THE STATE OF THE CHURCH 2018
26For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham [and Sarah’s] offspring, heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29, NRSV)
Our church was blessed in 2017 with new energy and a renewed sense of purpose. Stay tuned to find out why! Our church was also blessed in 2017 with 12 new members who, between them, have 4 children and 1 grandchild who attend for a total of 17! If you are a new member please raise your hand as I call your name: Bronthie and Lynn and their granddaughter Ellie, Tina, Joy and Alice, Charlotte and Keith, Steve and Rich with daughters Julia and Mary, Louise, Mania and Raffi and their children Nicole and Daniel.
We also took some time to celebrate one of our own. During CE Sunday on June 11, we held a surprise celebration for Rev. Lori Burgess in recognition of her 10 years of wonderful ministry here in our church. Her sermons are inspiring. She does great work in our Christian Education programs, her pastoral tasks, and her Women at the Well group is going strong.
One way we made our building more inviting for visitors and members alike in 2017, is by creating the Congo Café in the room that at one time served as the Women’s Club room, the church library, and then a storage area. The room now has new furniture and a new Keurig coffee/tea maker to crank out the caffeine. Thanks to the Board of Deacons and the Board of Trustees for supporting this project. Another first, on Sunday mornings over the summer we began using works of art instead of flowers on the altar for a few weeks. We are continuing this idea on several Sundays during the program year.
One year ago, in the winter and spring of 2017, our Ministry Vitality Committee (MVC) continued meeting. As a reminder, the committee was set up in the fall of 2016 when our church was asked to participate in a Ministry Vitality Program with 3 other UCC churches in New York State. We did a survey in September 2016 and in November welcomed author and church revitalization consultant, Rev. Paul Nixon. It was after Paul’s critique of the sound system that we got the ball rolling to get a new one. Over the summer we had a new sound system installed in the sanctuary and chapel. The improvement of the sound cannot be overstated. Also, we now have 6 over the ear hearing assist devices for those who need a little more volume.
The final addition to our new sound system was John and Joan Walter’s gift of new equipment and speakers for the steeple. The old equipment was non-operable for at least 15 years. The new speakers can ring out recorded carillon bells playing Christmas carols in December, as well as other hymns on Easter and other special occasions. (The last time John set foot in this church was for the 5 PM Christmas Eve Service. He was surprised by a hand-bell choir made up of his grandchildren and as he left the building, he heard Christmas carols ringing from our steeple. At the end of our first Annual Meeting without John, we’ll play the steeple bells in his memory.)
One of our long-term goals was to become officially Open and Affirming, meaning we are on record with the UCC that we welcome everyone including our sisters and brothers from the LGBT community. Since our church has been de facto Open and Affirming for many years, Paul Nixon encouraged us to apply for the ONA status using a shorter process for churches like ours. As a part of the process, we needed to compose and approve a Welcome Statement. The Board of Deacons unanimously approved the statement at its meeting on January 10, 2017. I am thrilled that our new Welcome Statement was unanimously approved by the congregation during our Annual Meeting one year ago on February 5, 2017.
The other major event of 2017 was the creation of our new Center for Wellbeing. It’s no secret that the American church is in serious decline, and not just Mainline Protestant churches like ours, Evangelical churches too. So what do we do? If many people are no longer interested in attending a Sunday morning service, what else might we offer to meet the needs of our community and the world at large?
Our big idea—THE CENTER FOR WELLBEING. I was on a Catskill camping trip with my son, Matthew, when I began thinking about a new idea for our church. Here’s the first mention of that idea in a May 23, 2017 email I sent to Lori with the words “Center for Wellness” (later we changed the name to Wellbeing) on the subject line. The email said in part, I think this is it--the BIG idea we've been needing, the BIG idea we've been waiting for. Over the weekend as I read a book (by Paul Nixon) I said a prayer for our church and the hope that we could turn things around, something that will re-energize our church. This is it. This is what we can be known for. This is a way to reach out to our community to meet their needs, a way to bring more people through our doors to help find meaning and purpose in life. Something holistic that helps people find balance. Brainstorming attached!” This spark was the beginning of something special, a new and exciting chapter in the life of our church.
We had already begun to offer wellbeing programming before putting 2 and 2 together around the theme of Wellbeing. First, a friend of Beth Miller’s, Stacey Kelly, is a wonderful yoga teacher who began leading classes here every week. Second, Keith Fiveson and his wife, Charlotte Beyer, first set foot in our church in the fall of 2016. I saw Keith from a distance and thought to myself, this guy is either a minister or a seminary professor. Sure enough, after I introduced myself and we began to talk, I learned that among the numerous hats Keith wears, is the title Interfaith Minister with a seminary degree. The two of us hit it off and after Christmas sat down to talk about Keith’s various areas of expertise that might be useful and meaningful to our church and community. One word surfaced, MINDFULNESS. We ran with the idea and never looked back. I affectionately refer to Keith as our Mindfulness Guru.
Our April 1 Spring Prayer Retreat was led by Keith on the topic of “Practicing Mindfulness.” The Spring Retreat was, as one participant described it, a homerun! We had over 40 participants (the largest crowd in my 23 years here) including a number of non-members. A showing of hands at the end of the morning indicated that enough people were interested in an evening series. On April 24 we began a 9 Week Mindfulness Based Wellness and Health Program led by Keith and sponsored by our Board of Deacons. The class was well received with 20 participants and a waiting list.
Meanwhile back at the ranch…Under the auspices of the Board of Deacons, we set up a Wellbeing Committee which included Beth Miller, Rev. Lori Burgess, Rev. Amy Karriker, Keith Fiveson (mindfulness), Stacey Kelly (yoga), and me. Over the summer we brainstormed around the theme of “The Center for Wellbeing at The Congregational Church of Manhasset (UCC).” Many ideas hatched during these discussions. Ideas that we undertook in the fall included offering “Yoga for Busy People” twice a week and a 6-week “Pull Up A Chair Gentle Yoga Series” all led by Stacey Kelly. On September 18, Keith Fiveson launched an 8 Week Mindfulness Wellness and Health Program with a different slant than the spring series. The group proved popular with a full class of participants. On Saturday, November 11, Keith and Stacey led a wellbeing program entitled, “The Mind Body Connection” that had a great turnout of 30+ people (including 13 visitors).
To be clear, we’re not giving up on Sunday mornings, instead we are welcoming more guest speakers to broaden the Sunday morning experience. We will continue to be the church you’ve always known and loved, only now we have expanded the reach of our ministry.
To that end, on October 15 we had an amazing morning with singer Chely Wright (the first major country musician to come out as gay). She spoke during the service, sang a song, and participated in a question and answer discussion in the chapel that lasted an hour. We had many visitors including someone from New Haven, CT, and four of New York’s five boroughs. Throughout the morning, five separate church members said to me, “I have never been more proud of our church than I am today.” One member, who is in his 80’s, planned to skip the service, but decided to come at the last minute. He was so moved by Chely’s message during worship that he stayed for the question and answer time and afterwards said he “was enlightened and grateful that he showed up.”
In response to the outpouring of #MeToo posts, our church hosted 2 sacred conversations on sexual harassment and assault (one for women and one for men) on Sunday, November 5. On November 12, we welcomed another guest speaker, Jean Kelly, Executive Director of the Interfaith Nutrition Network. For over 25 years, the INN has addressed issues of hunger and homelessness on Long Island. (Thanks to Marty and Margot Kramer for arranging Jean’s visit.)
Also in the fall of 2017, we began working with two classes at the New York Institute of Technology--the Carleton Group (the second-oldest student-run ad agency in the United States) and ProdCo (a video production class). The Carleton Group developed a snazzy logo for our new Center for Wellbeing and ProdCo has begun a video about the church that we can post on our website. We will continue working with both classes in the winter and spring of 2018.
There were plenty of other new things happening in 2017. We initiated a new program on Sunday, March 12 at 11:30 AM when Dr. David Dorman, a beloved social studies and history teacher at Manhasset High School (now retired) started his “Current Events in Perspective” discussion group. This monthly program has become immensely popular attracting church members and attendees from outside the church as well.
An additional first for us--beloved Manhasset High School English teacher (now retired), Dr. Joe D’Angelo, brought an added dimension to our Christmas festivities on Sunday, December 10 when he presented a program on Jacob Marley, the most famous ghost of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We are blessed with David and Joe and if there are any other retired Manhasset teachers out there who have something to contribute, let me know…but you must be a beloved teacher!
We’ve also been having fun with our two church signs on the corner of Copley and Northern Blvd. Twice in 2017 someone stopped by the church to tell us how meaningful the current message was to them. Over Christmas my mother was buying something in the Apple Store and one of the employees noticed her last name and asked if she was related to me. My mother said yes. The employee then told my mom that the Apple staff always reads the messages on the outdoor signs and loves them. We’ve even had quotes posted by nonmembers on Facebook. Sometimes we have a funny quote from James Thurber or a musical quote from The Beatles, sometimes we are advertising an upcoming program here at the church and other times put up messages in response to something in the news. After the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia we responded with a message of:
As a Family of Faith, it is important for us to speak up and speak out as faithful followers of Christ.
Then there is our amazing music program! A highlight every year is our Spring Concert presented by the Chancel Choir and Soloists. This year’s April 30 concert featured “Te Deum” and “Requiem” by John Rutter, as well as Philip W.J. Stopford’s “Belfast Centenary Eucharist.” Every fall we look forward to our Chancel Choir’s pops concert. This year’s October 1 event was entitled, “Broadway on Parade: A Tribute to Jerry Herman & Cy Coleman.” And of course we were all in the Christmas spirit by the end of the Chancel Choir Christmas Concert in early December.
These events and people are only some of the highlights of 2017, a year that I believe we will look back on as a pivotal and vitally important year in the life of our church. Members and nonmembers alike have spoken in glowing terms about the new energy and vitality in our church, about all of the new programs and guest speakers. As a church we are in a very good place right now, for which I am immensely grateful, to you as a church for your ideas, participation, and support. And I am grateful to God as well, for the inspiration to try new things to keep the ministry and outreach of our church relevant and meaningful, something that makes a positive difference in the life of our congregation, our community, and the world at large. May it always be so. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
Annual Meeting Sunday
February 4, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Most merciful God, we thank you for our church, for all that we have accomplished this year through your guidance and wisdom, and for all that you have yet in store for us. Help us as individuals and as a congregation to emulate the life and teachings of Christ. Give us clear sight that we might know what to do, courage to embark upon it, wisdom to navigate obstacles along the way, perseverance to complete the task, and strength to resist the temptation to give up. So help us to begin, to continue, and to end all things in the power of your life-giving Spirit.
Through Jesus we pray. AMEN.
Portions of this prayer were adapted from A Barclay Prayer Book, p. 190.