Annual Parish Meeting: Rector’s Report
Bishop Anthony Burton (email)
Introduction & Thanks
God willing, we shall we have our first Sunday in the new buildings in 238 days—Sunday September 20. That will be our ‘soft launch’ just for current parishioners, which will give us two Sundays in the new buildings to get the bugs out before we have our public launch and ribbon cutting on October 4.
It is customary on occasions like this to say flattering things but I mean what I say in observing that, excluding myself, we have the finest clergy team and staff in the Episcopal Church. They humble me in their intelligence, dedication, imagination and hard work. I love serving with them, and am proud of all they do.
Fr. Greg Methvin and I have become very close friends over the last six years, and I have learned much from him. I know I am not alone in grieving the thought of his departure. He is the gold standard as preacher and pastor, and as a parish we would not be where we are today without his extraordinary gifts and leadership. We are so blessed to have had him with us for as long as we have.
We are so happy for you, Greg, and for St. Philip’s, Frisco, which we know will be blessed by having you as their Rector.
A Tradition of Giving
Only five months ago many of you signed the red beam that is now part of the fabric of the new Education Building. It was wonderful to see what you wrote on the beam. This was one inscription, “We met in the high school youth group, were married here, and now we are back. Thank you, Incarnation for being a part of our lives.” Others wrote down the names of those who had died recently but who hadn’t lived to see the day. Others wrote down names from previous generations and previous building campaigns.
The Incarnation family is an old one. We live and worship in a physical and spiritual world that is not of our making but was been prepared for us by those who went before us here.
Others have labored and we enter into their labors. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
Their example is faithfully being repeated right now. Just as they did in their generation, you have stepped up and laid the foundations for the future, paying it forward, honoring their trust.
There are 700 fish on the donor wall, each representing a household. I am mindful as the construction rises before our eyes that every beam in those buildings, every pillar, every slate, every pipe, every fixture, is a material sign of someone’s sacrifice, of someone’s love for the Lord and his people and his mission, of someone’s recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit here, and of their longing to see even more lives touched and changed. I think most of us understand that we are not at the end of something but the beginning of something, something more significant than Incarnation has ever seen before.
God has put his hand on our parish. This is not just a future promise. It is increasingly a present reality.
We can already see the first evidence of how we are multiplying the effect of what we do here by steadily producing Christian leaders of the first order, both for parish leadership and for teaching in our Seminaries. In addition to those already ordained, we currently have fourteen candidates in the ordination process. We are jokingly referred to in the as “the Church of the Ordination.” There is no other Episcopal Church in the United States where God is calling so many people to holy orders. Incarnation is in some respects a great teaching hospital of the soul, and those leaders who fly the nest to serve elsewhere had been shaped by our parish and trained in how to think effectively about growing parishes and helping others encounter Christ.
The Beecherl/Corrigan Fellows program—a nine-month annual Christian leadership and and discipleship program for recent college graduates—is enjoying a lively second year. The Fellows have been a shot-in-the arm in for various of our ministries. It is worth observing that while the program is not designed to produce priests, two Fellows from last year’s class are now studying at Nashotah House.
Commitment to the Poor
I have limited time so I will address only two more subjects.
The first is our Parish’s commitment to the poor. We have set aside over $1.5 million dollars in the Campaign for Outreach. $1 MM of that is to serve as the seed of an endowment to serve the poor in future generations. My hope is that this seed will attract gifts and legacies and one day be an enormous blessing to the poor for generations to come. The other $500K is for more immediate use.
The first effect of this money has been the construction of a church in Belize. The building is now up and in a couple of weeks another group to missioners will return there to finish church and set up lending libraries in number of the surrounding schools. Over the years Incarnation has blessed that country with twenty-eight complete libraries containing over 130,000 books.
We are much engaged with the pour outside our country, specifically in home construction in Guatemala and medical missions, construction and well drilling in Honduras.
Rather than read you a laundry list of all our local Outreach programs, let me tell you the story of one young girl and allow her to be a stand for all the rest we serve:
Four years ago fourteen-year-old girl from North Dallas High School was chosen to participate in our church’s mentoring program there. She had been homeless the whole of her life, in and out of shelters, often not knowing from week to week where she and her mother would live or even what state they would end up in. She had no friends and needed stability and a positive adult friend in her life.
She then acquired a mentor from Incarnation through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. As their friendship grew this girl became a volunteer in our church, and her personality began to blossom with the stability, acceptance and love she felt from everyone she served with here at Incarnation.
She is now an active participant and leader in Incarnation’s Drop-in-Fridays program, Young Life, and the Art Matters ministries. She has become a student leader for Junior ROTC and other clubs within North Dallas High School. She volunteers with our Vacation Bible School and has worked in our bookstore. She was one of the students selected for Incarnation’s intern program in which homeless students are given summer jobs to gain work experience. Now a senior, she is applying to colleges. Her life situation remains precarious, but she has become outgoing, trusting and self-confident. She now sees a future for herself beyond the immediate needs of survival. Her life, which looked like ending up as another tragic statistic, has been completely turned around by God through the ministry of this church.
The Holy Spirit has prompted yet another wonderful gift.
An anonymous donor has given us the building on the corner of Elizabeth and the Central Expressway Service road, which nearly touches our new north parking lot. It will be our parish’s new Outreach Center, tripling the office space for our growing Outreach Department, and making a public statement to the city of our commitment to the poor.
Bill Lively (former Chairman of the Super Bowl Committee) is leading the charge as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the initiative for homeless and at-risk teens, a free-standing and self-supporting community organization which will occupy the ground floor of this building. Both the building and the program are called Incarnation House.
After school, Incarnation volunteers (including some of the Beecherl/ Corrigan Fellows) will provide homework help, a healthy evening meal, mentoring, fellowship, emotional support, and art programs. It will be a place where a homeless teen can do her laundry before she shows up to school the next day. Its purpose is to stabilize the lives of these children, keep them out of the clutches of gangs and drugs, and help them get to graduation, and wherever possible, university. Among its partners will the Budd Center at Southern Methodist University. Incarnation House will also be a research model that we hope will spawn other centers across the country, as we develop best practices with measurable goals. A search process for its first Executive Director of the Center (which drew 200 applications) is drawing to a conclusion, renovations to the building shall begin soon, and the Center will open in October.
Capstone Phase of Capital Campaign
The last theme I would like to touch is the new building construction.
Before the Campaign, when we were matching what we wanted to build to equip the mission of the Parish, with what we could realistically hope raise, we had to do some nipping and tucking to get the construction costs in line with the $25MM goal. In particular, we removed a new narthex for the old church; we removed a porte cochere on the new Welcome Center; and we decided not to enclose the cloister on the south side of the old church which will soon be part of the passageway connecting our buildings. However we knew, for example, that lack of a new narthex would cause a traffic bottleneck on Sunday mornings but we felt we needed to stay in the black financially, and thought we could live with this for ten years until we have another Capital Campaign.
However, with the tremendous success of the Campaign, the Building Committee decided that it was in fact realistic to raise some more money to do it right, and not leave these additions for another 10 years. Moreover in the course of construction we had some surprise expenses, for example the Fire Marshall decided that since we were constructing new buildings, we would have to upgrade our fire alarm systems throughout all the old buildings.
All along we recognized that cooling, heating, lighting and maintaining the three new buildings would add about $400,000 to our annual operating costs, and that it was unrealistic to think that the day we opened the new building we would instantly have so many new parishioners that this new expense would be covered by the weekly offerings. So we thought it would be wise to raise some money for bridge funding to avoid either
(a) taking out a bank loan or
(b) cutting our parish programming as such a critical moment in our history.
So we are recommending one more phase of our Campaign—possibly asking you extending your Capital Campaign giving by two more years. We calculate that to get all the construction with these additional elements paid for will cost an additional $5MM and that we should raise a further $2MM as bridge funding to get us through to the point when the increased maintenance cost of the new buildings is picked up by the weekly giving of new parishioners as we continue to grow.
What we are calling the Capstone Phase of our campaign will be launched next month and will provide an opportunity for naming particular parts of the church and its furnishings in memory, for example, of deceased parents or grandparents.
All members of the parish will be afforded naming opportunities as we publically launch the Capstone Phase on March 22. A publication will be produced, including graphic renderings of facilities, explanations of new programs and projects, and illustrations of signage honoring donors in perpetuity to help you choose what to name and for whom, should you like to do so.
Six years ago I stood before you and said that I believed that God is calling us to a big vision, to be a flagship church, and to play a significant role in renewing the Episcopal Church—and that twenty years from now, I would rather say that our vision was too large and that we failed in the attempt, than that that risk was to big and didn’t try.
Everything I have seen God doing through and around us since then has confirmed my intuition. The sight of those buildings rising before our eyes—implausible in their ambition, counter-cultural in their conception, unsparing in their execution—is an outward sign of the work of the Holy Spirit among us.
None of us will live to see all that God is doing here. Perhaps one day someone will write our names on a beam when we are no longer here to do so ourselves. Yet we each can play our part today, hoping not for a more efficient church, or a bigger church, but a better church full of better people; blessing one another and reaching out to the poor and disadvantaged, rejoicing in the free and unmerited grace of Jesus Christ, outward-looking as he was outward looking, generous as he is generous, lifting high the Cross in everything we do, in everything we are, in everything he would have us one day be—as witnesses to the love and grace and generosity of the One whom came not to be served but to serve, and who gave his life a ransom for many.