By Beverly Walker
Other than the first Sunday after Christmas, what other Sunday can almost guarantee a minimal attendance? I would guess, having been to more than I can count, that it’s the Sunday of the vestry meeting. One church I attended snuck up on the congregation and rather than having the dismissal, followed the last hymn directly into the meeting – almost defying anyone to sneak off home.
Well, St. John’s Church in St. Thomas didn’t have to resort to any trickery. Even giving out the annual vestry report a week in advance so that folks could study it and come up with valid questions. Instead of the usual coffee hour following the service a lunch was served – lasagna, salad and rolls, prepared by one of the parishioners and served in the church hall. And notably, parishioners had brought their annual reports back with them.
St. John’s is a modest sized, inner-city church in St. Thomas. It can hold 200 people in its pews and has, on the occasion of several well attended funerals, held more by the addition of chairs from the church hall. Like most churches, the Christmas services are the best attended, almost reaching the seating capacity. St. John’s has one notable drawback, inadequate parking. At present, the parking consists of the high school parking area, when classes are not in session, a vacant lot across the street and the parking area of the Royal Canadian Legion, behind the church. With the Legion up for sale, the secondary school possibly closing and the lot scheduled for the build of a small office complex, where are future congregants to park?
Add to this mix, the general uncertainty of the Anglican Church in St. Thomas, as the two sister congregations face dilemmas of their own, one can’t help but ask why the annual Vestry Meeting at St. John’s was such a well attended, upbeat and enthusiastic event with such a feeling of joy permeating it from beginning to end.
On October 31, St. John’s rector of ten years, Jim Innes, moved on to another parish. The congregation had been informed that as of the first Sunday of November, Reverend Canon Janet Lynall would be in place as a part time interim priest with all the canonical strictures in place during her interim ministry. To some, this sounded like a death knell to the parish. To add to the overall feeling of disaster, the church secretary of 25 years, was leaving due to ill health. As disasters as well as deaths, seem to come in three, awaiting the next blow cast gloom over many of the congregation.
There were glimmers of light from under the pall. The parish at least had a priest, part time, but a body in place none the less. The renovations and upgrades, financed by the Re-Imagine campaign, an off-shoot of the Bishop’s mandated Renew initiative, were progressing well. There was the usual concern that monies being given toward the Re-Imagine campaign were being siphoned off from the general offerings and like all churches, St. John’s was struggling financially. Then there was the usual dance between parish and diocese over the apportionment; the diocese not being best pleased with what appeared to be elaborate spending on church facilities when a chunk of the apportionment was unpaid.
And then a glimmer of joy returned to St. John’s. The closing song of our service is generally a lively one. Folk with varying abilities and children come up to the front of the church to join the choir and play bongos, shake a tambourine or just dance to the rhythm. Our new priest, the Reverend Janet, stepped up with the group and danced with them, then danced off down the aisle to the back of the church to give the benediction. The joy of the message had returned to St. John’s.
And it is this joy that was reflected in the annual reports of the various organizations within the church at the meeting. It was this joy that engendered hope and a vow to keep St. John’s a work in progress as it has been for 141 years. St. John’s has had its annual vestry meeting and it was a vestry with a view – a view to continue to be a worshiping community in St. Thomas, welcoming all in Christian fellowship and inviting all to share in its joy.
Beverly Walker is a parishioner of St. John’s