Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you –– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Dear Siblings in Christ:
Normally, a pastor's report would begin with a review of the previous year, but I want to begin where we are now—a time of new beginnings and new possibilities. Peace is still in transition as you welcome me back as your new pastor and, with humility and prayer, consider where the Spirit is directing our faith community. As a result, my report to you is more of a pastoral letter than a populated assessment of 2022.
As we dip our toes into the open waters of 2023, I invite you to join me in making this a Year of Gratitude at Peace Lutheran Church. Here I am reminded of something Pope Francis said to a general audience in 2020:
Above all, let us not forget to thank: if we are bearers of gratitude, the world itself will become better, even if only a little bit, but that is enough to transmit a bit of hope.
Right now, in the world, there has been a lot of reimagining of what it means to be a church. The world is facing so many challenges from practically every direction that it requires greater hope. Whether it is the fighting in Ukraine, or the poverty and homelessness felt at home, hope can appear to be in short supply. As Christians, beloved children of God and disciples of the resurrected Christ, we should be radical bearers of hope in the world—and, for us here in our community, bearers of hope in Charles County and the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.
Pope Francis went on to say:
The world needs hope. And with gratitude, with this habit of saying thank you, we transmit a bit of hope. Everything is united and everything is connected, and everyone needs to do [their] part wherever we are.
In her report, your congregation president, Jill Fronck, acknowledged many people for their giving of time, talent, and treasure in supporting the life and purpose of this community. From the enormous richness of love within the Godself, God has given us so much—the gift of life, family, and friends. We are invited into relationship with one another by our very nature as creatures formed in the image of God.
Giving thanks to God and others teaches us that we cannot achieve everything on our own. When we enter relationships, we not only experience but are benefited by the blessings that others contribute through their gifts. God has given every one of us distinct gifts that, when combined to live out our vocations and church ministry, become a strong force of good—of hope! We also know that God is with us in all of this. We also recognize that when we engage in relationships, we experience Jesus.
I've made several new connections with local church and non-profit leaders in the last few months. The fruits of these partnerships are already beginning to bloom, as seen by combined worship services earlier in December, with more scheduled for 2023. Following Peace's dedication to the LGBTQIA+ community and inclusivity efforts, I am developing partnerships with the local PFLAG chapter (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). As PFLAG's programming increases, Peace Lutheran Church can provide not just physical space but also the resource of our time and talent to reach out to the community with hope–– demonstrating to our neighbors that there are places of worship that truly embrace all of God's children as they are.
So, let us embrace the discomfort that comes with taking risks in this year of gratitude. In our instance, where in our lives and at Peace Lutheran Church are we willing to take risks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?Taking risks is crucial as we continue to transition and redefine what church is to fulfill the needs of today and the future. But, as I previously stated, we are not alone in this; we have God, and God has our back. We know we're not alone because we have each other as we enter what may be uncharted ground for the larger church and ourselves, and with that assurance comes our particular gifts that will uplift and support the community on its journey.
Gratitude takes various forms, and you will witness it from me as your pastor in a variety of ways, whether through one-on-one conversations or sermons and other events. As you contemplate methods to make gratitude a habit in your life, consider spending three minutes a few times a week calling or texting someone in your life or within the church to express your gratitude. Then ponder how you will express your thanks to God and the gifts God has bestowed upon you. As we prepare to discuss and vote on this year's budget, I ask us all to explore how we can offer a bit more of our time, talents, and treasure to support Peace’s ministry in 2023.
God's Beloveds, I am thankful for every one of you and the various ways you contribute your gifts to make Peace Lutheran Church a beacon of hope in the community. I am grateful to be your pastor and to have the privilege of walking beside you in our shared faith journey, reconnecting and discovering new ways in which God asks us to serve our neighbors following Jesus' example. Your love and prayers have given me hope during difficult moments in my personal life, as well as strength in my pastoral ministry here at Peace Lutheran Church. Thanks be to God for each of you.
Martin Luther, defining hope, said:
Faith and hope are different affections, for faith is not hope nor hope faith; and yet, because of the great affinity that exists between them it is impossible to separate them. By faith we began [our spiritual life], by hope we continue it, and by revelation we shall obtain the whole. Meanwhile, as long as we live, we preach the Word and spread the knowledge of Christ among others, because we believe.
May the knowledge of Christ that burns within your heart motivate you to take a little more risk in faith, to give thanks a little more often, to live and share radically the hope we discover in Him who came to be the change the world needed and still needs. We are not alone in our calling because we have each other and the knowledge that He will always be with us. Amen.
In Christ and with Christ’s love,