January reflection: What is God seeking from us?

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

By Bill Smith
Voice of the Vestry

Bill Smith

January is a difficult time for many of us. The bright lights, family time, and festivities of Christmas are replaced by the long, cold, and, at times, dark winter days. As a youngster growing up in Traverse City, I actually loved the snow and cold – playing outside on snow piles that seemed like mountains. It was a quiet and simple time.

Until recently, as an adult, January became a time when I became very disciplined and trained for cross country ski races later in the month and for the remainder of the winter. Comparing the current training times with previous years’ times became the norm. I resolved every January to work a little harder, ski a little farther, a little faster. Those days are over now, replaced by gratitude to be in the woods with friends and my family, rather than racing to the finish line!

Perhaps now is an appropriate time to re-evaluate our spiritual “training” and discipline. A new year naturally brings with it a time of introspection for many aspects in our lives – diet, exercise, finances, to name a few. However, do we take the same time and energy to evaluate our relationship with God? I believe that this time of the year provides a perfect opportunity for self-reflection and introspection for all of us at Grace. I also believe that this is a private conversation to have with oneself and perhaps then shared with a spouse, significant other, or family member. Will 2018 become the year we dedicate time daily or weekly for spiritual thought and reading? Perhaps this becomes the year we become involved with one of the outreach programs at Grace – Jubilee House, the Food Pantry, or Friday Lunch. Alternatively, perhaps this is the time to use our talents in the myriad of church committees, which can always benefit from new ideas and energy. As we all re-evaluate our personal finances, perhaps we are in a position to make or increase a pledge to Grace for 2018.

As I was reflecting myself, I came across an article in the New York Times on Christmas Day, entitled, “How Can I Possibly Believe that Faith is Better than Doubt?” by Peter Wehner. Although the article contained many insightful elements, I was most touched by a question posed by Wehner, “What is it about our faith that makes it precious in the eyes of God?” As he stated, “What God is seeking is not our intellectual assent so much as a relationship with us.” There is much in this response for me to ponder for the next twelve months and beyond!

We are blessed to live in a special part of the world and to be members of a special congregation at Grace Episcopal Church. May we recognize and continue to remember this in 2018 and the ensuing years.

Vestry minutes – 11/14/2017

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Vestry minutes.

Vestry Members:  Clare Andreasson, Karl Bastian, James Deaton, Maria DiStefano-Post, Eddie Grim, Kathryn Holl, Sue Kelly, Michael Mittelstaedt, Bill Smith, Marian Vermeulen, Jeff Wescott, Bob Foote (Absentees in Italics)
Guests Present: None
Staff Present:  None  
Clergy Present: Rev. Kathryn Costas

Prayer and Check-in:
The vestry checked in with one another and shared prayer requests.

Scripture & Study:
Rev. Costas read from the Book of Awakening

New Member of Vestry:
Motion by Eddie Grim and seconded by Jeff Wescott to appoint Bob Foote as a member for the remainder of the vestry position vacated by Jeff Tibbitts.  Motion approved.

Approve/Amend the Agenda:
The agenda for the 11/14/17 meeting was amended by acclamation.

The minutes from the regular vestry meeting of 10/17/17 were approved by acclamation.


Rector Report:
Rev. Costas reviewed the meetings she has had in the past month with individuals and groups at Grace.

The RSVP plan is a retirement savings plan in place that is being amended to include every employee of Grace.

A newcomer breakfast will be held in January 2018.

Ellen Schrader asked that she be able to purchase medical insurance through the Medical Trust.

Treasurer’s Report:  Mark Stackable present
Finance committee went over the budget and made the following suggestions: a general information session for the parish about the 2018 budget; personal phone calls to undecided and non-committed parishioners; a possible 2% increase in payroll; information made available to the parish on the “tax-free” distribution from IRAs to non-profits.

The Finance Committee discussed segregating “PrePaid” pledges into a separate bank account.  The committee does not see the need for this.

Parish Administrator Report:
Discussion of personnel questions concerning employees who currently work under an “independent contractor” status.

There is a new director of the nursery needed.  Vestry discussed search for the new director of the nursery and the job description of that position and starting a search outside the parish.

Vestry discussed clarifying the authorities for preparing checks on the computer but not signers.

Vestry would like to ask Ann to get multiple quotes for snow removal.

Senior Warden Report:
Motion by Bill Smith and seconded by Jeff Wescott that we uphold the policy that requires two signatures on checks.  Motion approved.

Clare suggested setting a date for a longer Saturday morning planning meeting to discuss the budget, employment structures, and vestry liaisons to essential ministries.

Plumbing in the Parish Hall and the roof in the Sanctuary still need to be addressed.

The vestry discussed how we might communicate with parishioners regarding our need for pledges, including the possibility of making phone calls and sending a mailing to remind parishioners of Bishop’s visit and the Parish Meeting on Dec 17, 2017.

Vestry members will serve dinner at Safe Harbor on December 4 at 5:30 pm.

Clare will host a dinner for the Vestry with the Bishop on December 9 at 6:00 pm.

Junior Warden Report:
A parishioner suggested that the Vestry might split up the list of parishioners and call to check-in quarterly.

The Vestry reviewed the draft of the social media policy written by the Communications Committee.

Motion by Eddie Grim and seconded by Jeff Wescott to approve the Social Media Policy and Guidelines for Grace Episcopal Church.  Motion approved.

Old Business:
Jubilee House Subcommittee Recommendations were edited by Eddie Grim to include rationales; the recommendations stay the same.

New Business:
Reviewed bids for repairing the roof leak on the porch at Jubilee House.

Motion by Jeff Wescott and seconded by Bob Foote to hire Ryan Conklin builders to repair Jubilee House Roof as written in the bid which he submitted.

Forum for Congregational Concerns:

Core Ministry Reports:

Rector Search Committee:

Follow-up & Follow-through:
Rev. Costas will write thank you notes to Delegates and Alternates who attended Convention

Rev Kathryn Costas closed with prayer.

Meeting concluded at 9 pm.

Respectfully submitted,
Michael Mittelstaedt
Vestry Clerk

Voice of the vestry: “What do I do with the quiet?”

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

By Michael Mittelstaedt

Alt. Clerk Mike Mittelstaedt

Clerk Mike Mittelstaedt

The planets aligned for a brief moment this Saturday afternoon, shifting the usual overlap of events into a sweet coincidence, where by God’s grace – BOTH. THE. BOYS. ARE. NAPPING!

What do I do with the quiet? The time? I start with panic, the collision of the things I could do with my uninterrupted time, all coming to mind at once; it’s paralyzing.

The day began with our weekend traditions: breakfast, coffee (brewed with the help of little hands), pick up toys, run the vacuum, feed the dog. Then the boys and I stuff ourselves between the arms of the “big chair,” under a layer thick blankets to watch Sarah & Duck, an animation about a little girl and her duck friend… Duck.  In each episode, the pair find their day interrupted by a variety of life’s complications, scaled down sweet dramas, experienced from the point of view of a kindergarten girl: a favorite park bench isn’t available, their friend the tortoise sleeps past hibernation season, their elder friend Scarf Lady is out of wool for her knitting, or Donkey looks sad, needs cheering up.  Things that could easily go unnoticed with the momentum maintained as adults.  The beauty is that the solutions they find are typically discovered with library books, a game with good friends, lending a hand to others, or a “sit and think” in a favorite chair.  After two cozy seasons, it’s easy to see that the themes are purposeful, kind, and joyful.   I want to watch.  They want to watch.

Faced, now, with the dilemma of uninterrupted time, the tragedy of endless choices, my aspirations of getting it all done…I go for a “sit and think” in the same big chair that started the day, sifting to the surface the gifts of family and fatherhood, a celebration of a good life that takes place amidst the bumps of the week, that I then share with you in the pews and the parish hall each Sunday, my family at Grace.

150 years of contemplating the common and the divine

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

By Ellen Schrader

One of the intriguing elements of Episcopal worship is that the common can be divine, and the divine can be common.  How can that be?  Perhaps it is the everyday aspect of some of the symbols we use each week to commemorate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We become habituated to the routine use of those items that represent some of the divine aspects of Christ.  Our fundamental knowledge of the historical Jesus is that he was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead.  This divine phenomenon (resurrection) is represented by the processional cross that leads the clergy and altar party into worship each week.  It is lifted high above the people, a symbol of the triumph of divine love over death.  We experience it every week, yet who among us ever thinks about the actual cross that passes us on its way to the front of our worship space?  Grace Church has been using that cross since 1901.  It is both common (we see it every week), and divine (it represents the ultimate act of love).  The engraving on the back of the cross reads ‘in loving remembrance of Margaret S. Lay, Sept. 20, 1901’.  You may remember that Albert Tracy Lay was one of the earliest parishioners at Grace (see our website for the article on him). It is not clear whether Albert was Margaret’s husband, father, or another relative.

During the service last Sunday, as I took the chalice into my hands to receive the consecrated wine, the blood of Jesus that was shed for me, I wondered how many of us were aware that the chalice had been given ‘in memory of Renel Williams Bridge, 1841-1903’.  My lips were touching a chalice that also touched the lips of one of our earliest members.  We share the cup whose contents have provided comfort, succor, courage and strength to generations at Grace.  How cool is that?  The common cup, used weekly, contains the divine element of salvation.  God is with us always, in the common and in the divine.

The next time you have the chance, take a closer look at the common things we use during worship, and contemplate the divine.



Advent invites us to be present to God

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

By J. Kathryn Costas
Interim Rector

Advent is the beginning of a new church year.  You will see the green color disappear and be replaced with “advent blue”, we will be lighting a new candle each week on the advent wreath, the beginning sentences of our worship change, and we will begin our readings from year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.

I always look forward to this season of Advent.   I ponder how I can make this “season of waiting and preparation” a holy time for myself.  I plan on adding into my day way too many advent readings, I would like many hours of silent meditation and prayer, and also a couple of retreat days each week.  I want to really prepare in order to fully focus on the joy that Christmas brings.  Then reality sets in and I remind myself, I am not living in a monastery but in the world and I reconsider my Advent practices.

What are your advent practices?  Do you strive to do way more than time permits?  Some people choose an advent devotional to read daily, others light an advent candle, some fast a day a week, others open an advent calendar, and some choose to do things for others.  Perhaps the best use of our time is to be.  Be present to God and listen as God makes Godself known to us.

Joan Chittister reminds us that this is a season of waiting, where we learn “the joy of anticipation, the joy of delighting in the sense of the presence of God all around us, and the joy of looking for the second coming of Christ, the joy of living in the surety of even more life in the future.” (The Liturgical Year, 2009)  She calls us to develop an “Advent Heart” as we enter into the days of this season of waiting and watching.  Advent is about remembering the birth of Jesus, it is about seeing God among us in our daily lives, in what we read, in the Eucharist, in our work, our families and our community, and it is about the final coming as the full reign of God.

Transition is another season of waiting. It is a time of measuring ourselves as a church, a time to see who we are and if we measure up to who we say we are.  Others gift us with questions that we need to ponder…..Is Jesus evident in who we are?  Can we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among us?  Do we treat one another as Christ?  Are we willing to let the Spirit come among us and stir up its power within Grace Church?

This Advent Journey is not only about waiting in hope and anticipating, it is about engaging with the God that is present in our midst and moving toward the future.  May we be alert and present to the places where opportunity for mission and ministry present themselves.  May God’s abundant grace fill us with all we need during this Advent time.

Voice of the vestry: Season of Paradox

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

By Clare Andreasson
Senior Warden

Fall is a season of paradox.  We gather in the harvest of a season of beauty and bounty.  We look back in gratitude for all that we have been given.  And we let go.  Leaves change from green to gold.  They fall from the trees.  The plants that have provided flowers and food for us whither and appear to be dying.  The landscape looks barren.  We enter a season where we must trust in the life hidden in the seed, hidden in the roots which are nourished and continue to grow beyond sight deep within the soil.  We move towards Advent, the season of waiting in faith and hope and love for the life that is to come.

It is in the midst of this season that the vestry enters its work of preparing a budget for the year ahead.  We will meet on the morning of Saturday, December 9.  We will look back in gratitude for God’s provision.  We are deeply grateful for all the ways you have given to the work to which we have been called here at Grace and for your stewardship and generosity which have provided for our financial needs as a parish.

In addition, we will spend some time looking at the ministries at Grace which would benefit from greater communication with the vestry.  We hope to revive the connections which vestry liaisons, meeting regularly to understand and support the work of our ministries, could provide.

We will also prayerfully re-evaluate our needs as a parish; we will consider our current employment structures and our spending in light of those needs.  We will work to create a balanced budget.  This is a process which involves both gathering in and letting go.  We ask for your prayers as we do this work.  One week after our vestry meeting, on Sunday, December 17 after the 10 am service, we will invite you to a parish meeting to give you a budget update.

If you are planning to pledge, but have not yet done so, it would help us tremendously if you could give us your pledge card.  We will need to make decisions based on an understanding of what we may anticipate receiving in the year ahead.

The rhythms of the seasons remind me that what has come before nourishes and gives life to what lies ahead.  As a vestry, we enter this season of our work trusting in the Holy Spirit to guide us in gratitude and to give us wisdom as we prepare to receive the new life that is to come.

Vestry minutes – 10/17/2017

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Vestry minutes.

Oct 17, 2017
6:00 pm

Vestry Members:  Clare Andreasson, Karl Bastian, James Deaton, Maria DiStefano-Post, Eddie Grim, Kathryn Holl, Sue Kelly, Michael Mittelstaedt, Bill Smith, Jeff Tibbits, Marian Vermeulen, Jeff Wescott (Absentees in Italics)

Guests Present: None
Staff Present:  None
Clergy Present: Rev. Kathryn Costas

Prayer and Check-in:
The vestry checked in with one another.

Scripture & Study:
The Rev. Kathryn Costas led the vestry in a reflection based on a quote from Thomas Merton.

Approve/Amend the Agenda:
The agenda was approved by acclamation.
The minutes of the regular vestry meeting of 9/19/17 were approved by acclamation.

Rector Report:  Rev. Kathryn Costas present
The All Saints service will be moved until the first weekend in Nov. 2017 and Maxcie Latimer will do a high-tea following the 5 pm service that weekend.

On Sunday, Nov 19 there will be a Thanksgiving Service followed by a potluck with special recognition of the families who have been a part of Grace Church for more than one generation.

There was discussion of the number of services to be held on Christmas weekend, given that Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year.

Kathryn is beginning to schedule meetings with each individual vestry member.

Kathryn will put together a transition team with input of names from the congregation.

Kathryn will ask parishioners to submit the names of fellow parishioners whom they consider to be trustworthy and wise, and who have a sense of the pulse of the parish.

Kathryn will hold a Staff Retreat next Tuesday (10/24/17) from 10am-1pm.

Treasurer’s Report: Mark Stackable, present
The finance committee reviewed and discussed the draft 2016 audit.

Refinements were suggested by the auditors in the following areas: the check signing process, the weekly collections, the insurance on savings and investments, and the way expenses on renovations are reported: they should be “capitalized” not “expensed.”  Discussion ensued.

The Finance Committee established an end of November deadline for the GEC 2018 budget.  In order to facilitate preparation of the 2018 budget, the Finance Committee will meet on 10/24, 11/7, and 11/14.

Motion by Marian Vermeulen and Seconded by Eddie Grim – that from this date forward vestry members Clare Andreasson, Senior Warden, James Deaton, Junior Warden, Jeff Wescott, and Bill Smith, be named as account signers on all accounts except the GEC Foundation; and the Reverend Kathryn Costas be named as signer for the Discretionary Fund account; and Ward Kuhn and Bill Pierce be maintained as signers on the GEC Foundation account.  Motion approved.

Motion by Eddie Grim and Seconded by Marian Vermeulen – the stated policy is that the weekly offering is counted, recorded, signed, sealed in designated envelopes by two unrelated individuals immediately following each service and placed in the safe.  Motion approved.

Motion by Jeff Wescott and Seconded by Bill Smith – To accept the audit, as is, with the addition of the Charles Schwab Document stating verification of insurance.  Motion approved.

Parish Administrator Report:
Motion by Eddie Grim and Seconded by Bill Smith – that the vestry accept a generous gift of approximately $2750 to be distributed as designated by the donor to the Jubilee House and the Food Pantry.  Motion approved.

Motion by Eddie Grim and Seconded by Karl Bastian – to approve the additional expenditure of $482 toward the remodeling of the bathroom in the Brown House.  Motion approved.

Important upcoming dates were discussed:
The 150th Event Worship Service time – Dec 10, 2017 Time TBD
The Annual Meeting – Jan 21, 2018 (alternate snow date Jan 28, 2018)
The Vestry Retreat – Feb 2-3, 2018

The vestry agreed to change the date of their November meeting from Tuesday, November 21 to Tuesday, November 14 in order to avoid conflicts with Thanksgiving travel.

Senior Warden Report:
Clare met with Jeff Tibbits to discuss his reasons for resigning from his position on the vestry, to thank him for all that he has contributed to Grace Church, and to express sorrow for his departure.

Motion by Eddie Grim and Seconded by Karl Bastian – to accept Jeffrey Tibbits’ resignation from the vestry.  Motion approved.

Eddie pointed out that our bylaws require that the vestry appoint a replacement for Jeff Tibbits before the vestry elections in January.  Clare will lead a process of discernment in this regard.

The issue of the plumbing in the Parish Hall needs to be reviewed and addressed; Ann Hackett is in the midst of seeking quotes for replacement of pipes for the entire parish hall.  It is not yet clear whether we will be able to use PVC pipes, or will need to replace with cast iron.

In light of the decommissioning of our Rector Search Committee, the vestry agreed that it would be wise to remove our rector search page and our parish profile from the Grace Church website at this time.

The vestry discussed the timing of posting vestry minutes publicly on the church website and agreed that minutes should be posted once they have been approved by the vestry.

There has been a request for vestry liaisons to be appointed to the Youth Formation ministries.  The vestry strongly supports this request however, the vestry would like to make a decision in this regard after re-evaluation of the core ministries for which liaisons are needed and after new vestry members are elected in January 2018.

Our pledge campaign and work on preparing the 2018 budget are both underway.  The vestry will need to evaluate current salary structures in light of the needs of Grace and the resources which we have available to us.

Junior Warden Report:
Social Media Guidelines for parish staff and volunteers have been drafted by the communications committee.  These guidelines are based on similar policies used by other Episcopal parishes and dioceses.  The vestry has been asked to review this policy in preparation for their November meeting.

Old Business:
Last month Eddie presented recommendations from the Jubilee Ministries Subcommittee and asked that the vestry take time to consider them in preparation for formal acceptance at the October vestry meeting.

Motion by Jeff Wescott and Seconded by Karl Bastian – to accept the recommendations of the Vestry Jubilee Ministries Subcommittee as written.  Motion approved.

Karl Bastian gave an update on the Stewardship campaign.  The vestry thanked him for the excellent work that he and his committee have done so far.

New Business:
In consideration of those with allergies it is important that we become peanut-free in our food offerings, especially during coffee hour.

Sue Kelly presented a request from Candice Westerfield, Kathy Woods, Maxcie Latimer and Betsy MacGirr who would like the blessing of the vestry to form a group to begin archiving all of the historical documents related to Grace.  The vestry was delighted to affirm their request.Kate Wood was appointed to the chair of the nominating committee.

Forum for Congregational Concerns:
Core Ministry Reports:
Rector Search Committee:
Follow-up & Follow-through:

Kathryn Costas closed the meeting with prayer.

Meeting concluded at 9:00 pm

Respectfully submitted,
Michael Mittelstaedt
Vestry Clerk

Grace will host Safe Harbor Dec.  2 – Dec.  9

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


Artist rendering of the new Safe Harbor Shelter, published with permission of Safe Harbor.

New homeless shelter now open

The building has changed, but the mission remains the same.  Every year from November through April Safe Harbor offers shelter—a warm, safe place to sleep and a hot meal— to the homeless during the coldest months of the year.

Staffed by a coalition of more than twenty local churches, Safe Harbor is a volunteer organization that relies entirely on donations of food, time, and talent to keep it running.  Churches sign up as hosts for a week and provide a hot dinner, a simple breakfast, and resources to supervise the guests. In the past, this involved taking turns sheltering the homeless in their own churches.  Guests would sleep on a mat on the floor and eat in the church hall.

All that changed on November 4, when Safe Harbor opened its doors at a new permanent facility on Wellington Street.  Over four years in the making, the winter shelter offers five dedicated sleeping areas, including flex rooms for guests with special needs, which can sleep 72 guests.   It has hot showers, several washer-dryer units, and a cell phone charging locker for each guest.  There is a media room with a television and several computer stations.

Guests can arrive from 5:45 – 7 pm, and must leave the building by 8 am, after a simple continental breakfast.

While churches no longer need to provide shelter, they remain the backbone of the organization.  “It takes 167 people to run the shelter each week,” Safe Harbor Director Peter Starkel told the Record Eagle. The churches, in conjunction with Goodwill Inn, provide that staffing.

 Our turn is coming up soon. Grace is hosting at Safe Harbor from December 2 – December 9 and volunteers are needed to prepare meals and staff the facility. Dinner and Breakfast teams are in especially short supply.  Serving as a Safe Harbor volunteer is a rewarding experience.  All shifts at the new facility will be trained and first-timers will be paired with a seasoned volunteer.

If you would like to volunteer, sign up online at https://www.gtsafeharbor.org/signup/   or contact Donna Olendorf (231-947-2330, ex 309).