Letter from Our Senior Pastor Dear sisters and brothers,
2014 was a big year for Morningside. We started off a little antsy with our budget – because we were anticipating big things—but you, the congregation, stood up and said that what we were anticipating doing was important to you—and we were able to go ahead.
What did we do that was so big? We achieved, for the first time since 2010, a full staff. The search for our next musician identified Mason Copeland as the right person to lead our stellar music program, and he joined our staff mid-year as Organist/Choirmaster. In September, we reinstated the office of associate pastor and joyfully called Drew Stockstill to that position.
We also embarked on another great journey as well—and for the most part, it was an entirely behind-the-scenes effort. We spent most of the year preparing the groundwork to launch an exciting capital campaign vital for the future of our congregation. On Feb. 8, we will introduce Standing and Serving for Generations, our $1.5 million campaign to further improve and enhance the facilities and ministries of Morningside. After careful discernment, deliberation and prayer that accompanied our Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT) Scan, our five-year strategic plan and our facility master plan, church leadership embarked on this campaign to increase our financial independence, make much needed building improvements and invest further in Christian Education and Mission. Much work has been done in the past few months by our dedicated and talented Executive Campaign Committee to raise awareness and support for this important mission. Due to the faithful generosity of many early contributors, I am thrilled to announce that on December 19 we met our lender’s deadline to retire the final $147,000 balloon portion of our outstanding debt from our previous capital campaign, A Time of Promise. There are not adequate words to express the gratitude and pride I feel in sharing this with you.
In the coming weeks, you will learn much more about Standing and Serving for Generations, but please mark your calendars for the Campaign Kick-off Luncheon on February 8. The support of our entire congregation is essential to our success in this significant next step for us.
There is an old chestnut that gets thrown around a lot – that we can see so far into the future because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Truly today, Morningside stands on the shoulders of giants: the founding generation, who under the leadership of Arthur Van Gibson mortgaged their homes to build our sanctuary, the faithful remnant who stepped out boldly under the leadership of Joanna Adams to undertake the ATime Of Promise campaign that enabled the revitalization of Morningside to be one of the bright stars of the Presbyterian Church. The history of a congregation affords us decision points where we have the opportunity to live into the fullness of what God is calling us to do: to live faithfully with the abundance that God has entrusted to our care, and to seek to be the giants on which future generations will stand. This is that time.
I give thanks to God for each of you – and I remain gratefully,
The Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
Clerk of Session’s Report
Statistically, 2014 closely resembled 2013. We ended the year with 545 members on our church rolls. We welcomed 15 new members and said goodbye to 17. Four of these entered the Church Triumphant last year: Geneva Bourne, Dr. Leslie Brenner, Jesse Neill and Ruth Wells.
We celebrated two marriages, 13 births and adoptions, and 11 baptisms—all of children. We expect all these new arrivals to further our need to emphasize programs for preschoolers, children and youth as they grow with our church.
At the end of the year we began a project to validate our church rolls, inquiring after members who have left the metro area or have not attend worship or programs for quite some time. If any have found new church homes or no longer wish to affiliate with Morningside, Session will act to remove them from our rolls at their request. Assuming we will continue adding members at the current level, our total membership may show a dip for 2015. However this is healthy—having an accurate membership list actually benefits the church as we save on certain expenses associated with our head count.
The following reports offer more details on individual ministries.
Clerk of Session
Caroline Tanner and Will Barnette, Co-chairs
Randy Parrish, Treasurer MPC maintained stable financial health in 2014. In line with MPC’s needs, we experienced a busy year personnel wise, significantly including installing Drew Stockstill as Associate Pastor and hiring Mason Copeland as the Church’s first full-time Organist/Choirmaster. These invaluable personnel additions, combined with modest staff compensation increases, contributed to expenses being roughly $19,000 more than the Human Resources budget. Judicious spending by the ministry teams and staff, however, resulted in the remaining committee budgets being roughly in balance. That fact, combined with an unexpectedly strong finish to the year in offerings, led to our total annual receipts of $894,322 exceeding our expenditures of $855,774 by $38,548. At the same time, we were able to retire on schedule the remaining debt from Phase I of the A Time of Promise campaign in the amount of $162,000.
Going forward, the Finance Committee has proposed and Session has adopted a balanced budget for 2015. Thanks to a successful Stewardship Campaign, 2015 pledges exceed 2014 pledges by roughly $67,000. The 2015 budget of $908,091 represents an approximate 6% increase over the actual spend for 2014, which is reasonable given the pledged offerings. The majority of the increase will be allocated to Human Resources, as we plan to hire a Director of Christian Education during the year, as well as provide for appropriate staff compensation increases. In addition, the Children & Youth Ministries and Music/Chancel Choir budgets will receive significant increases.
Budgeted expenditures for 2015 are as follows:
Human Resources: $515,943
Other Operations: $105,140
Children & Youth: $44,865
Worship & Arts: $38,250
Debt Amortization: $17,333*
Congregational Nurture: $9,600
*The Phase II A Time of Promise loan is long-term debt and maintains a balance of $523,791.
In sum, we are pleased to report that MPC remains financially healthy and is spending its resources wisely and in line with the priorities expressed by the congregation. We look forward to meeting the challenges we have for 2015 with your continued support.
William P. Barnette
Beth Baer, Chair Discipleship is divided into three areas: Faith Development (formerly Adult Education), Small Groups, and the Learning Center. Key accomplishments in each of Discipleship's areas are noted below.
The Learning Center
In 2013, the Learning Center was organized for the exclusive use of the Preschool and the children of the MPC congregation. Books for adult readers were relocated to the Session Room, and some were damaged due to water intrusion in 2014. We need to examine the need for an adult library. We do not have any money allocated in the budget for a Learning Center project for 2015.
The Adult Education Committee agreed to change the name of this committee and its programming from Adult Education to Faith Development. Following the Faith Development Committee’s decision to organize around a semester system, roughly corresponding to the children’s school year, MPC offered the following programming in 2014:
Room 201—Jan. 5, 12 Carol Senf led the class in a discussion on New Year’s Resolutions.
In February, a study of God’s Call for Mission was facilitated by Drew Stockstill with outside speaker Dr. John Azuma, Professor of Global Christianity and Islam from Columbia Seminary as well as Morningside member Dr. John Blevins, professor at Emory’s Rollins School of public health. Through March-April 13 “John Calvin” led by Peter Tuuk and Peter Cobb with guest teacher Dr. George Stroup, Professor of Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary leading April 13. April 27-May 18, Drew Stockstill led “Life After Easter: A Look at Resurrection Theology”.
Room 107—In the winter a class completed its review of the History Channel's miniseries "The Bible" by exploring the narrative of God's work in the world throughout history and discussing how this is relevant to our lives today. Suggested by Tara Parrish, the class was developed and facilitated by Drew Stockstill.
May 25-August 10—Summer in Hebrew Bible. A combined class looked at Old Testament texts that are not usually preached on and took a closer look at familiar texts.
Room 107— Drew Stockstill facilitated a study of The Early Christians, using Paul's letters to look at the issues the earliest Christians wrestled with and how we wrestle with many of the same issues in our lives today.
Room 201—Carol Senf facilitated a seven week study of The Psalms, assisted one Sunday by James Klotz, who focused on the musical aspects of The Psalms. These studies concluded September 28. In October Beth Baer, Ellen Stockstill and Bob Wells shared their thoughts on The Grace of Christ: From Scripture to Our Lives Today through a look at scripture and through their unique life experiences. In November, Rev. Lindsay Armstrong, the new Director of New Church Development for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, lead a four week series featuring New Church Trends in the 21st Century.
During the four Sundays of Advent, MPC hosted a very special series, "Tell Me The Stories of Jesus," led by Lynn Daniel and Laura Fillyaw. Lynn and Laura provided a classroom display of story books and professional resources on child development On Nov. 30 Lynn, addressed these questions: How and why do stories connect with us and stick with us through our whole lives? What are the other ways were share our faith? On Dec. 7, Lynn presented an overview of child development up to age 5 and discussed spiritual developmental stages based on the writings of James Fowler. Lynn featured the beautifully illustrated book The Quilt Maker’s Gift. On Dec. 14, Laura discussed the development and reading materials for our older children and their needs and provided professional resources and book ideas to the class. On Dec. 21, Jonah McDonald, a Southern Order of Storytelling member and former board member, told stories in the Jewish Midrash tradition, which beautifully illustrated the power of stories to convey moral and ethical principles. Children and their parents were invited to attend the final session.
In November, the Faith Development Committee met and planned the Faith Development Spring 2015 curriculum, which will begin in January with an exploration of Mission: Discerning God’s Call. The remaining portion of Spring Semester is designed around the Presbyterian Mission’s “Being Reformed” series and will draw on the strengths of class members to lead the majority of the classes.
Morningside had a total of thirteen active groups throughout 2014. This included two newly formed groups: MEN’S BREAKFAST and THE POETRY GROUP. Morningside strives to provide connection opportunities for members and guests through group forums centered in life stage, affinity and education / personal growth.
COUPLES GROUP - A monthly gathering for those who are coupled up, primarily social.
LGBT & FRIENDS - A monthly gathering for single and partnered LGBT members, visitors and friends. Programs include guest speakers and conversation around thought-provoking topics impacting life in the 21st Century.
LYDIA CIRCLE - A social and service group for young moms and professional women.
MEN’S BREAKFAST - A monthly breakfast at 7:00 a.m. that includes devotional, discussion and Bible study.
ONE GRAY HAIR - A group for those with one or more gray hairs that meets over lunch with informative programs.
THE POETRY GROUP - A group led by Robert Gray and Baron Mullis discusseses poetry, life experiences and how we can encounter the Word in fresh ways.
PRAYER GROUP - Meets weekly to review prayer requests and to invite prayers as individuals are led.
RHO READERS (Red Hat Optional) - A general book club for members, neighbors and friends.
THEOLOGY ON TAP - A group for the men of Morningside centered in lively discussion on topics related to living our faith in the real world.
THIRD THURSDAY THEOLOGY – An open and lively noontime discussion with Baron.
WOMEN’S ROUNTABLE -A group for women of Morningside community-at-large to better connect by sharing ideas, information and concerns.
WONDERFUL WEDNESDAYS - An ongoing Bible-study group.
YOUNG ADULTS (T&T, Twenties & Thirties) - A group that allows Morningside’s young adults to share a meal, converse and get better acquainted.
In August, group shepherds met to strategically discuss the important role of connectivity that small groups serve within Morningside and how groups could continue to optimize attendance and participation. Group shepherds found the evening valuable and agreed to hold this late summer “kick-off” forum annually.
Children, Youth and Families Ministries
Laura Fillyaw, Chair
The Children and Youth Ministry Team continued to be busy in 2014. A commitment season highlight in the fall shared the story of the growth from 23 children ages 0-18 years old ten years ago to 163 at present –not to mention the eight babies due to arrive in the first six months of 2015n And there were so many new babies at end of the summer, that not only was one baby cast in the role of Jesus in the pageant, but another visited a class during Advent in same role and yet another was baby Jesus at the Family Worship Service on Christmas Eve.
In her fourth and final year as an elder, Sue Ballay continued to share her expertise with children and curriculum development as the Children’s Education Committee Chair. In the fall, Liz Sommerfeld came on as (co/rising) chair and will continue in 2015 helping us develop a succession plan for leadership in all areas. The Children's Christian Education Committee serving infants through 5th graders is made up of age group shepherds, program and curriculum leaders.
The committee agreed that though the primary role of the shepherd was to schedule and coordinate volunteers to help staff Children’s Worship, shepherds are also important for connecting with regular visitors and new member families. The group is also discussing areas where we could strengthen the curriculum or programming offerings. Due to current needs, we changed the Toddler/Twos and Preschool Classes to a new Two/Three Years Old class and a Four/Five class. Sue Ballay, Liz Sommerfeld and Lisa Harris reviewed curriculum for the new two/ threes class to include a Bible story, songs and finger plays. Introducing music and Bible stories for this class received a lot of support and is now in the works. We also were able to utilize the great asset of Children’s Worship Leader Debbi Loomis who was very willing to transfer from teaching K-1st to lead Twos/Threes which she is eminently qualified to lead as she teaches three-year-olds at our preschool.
Additional program areas that the committee hopes to strengthen include options for the multi-age 9:45 a.m. Sunday school hour and special outings for 4th-5th graders to continue bonding this pre-youth group. They had loads of fun bowling in the fall and are looking forward to ice skating this winter. The 4th and 5th grade classes are so large that in two years when they have all become youth, they will have doubled our youth participants. Besides these offerings for children, MPC is offering the “Parenting the Love and Logic Way” parent education series to the community early in 2015.
Sunday School Kickoff, headed by Alyssa Durden, was a great success in August. With the new school year, we began the practice of having children return to the sanctuary during the offering. This gives our children more time in worship and has been very well received by the congregation. 2nd-3rd grade leader Jessica Coons has been instrumental in making this a smooth transition and her leadership of the worship component with all elementary ages combined has been very strong. During the first half of 2014, we continued to explore music options during children’s worship with a leader from Eclectic Music. After taking a break for the summer and creating our own children’s hymnals for our classrooms, Jessica has done a great job leading us in three songs each week during the all-age worship time. We then break into three age groups for more in depth discussion and activities to reinforce the lesson.
As mentioned above, Jessica Coons has continued as our 2nd-3rd grade leader. With the new school year last fall, we lost Sally Horne’s leadership for grades 4-5 grade worship as she moved on to law school, but we gained Josh Stanley as a ministerial intern who has stepped in to help in that position twice a month. Our youth assistant Landon Dillard takes one Sunday a month and the 4th-5th graders continue to attend worship on Communion Sundays. Landon had met many of the kids during Vacation Bible School and Mission Camp which were part of her summer internship with us. Josh and Landon have been a good team, joining us for our fall outing to bowl to get to know the kids better.
At the beginning of 2014, we implemented a team of volunteers to lead the preschool-age class instead of staff. Sue Ballay, Kim Nuckols and Melinda Sandkam led us in training these volunteers in curriculum use and classroom management and it has been very successful. The lead volunteers assist with maintaining the curriculum and share their many gifts with the children. Following this successful transition, we decided to try the same model with K-1st leadership when we asked children’s worship leader Debbi Loomis to transfer to the Twos/Threes class in September. Having completed two full rotations of the volunteer list by the end of the year, we have found this to also be a success.
With the beginning of school in August, we had a number of new children join the team of those who carry communion elements into worship. Baron and Melinda trained them and the children continue to enjoy participating in worship in this way.
Cherub Choir started off 2014 with some new attendees, and the Youth Ensemble had a successful season together in early 2014. Winter Youth Ensemble sang on March 2, Youth Sunday. We were excited to have our new choirmaster/organist Mason Copeland get involved with the children’s choir first during Vacation Bible School only weeks after his arrival and then in the fall as he accompanied Children’s Choir Director Rebecca Shipley. We look forward to Mason’s ideas and leadership in future development of the program. In the fall, we returned to the Cherub and Treble Choir age groupings and they performed a number of times this fall and holiday season.
“All Aboard the Ark” was this year’s Vacation Bible School theme in June. We were blessed to have a Noah's Ark play structure built for this event (and for weekly fun!). Thanks to Herb Grodemange for designing and building our new ark. We had many wonderful volunteers helping to make the week a resounding success: numerous classroom and group leaders, Robin Hackney who led a new games segment, Linda Johnson who led the ever popular and always messy cooking activity. Staff members who contributed to the success of the week included Elisabeth and Mason Copeland, Sally Horne, Amy Lowe and Rebecca Shipley and our wonderful seminary intern Landon Dillard who was heavily involved in preparation and leadership for VBS.
Our sixth ‘It’s Not All About Me’ Mission Camp was a huge success. With the addition of a Youth Track which welcomed 17 teenagers, we had a record number of 34 registrants. With the assistance of volunteer Temple Elliott, we further developed our interactive lesson on poverty, minimum wage and families that face homelessness. We added visits to Genesis Shelter (the new partner for Our House) and the youth assembled medical kits to be sent around the world. We welcomed Sherry Bozardt from Thornwell Home for Children to speak to the children and have continued discussions with her regarding possible future partnering opportunities with the children served by Thornwell. We repeated many favorite hands-on activities including sorting food at the Atlanta Community Food Bank and having a car wash to raise funds for the Atlanta Humane Society. As always, we ended the week hiking to the Len Foote Hike Inn and the youth even stayed a second night for a special program designed and led by Chris Peters and Drew Stockstill. Our summer intern Landon Dillard was also a vital part of preparing and staffing this week.
Melinda Sandkam wrote a grant request to help fund our Children in Mission activities that specifically address hunger in our community. Presbytery's PATH (Presbyterian Answer to Hunger) offered the grant, and thanks to her efforts, MPC has been awarded a $5,000 grant for 2015.
Pageant practices began Nov. 9. Pageant involvement included 46 kids and 10 youth stage crew. Though EVERY parent helped with pageant, special thanks to Liz Sommerfeld and Alyssa Durden for their dedication with the costumes, Maggie Adams for volunteer coordination, Lynsley Tyler for pitching in at last minute for a backstage adult staff member who became ill, and Lloyd Prince for hours and hours and hours on sound. And many thanks for leadership of Linda Johnson and Rachel Spears for their hard work coordinating the Chili/Soup dinner with many donations including the evening’s prize winning vegetarian chili by Ian Irwin.
The Youth programming had a consistent attendance with Sunday evening activities now averaging 20 each week. MPC celebrated its first Youth Sunday in a decade last March; it was a wonderful experience. We had 18 youth participate throughout the worship service. Youth participated in five Sundays of preparation for the event. We are already planning for our next Youth Sunday, set for Apr. 26.
The youth were engaged in many activities during the summer of 2014: High School Montreat Youth Conference; Government Street Mission trip to Mobile, AL; and Youth Track Mission Camp. 2015 summer events have already been booked and youth are already signed up for a mission trip to New Orleans and a trip to Montreat.
Our Youth Director Chris Peters finished his time with us at the end of the summer after having graduated seminary and received a call. We celebrated the three years that he developed our youth program on his last day in early August. Landon Dillard continues as an assistant for the youth ministry. As Drew Stockstill became a full-time associate pastor here at MPC, he took over as our Youth Director when school started.
This fall’s Sunday night youth programming has centered around a study of the Lord’s Prayer and a variety of outreach work. Confirmation dates for Winter 2015 have been set and 18 youth have signed up for classes Jan. 11- Mar. 29. Session will examine confirmands at their Apr. 20 meeting with Confirmation Sunday taking place on Apr. 26. As an exciting addition to confirmation, Landon and Drew will offer a parallel class to parents of confirmands and anyone else in the church interested in learning about the fundamentals of the Christian faith, the Reformed tradition and the Presbyterian denomination.
Morningside Presbyterian Preschool continues to be a strong outreach to our community. Led by Director Sarah Tomaka, the teachers, preschool committee and parent volunteers work together to provide a caring learning environment for almost 100 students each week. The addition of a part-time assistant to the director was a beneficial step especially since it includes the management of the curriculum, staffing and registration for summer camp which takes place in the same months that registration for the next school year is being handled by the Director. Three prospective parent tours continue to be strongly attended testifying to the solid reputation of the program. The finances of the preschool remain sound with rising chair Suzanne Macpherson leading our annual Fun-Raiser to a record total this fall ---there were two fundraisers in 2014 as it moved from the winter (February) to fall (November) to avoid overlap with elementary school fundraisers. Both of the 2014 Fun-raisers utilized the services of Bidding for Good which streamlined the process even allowing those not in attendance to bid on-line. The Book Fair returned and also brought in record amounts with the new every-other-year schedule. Additional small yet easy fundraising was added in the fall with a monthly Maddio’s pizza fundraiser. The Preschool Outreach Committee implemented an opportunity to give to a different organization each month during chapel making it very hands-on for young children bringing in items such as tissues or toothpaste. The 2014 Chair of the Preschool Committee was Anne Barnette. In the last quarter, the Committee revisited all five imperatives of the current strategic plan which is due to end in 2015 and established leadership for each area. Many areas have been completed successfully and current needs for playground updates are one of remaining priorities.