Grace to you, and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Not too many weeks ago, on a chilly Sunday morning in December, we gathered for worship and read these beautiful and powerful words from Luke’s gospel:
Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.”Luke 1:46-50 CEB
Mary’s Song is a young woman’s response to being told that the child within her womb will blessed by God. As she visits her relative Elizabeth, she also realizes that God’s promise of faithfulness will be fulfilled. When God makes a promise, that promise will happen. It might take time, and it might look different than we expected, but God’s promises are always fulfilled.
I am constantly moved by the balance of uncertainty and hope within Mary’s song of praise. The only way she can respond to wonderful (and terrifying) news is to glorify God. She continues to sing about all the ways in which God will turn the world on its head: the powerful will be pulled down and the lowly lifted up, the hungry will be filled and the rich sent away. And all of this will happen for one reason: because God made a promise to never forget us.
Last November, I began my fourth year serving as your vicar. The journey we have shared so far has been filled with a beautiful mixture of uncertainty and hope. With Mary, we declare that God has shown mercy to us, from one generation to the next. As we look at ourselves – and at the work God has done through us – we testify that God’s promise of faithfulness has been, and will continued to be, fulfilled. We also proclaim that God is about to turn the world on its head.
St Michael’s has seen some remarkable growth, and we had numerous reasons to celebrate, in 2018. There are far too many to list, but here are some highlights:
- In February, we hosted a joint congregational retreat with Trinity Church. This was a great opportunity to begin growing a “Community of Kinship” with our siblings in Princeton. Throughout the year, we also joined with Trinity for other events, such as a One Table Café event, the Easter Vigil celebration, and a biweekly bible study. We also welcomed Brother Christopher McNabb as our guest preacher on numerous occasions. I am confident that this is just the beginning of this partnership with Trinity Princeton.
- Our increased relationship with Trinity did not change our commitment to ecumenism. Our annual President’s Day service was well attended, and we celebrated Holy Week with St Mark Lutheran in Hamilton. We have also begun conversations about a model for a shared clergyperson with St Bartholomew Lutheran in Trenton.
- During the spring and summer months, we began—and completed—a large historic restoration project on our Sanctuary building. Much of the funding for this project came from the New Jersey Historic Trust and two bequests. The exterior of the building is now preserved, which should also decrease interior maintenance costs in the future.
- September was a month of festivity! We joined Fred’s family in celebrating his 85th birthday, and we celebrated Boyer and Louise’s 65th wedding anniversary. And, of course, we held a festive eucharist on the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, whereupon we commemorated our 315th Anniversary.
And yet, in the midst of possibility and exciting work, there were other ways in which our world was turned on its head. We were not without some significant challenges this year:
- We lost two dear members in 2018: Marie and Yvonne. These deaths were particularly noticeable because of our small group of parishioners—we lost about 10% of our average worship attendance. The entire congregation must be aware of these losses and work to address the gap in financial contributions and general participation.
- In November, my three-year term as your vicar expired. This term coincided with the Priest Project, a three-year strategy for funding a clergyperson. Since the Priest Project completed its funding in 2018, we are faced with a significant deficit for the coming year. Your vestry and I are in conversation about some new models of ministry which we believe will secure our future for years to come.
When we consider these exciting and challenging realities, we should also take note of the new prospects that your vestry and I are actively discussing:
- We continue to explore a ministry partnership with Trinity Church in Princeton. It is our hope that this relationship will strengthen both congregations. And with the combined resources from St Michael’s and Trinity, we are optimistic that the Episcopal Church can continue to meet the needs of our neighbors.
- We continue to look for ways to increase efficiency throughout the building. Not only will this decrease the costs for maintaining our physical plant, but it also makes our building more climate-friendly. As stewards of God’s creation, this must be a priority for every faith community.
In 2019, St Michael’s Episcopal Church begins its 316th year. We have spent much time looking back over the past centuries, but I also want to urge us to look forward. We must continue to discern where God is calling us, and we must be honest with ourselves about what that change might look like. As Mary reminds us, the world is about to be turned on its head – but we will never be forgotten.
Finally, I would like to share my heartfelt gratitude for each of you. Every day, I feel blessed to be your pastor. This small yet faithful congregation is a source of hope in a hurting world, and God is not done with us yet. Thank you for your faithfulness and commitment to God’s activity in Trenton.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you always,
The Rev. Mark David Johnson, MDiv, STM
Vicar, St Michael’s Episcopal Church, Trenton
To read the complete Annual Report, click here.