I won the church lottery when you called me as your pastor. In June of 2015 I will begin my thirteenth year here. Since 2003, we have had a good run of it. The best gauge of health for any congregation is worship attendance. For all churches, worship should be their primary focus. In worship all Christians show their love for God who loves them so abundantly. The vast majority of churches in America have a downward trend in worship attendance. This is likely due to poor quality and irrelevant worship by many churches and increasing competition in the rest of the world for Sunday mornings. Our worship attendance has bucked this trend growing from 275 on average in 2003 to 387 on average this last year. This is not remarkable growth by any stretch of the imagination, but it does indicate that Messiah is telling a different story.
There is a vibrancy in our congregation that begins on Sunday morning and carries on through the week. Our calendar of ministries has grown Sunday afternoon through Saturday night in exponential ways. We added a small, quiet worship service this year at 4:30 for people who can’t be here in the morning. We have the largest confirmation classes in decades that meet as Sunday evening starts with twenty or so high school kids after them. Monday mornings our preschool that is near capacity is gathered. At lunch, 30 or so Seniors might be gathered in one hall while 75 preschoolers eat in the other one. In the evening, the Bell Choir will be practicing in the sanctuary, the conference room will have a committee doing the work the of the church, one of the other offices will have several members planning an event and the basement rooms, Fritz Hall and the Fellowship Hall will be filled with scouts and their parents. Every day of the week would have a similar description.
Just look at the great activity in one room of our building. We serve more meals from our kitchen Monday through Saturday then we have ever before. Beyond preparing a Messiah Night meal for 150 every week and preschool lunches every day, volunteers come in to make a great meal for a local shelter about once a week, too. Last week we prepared three meals for three different shelters feeding well over 500 people in need. Plus our kitchen is humming throughout the year with Breakfast with Santa, Valentine’s Dinner, Chicken Dinner, Easter Bunny Breakfast, Easter morning breakfast, Harvest Meal, Community Spaghetti Dinners, Rally Day picnic and more. Thousands are fed in a year through our kitchen.
This building is alive. Members use our building for showers, first birthdays, wedding receptions. We want our members to see this building as their building, almost an extension of their home. A few weeks ago I was talking to a family that went to another church about Messiah’s size. They rent a hall every year for their family Christmas party of about 100 people. I suggested they just have it at their church hall. They looked at me as if they had never heard of such a thing. I don’t think that is allowed at our church, they said. The community uses our building, too, for mom’s groups, condo meetings, fundraisers, scouts, parent groups and more. We welcome outside groups without charge as long as they aren’t making a profit or using it for personal parties, treat it well and can find room on a busy calendar. Our building is our gift from God and like all gifts from God we are called to share them abundantly.
In the last twelve years we have become known in the community for our big hearts. People came to Messiah when a new food pantry needed to be created, because they knew we would have a heart for it. People came to Messiah when a new shelter was opened in south Columbus, because they knew we would have a heart for it. People came to Messiah when a furnace broke at First English Lutheran Church because they knew we would have a heart for it. We give a portion of our offering to Joseph’s Coat, so the naked can be clothed, and empty homes can be filled. We raised nearly $10,000 last year for HEART Food Pantry from your wallets so the hungry could be fed. We spend over $5000 every year to feed thousands of men, women and children in shelters. We are leaders in fighting poverty.
It isn’t only outside these doors we share our time and wealth generously. We serve each other, too. Communion is laid out on this table because two or three volunteers prepared it for us and will clean up after us. The Chancel Choir is able to share this anthem in worship because 25 or so took time out of their life to practice it on Thursday night. The walls are kept freshly painted by volunteers. The gardens look great because of volunteers. Sunday School, Messiah Night classes, VBS, Confirmation, Youth Group, all our children and youth activities involve volunteers. At least 20 volunteers help prepare, serve and clean up the Wednesday night Messiah meal. Come by on any Tuesday night and find our volunteer leaders in meetings sacrificing their time to make sure ministry happens.
We are rich in people worshipping, serving and sharing their hard earned money. We have generous people at Messiah. 2014 might have been the greatest giving year ever, falling short only to those years we raised money for huge building projects. In 2003, people gave about $300,000 towards the ministries of Messiah in total . Last year, we gave about $470,000 towards the ministries of Messiah, but that is only part of the story. We gave another $108,000 towards our mortgage this year, to pay for the hall and kitchen that we and so many others use. That isn’t even all, though. Many of us pledged this year about $180,000 towards renovating this worship space, which is the heart of our church. And that doesn’t even count the thousands of dollars that are given by members off the books in fundraisers for the youth, to buy food for our meals for shelters, to the Seniors for their ministries, HEART collections and on and on.
This church is vibrant and alive, doing great ministry and leading our community because of all of you in the pews. I am fortunate to be your pastor and count my call as a great blessing. On this Commitment Sunday, there is no beating you up, just encouragement not to stop. Continue to challenge yourself to do more, because there is always more to do. Try to give just a little more than last year and see how your faithful giving results in even more activity around this place. Your dollars in that offering plate are impacting this community and the lives of our members.
For those who have never made a commitment to financial giving, make this the year. Commit for the first time a small amount and I promise you, you will feel a sense of pride that people are being fed, songs of praise are being sung, cub scouts are warm in our hall because of your gift. It is hard to get in a rhythm of giving. To make being generous a priority go online at our website and sign up for electronic giving. Have that little amount taken out of your account weekly or monthly and then rejoice and be proud. You are fully vested in the great things God is doing at Messiah. Just do it. Join the fun. Start the journey of faithful financial giving.
I am thrilled with how well we have done. I am honored to be your pastor. Let’s celebrate and have fun participating in the great ministries that Messiah is about and that our community looks to us to provide. May each and everyone of us commit to keeping our light of Christ shining in 2015. At this time, prayerfully consider your 2015 financial commitment then bring it forward in worship to our God is always good. Do so joyfully. Amen