Offering Meaningful Worship
Teaching the Gospel
Caring for God’s People
by Fr. Kevin Warner
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. [Romans 12:12]
2020 is a year that none of us will ever forget. Almost exclusively the memories will be negative. Whether you focus on the polarization of politics, race relations, or the crippling pandemic with its wake of death, unemployment, and small business closures, it has been a year that has strained many of us beyond our ability to cope. Both individually and organizationally it has been a year of suffering with hardly anyone left untouched. Life has been interrupted and plans of all kinds – funerals, weddings, etc. – have been put on hold. Before I talk specifically about SJD and how we have been affected, let me use Paul’s timely words to the church in Rome and relate them to the whole Church.
“Rejoice in Hope”
As Christians, we have never been more challenged to share the message of God’s hope in Jesus Christ to a broken and hurting world. While the pandemic has been a tragedy it has moved the church to update its message delivery system. Most churches have always done it the old-fashioned way: in-person worship only. When Fr. David arrived, he asked if it would be possible to livestream his ordination service. So, we began streaming before streaming was cool, and today we stream seven services a week. Those services, along with “special” events including funerals, our Annual Meeting, a 3-part podcast and more have helped spread the Christian message where, increasingly, people are spending most of their time, in front of screens.
Whether it is a smart phone, TV, tablet or computer, people, more and more, are getting their information, entertainment, and now worship experience via a screen. Greater numbers than ever before are taking part in Sunday worship services, either live or virtually. Our combined live and streaming numbers are significantly higher than when we were exclusively in-person worship. The tragedy of the coronavirus has led to more people being exposed regularly to a Christian message than before, and, for the first time in a long time, the church is reaching a younger demographic that may ensure its long-term health, giving us hope for the future.
“Be Patient in Suffering”
This is hard. No one enjoys suffering and, even with the promise of a Covid vaccine, our challenges economically and in terms of social isolation will continue. The word “suffer” in the Bible has to do with carrying something. Jesus “carried” our sins so that our burden of guilt on us might be lifted. For many, present suffering helps them draw closer to Him, but for all, suffering turns our attention to God. Whether it is to blame Him for present circumstances, or ask for help, in difficult times Christians and non-Christians alike begin to ponder what is up with the Divine. However, God is clear: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jer. 29:11] For Christians, suffering naturally leads to prayer.
“Persevere in Prayer”
Too often our prayer life falls victim to the busyness of modern society. So much in society distracts us that we lose out on the chance for a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus that will give us sustenance during difficult times. As someone once said: “Busy = Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Martin Luther’s response to busyness was: “I’ve got so much work to do today, I'd better spend two hours in prayer instead of one.” For some, the pandemic has meant more time and a less busy schedule, thus an opportunity to be more prayerful and reflective. For others it is the opposite. Having to learn how to do their jobs during a pandemic means a busier schedule as we learn how to zoom, hold virtual and hybrid meetings, and handle our business remotely. The challenge to spend time with Him becomes even greater. Whatever your situation, as we begin 2021, I encourage all of you to persevere in prayer as God’s guidance and support are needed more than ever.
St. John Divine in 2020 survived, and in some areas even thrived. As mentioned above, with our livestreaming we are engaging more people in worship and education than ever before. Other highlights include:
· 14 new Estimate of Giving Cards were turned in totaling almost $20,000.
· We celebrated 3 baptisms.
· Our Youth Group has been meeting and has more than doubled in size, up to 13.
· Our regular givers were faithful throughout the pandemic and that category of giving kept us solvent financially, meaning no staff had to be let go.
Challenges in 2020 were those shared by most churches during the pandemic:
· At least 8 funerals have been postponed or cancelled. The opportunity to support one another in difficult times has been eviscerated.
· Fellowship of all kinds has been limited and church gatherings that are important to our community have not happened. Coffee hour, potlucks, new member teas, etc. all have been cancelled until this pandemic ends.
· Giving in the areas of time and talent have, understandably, been drastically down as staying at home was the best choice for most of our volunteers. Thus, the weight of many ministries shifted to the staff, already working harder to adjust to the pandemic and learn new ways of doing ministry remotely.
· Giving in all areas, other than the aforementioned E.G., was markedly down. The loose plate offering was obviously non-existent as you need people in-person to put money in the plate. As I look back at the notes from our vestry retreat virtually all the fund-raisers did not occur and the loss in revenue significant.
· Finally, and most importantly, our evangelism efforts were completely squashed. Alpha and Cursillo did not happen, along with most of the vestry’s plans for 2020. Reaching new and younger families was the priority in the hiring of Fr. David, and our success necessary for the vision, which led to the building of the Banner Building and adding another priest, to be successful.
For those of you who are new or, until now, not taken the time to familiarize yourself with the vision set out a few years back, it looks like this:
Immediately: Move offices, vesting/choir room into Annex.
1 month: Remodel classroom and convert current vesting room into 1st class Nursery.
3 – 6 months: Hire “Family Life Minister”. Full-time priest to manage expected growth of younger family demographic.
~3 years: Move through Transitional Size and become a large Program Size church.
- ·~5 years: Begin planting satellite locations throughout South Shore. Perhaps one a year for a few years.
As you can see, we were well on our way to realizing our vision. Sadly, Covid has put a pin in the plan and 2021 will require us to either rethink the plan or find a way to put it on hold until things return to something resembling normal.
Ironically, Covid has helped us jump to the final part of our vision as something resembling a “satellite” location has been established at Freedom Plaza. When they went to lock down our livestream provided the opportunity for worship, and Fr. Harry, a fellow resident was able to provide Holy Communion.
That said, 2021 will be a time of change. At this writing we our facing a massive deficit financially and in terms of volunteers. Looking at a dearth in time, talent and treasure the vestry asks for your patience as we seek to bring the budget into balance and determine how to maintain essential ministries.
You can help! Please consider the following:
- Share some or all your stimulus check. If everyone did this it would wipe out the financial deficit.
- Consider offering your time and talent. If you are concerned about being in contact with others consider these low contact opportunities:
o Altar Guild. This group sets up before worship services and is a “behind the scenes” ministry. We are looking for help before and after all Sunday services and our Wednesday service.
o A/V Booth. Opportunities include camera technician, sound mixer, PPT operator, video editor and livestream coordinator.
o Media. Possibilities include newsletter editor, bulletin editor, Facebook administrator, photographer/Instagram manager. Most of these can be done remotely and require some measure of online competence.
o Office. We are always looking for help around the office. Tasks include mailings, covering phones, and data entry.
We have no doubt that the vision outlined above was of God; Covid, however, is not. Nonetheless, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” [Rom. 8:28a] However 2021 unfolds we trust that God can work it all to His good purposes so we will rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering and persevere in prayer.
II Timothy 1:11
Is Jesus in the Conversation?
I heard about a lady who was having difficulties with her daughter. The little girl didn’t want to talk about her mother or bring her friends around or invite her mother to school functions because of a scar.
It was a large ugly scar on her mother’s face, and the daughter was ashamed to be seen in public with her for fear she would be ostracized by her friends.
Finally, her mother asked her, “Why don’t you ever invite me to anything?”
“Mama, it’s the scar. It really looks horrible!”
“My dear, I should have told you about my scar. Sit down and let me tell you. One day when you were just a little baby the house caught fire. I grabbed you out of the crib and we got out of the house just in time but one of the beams collapsed and hit me across the face. It took some time for me to get it off but I was able to throw you to safety. The reason I have a scar on my face is because I was saving your life.”
Jesus got a few scars, too, while saving our lives – scars in his hands, on his face, on his side, in his feet. Stretched out on a cross, his body already scared from thorns and whips, they drove nails into his hands and feet.
We have a lot of free time, during the Pandemic, to talk about Jesus. Chances are we talk on the phone about the weather more than we talk about Jesus. But there are risks – the risk of being made fun of, called “holier than thou,” – the risk of rejection.
The world needs Jesus, so if we are not ashamed of him, then why do we not, more often, talk about him?
Perhaps, we should remember how he got his scars.
The Good News
While the challenges of 2020 have been well documented in other places, I am extremely pleased to report there were many successes this year in our shared ministry at SJD!
This year we have experienced exciting growth in our youth ministry. A Youth Advisory Council was formed to advise and consult on all matters related to youth ministry. The council, which meets quarterly, was appointed by me, and has agreed to serve a two-year term. Members of the council include Valarie Bryant, Deb Risner, Katie Arp, Anthony Primiano, Darlene Barshell, and Ethan Ruggles. One of the first recommendations the council made, that I accepted, was the purchase of a formal youth curriculum. This curriculum includes Christian Education lessons, games for youth gatherings, graphics, email templates, and countless other features. We have completed two of the 4-week series in the curriculum Squad Up, and True Story. These lessons taught the youth about the importance of belonging to a community of faith and some of the difficult, but true, lessons the biblical narrative teaches. One of the Advisory Council members and my Lay Youth Minister partner, Anthony Primiano, had also assumed most of the responsibility for communications and social media for the youth group. Anthony sends out regular email blasts to the youth and their parents keeping them updated on all the exciting activities we have planned. Even in the midst of pandemic our youth have safely continued to meet regularly and have participated in mission work and fun activities. We have completed 2 workdays at Benison Farm, and urban garden in S. St. Pete that helps provide fresh fruits and vegetables to residents around St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church (which is in the middle of what is called a “food desert”). Other mission work has included, serving the homeless through a feeding ministry called T.H.O.R.N., and helping a ministry called Bikes for Christ (a group that provides bicycles to those who cannot afford reliable transportation). Fun activities have included a day at Dayspring, participating in the low and high ropes courses, an afternoon at Ft. Desoto Beach, a bowling outing, and a scheduled canoe trip (that unfortunately has been canceled due to weather several times). We have even had several new members join our group The SJDivine Youth Group now has 12 regular participants! We are looking forward to a fabulous 2021!
2020 saw an exciting addition to SJD’s worship offerings. In Jan. we began offering a service of Daily Morning Prayer Mondays through Fridays at 9am. Pre-pandemic we had an average attendance of 3-5 worshippers. When in-person worship was suspended our team of Officiants and our A/V booth personnel quickly adapted and began offering this service on Facebook Live. We continue to see strong and devoted attendance for this service. Many thanks to our team of Officiants: Connie Keister, Aubrey Thompson, and Paulette Stoddard. Also, thanks to our A/V folks that keep us online and broadcasting Tommy Blair and Tristan Warner.
During this year I have continued to be an active participant in all aspects of parish life and worship. Fr. Kevin and I alternate Celebrating and preaching at the Wed. Healing Service and I have preached approximately 18 sermons this year. I also continue to volunteer as a Chaplain for the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office.
I am also tasked with supervising our Media Specialist, Tristan Warner. With input from Fr. Kevin, Don Fisher, and me, he continues to make improvements to the digital face of St. John Divine. 2020 has seen continued updating and improvements to our website as well as a more active presence on social media (including YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram).
While 2020 has had its share of challenges, disappointments, and losses I think I will choose to remember the graces God has provided. I look forward to discerning with the faithful people of St. John Divine what God is calling us to do in the year to come!
Yours in Christ,
I really struggled with what to write in this article. Losing people who made this church function seemed like the right choice to me and to my volunteers. If you have not seen the lovely tributes to Jim Smith written by our Assistant Media Specialist Tommy Blair, or my predecessor Ed Brown, I implore you to read them. If you are reading this online, select Tommy Blair’s name to read his, and select Ed Brown’s to read his, otherwise please try on to find the posts on our Facebook page, they are worth the effort. I honestly feel like both wrote about Jim better than I ever could.
Much happened that New Year’s Eve, and losing Jim Smith was one of the most shocking. I was just at my parents’ house enjoying the festivities when my father informed us all the news. I thought I misheard him. I thought he said someone else’s name. I never would have thought he meant THAT Jim Smith. Jim Smith who would fight tooth and nail with me on changes in the AV Booth. Jim Smith who constantly made new proposals to buy more sound equipment. Jim Smith who helped build the very AV Booth he and I would clash over.
As I became the Media & Tech Specialist, I had to learn many things about coordinating our amazing volunteers. How to recruit and train them, and honestly it is a struggle most Sundays. So, having people who I can trust fully, like Jim Smith, to know their position better than anyone else was a relief. His knowledge of sound equipment was unequaled, and he always kept up to date on what was needed to sound great in person or on the Live Stream. We lost a friend, a sound engineer, and all-around terrific man.
It was a pleasure to have known you Jim Smith,
Tristan M. Warner
Media & Tech Specialist
SJD was able to purchase 12 really nice warm blankets for the Lord's Lighthouse Ministry. Thank you everyone for your donations to this worthy cause.
A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!
As I write this, I trust you had a delightful and enjoyable Christmas Season. The year 2020 could be referred to as ANNUS HORRIBILIS. We were all forced to celebrate this past Christmas in ways we never thought possible. We were unable to celebrate with our loved ones in ways we just took for granted. No large dinners, no large company if any at all. In some cases, no opportunity to see our loved ones. We were unable to see our grandchildren. Oh! how our fellowship was interrupted. Some of us were forced to celebrate via Zoom or some other form of communication. Yes, life has changed. No one knows when things will be returned to normal. With the advent of the COVID-19 vaccination, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some new rules for us to abide by. But are these rules really new? These laws were given to the nation of Israel over 3,500 years. The instructions on hand hygiene, the wearing of a mask and self-quarantining are all stated in the Old Testament. In Leviticus Chapter 13 verses 4,5, 46, you are clearly told if you have symptoms, keep your distance, and cover your mouth. (quarantine). Here we see the need to adhere to the 14-day rule. Sounds familiar? Yes, it is the same time recommended by our health professionals. If we look in the book of Exodus Chapter 30 verses 18-21, we see the command to wash hands. Yes, we look upon the CDC regulations as an inconvenience. However, these instructions were given centuries ago. So, every time you are disposed to see the guideline as an imposition, remember those before you heeded these instructions and survived.
My sisters and brothers, I wish you and your family a Healthy and Prosperous 2021.
In God’s Grace and Peace,
Aubrey V. Thompson
Dennis Accardo - 2/1
Nancy Mercer - 2/1
Dianne Ohlandt - 2/1
Grace Ayers - 2/2
Thomas Rawlings - 2/2
Arthur Sharp - 2/2
Deborah Carlisle - 2/4
Helen Conner - 2/5
Beth Weaver - 2/5
Jodi Waldron - 2/8
Wendy Smith - 2/11
Deborah Wigmore - 2/12
Valerie Lang - 2/14
Mary Mobley - 2/14
Brenda Coman - 2/15
Douglas Roderick - 2/15
Christine Graham - 2/16
David Wyly - 2/21
W Grimm - 2/23
Randell Sample - 2/24
Marjorie Baker - 2/25
Virginia Freund - 2/25
Marlene Myrick - 2/25
Sandra Powell - 2/26
Marcel Butts - 2/27
Jack Edison - 2/27
Lisa & Scott Galbraith - 2/9
Barbara & John Gentry - 2/14
Annie & Mark Hunter - 2/18
Mary Lynn & Frank Ray - 2/23
Cynthia & Alan Watson - 2/22
St John Divine Episcopal
Church 1015 E. Del Webb Blvd.
Sun City Center, FL 33573
Curt Arp, Aubrey Thompson, Linda Floyd, Liz Hood,
Annie Hunter, Allie Maiocchi, Linda Cardillo, Howard Roshaven
Don Fisher, Sr. Warden, Greg Diehl, Jr. Warden
Valerie Bryant, Clerk, Treasurer, Susan Arp, Treasurer
Clergy and Staff
The Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith
Bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida
The Rev. Kevin Warner, Rector
The Rev. Lee Miller, Associate Rector
The Rev. David Wyly, Assistant Rector
Scott Gardner, Praise Leader, Joan Frankel, Organist & Choir Director
Tristan Warner, Media and Tech Specialist, Connie Minnoe, Accounting Administrator
Candy Allman, Office Manager, Sharon Bakay, Kitchen Manager
813-633-3970 email@example.com www.stjohndivine.com