Message: Pastor’s Newsletter Article: November, 2010


The following is a copy of the remarks delivered by Pastor Erik at the 2010 Annual Meeting.

This is a pivotal year for St. Luke’s because, as we will hear in the coming reports, the decisions and investments made five years ago and earlier are now maturing, and it is time to take stock of how far we have come and where we will go next.

strategicplanningAt the beginning of the decade, St. Luke’s had been in decline for a while. Attendance and giving were down and the congregation was being counseled to close its doors and end its ministry. Some in the congregation agreed with that direction, but a majority did not. Recognizing the amount of work and energy that would be required to reverse the trend, members of St. Luke’s chose to sell the parsonage to create a fund for revitalized ministry.

From the beginning, the redevelopment strategy was a gamble. While the reserve funds were significant enough that they would likely have kept the church doors open for many years, the congregation realized that in order for the community to grow it needed to increase its staff capacity.

A call process was initiated to find a full-time pastor which, in 2006, resulted in the call that I accepted to serve as St. Luke’s 10th full-time pastor since the congregation’s birth in 1900. I remember clearly my first annual meeting in 2006 – when I’d been here for only a few weeks – saying to the congregation that the community of ten to twelve faithful parishioners who were gathering on Sunday mornings at that time did not need a full-time pastor, but that my job was to be a pastor to those who weren’t here yet, and to help grow the congregation as quickly as possible.

That has been the philosophy behind the deficit spending of the past four years – to use the surplus capacity created by having a full-time pastor and part-time musician to grow our congregation, programs and partnerships. As you know, that strategy worked. Member giving has grown steadily year from 2006 until this year, when the recession finally seems to have taken a toll on families’ capacity to give. You’ve seen the signs in the number of people in the pews on Sunday mornings, as well as the number of people using the church throughout the week – which has also generated new incomes that are reflected in the draft budget before you.

These past four years have been a renaissance period for St. Luke’s. The mission goals we defined for ourselves in 2006 and 2007 – Community Health and Community Arts – have taken root, and we are now known once again throughout the neighborhood as a center for music and arts, healing and healthcare. You’ve heard the list plenty of times, but let’s just remember once again all the exciting programming that has found a home at St. Luke’s during this period:

· Early childhood music education – first in partnership with Voice of the City, and now in partnership with Leah Egan’s Kindermusik studio.

· Instrumental music education – both in partnership with De Paul University’s Community Music division, and beginning this fall in partnership with our own member Ben Kulp’s new studio, Logan Square Music.

· Choral Music – as home to the north side satellite of the Chicago Community Chorus, now in its fourth year with us.

· Concerts – the Chicago Community Chorus, the Logan Square Chamber Ensemble, and a growing number of other ensembles have found a wonderful performing venue at St. Luke’s

· Theater – our Fine Arts for Tots program brought us into relationship with two teachers who were also actresses with Teatro Luna, a theater company that made its home here at St. Luke’s for the last two years and is moving out this weekend. That relationship led to many others, and by this fall Kyle had begun scheduling theater rehearsal for as many as six separate theater companies on a regular basis.

· Yoga – we were blessed to receive Sally Levin’s yoga studio when she was forced to leave her previous site because the church closed. That relationship resulted in a renovated health and fitness studio that now houses not only yoga, but also tai chi and taekwondo on a weekly basis.

· Addiction Recovery – two years ago we became the home to Chicago’s only bilingual Narcotics Anonymous group in many years. Decades ago it had existed here at St. Luke’s, and the community was thrilled to resurrect it here again these many years later. One weekly meeting soon grew to four, and last year we became home to a Saturday night Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as well, making St. Luke’s a strong support to many of our neighbors as they work to maintain their sobriety.

· Childhood Health Advocacy – in partnership with the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children (CLOCC) and the Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation, St. Luke’s is leading faith-based grassroots organizing efforts to understand and reverse the childhood obesity trend in our neighborhood. Our member Justine Bandstra has been an intern with CLOCC, and now oversees their faith-based grant program as well as serving as the project coordinator for our own organizing efforts. You can read her report in the Annual Report book.

All of this activity was made possible, in part, through the additional capacity St. Luke’s in a sense “bought” with its redevelopment dollars by expanding the staff. These are the sorts of efforts that require ongoing relationships with community members, program administrators, artists and health providers. They are difficult to maintain without adequate support from the congregation.

At the beginning of our redevelopment we relied heavily on our staff for that support. I was busy building relationships with organizations and community partners, and spent much of the first two or three years of redevelopment writing grants to underwrite our efforts. We received a $20K grant from LISC for the Fine Arts for Tots program. We received a $45K grant from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries to underwrite my salary as your pastor. In 2008 we received our first grant from the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, $20K representing their new confidence in our surprising growth. We received a $10K grant from the synod to underwrite our risk in this year’s Boulevard Bash, and another $5K grant to expand our direct mail campaign. We received a $2K grant from Resurrection Lutheran Church to install new flooring in the Parish Hall to cover the chipped asbestos tiles that posed a health risk to children and families in those classrooms. We received $1K from Liberty Bank to underwrite the cost of the flooring materials in the health and fitness studio. We receive
d a $2K grant from St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco to help us make the transition to Kyle’s half-time position in the first year. All of this new income is represented on the chart before you, and required a good deal of staff time to solicit and, later, to report on.

But as the congregation has grown, so too have all of the activities that you have supported as the members of this church. So, to help make that level of activity visible to everyone in the room, I’m going to ask you to rise for those member activities you’ve supported as I read them aloud:

· Elijah’s Pantry

· The Church Council

· Finance Committee

· Boy Scout Troop 115

· Adult Education Hour

· Constitution Committee

· The rummage sale

· Sunday School

· The Night Ministry

· The Altar Guild

· Café

· Social Justice Committee

· The Choir

· Living the Questions

· The Boulevard Bash

· Marriage and Wedding Policies Committee


And what have I forgotten?

While the story we are tempted to focus on today is the story of declining reserve funds, and the difficult decisions that raises about what kinds of staffing we can afford as a congregation, the more important story to tell is the story of increased capacity among you, the people of St. Luke’s. Because what all of these activities and standing and sitting represent is the undeniable fact that your plan worked!

You set out at the beginning of this decade to rewrite a story that all the conventional wisdom said was set in stone. But you shattered the stone and rebuilt the church on a renewed foundation of warm welcome, deepening faith, and community service. This success story is your success story. Your decisions paid off.

Now, as we will hear in the conversations ahead, it is time to decide what our next strategy will be. Has your past investment in capacity built a community capable of taking some of the tasks you previously paid staff to do onto itself – especially in a way that is sustainable, and capable of producing commitment that leads to joy rather than resentment? These are the sorts of questions each of you will need to discern individually, and which now falls to us to discern together.

In the middle of what may become difficult conversations, it remains my great pleasure to serve as your pastor. You are an extraordinary people and an extraordinary church.

Thank you,

Pastor Erik

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