Charles Dickens in his Tale of Two Cities once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That would not be the case here at All Saints’ Episcopal Church. By any measure, 2023, would have to be counted amongst the best of times. 

We started out the year with a bit of anxiety and some trepidation. The year 2022 had not been a good one as far as our endowment was concerned. We lost money in 2022 with the Foundation. True All Saints’ finished the fiscal year 2022 in the black, but having a down investment year meant there would be no help in 2023 for the budget coming from the Foundation. 

Thus we started the year with a projected budget deficit of $42,000. Ouch! To be sure there were more than a few concerned looks on the faces of vestry members. We cautiously moved into 2023 hoping that somehow the deficit could be addressed and reduced. For my part, I told the vestry to stay focused on the mission of the church. 

What you might ask is that mission? Simple. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul, then love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. After nearly 30 years in Holy Orders, it still amazes me that so many churches are still fighting over who is worthy of being included, and why so many other people are deemed unworthy and thus excluded. The Jesus I know and love, accepted everyone and left nobody out of the reach of Grace, Love, and Mercy. 

And so the weeks slowly passed. With each passing month the financial reports were better than we had projected. So in the summer we revised the budget and reduced the deficit by $12,000. The Spring BBQ gave us a glimpse of what was to come. It blew away our expectations. Attendance on Sundays has returned to pre-pandemic numbers. New folks kept finding us and checking us out online. We now see an average of 30-40 at the 8:00 service, and 80-100 at the 10:30 service. In addition, there are over a hundred folks who follow us each week on line. 

As we moved into the fourth quarter our financial situation no longer seemed so dire. The projected deficit continued to shrink. We had another record fall BBQ under our belts. We even reopened the nursery this past year. Things were all moving in the right direction at the same time. We finished the year erasing our deficit. How did this happen? It all happened with God’s help. 

I’m grateful for the leadership of our Sr. Warden, Colleen Andrews, and our Jr. Warden, Dan Dickens. I’m truly grateful for Marylou Mauney, our Treasurer, and to Skeet Jernigan and the members of our Foundation. Thank you all for your faithful service. 

Next week, on February 1st, I will mark my seventh anniversary as your rector. It really doesn’t seem possible to me. Somewhere along the way, the Shepherd of this flock, fell in love with the sheep that make up this quirky parish. I can tell you from the experience of some of my peers, this is not always the case. I am truly blessed. 

I recently preached a sermon that spoke about change being the only real constant in the universe. This past year All Saints’ has experienced our own share of significant changes. Lynne Ann Anderson retired after faithfully serving the Church for 37 years as the parish administrator. I can’t begin to tell you how many parishioners asked me, “What are you going to do? How will you replace her?” My response, “Stay focused on our mission. God will provide.” 

It turns out God did indeed provide. Kathlyn Wender was moving back to Morristown after serving two Episcopal parishes in Chattanooga. We both saw the potential for her being the right fit for our needs. She joined the staff in March and hit the ground running. She possesses the skills and the passion to keep All Saints’ moving in a positive direction. 

In addition, Dr. Ryan Garber departed the staff after a 14 year tenure with All Saints’. Here again there were voices wanting to know how would we replace him. My response, “Stay focused on the mission. God will provide.” And God provided us with Dr. Henry Selby to be our interim organist/choirmaster for a bit over a year for which I am eternally grateful. Here again, God heard our prayers. I followed up on a suggestion to contact Dr. Jonathan Richardson over at First Baptist here in Morristown. I asked if he might be interested in talking with us about our music program. It turns out he was. It also turns out that he was the answer to our prayers. I still remember what Jonathan said to me after his first couple of Sundays. “I think I needed you at All Saints’ more than you needed me.” Wow! 

In a post Covid Pandemic World the church is in the midst of tumultuous changes. Just because we have traditionally done something in the past doesn’t mean we will continue doing it in the future. There is a time for every season.  

However, there are some things we will always do. For instance: – We will feed the hungry. – We will care for the poor and homeless. – We will welcome those who were once outcasts. – We will continue to respect the dignity of every human being. – We will seek out Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves. – We also will continue with our prayer and the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. 

As a community of faith we have a responsibility to watch out and care for each other. We really are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even if they might make it difficult for us to love them. We are all God’s children, rich or poor, black or white, male or female, gay or straight: just as long as we remain focused on the true mission, God will hear us and God will provide. 

Peace, 

The Rev. J. Mark Holland+