First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
Senior Minister’s Report to the Membership
Summer Quarterly Meeting
July 13, 2015
Dear Member of First Church:
I write to update you of our ministry at First Congregational Church as we prepare for the Summer Quarterly Meeting that will be held after worship on Sunday, July 19th. I hope that over the next few days you will get a chance to read this note and bring your comments, questions, and suggestions to the meeting. A light lunch will be provided and our hope is that, by holding the meeting on Sunday, we will have improved attendance. Please make every effort to join us. There are many important matters for us to consider as a congregation and your voice and participation is essential to our progress.
First Church is at an important juncture in its history. For almost one hundred and fifty years this church has provided prayerful and thoughtful ministry to its members, the Atlanta community, and the world. Just as our predecessors more than a century ago developed ministries to meet the needs of the whole person---mind, body, and soul, we must now consider our needs and those of the evolving community around us to develop purpose-filled ministry for the 21st century.
Ironically, some of today’s needs are the same as they were more than a century ago. Education, employment
, decent housing, race relations, and social justice continue to be a high priority for anyone concerned with “loving thy neighbor as thy self.”
There is no question that we have made great progress in all of these areas, yet the stark realities of violence in the streets and in our homes, a failing public education system, a society consumed with consuming, and the ever-widening gap and disparity between the wealthy and the poor mandates that we must remain ever vigilant.
As we begin to plan our future through our strategic planning process, we should be especially encouraged by our recent past. The strategic issues we focused on addressed almost twenty years ago served as a fine blueprint for the ministry we now enjoy. We built the building we needed
, expanded our campus footprint, and created a downtown green space that is the envy of many and a jewel of an asset in our church life. I have every confidence that with the same prayer, care, discipline, and God as our “divine architect,” we will again accomplish more than we could ask or imagine in the next chapter of our mutual ministry.
OUR FACILITIES AND CAMPUS
Our facilities and campus continue to be used as we intended--- as a ‘meeting house’ and gathering place for a variety of community and cultural events. The following represents a sampling of the type of events that bring people to our campus
Sanctuary/ Main Church Facility
The flexibility, technical capabilities, and beautiful acoustics of our sanctuary make it an attractive venue for a variety of programming. Here are a few examples of recent programs:
Amandla Vocal Concert
AMF Closing Camp Concert
Sinfonia Summer Camp & 25th Anniversary Concert
Juneteanth Celebration of African American Music
Tyrone Jackson CD Release Presentation
Henry Conerway CD Release Presentation
Kirk Whalum DVD premiere The Gospel According to Jazz, Volume IV
Georgia Restorative Justice Project Meetings
CHOICES – Family Fitness Nights, Cooking Classes, Summer Camp
Jack and Jill Meetings
Medici Project (Youth Group from Iowa)
CARE Workshops and Meetings
Women’s Prayer Breakfast
Praise 102.5 “Man Up Live” Men’s Health And Wellness Event
Our Summer Camp Season has just ended. We hosted four camps this summer; the C.H.O.IC.E.S Camp for girls, the Sinfo-Nia String Orchestra Youth Camp, the Atlanta Music Festival Day Camp for 4th-6th graders, and the Emory University Graduation Generation Robotics Camp. Over one hundred students from the metropolitan Atlanta area were served.
MEMBERSHIP AND QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES
At our Spring Quarterly Meeting I informed the membership that I wanted the next 90 days to focus on internal “quality of life” issues for our members. How do we strengthen the ties that bind us together as members of First Church and the body of Christ? We recognized immediately that this is not a single issue, but rather a multi-dimensional matter, with many different parts. The election of this focus also aligned nicely with the needs and tasks of both the Stewardship Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee. A New Member Profiles and Services Committee has been created to study and address some of these issues. The effort is being shepherded by Beckie Spencer. The issues under review include all matters from cradle to grave including: Male Mentoring, Member Retention, Member Reclamation, Family Ministries, Benevolence Ministries, Grief Support Ministry and New Members. Here is a sampling of the way we are moving forward in these areas.
ISSUE: Music and Worship
FINDING: Many enjoy the diversity of music in our worship, but young people (those
under 40) want more contemporary expressions.
NEXT STEPS: Continue to diversify the worship music. Take full advantage of the gifts
of all of our music and worship leaders.
Develop an ensemble for young people, with a possible part-time hire
in the fall.
Convened the Music Staff for regular meetings to review and critique our
ISSUE: Member relationships with each other
FINDING: Many members know each other by face, but not by name
NEXT STEPS: Offer regular member profiles in the worship bulletin, with a brief bio
and photo of both old and new members.
Consider a new edition of the Membership Photo Directory. The last
edition was created in 2012!
Offer members to participate more fully in worship, for example by doing
the parish concerns.
Offer After Worship Coffee Hours for fellowship.
ISSUE: What is our present membership?
FINDING: Our database contains many names of people who are presently not
involved in the life of the church on any level.
NEXT STEPS: A Membership Committee has painstakingly gone through the entire roll (some 590 names) and made notes on how each person should be contacted. In every instance, the contact will be an invitation to confirm a relationship with First Church, not to scold or chide disaffected or delinquent members.
ISSUE: Review and assessment of the Diaconate Family Ministry
FINDING: The Diaconate Family Ministry is designed to provide an additional level
of communication, contact, and pastoral care for each of our member families. This is an important and valuable aspect of our pastoral care ministry but our delivery to the members has been uneven, and sometimes inconsistent.
NEXT STEPS: Formalize and maintain a more rigorous method of tracking the ministry.
Ensure that every church member knows who his or her Deacon is, and vice versa.
ISSUE: Integration of New Members
FINDING: Our success with truly integrating new members into the life of the church
is mixed. New members who are self-starters find themselves readily
engaged. However, new members who are for whatever reason reticent to “jumpin” can sometimes find First Church difficult to navigate. I have spent a considerable amount of time with some of our new members and recognize how important it is to move quickly through the New Member Orientation and Dinner process and integrate them into the full life of the church using the “Five Principals” model: Worship, Prayer, Study, Service, and Stewardship.
NEXT STEPS: Formalize and maintain a more rigorous schedule of new member
ISSUE: Evangelism, Church Growth, and Communication
FINDING: Many in Atlanta do not know we are back in our renovated facility. One can drive by the church on Courtland and find little sign of life there. We are taking full advantage of our new website and other digital media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but must do more to let people know we’re back.
NEXT STEPS: With the support and generosity of a few members, we will return to the
air by broadcasting our weekly worship services on AIB (Atlanta Interfaith Broadcast Network). When we were on the air several years ago, we were fortunate to have a sizable viewership. The weekly programs were appreciated by our Sick and Shut as well as by people throughout the Atlanta area. The members have agreed to sponsor broadcasts of our worship from September through December. This will have no impact on our 2015 budget. The costs of the broadcast (depending on the day and time of broadcast) is between $181-and $261 per airing.
In addition, we are looking at the cost/benefit of some type of digital signage on the Courtland Street side of the building.
ISSUE: Assessment of Christian Education, Sunday School, and the Nursery
FINDING: We know that a robust effective Christian Education program and Sunday School are key to a vibrant and growing church. We are noting our strengths and weaknesses in our present offerings and taking several steps to address the matter.
NEXT STEPS: The Christian Education/Sunday School is now meeting on a regular
monthly basis to go over all matters related to the Sunday School and the board. Calendar, curriculum materials, staff preparation and planning, and budget/program priorities will now be considered in a more rigorous and systematic way. Rev. Williams and I will both be working to undergird this critical area of our ministry.
In addition, I will offer a course during Discovery Week next week entitled, “Teaching the Teachers. This course will talk about resources, pedagogies, priorities, and goals for our Sunday School.
STRATEGIC PLANNING AND STEWARDSHIP
The strategic planning process and stewardship discussions are moving ahead quite well. George Jones and Susan Langford will make brief presentations on our progress of Strategic Planning and Stewardship respectively. I want to briefly highlight some of the salient issues that have come up for me during our months of planning and meetings.
Safety and Health MATTERS
Our Strategic and Stewardship plans must come with assessment methods and benchmarks so that we can determine how we’re doing as we go along.
Our entire membership must be engaged and take ownership of the process and mechanisms for participation and communication must be designed into the processes.
November 8th is Stewardship Sunday and the Stewardship Committee has now met three times. Susan Langford is the chair of the committee. We have discussed addressing at least four “silos” of fundraising.
Building Funding (Capital Campaign)
Endowment (planned giving. Estate planning, legacy giving)
Missions OCWM, OGHS, STC, NIN, local benevolences, Global Mission work, Habitat for Humanity, Scholarships
Most important we hope to change and deepen our understanding of stewardship in a more holistic and integrative fashion
We have taken several steps to improve our safety and emergency procedures at First Church. The Ushers are meeting to clarify their duties on Sunday and to create a training platform for uniform execution. We will offer Adult CPR Training for interested members in the fall. Our new signage for the entire building, including Evacuation Diagrams, will be installed also by early Fall.
I have shared my concern that our giving for the year has not been on pace with the 2015 budget we approved last December. I am grateful for the membership’s positive response to my request to increase it’s giving by 17% for the remainder of the year. In addition, I asked all who were able to make a single additional gift over and above their regular offering. The response has significantly improved our position and “thank you” seems inadequate, but I thank each and every one of you who share in this effort. We are not out of the woods but we are moving in the right direction.
STAFF AND ADMINISTRATION
Our new administrative staff persons are performing at a very high level and I am pleased with our progress. Our contract with the Piedmont Janitorial Services has been assumed by the Buckhead Cleaning and Custodial Company. Mr. Hanson has just retired.
A draft of a job description for an Assistant Minister will be presented at the Quarterly Meeting. As I mentioned sometime ago my intention is that the job focus or area of specialty for our new minister should be Christian Education/ Family Ministry. I am looking for someone who has been specifically trained in this area and knows the pedagogy, literature, and current philosophies of Christian Education. A vibrant Sunday School and strong Christian Education program will be necessary components of the growth and future success of First Church.
We are grateful for the ministries of the ordained clergy within our congregation. Each of our clergy serves us in quiet yet powerful ways constantly. We are also especially proud of the recent accomplishments of Rev. Dr. David Anderson Hooker and Rev. Dr. Angela Williams. Both received their doctorate degrees this Spring.
We have been fortunate to have found interim solutions to our parking shortage. The City of Atlanta has given us street parking on JW Dobbs and Ellis Street, the architectural firm of Scogin and Elam allow us to use its lot on Sundays and special days, and the Dialysis Center on Piedmont also allows us its lot. We have discontinued the use of the CARE lot except on special occasions. We found that few to no people parked used the CARE lot on Sundays and the required security attendant was simply not cost effective.
COMMUNITY PARTNERS/COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS
A part of the impact of our church is that enable ministries and missions that might not happen were it not for our generous hospitality to other community partners. The groups and services we enable include:
Common Ground An HIV Support Group
CHOICES Assisting Overweight girls
Neighborhood Arts Ensemble Big Band Jazz Music
Sinfonia/Stillwaters Youth Orchestra Youth Music Instruction
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Tax filing Assistance
AMF Summer Camp and After School Music Instruction School tutoring
Free Beginning Spanish Classes are being taught by Maria Lora two Saturdays per month.
Rev. Clement has begun a Midweek Meditation Program. All are welcome
Our hope is to reinstitute the Saturday Youth Enrichment Program.
WIDER CHURCH RELATIONS
Three members from First Church attended the Annual Meeting of the Southeast Conference of the UCC at Piedmont College. Rev. Angela Williams, Rev. Elizabeth Clement, and Mrs. Edna Menchhofer attended the conference on our behalf. We did not send anyone to the General Synod Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio this June. Although we designated $1,000.00 to assist interested parties to represent us, such minimal support was not sufficient to encourage members to attend this year.
A REQUEST OF ALL BOARDS AND ORGANIZATIONS
As you can see a lot of good work is going on at First Church. I ask all of the Boards, organizations, and auxiliaries to assist me with the following three items. It will help us to be even more effective and efficient.
Please develop your calendar in consultation with the Church Council and Church office. Our building is used almost to capacity on some days. Centralizing our scheduling method will ensure that all of your activities receive proper support.
Any invitations to be a Guest Preacher/Speaker in worship must be done in consultation with the as Senior Minister.
As you fulfill your plans for this year and begin to set your goals and objectives for 2016, please try to articulate your ministry as a group. This task will be easier for some groups than others but I think this could be a useful exercise for all of us. When we think of our group identity as more than just the sum of our activities, we gain an opportunity to reflect on the mission role of our group.
Finally, I am pleased to share a few special activities in my life. I have been invited to serve as Preacher/Chaplain at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York in late July. I was accepted to the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute in Los Angeles and will undertake a one-week intensive with composers and musicians from around the country. And in September I will receive the Thomas A. Dorsey Award at the Gospel Choice Awards in Atlanta. I am honored and humbled by this recognition and will continue to do all I can to ensure opportunities for others to excel and achieve in the field of their passion and choice.
Thank you for your support of me, my family
, and our mutual ministry.
God Bless You!