From the Rector
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33-34)
Christianity, sisters and brothers, is a faith rooted in love. First and foremost, it is about God’s love for us – the love that was so perfectly embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But it is also about our love for God and for each other. Because God so loved us, we are in turn called to love God and one another just as he has loved us. When I look out toward all of you when I celebrate Holy Eucharist every week, I see a community that strives to love one another just as God has loved us. I, too, as your Priest and Rector, love all of you and I know that you love me. The goodness and love of God is at work here at St. Thomas and it is wonderful to behold.
The universal or catholic church, of which St. Thomas Episcopal Church is but a tiny sliver, has been given a sacred task from the lips of Jesus himself. He charges us collectively and as individuals “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that (he has) commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In other words, the church is given the task of helping God transform the world by announcing God’s love through the faithful celebration of the sacraments, through our worship, through our teaching, and through our faithful witness to God through our service to the community.
This past year, St Thomas has faithfully lived into our mission in a number of different ways. Our continued STAR (St. Thomas Adult Recreation) and Veterans’ Meet and Greet ministries have had an impact on literally hundreds of people. Indeed, the hospitality and love offered by us through these two ministries bears witness to God’s love for us. But more importantly, the work that we do creates the opportunity for life giving relationships to form. If I were to categorize both STAR and Veterans’ Meet and Greet, I would say that they are ministries of healing. Many of those who attend our STAR program, live within institutional settings and the concerts and luncheons we provide helps give them an opportunity to be out in the community among friends. Likewise, our veterans’ ministry provides a space for veterans to share their experiences of military service and find healing through community and relationship.
We have also lived into our mission through a renewed commitment to Christian education, including a weekly children’s Sunday school program as well as several weekly opportunities for adult formation such as Monday night Prayer Group, Wednesday night Bible Study, and Rector’s Forum on Sunday morning. Likewise, we have adult education series on the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and study of Archbishop Rowan Williams’ book Being Christian. Following St. Benedict’s example, we have sought to make St Thomas a “school of the Lord’s service” and, I believe, that we are making great strides toward that goal. I hope that 2019 brings about a continuance and growth to these and our many other ministries.
St. Thomas is also a growing parish. This past year we have added seven new members through Confirmation and have baptized two new Christians. We have several others who have transferred their membership to St. Thomas or are just beginning to attend services and are considering being received into the Episcopal Church through Confirmation. Likewise, the overall average weekend attendance has grown to 92 from 91 in 2017 and 86 in 2016. The main location of this growth has been at our 10:30 AM Sunday Holy Eucharist with our Saturday evening service remaining unchanged since 2017 and our 8:00 AM Sunday service declining in attendance. This overall growth, I believe, is attributed to the continued spiritual growth of St. Thomas. If we commit ourselves to sharing Christ’s love through everything we do, I believe that our community will continue to grow as a result. If we are faithful to the mission with which Jesus has entrusted us, then he will continue to bless our work. However, if we fail to follow that mission, and choose to focus inwardly on the continuance of St. Thomas as purely an institution, then I believe the institution will fail. A church that is not making and forming disciples is a dying church. And St. Thomas by no means is a dying church thanks to the faithful leadership of this parish.
At the end of 2018, I was made full-time Rector of St. Thomas. This expanded role was made possible through a generous grant from the Diocese of Ohio as our bishop, the Right Reverend Mark Hollingsworth sees tremendous potential for St. Thomas’ future and my continued partnership with you all as Rector. This is an incredible blessing for our parish and my ministry among you, however, this grant does not come without certain expectations. It is the bishop and diocese’s hope that St. Thomas will continue to grow and that through improved stewardship, St. Thomas will be able to afford a full-time Rector as well as continue as a financially sustainable institution. This means that each and every one of us are called to help support St. Thomas not only with our time and talent, but financially with our treasures as well. Regardless of whatever amount you are able to pledge, my hope is that every single member of St. Thomas make a pledge. We are not asking that anyone contribute beyond their means but we are asking that everyone pledge some portion of the earthly treasure entrusted to you by God. It is part of being a faithful disciple. Both our present and our future depend upon our continued generosity as a community. (If you have not pledged for 2019, please see me and I will get you a pledge card.)
Another hope of the Diocese, our bishop, and myself is that we as a parish participate more broadly in the life of our Diocese and the broader church. As Episcopalians, the basic unit of our polity is the diocese and our bishop is our chief pastor. In a recent communication with the clergy of this diocese, our bishop said, “The church is always able to live more faithfully together than separate or isolated.” I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. We are not alone as St. Thomas, rather, we are part of a community of 102 parishes across the northern half of Ohio. As we move into 2019, it is my hope that we will send representatives of St. Thomas to more diocesan events than simply Diocesan Convention. Events such as the Winter Convocation, which is held yearly are wonderful opportunities to deepen our faith and to get to know Episcopalians from across the state. I would encourage you to consider attending such events. We also have tremendous diocesan events for youth such as Happening and our summer camp at Bellwether Farms. St. Thomas is a vibrant parish in the midst of a vibrant diocese of the Episcopal Church and we are indeed very much blessed.
As we move into 2019, my hope is that we will continue to grow in love and in our ability to share the love of Christ with the world around us. That is our mission and the mission that Jesus himself gave to us. As disciples of the crucified and risen Christ, let’s keep growing together.
Fr. Dave Radzik