2017 State of the Church Address
I Chronicles 21:18-26, NRSV:
We begin with the Old Testament Book of I Chronicles chapter 21. This text parallels a text found in II Samuel 24. David was king in Israel, and he decided that he would take a census. David was advised against this, but chose to pursue it anyhow. The census displeased God, and a plague struck and killed 70,000 Israelites. In an act of repentance, David asked what he could do to stop the plague. God spoke to David through the prophet Gad. That’s where we pick up the story in verse 18, and go through verse 26:
Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to tell David that he should go up and erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. So David went up following Gad’s instructions, which he had spoken in the name of the Lord. Ornan turned and saw the angel; and while his four sons who were with him hid themselves, Ornan continued to thresh wheat. As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David; he went out from the threshing floor, and did obeisance to David with his face to the ground. David said to Ornan, “Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the Lord – give it to me at its full price – so that the plague may be averted from the people.” Then Ornan said to David, “Take it; and let my lord the king do what seems good to him; see, I present the oxen for burnt offerings, and the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for a grain offering. I give it all.” But King David said to Ornan, “No; I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David paid Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the site. David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and offerings of well-being. He called upon the Lord, and he answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.
Mt. Moriah – A Brief History:
When David made a mistake, God required a sacrifice. David realized that he needed to have skin in the game regarding the sacrifice he was asked to make. It was not fair for him to take what belonged to Ornan in order to cover up his mistake. As a result of David’s sacrifice, the plague afflicting the Israelites was lifted, and the site of the threshing floor was dedicated to be the foundation for the Temple. This was a place where David met God, and the Temple would become a place where faithful people could go to meet God. For the Israelites, the Temple became sort of a dwelling place for God, a physical place on earth where they believed the Spirit of God resided. Today, we know that God’s Spirit resides within each of us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Even still, the church is where many people come to sense the presence of God through worship, studies, community events, and more. This is why so many people refer to the church as “God’s house” or a “House of the Lord.”
In 1835, a group of people began meeting in a local school and in one another’s homes – a humble beginning for what would become the Mt. Moriah Methodist Church. In 1842, 175 years ago, that group of people purchased a plot of land and constructed a space for worship. In 1869, that building was enlarged and renovated. Then in 1881, a windstorm took the roof off of the building and it was again renovated and refurbished into the Wilfert Chapel we have today.
In 1952, after securing more land, the people of Mt. Moriah built a parsonage, and quickly followed that in 1956 with the construction of a fellowship hall. In 1960, they purchased the property known today as the “white house.” In 1964, an educational annex was built onto the fellowship hall. In 1968, following the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren, Mt. Moriah became a United Methodist Church.
In 1981, a deal was made to purchase a property from the Shinkle family, and then in 1988, the current Worship Center was constructed as the primary worship space. In 1991, a shelter house was constructed behind the Learning Center. Things were quiet for a few years, and then in 2012, we added an electronic sign, and have spent the years since 2014 doing renovations around our campus making improvements to many of our buildings.
This house, the one in which we worship today, has a foundation 175 years in the making – it is a place, where generations of people have come to meet, experience, and grow with God. This is a foundation that was the result of visionary leaders, people who were willing to make sacrifices financially and step out of their own comfort zones, and people who were committed to establishing a community of faith that could impact the surrounding community. This morning, we examine the state of our church.
The State of the Church has become an annual tradition for us, and something that I try to do each year to provide some transparency and to share with you what we hope the year ahead will hold. I am continually blessed by the opportunity to serve you, and Nicole and I deeply appreciate all of your support, especially with our upcoming bundles of joy. There are no words to tell you how much that means to us, but we absolutely love being here and hope that our journey continues for many years to come. Today, we look back and remember what has been, but it is also a day when we look forward at what will be.
Mt. Moriah – A Year in the Life:
Each year, as part of this address, we talk about the year that has been relative to four key areas: Missions, Finances, Facilities, and People.
Our missional outreach continues to make an impact locally, regionally, and globally. Your donations of food continue to provide meals and nourishment to people within our city through IPM, SEM, and the James Sauls’ Homeless Shelter. I had the pleasure of working alongside some of our teens this past summer on our annual Appalachian Service Project, and could not have been more proud of them and the way in which they served humbly and gracefully. We also collected $115 worth of Box Tops for Education, which directly benefited Redbird Mission. Globally, we continued our support for the Daughters of Cambodia, and completed our commitment to the project. In 2017, we will begin to review global opportunities that might also allow us to ultimately schedule an international mission trip. Many of you have volunteered for IPM, Sauls, SEM, the Wesley Foundation, and in other ways; serving to benefit our surrounding community and the Greater Cincinnati area.
Our United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men had active years as they worked to benefit church ministries, community ministries, and the ministries of the United Methodist connection. The UMW donated over $3,000 last year to support various mission projects that benefit our church and other mission-related ministries in our community. The UMM Methodist Men hosted three dinners to benefit their scholarship fund, and they stayed busy helping with numerous projects around our church. They also continue their generous donation of a Bible to each child entering the Ark of Learning. The UMM also donated over $3,000 last year to various projects benefitting our church and community. Our Inaugural Motors for Mission Cruise-In, was a success thanks to our ASP participants and both UMW and UMM.
Purls and Chains handcrafted and sent numerous knitted, crocheted, quilted, and loomed pieces that benefited nursing facilities, Wesley Chapel, Nast Trinity, and others across the US to help those in need, they also shared chemo hats, baby items, and prayer shawls with area hospitals. We finished the year by collecting over $4500 for Christmas Anonymous. We also had donations of $450 (socks & underwear, Jochebed Circle), $950 (shoes, AMAs) and 16 pairs of jeans. Your generosity enabled us to send checks to 4 local food pantries and assist several families in our church. We were also able to purchase gift cards for food and gas so Child Focus can continue to assist families throughout the year. In all, we served at least 88 people in 20 families.
In 2016, your financial gifts towards our operating budget totaled just over $336,000. Your generosity allowed us to maintain our long-standing tradition of paying 100% of our apportionments, which for the first time in nearly a decade were paid off early! We had a very successful stewardship campaign that led to seven new pledging units. If you have not yet pledged, but decide God is leading you in that direction, you can always do so at any time throughout the year. You can also ensure regular giving by signing up for the First Fruits auto-pay program through the United Methodist Credit Union, no matter where you bank, or you can utilize our new EasyTithe electronic giving option. We also have great community partnerships with Kroger and Amazon.com where we will receive a percentage of every purchase you make. Information about all of these opportunities is available on our website or via the church office.
On behalf of our financial team, I want to say a special word of thanks to each of you, as 2016 became our best financial year in a long time. We finished at just 0.5% under budget! This puts us on a great footing as we begin 2017, and will allow us to continue to improve and be innovative in our various ministry endeavors. This has been a tremendous blessing to our leaders, and we hope that you have experienced and seen the benefits of your generosity! As leaders, we take your investment in us seriously, and try to make smart decisions so that we might return that investment in ways that continue to benefit and grow the kingdom of God.
We have been able to continue campus improvements this year, most notably with the resurfacing and sealing of some parking lots, and the complete renovation of our sanctuary with new flooring, paint, and pew coverings. In February, a grant allowed us to upgrade the technology in our Fellowship Hall, which has been used on various occasions for both events and ministries. These upgrades included a portable sound system that was utilized at some of our outdoor events. The grant also enabled us to install windows in the classroom doors of the Learning Center.
People come and go, but they matter to us and they matter to God. In terms of our staff, we said farewell to Laura Johnson as our director of family discipleship, but she remains committed to Mt. Moriah and will continue to work in Creative Arts with the Liturgical Dance program, and on our annual ASP mission trip. Pam Scott stepped down as the coordinator for Lifeboat, but remains committed to the program as she continues to teach. Pam Robinson also transitioned out of our childcare director position, but remains with the Ark and is still a part of our Mt. Moriah family.
This year, we added a couple of new staff folks, including Diane Morris, our director of Adult Discipleship. Diane has been hard at work with our Lifegroups, she leads a weekly Bible study, and is also been involved in coordinating events that help adults in their walk with Christ, such as the Man2Man breakfast and Love Language seminar for parents. Marsha Murphy has come on board to direct our Sunday morning programming for children and youth, and she has a wealth of passion and ideas to help this program thrive.
We have also welcome new people into our Mt. Moriah family this year. We have had many guests join us for worship, and three people have joined us as members, either by profession of faith or membership transfer. On Pentecost, we welcomed five young men who joined us by profession of faith following the completion of our confirmation class. We have also had the privilege of witnessing five baptisms welcoming them into the family of God.
Our weekly worship attendance has dropped a bit in 2016, but that’s not a significant cause for alarm. We have transitioned to full hour programming for our children, so the number of people in our midst on Sunday mornings has actually remained relatively stable, the numbers are just reported in different places. I am so proud of our church and your willingness to be flexible as we moved our previous 8:30 service to 9:30AM in order to create space for a third worship opportunity at 8:15 in the Wilfert Chapel. We have a core group of people committed to the heritage worship service, and we have had guests joining us for that service as well. The core group attending that service, as well as Doug and myself have come to love the opportunity to worship weekly in a building that is so integral to Mt. Moriah’s history and legacy.
This year was another banner year for the Ark of Learning, and they will finish the year with over $10,000 of money that can be invested back into the school for continued improvement. They have accomplished this while at the same time increasing their financial commitment to Mt. Moriah for staffing costs. Becky Himes, our director, has committed the Ark to participate in projects happening at Mt. Moriah, coordinating our annual Easter egg hunt and providing advertising for other church events. We are blessed to have Becky on our staff, and I for one am incredibly grateful for the commitment of our Ark staff and our church to the continued success of the Ark of Learning.
Mt. Moriah – A Vision for the Future:
In Ecclesiastes 3, we read:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.
My friends, much like David was called to put skin in the game, and much like those who have been a part of our 175-year history we called to put skin in the game, we too receive that same call. To everything there is a season, and now is our season and our time. That means that sometimes things will require pruning – we might have to dispose of something old in order to be a part of something new, we might have to experience sadness and pain in order to experience happiness and prosperity. Just as there are highs and lows in life, there are highs and lows in the life of the church. In two and a half years, we have already had some high points and some low points, but we press on knowing that there is a new mountaintop ahead. We continue to pursue the dream that God has given to us – a dream given to us through our first round of town halls in 2014:
-We dream to become a mission minded church that is focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
-We dream to be a church where people of all walks of life are lovingly invited into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
-We dream to be a church that is equipping the saints for ministry, building up the body of Christ, nurturing people in faith, teaching them about Jesus, and leading people to spiritual maturity.
-We dream to be a church that is prayerfully, peacefully, and relationally sending people out into our community and world to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
-We dream to be a vision driven church that examines current realities, identifies needs, and works to fill those needs, as we seek to advance our mission.
-We dream to be a united people who seek to live out our call with humility, gentleness, patience, peacefulness, and love.
To fully live out our dream means that we will experience seasons of excitement and energy, and we will also experience seasons of uncertainty as we enter into periods of change. While it is true that the gospel message never changes, the means and methods we have of communicating that message do change, the needs of our community change, and the needs of the people around us change, and if the church is not willing to rise to the challenge of meeting those needs, people will find a place that will. This is one of the reasons so many churches experience stagnation or decline, because they did not recognize and act to meet the needs of the community.
In October, we held a second series of town halls where we talked about many things. As we had these conversations, children and youth came up at nearly every one. Your vision of a building remains much the same – multipurpose space, community space, classrooms, and space for ongoing Mt. Moriah ministries. While that vision is not dead, our leadership does not believe such a vision is financially attainable in the immediate future. One of the ways we get there is by becoming more and more friendly and accessible for families. While going to a full-hour program for children on Sunday mornings was a step in the right direction, it is simply inconvenient to have children in a different building. We have struggled to keep volunteers, and we have struggled to attract new families.
When we look at churches around us that are growing and thriving, they are churches that were built with family in mind, and a great deal of their resources are allotted to children, youth, and family programming. As such, our Church Leadership Team will begin taking steps to hire someone on a part-time basis to serve as a director for these ministries. Our goal is that this would be a person nearing the completion of seminary, and that within a couple of years they would be retained as a full time associate pastor with their children and youth remaining their primary responsibility.
We will also be exploring the feasibility of connecting this building to the existing Learning Center, which will mean a capital campaign, but it will likely be a campaign that is more manageable for us as we grow. If we find the right candidate and our children’s and youth programming begins to grow, we will likely be able to take the next steps in constructing a large multi-purpose space.
Even as we look towards families, we will continue to provide opportunities for adults of all ages through our Lifegroups and through discipleship opportunities. To our seniors: you are a part of the legacy we stand on, and through your sacrifices, we have what we have today. We still need you to have skin in the game; our families need your help – they need your prayers, they need your wisdom and guidance, they need your support as they try new things, and they need to know that they matter to you. This will be the greatest gift you can pass on to the next generation. To our families: I’ve said it before, but listen to the wisdom of those who have life experiences, they can teach you about potential pitfalls and landmines in order that you might avoid them – they need your prayers, they need your support, and they need to know that they matter to you. This will be the greatest gift you can give to them to honor their legacy. The point: we need to value each other in all seasons of life, and we need to commit ourselves to one another in order to make the decisions that will show people in our community without a church home that we value them.
As we move into the new year, one of the opportunities we will offer for individuals, couples, and families, is our Essential 100 series, which will begin next Sunday. At Mt. Moriah, we believe that daily engagement in scripture is important, and we want to make it easy for you to read throughout the week. Each week, there are five readings. Each day, you’ll begin with an opening prayer, a reading, a reflection, an application, and a closing prayer. You can decide if you want to do this as part of your individual devotion time, as a couple, or as a family. Each week, you’ll hear a sermon based on one of the prior week’s readings. This series will have us spending 10 weeks in the Old Testament, and then 10 weeks in the New Testament. We have synced this series so that the readings surrounding Holy Week line up with Easter, and even as I am away on paternity leave, our pastoral coverage has committed to seeing this series through to provide us with continuity. Once we complete the series, we will begin to provide a weekly reading plan corresponding with our current sermon series.
Coming later this month will be our first Life Happens seminar. Throughout life, there are likely things we know we should be doing, but many of us struggle with how to get them done. From financial planning to end of life care, from basic budgeting to legal matters, these are all things that are a necessary part of life, but keep many people up at night. On January 29, from 1-4PM in our Learning Center, we have put together a whole host of people who will be available to answer your questions and provide you with a contact point should you want to utilize their services following the event. We will have people to help with creating a household budget, financial and estate planning, funeral preplanning, funeral service planning, living wills, powers of attorney, wills, and more. Please mark your calendars and join us for this important event, it is a great opportunity for us to provide the service of having many of these things under one roof.
Mt. Moriah – A Living Legacy:
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die. During my tenure at Mt. Moriah, we have had over 30 funerals for people who were a part of our community and church family. We have experienced the seasons of heartache and hardship. No matter how expected or unexpected, death causes grief, and while we rejoice in the gift of God’s grace and the promise of eternal life, it is still hard for us when we lose people who were a part of our lives.
The losses that we have experienced have left many vacant seats in our midst, and throughout our 175 years, those seats have been filled by new faces, and the life of the church has continued. We stand on a strong foundation and I believe we are called to continue to build upon it – to honor those who have gone on before us, by ensuring that new people are introduced into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and have the opportunity to claim the promises of God for themselves.
As I was looking through our history books in the parlor, I found that Mt. Moriah has had a history of dreaming big dreams. People dreamt of a place to worship, a place to learn, and throughout the years, those places have expanded and grown. They had a dream for the future, a dream for tomorrow. Some of those dreams have come to fruition, some of them still wait to come true, but those dreams have been passed on to us, and we too have dreams of our own. We are a church with a living legacy – with a baton that has been passed down throughout the generations. For 175 years, people have been dreaming big, they have been pursing God’s big dream for Mt. Moriah, and it is a dream we continue to pursue today.
In 2017, we are going to look back, but we are also going to look ahead. We will celebrate the dreams of our past, and we will celebrate and anticipate the dreams of our future. It is not simply an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for what has been done, rather an opportunity to set a new bar, and to continue to remain faithful to the call that God gave this church 175 years ago. We continue to invite people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and equip them in faith, and send them into the world for service in Jesus’ name. We continue to celebrate lives lived and battles won. We continue to build upon our ministries and outreach. We continue to strengthen our foundation built on the dreams of yesterday, so that we might live into the dreams of tomorrow.
Mt. Moriah – Dreaming of Tomorrow:
As I conclude, I want to remind us of words that I used to conclude our first sermon together: Together we’ll work to provide aide for local and global causes. Together, we’ll work to help families in need. Together, we’ll make improvements to our facilities. Together, we’ll welcome new members into this church. Together we’ll pray, together we’ll experience answered prayers, together we’ll join hands and bow heads during tough times, together we’ll raise hands and hearts to God for the work that is being done among us, together we’ll grow, together we’ll do ministry. Together, we’ll overcome, we’ll bear fruit, and we’ll see and experience the love of Jesus in powerful and mighty ways. Our journey continues, our pursuit marches on, and together we are dreaming of tomorrow, looking for the best in everyone, knowing that the best is yet to come!
Christopher A. Henderson-Johns
Lead Pastor – Mt. Moriah United Methodist Church