

In the late 1980s, word spread about a new curriculum based on the Montessori method of teaching, and Maxcie and Betty Bursian went downstate to attend “Children and Worship” training in Grand Rapids. The session was taught by Jerome Berryman, who developed the fledgling program into an internationally respected curriculum called “Godly Play.” When it was approved and implemented at Grace in late 1989, it was called “Worship Center,” and featured stories told by Kay Schmidt, Kate Wood, and Anne Gahn, among others. The teachers made their own props and figures, which they dressed in colorful fabric and carefully knitted gowns. Many of these hand-carved figures are still in use today.

Low energy and a lack of commitment led to the demise of “Worship Center” after the original cohort aged out of the program. This was noted in the 1993 Annual Report, where Interim Rector The Rev. Colin Keys wrote, “I am not pleased with the support the parish has given to Christian Education. I am also disturbed by the tardiness and absences of the children. This indicates a lack of commitment on part of the parents.”

The arrival of the Rev. Edward E. Emenheiser, who presided at Grace from 1992 – 2007 and oversaw the building of a new sanctuary and refurbishment of the classrooms, stabilized the Church School decline. In 1993, a new curriculum from the Virginia Theological Seminary was adopted, to be replaced one year later by the Episcopal Children’s curriculum, which was then replaced by Augsburg “Life Together” curriculum in 2001. During this period, volunteer coordinators and teachers did their best to keep the classes relevant and the children engaged.

As life got busier, volunteer time became scarce and Grace decided to demonstrate its commitment to Church School by paying a small stipend to the Church School leader. In 2007, Catherine Turnbull became the first paid Church School coordinator. With the arrival of the Very Rev. Daniel Richards in 2009, the role of Church School Director became an official staff position.

Grace came full circle in 2012 when the Montessori based program that had languished in the 1990s was officially re-embraced under its new name. “Godly Play” remains in use today for primary grades, along with the Episcopal Church’s digital “Lesson Plans that Work” for middle schoolers, and Journey to Adulthood (J2A) for the youth group.

Believing still that “the strength of our church grows with our youth,” we have a full roster of teachers and classes and will be registering students for Church School, starting September 10. We pray that you will enroll them to participate in this rich legacy.

In the pulpit this fall…

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Voice of the Clergy.

The Rev. LaRae J. Rutenbar has been ordained for thirty-seven years and has been canonically resident in the Diocese of Western Michigan since 1994.  She officially began her career in Intentional Interim Ministry in 1994 under the supervision and encouragement of Bishop Edward Lee.  Before this time, Mother LaRae worked as a hospital chaplain, long-term supply, and assistant to the rector.  She has served in over fifteen congregations and seven different dioceses, assisting parishes in transition and trauma.

Mother LaRae was raised in Montana where she received a B.S. in Psychology from Rocky Mountain College.  Her Masters in Divinity is from Virginia Theological Seminary, and she has completed numerous studies in conflict resolution, Interim Ministry, individual and parish communications, and stewardship.  She is currently semi-retired, although continues to serve in parishes as they need help in transitions, conflict management, and clergy supply.

Mark, her husband, is also a retired Episcopal Priest having served as rector of St. Paul’s (Macon, GA), St. Luke’s (Kalamazoo, MI) and Church of the Holy Communion (Memphis, TN).  Together they have two adult children.  Michael was recently married in May to a wonderful young woman, Katie. They live in East Troy, WI, where Michael is an Environmental Education Specialist working with the YMCA Camp Edwards.  Katie works for the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater as a student advisor to the School of Business.  Their daughter, Libby, works for a large CPA firm in Denver, CO, and is finishing her advanced degree in Graphic Design. She also works part time for a veterinary office and enjoys hiking and climbing. She has recently completed her ascent to the 14,000 mark.  The other member of the family is Abbey, a Bassett hound- Rottweiler mix of a dog. She often travels with Mother LaRae and believes the car is her home away from home!

Now that Mark and LaRae are serving less time in the church, they have time for some favorite pastimes: golf, bowling, hiking, fishing and traveling.  Mark enjoys cooking and puttering around the house, and LaRae enjoys reading mysteries, creative projects and gardening.  She is a collector and teller of stories.

Mother LaRae will be here for several Saturdays and Sundays in the month of September and is assisting the vestry as our parish continues to discern a call for the next rector of Grace.


Fear Not!

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Voice of the Clergy.

By the Rev. Carlton Kelley

I am posting something that I think bears repeating particularly at this time of some uncertainty.  Remember:  Fear Not!  May your life be full of the blessings of God as you seek to live into the fullness of Christ’s redeeming love.

These are the “Seven Questions every church should ask” which formed the basis for my sermon on Sunday, June 26, 2016. These questions were taken from the January 8, 2012 Anglican Journal and written by the Canadian priest, the Rev Dr. Gary Nicolosi.

Please bear in mind, as Fr. Nicolosi says, that some questions are “so full of complexity that no adequate answer is possible, but that does not prevent us from considering multiple perspectives…”

  1. “What would be lost, and how would the world be worse off, if our church ceased to exist?”

Fr. Nicolosi reminds us that many of the services the church alone provided in the past are now being offered by secular organizations.  What then is our irreplaceably unique purpose? Are we merely a social service provider with an overlay of the divine?  Is our outreach given in the name of Jesus?  Or, Is our outreach given to Jesus?

  1. “How does the church add value to people’s lives that they cannot live without – whether they know it or not?”

Nicolosi recalls many people standing in line to eat at the Cheesecake Factory in Buffalo. He then asks, “Would people wait that long to attend church?”  However, we are not a brand to be sold, but a life to be lived with a Savior to be proclaimed.

  1. “What challenges in the fulfillment of mission does our church face and what can we do to bring about that new thing God wants our church to be?”

Not every new thing is of God nor does new mean better. But, the church frequently resorts to the answer that “We’ve never done it that way.”  What hinders us from following “that still more excellent way’’ of which St. Paul speaks.

  1. “What are the barriers to seeing reality that our church needs to move beyond?”

This is a very difficult question because it is sometimes nearly impossible to see reality as it is when we are in the middle of it!  Our reality is like the air we breathe – it is taken for granted that it cannot be different than it is. However, those sensitive to language understand that words create reality. So, what words do we need to change when we speak of Grace Church?  Does our desire to be “inclusive” mean what we think it means?  Does our desire for more and more inclusivity really mean that we have abandoned “the narrow way” of which the Gospels speak?

  1. “What issues does our church need to face within the next year so that five years from now, we won’t have to say, ‘We wish we had…’ “

There is almost always something in the life of a complex institution that requires change.  What is that ‘something’ for Grace Church?

  1. “If money were not an issue, where would you like your church to be five years from now?”

As responsible stewards of our God given resources, we will need to make decisions about the direction we wish to take.  There may be many possibilities, but fewer probabilities. What future direction is sustainable given our location and the foundation of the irreplaceable Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?

  1. “In what ways can we affirm “Jesus is Lord” without appearing to be bigots?”

This may be the central question for the church of our time.  In an age of increasing pluralism, how is the Gospel mandate to “preach the Gospel to all people” best done?  Recalling that St. Francis is reported to have said that we are always to preach the Gospel, but to use words if we must, does that mean that the essential message of the Gospel – “Jesus is Lord” – should be ignored or abandoned?  What does it mean that Jesus and none other is Lord?  We claim that the life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord were unique and pivotal events for the entire cosmos. How are we to claim our uniquely God given vocation, in the power of the Holy Spirit, “to complete his work in the world and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all” without diminishing others? (Book of Common Prayer, page 374)  Again, What does it mean that Jesus and none other is Lord?  Our lives as Christians truly depend upon our answer both individually and corporately.  We are called to live into the real and weighty sacramental disciplines of our faith, not the market ploys of our consumer culture.