On January 10, 2016 Pastor Stanton delivered the first annual State of the Church Address. The printed version follows for those who were unable to attend.
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” with these words Charles Dickens opened his classic A Tale of Two Cities. As the Mosinee UMC embarks upon our 150th year of service to God and the Mosinee community we find ourselves in yet a different time. We are in neither the best nor the worst of times. We are in an “in between” time and that isn’t all that bad a place to be.
Like any church, indeed any organization of any type, we have celebrations and we have challenges and today we will consider each.
This day we celebrate that we have an active, vibrant congregation that provides people the opportunity to worship God and serve their neighbors. I’d like to highlight just a few of the ministries that we should celebrate… we have a great youth program that is meeting twice a week (once during the Sunday School hour and again on Wednesday evenings). I stand in awe of the dedication that is demonstrated by youth and the adults who guide them. Prior to Mosinee I came from a church with 1500 members and we have a core group of youth that numbered 5. In our small congregation we consistently outdo that. In 2015, the youth attended Youth 2015, the UM National Youth Gathering, and look forward to doing so again in the future. In 2016, we will hold a weekend youth retreat. A weekend of fun, learning, and fellowship. We will need the assistance of the good folks of Mosinee UMC to accomplish this in the form of host families, meal servers and chaperones. I look forward to being able to spend quality time with our youth and believe that that will become yet another ministry that God uses in powerful ways.
Teams from our church have participated in mission trips domestically and internationally.
We facilitate an ecumenical bible study on Wednesday mornings at the Stage Stop café.
We are one of the driving forces in the community behind the yearly Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry.
We offer a variety of worship experiences from early morning prayer (on Wednesdays) to an informal communion service on Wednesday evenings in addition to our two morning services on Sunday. We are the host site for AA groups, Warm Up America (a knitting group), boyscouts, Masons, and the Community Center of Hope. Many of our members also volunteer at the CCoH.
In addition to the ministries that happen within our walls the Mosinee UMC also is a vital part of ecumenical spirit in the Mosinee community. In the upcoming year there will be increased opportunities for worship with the whole community as the Mosinee Ministerial association creates and hosts new services for the community. The first will be held right here at Mosinee UMC on February 21st at 6:00 p.m. as we host the first community service for prayers of healing.
In 2015 we were also able to restructure our debt as a congregation thanks to an incredible gift bestowed upon us and the generosity of one of loyal members. When I first arrived our monthly mortgage payment was in the $1,500 range. Now, that monthly mortgage payment is $700. We now are free of debt on the church building and that is something we should celebrate, however we now instead have a mortgage on the church owned parsonage. Related to the parsonage, since I have been your pastor this congregation has reroofed the garage and put new gutters on the home. For all who helped to accomplish that with time, talents, and finances I sincerely thank you.
Of course there have been many of things that have occurred in and around the Mosinee UMC that we could celebrate and, indeed, should celebrate but time will not allow us to touch upon each and every one.
And so, now I turn to the challenges that we face as a congregation. I will admit that I am going to spend less time talking about challenges than many might expect me to and the reason for this is that I believe 100% that many, indeed most, of the challenges that we face stem from a single bigger challenge and that, if we are able to navigate this bigger challenge, the others will fall away.
But first, a brief consider of some of the challenges that we face is fair. Like many small congregations finances are an issue and Mosinee UMC also faces some financial challenges. This year, finances were a good news/bad news situation at Mosinee UMC. The good news is that in 2015 the bills were paid; the staff was compensated and we were able, as a congregation, to pay 100% of what we budgeted for apportionments. The bad news is that we only budgeted to pay a little over 60% of our apportionments so, while we paid 100% of what we budgeted, we still were nearly 40% short. Now I know that apportionments are viewed by some as a sort of tax imposed by the annual conference on the local church. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apportionments are the mechanism by which ministries are accomplished that no single church could afford to do on its own. Apportionments help to provide scholarships for students who might not be able to afford school on their own; apportionments allow the United Methodist church to be able to be one of the first responders when disasters happen throughout the world, apportionments help ensure that churches do not sit for years without a pastor when a pastoral transition takes place. Apportionments are the way that we show the world that we are indeed UNITED rather than just a bunch of lone rangers. However, let’s use a practical example from within the Wisconsin conference in looking at the importance of apportionments. In Superior Wisconsin is the Harbor House Crisis Center. Reading from their web site, “Harbor House Crisis Shelters’ (HHCS) mission is to provide hospitable shelter, transitional living and services for homeless women and families. Our goal is to assist our guests in attaining services and housing.” I think we can agree that helping homeless woman and families is important. The Harbor House is supported, in part, by the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the UMC. The Harbor House is also one of the ministries the Wisconsin UMC is considered dropping support of because apportionment dollars are failing to come in. Make no mistake, by failing to pay our apportionments 100% we literally are taking support away from ministries that vital and needed.
Also, regarding finances. Currently the Mosinee UMC is dependent upon rental income to make ends meet. I believe that this should not be the case. We need to move to the point where we are not dependent upon rental income. If we can get to that point, it would free us to use such income for differing types of ministries.
Other challenges that face:
At some point we will likely need to upgrade technology; this is true for the sanctuary equipment as well as office equipment.
We desperately need to find musicians (esp. for 10:30 a.m.); iworship is ok in a pinch but nothing beats live music.
Volunteers needed for various events and activities. We have many faithful members and volunteers however there is a danger of burnout occurring. We need more involvement from the body at large so that others don’t burn out.
And now, we get to the challenge that is the root of the other challenges that we face. We, in the Mosinee UMC are in danger of becoming too inwardly focused. Any church whose primary focus is inward on itself is a church that has begun to die. And while I do not think that we are there yet, I truly believe that we are started to head in that direction. The good news is that it’s not too late. There is time to steer away from the danger.
We steer away from danger first and foremost by being people of faith. Every day we are in a position to decide anew are we people of faith or are we people of fear?
“Fear can become a paralyzing influence in our lives if we let it. Fear can bind us into inaction. I have found few things so heart breaking as churches full of faithful, Christian people acting out of a mentality of fear rather than a mentality of faith.
We have a choice to make: will be, as followers of Jesus Christ, be people of faith or will we be people of fear? People of faith look at change as an opportunity. People of fear view change as an obstacle or hindrance. People of fear look at the balance sheet as the ultimate arbiter of whether or not something should be done. People of faith look at the potential results as the ultimate arbiter as to whether or not to do something. People of faith trust in the provision of God. People of fear doubt whether or not God’s provision will come.” (SJB, Mosinee UMC Newsletter August 2015).
I submit to you that we, as the people of the Mosinee UMC, must let faith be our guide. To that end, when confronted with challenges and opportunities, we must ask ourselves the question, “is this something that God would want us to do?” If the answer is “yes” then we must step forward in faith and trust in God’s provision. There can be no “yes, buts” “yes but how will we pay?” “yes but who will do?” Yes is yes! Period! End of story.
Likewise, if the answer is “no” then we must have the courage to not continue whatever it is that we are considering.
And so, you might be wondering why I believe it is that if we rise to the challenge of being people of faith the other things will fall into place. It is because I know that people aren’t inspired to give to budgets, they are inspired to give to ministry. People aren’t stirred to action by buildings; they are stirred to action by seeing the work of God accomplished through the hands and feet of the people of God. If we do what God calls us to do, God will provide. Of this I have no doubt. If we do what God calls us to do, God will provide.
In conclusion I want to encourage you by sharing that I believe that the “best of times” for Mosinee UMC are yet to come. Some of you may have noticed that at each of the main entrances there is a new poem/prayer/saying. I close with its words:
This is our church. It is composed of people like us. We help make it what it is. It will be friendly, if we are. Its pews will be filled, if we help fill them. It will do great work, if we work. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if we are generous givers. It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if we invite and bring them. It will be a church of loyalty and love, of fearlessness and faith, and a church with a noble spirit, if we, who make it what it is, are filled with these same things. Therefore, with the help of God, we shall dedicate ourselves to the task of being all the things that we want our church to be. Amen.