Where does one begin a summary report about the year 2020? I can tell you that Mike Smith, our Senior Warden, has done a masterful job of doing just that in his excellent report. He has served as our Senior Warden faithfully and skillfully for the last 2 years and will be rolling off the vestry in January. Please join me in thanking him for his sage guidance for our Parish.
Here is my attempt at a summary. For starters, COVID has caused us to delay our annual meeting which is normally held in September of each year. How the pandemic will cause shifts in all kinds of habits and routines remains to be seen, but we will plan on having our Annual Meeting in January going forward, matching both our calendar and fiscal years. I do believe that I can safely say that 2020 will be the only year we elect our new vestry slate at the Christmas Eve service!
The Annual Report attempts to cover the spectrum of life and ministry at Christ Church, although in reality it will only address a fraction of what really happens in our community. That’s because you are Christ Church – a congregation of 2,000 living and working in Charlottesville and beyond. Nonetheless, in these series of individual reports, you can learn about our 2020 worship, finances, staff changes, mission and outreach, pastoral care, adult education, parish life, fellowship, bible studies, property, and more.
My report will be divided into three sections. First on the list is WORSHIP. For me, the pain of being displaced from our beautiful sanctuary is a close second to the grief of not being able to be together in person. A minister’s job does not make sense without people!
Preaching to an empty church is a legit downer. Not seeing the children clamor up for the Children’s Sermon, not being transported by our Adult Choir’s hymnody, not interacting over coffee or at Adult Ed, not marveling at the steady stream of college students thronging to the 5 O’clock Service, not greeting you, however briefly, after the service, not warmly welcoming the flock of newcomers we have each week – the absence of all of this and much, much, much more pile up to form a heavy load of pandemic grief.
It is true that we have made, or perhaps, muddled our way through this. The quality of our pre-recorded services is undeniably excellent. The Altar Guild continues to dress the church in seasonally appropriate garb. The joy of gathering for outdoor worship at Marilu’s magical farm is palpable. There has been some real connection via Zoom with classes, workshops, bible studies, etc. Many of you report a morning visit from me though the magic of the Almost Daily Devotional Video.
When you read the Mission and Outreach report, you can’t help but be amazed by the ways we have been able to serve those in need. We have connected on the phone, in socially distance meetings, on email. We have done small, private baptisms, intimate weddings, heart-wrenching funerals. And yet, none of this truly replaces the importance, fulfillment, and healing balm of hearing the gospel preached in person in your pew, kneeling beside one’s fellow sinner to receive communion, and standing shoulder to shoulder to belt out “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
So, when, you ask, will we be back in our church? As you know, that is not my call – it’s the Bishop’s. I would guess that when the vaccine is widely available, we will be able to gather again. Many are predicting that people will be so habituated to not coming to church that attendance will precipitously decline. I do not believe that to be the case at Christ Church. Absence will make the heart grow fonder; the pews will be full once more!
Now, I would like to talk about our STAFF. You may know that Christ Church is in the top 2% of all Episcopal Churches in the nation in terms of our membership (2,000) and average Sunday attendance. The typical attendance at an Episcopal Church has fallen to just 55 people. We average (use to average!!!) close to 600 when UVA is in session. So much of our ability to thrive is due to the extraordinary staff at Christ Church.
We have had some major staff changes in 2020. One of the cruelties of the pandemic is the fact that we can’t gather to celebrate those who are leaving and welcome those who are coming. Alice Layman has retired; Sam Bush and Amanda McMillan are now Duke Seminarians. Amy Avery, our Children’s Minister, has moved to California with her family. Nathan Colberg is pursuing his music career in Nashville. Please keep them all in your prayers! We are a close bunch at the Magruder House; absences hurt.
Happily, the extremely talented Paul Zach is our new Music Minister and the dynamo that is Lizzy Girvan is our new Youth Minister. Ethan Richardson is now our Therapist in Residence. Our 3 new Fellows – Ashley Gitchell, Ellie McClean, and the aforementioned Lizzy – have brought energy and warmth and goodness to our staff this strange year. We will hire a new Organist/Choir Director, as well as a new Children’s Minister sometime in 2021. Thankfully, God always provides.
Third up is a short note about FINANCES. See the Financial Report for the full picture. I just want to say that thanks to the parish’s continued generosity, and the Payroll Loan secured by the hard work of Marcy Hooker and our treasurer, John Desmond, we have been able to retain all our staff at full salary and benefits. This is an enormous blessing!!! Thank you so much for your support. A look at the financial report will tell you that we have been extremely conservative in our projections for next year’s budget. We have reduced spending to a necessary minimum; in January the vestry will approve only a balanced budget – like we do every year.
Finally, please see Christie Walker’s report addressing the poignant closing of our beloved Preschool at the end of this school year. As well as Marilu’s report about our new Counseling at Christ Church Initiative. Ultimately, I hope you will join me in putting your trust in our God – the God of grace and mercy, the God who has upheld us all through the vagaries of 2020, and the God who will always be there for us, even until the end of the age.
Rev Paul Walker