The Church on the Hill
Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Well, friends, it is time for us to say goodbye.
I will always treasure my time with you on this church on this hill. When I arrived two years ago, it was kind of dark. The lights were mostly off. Everyone was mostly working from home and worshipping from home, and feeling sad and isolated. As I began to connect with a few of you, and then a few more, often by Zoom or phone, I sensed that there was grief here, and there were wounds, and there was fear that this church on the hill was going to stay dark.
But over these two years, we began to open back up. We opened our doors and our hearts in new ways.
We connected with St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, offering our beautiful space to them for their worship at Christmas and Easter and hosting the wedding ceremony for two of their young adults.
We have been steadily strengthening our relationship with our ministry to children and families through our preschool, which has grown tremendously despite the pandemic and economic uncertainties of these times. By spring time not only our playground and classrooms were buzzing but the patio and parking lot were buzzing too with the neighborhood music classes. Light was coming into our campus accompanied by the laughter and singing and other exuberant noises of children. Now we have not only clergy but our lay staff and parishioners leading chapel services on Wednesday mornings. Next fall with the addition of three more preschool classes, we are expecting to have more than 100 families on our campus each weekday to sing and play and learn and explore. And many days after school I look out my window and see neighborhood children on the playground with their parents, enjoying a safe place to gather and enjoy our fresh air and birds and trees. We offer a needed and valuable community for neighborhood families through our preschool ministry.
We re-imagined our garden ministry, creating a pantry garden to grow vegetables and herbs that we donate to the food pantry at our partner church, Wellbourne United Methodist. Not only our own gardeners tend the garden, but also our youth and the youth from neighboring schools.
We refurbished much of our space, using funds donated by you to remove and replace worn and tattered flooring in the nave and on the second floor, and we replaced flooring in offices and repainted many rooms and hallways and generally spiffed up our spaces for folks of all ages, again with your donations. We let more light in with new landscaping and window cleaning. We expanded our technology, upgrading equipment for both in person and virtual worship.
We welcomed a seminarian, Dale Smith, who helped us put together a team of folks with a plan to organize us in an effort to care for one another through visits, phone calls, cards, flowers, and home baked bread. The Congregational Care team is awesome.
We cleaned out the basement. And the closets. And a bunch of rooms. Some more than once. We reorganized spaces and cleaned out some more places and got rid of stuff that was taking up too much room and crowding out our capacity to imagine new ways of doing church and being a church community. We got our youth group back up and running.
We hosted two glorious All Saints Days, the first with Bishop Brooke-Davidson who baptized two sets of twins and confirmed twelve youth (those twins being 4 of the 16 children we’ve baptized these two years) and the second with a feast and a petting zoo.
Every summer we’ve hosted more and more children through Vacation Bible School and our preschool camps.
We hosted three huge diocesan events - deacon ordinations, priest ordinations, and the first meet and greet event in the whole diocese with the candidates for bishop. We welcomed our new bishop Mark Stevenson, our next-door neighbor who came to worship with us several times before his consecration and to celebrate at the altar his first Christmas Eve as a bishop with us.
And perhaps most importantly, we embarked on a journey into our grief and disappointments, working together with our consultant to delve into our history and unearth our feelings of mistrust and hurt and name our painful experiences and to look them in the eye and say goodbye to them. We learned how to better recognize conflict and turn it into opportunity for growth. We learned how to begin to regain our trust in one another and in our leadership. We learned that we can lament but also we can let go.
We've grown, in more ways than one.
And throughout it all, we have worshipped together in the beauty of holiness, with our outstanding music program consistently offering some of the best music in town, through the talents of our choirs, our instrumentalists, and our visiting groups in concert.
Now, I’ve been saying “we” throughout these remarks and that’s not the “royal we.” This has been a team effort.
You have an amazing staff here. Each member of our staff is truly invested in All Saints and has worked hard and under difficult circumstances (dodging Covid, caring for children when school is out or they’re sick, working at night or with kids in tow) to keep things going, to support me and you and our work here. Other than Scott Hayes our music director and Daniel Stipe our principal organist and tech tweaker Sam Robinson, you don’t always see them in here on Sundays - out longest serving staff member, Judy Kronimus, celebrates 25 years with us as nursery director, so she’s here but in the nursery and Diane Hayes is our volunteer Christian ed director who might be off leading Children’s Church. But we couldn’t do what we do without Natallia Chyhryna (CHEE-HEAR-INA) our financial secretary - who’s been with us for 14 years. And Winston Hazlegrove of course who keeps everything running everywhere, and our newest staff member Tyronn Wilkins who tends to our facility with care, as well as Preschool Director Extraordinaire Melissa Taylor who is a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church on the Northside but comes to All Saints on occasions like Preschool Sunday. I hope you all will continue to appreciate and support this wonderful, loyal, hardworking staff. Often during interims, staff begin to peel away, but not this staff.
These two years have also seen growth in engagement and investment in the community through our revitalized vestry, especially Mark Wilcox, senior warden, and Jim McCauley, junior warden.
Then there’s the discernment committee, led by Dan Kniffen and Anne Blackwell and included Jim Hunter, Mary Catherine Washo, Russ Ryan, Kelly Vidunas and Bruce Wright who spent a year and a half in prayer and conversation and study and more conversation discerning the needs of this parish and how to structure and conduct a search for a new rector who would be the right fit for All Saints at this time. Their work has concluded in the calling of Ben Robertson to be your new rector, but if you see any of them, please say thanks to them for their good service.
There are more successes to highlight and more people to thank, but I’m running out of time. You all can continue the conversation with Ben as he begins to settle into this community.
The lights are on in this church on the hill. And you are ready to let your light shine so that all the world can see how you are giving glory to God. You have a new road ahead that leads in a new direction, with new opportunities and challenges. You have new work to do. But you go with a fabulous staff and steady lay leadership who are all invested in this community. Renew your own investment and take these successes (as well as what has been learned through failure and loss) with you into your new relationship with your new rector, remembering that what you are about is love, both inside this building and out there in the world; and what you are called to do is to be invested in God’s mission through this church and to build and maintain trust with your new rector and your leaders.
And most of all, trust in God to be with you every step of the way as you follow Jesus into your next adventure.
The Rev. Penny A. Nash
All Saints Episcopal Church
February 5, 2023