Dear [Friends of St. Paul]
It was around this time last year I wrote to you reporting that the contract to commence work on the church tower had been signed and that our new organist/choirmaster, Brian Hoffman, had just completed his first Sunday at St. Paul’s.
The tower work was successfully completed last summer, praise the Lord! My thanks go out to the many people who gave generously to the project. In addition, Mr. Hoffman, now with us for a full year, has met and exceeded our expectations! It has truly been a pleasure to work with Brian on the weekly services, special events, and the start-up of the new Music School. Throughout this long winter a dozen or so children have come faithfully to sing, study, and share fellowship in the Music School. We have been blessed also with a cadre of faithful parents and volunteers who have prepared meals, and helped Brian with teaching the kids. On the Sundays when the vested children’s choir is present in church, I have heard comments like, “This is so wonderful!” and “This reminds me of the way church used to be.” My prayer is that we will continue to grow and expand the children and youth ministry at St. Paul’s.
I have also been very encouraged by the commitment Brian has made to put worship at the top of his list of priorities. On Ash Wednesday we had a very good turn-out for the noon service, which was enhanced by his exceptional musical skills and with the addition of a special adult choir drawn from members of the St. Paul’s Choristers.
My homily for that service centered on the symbol of the cross, which is imposed on the foreheads of the congregation at the Ash Wednesday service. The black cross is made from ashes out of burned palm fronds. The palms are a symbol of Christ the King and the ashes symbolize our mortality. The cross itself however, is a symbol of the hope we have because Jesus has conquered death. In a sense the cross is a type of brand. We are sealed, or branded, with the cross at Baptism. And we are reminded on Ash Wednesday that the brand of the cross continues to identify each one of us past death and into eternity.
In the same homily I read off a rather long list of brand-names of commercial products and companies that have long since gone the way of all mortal flesh. I also recited a list of financial institutions that have recently failed or are now on life-support. At some point in life we end up choosing where we put our real trust: Should we place our faith, security and self-esteem in the hands of corporations and their products – all with a limited shelf-life? Or should we throw ourselves on the mercy and grace of Almighty God?
Obviously, the answer to both of these questions is easy. The only brand that has true staying power is the Cross of Jesus!
This brings me to another important question: Where is this life-saving message to be heard today?
The place where the life-giving and sustaining Word is proclaimed is still predominately in the local parish church. Certainly there are Christian radio stations, TV broadcasts, and even internet sites. But it is in the local church – your own neighborhood church – through Sacraments, Preaching, Artistic Beauty, and Fellowship where the enduring message of new life in Jesus is brought directly to ‘all sorts and conditions’ of people.
I am encouraged and delighted to see so many new faces in the congregation. This is truly an exciting time in the life of St. Paul’s and we have every reason to be hopeful about our future, however our financial needs at St. Paul’s are great. We are not a rich church. Our limited reserves are diminishing. I implore you to seriously consider increasing your financial support. Please ask yourself how important this local church is to you, your family, friends – and to the children who are coming to the church and learning about God’s amazing love and forgiveness.
I remain yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Michael I. Gorchov, Rector