Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Advent Pastoral Letter to our Churches

December 15, 2009

Dear Friends,

The themes of the season of Advent always move me into prayer and reflection. My wife encourages our family to gather regularly around our Advent wreath for Bible reading and prayers. Our boys have grown beyond their childish reluctance, and our family prayer time is important to us all. We are grateful for the good health and abundance in our family.

But my prayer this Advent also turns to a litany of recent news from our churches. This news from many places, all over our presbytery, burdens me and nags at my sense of comfort and ease. I am very concerned about the ways this nagging economic stress burdens our Pastors and discourages our Elders. I run through my mind and lift in prayer a list of reports and stories which have come to me: the note from one church saying they are using up their cash reserves which may be gone in a year; the elimination of staff positions in several of our churches; drastic cutbacks in Per Capita contributions due to financial stress; a little blurb in a church newsletter asking for donations to their heating oil fund which is now depleted; a pastor struggling with a proposed cutback from full to part-time status; one church struggling to pay their mortgage; several churches already forecasting significant decreases in Basic Mission Giving in 2010. . . And our Presbytery is looking for ways to manage a $150,000 deficit in 2009. And of course, the ripple effect of this economic stress strains the bonds of our connectionalism as our shortages are passed along to the General Assembly. I am also acutely aware of the financial stress in many of our mission agencies, social service organizations, and feeding ministries which are on the front line of meeting basic human needs. I know the burden is heavy in many of our congregations, but I must ask, if you are able, please be attentive to your Per Capita contributions and Basic Mission contributions as we approach year end. Please do not hunker down in fear and trepidation. Please do not turn in on yourself. Let us walk this journey together.

It is time to be faithful. Do not fear. Do not lose heart. The name of our God is NOT Dollar. We know the name that is above every name. “He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Like no time I can remember in my ministry, it is time to be bold in Christ, be strong in proclamation, be constant in prayer, and walk together in love.

Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!