January 26, 2020 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Annual Meeting Address

In case this is your first visit to St. Luke’s or you haven’t paid attention, today is not an ordinary Sunday and this is no ordinary sermon. This is the Sunday of the Annual Meeting as we summarize last year, make decisions for the future and offer gratitude to God and others for this community of faith.

As your Vicar, I have the privilege of summing it all up in today’s message, a sort of “State of the Church” address. This is my fifth year to do so at St. Luke’s and it’s a particularly exciting time as we prepare to present the results of the year-long vision discovery process we launched at the 2019 Annual Meeting.

We hold the Annual Meeting during the season after Epiphany, when the light of Jesus shines forth into the world. The source of this light is God. Light burst forth at creation, overcame the gloom and darkness of an oppressed people in exile during the time of the prophets, enables the psalmist to move from fear to faith and dawns in our hearts by the presence of the Spirit.

Here in 21st Century Seattle, we are bearers of that light. Every day, in a myriad of ways, we have the opportunity to make Christ known, in word and action. As a 130-year-old start-up, we are constantly reaching out to our community. The fresh paint on the Chapel and Bennett Hall, our new logo on all new signs and the beautiful grounds have brightened up our presence in the neighborhood. These are simply the outward signs of the constant renewal and transformation that God’s Spirit is doing inside us all.

We are to shine with faith, hope and love, even in dark times. We shine by loving one another, our neighbors and even those who oppose and threaten us. We shine by modeling Beloved Community, in which each person is treated with dignity and respect. This past year during our Spiritual Pilgrimage we came together each week as pilgrims and companions to see the light and be the light. We will offer a similar experience this spring for all who are seeking a deeper walk with God. Our Bishop’s Committee’s priorities include offering ways we can strengthen lives of faith through education, prayer and action.

Light fills this sacred space. Worship is at the very heart of St. Luke’s. This is where we receive comfort, strength and inspiration to be our best and truest selves. It is where we come back to center week by week in the midst of the chaos, anxiety and stress in our lives. The Spirit of the Holy God comes upon us in prayer and praise, filling us with light and life and love. We are blessed by the many lay and clergy leaders who offer themselves as light bearers in this place; readers and preachers; those who lead prayer and serve at the altar; who care for children and keep us safe; as well as many whose quiet, humble work makes this all possible.

We are blessed with an amazing staff; Niki, Parish Administrator; Sara, Edible Hope Director: Ivar, our musician; Andrew, groundskeeper and our newest staff member, Sekayi who has been a blessing as both caretaker and extra security on site. We are getting to know Nathan, who is training with us to be a deacon and our plan is to welcome a new priest in July, who will be serving her first two years of ordination as a curate at St. Luke’s. She will join a stellar group of retired clergy associates, Mary, Blaine and Pat, who enrich us with their many years of experience. Each of these reflect the light of Christ in their own particular way.

Another theme for this season after Epiphany is “Gather.” God is gathering a people, bringing us from different backgrounds and places, from differing identities and experiences; churched and unchurched, young and old, housed and unhoused, rich and poor, to be part of the Body of Christ, to be brothers and sisters, to be united in the same mind and purpose. St. Luke’s strives to be a place where “All are welcome in this place.”

We have work to do. While our Edible Hope Kitchen reflects a population with a greater percentage of people of color than the community, our Sunday morning worship reflects a lower percentage of people of color. We will continue to work towards Racial Reconciliation, an effort that has barely begun. We hope to launch a new worshipping community that will meet during the week for dinner, prayer, and community building. We are tentatively calling it Edible Hope Church since it will build on the relationships that have already developed between guests, volunteers and neighbors who might not ever come to a regular Sunday morning service. Sara Bates is leading this initiative and even now is in Los Angeles being evaluated as the potential gatherer of this community and recipient of a $30,000 grant to initiate it.

This past year we gathered together a lot! We met for community and connection at pubs and at coffee hour. We rejoiced with those who are rejoicing at five weddings, most recently the union of Mac and Nancy our oldest newlyweds at age 87 each! We gathered at St. Mark’s Cathedral with those who were received and confirmed into the Episcopal Church by our bishop. And we mourned the death of Brother Isaac and others.

St. Luke’s is sacred space, a sanctuary to hold life’s most meaningful transitions. We are a place of grace, welcome and healing. We gather at tables for breakfast every day in the Edible Hope Kitchen. We gather around the altar each week to be fed with the bread of life and to drink the cup of salvation.

Finally, Epiphany is all about “Call,” our call to follow Jesus, God’s call to each one of us, and our communal calling to be God’s people in the world, to be the blessed community of light, hope and peace that is so desperately needed. We answer that call in our loving service to the least, the last and the lost. We live out our Christian witness at home, in our jobs, schools and volunteer commitments. We demonstrate our trust in a God of rich abundance by our generosity and gratitude. (You’ll hear more about how our deficit was made up and our giving has increased later.) We partnered with many others to assist those who are hungry and homeless, to help our local businesses after a fire, and to provide housing for a new female priest in Sudan.

Today we will be calling new leadership for the Bishop’s Committee. We are building on our foundation with official By-laws and Personnel policies as we strengthen our organization in preparation for future development. Under the leadership of a new Advisory Board for Edible Hope, we are doing more fundraising and adding a Kitchen Manager position to keep up with the growing demand. In every way, God is helping us increase our capacity to respond to God’s call and to live out the mission to “feed people in body, mind and spirit with the love of God, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

For many years there have been dreams and plans for a renewed St. Luke’s campus in the center of Ballard. Today we will present a vision for development. It is the most important step in a lengthy process to design, finance and construct facilities that will enable our vision for the future. God has called together the people and resources we need to facilitate this process and we are excited for the opportunity to present this to you today and then to the Diocesan Board of Directors in March.

St. Luke’s is a Spirit-filled community. I often say that it has saved my spiritual life. I am grateful to continue to serve as your priest and Vicar. With a strong foundation, excellent staff, clergy and lay ministers, I am excited about the year ahead. When I started in 2015 as a part-time priest-in-charge with no staff and only a few thousand dollars in the bank, I never could have imagined what God had in store for us. When I became the full-time Vicar, we included provision for a clergy sabbatical after 5 years, since this is the standard practice of the diocese and is required. We even got smart and set aside money to cover the cost of providing for my absence in a sabbatical reserve fund.

And although the possibility was often furthest from my mind or expectation, this is the year for my sabbatical. It coincides with my husband’s planned sabbatical this fall, which means we can actually share this! Sabbatical is a gift and opportunity for both the priest and the congregation. It is a time for rest, renewal and a re-boot! It will last three months, from September through November. We are just beginning to make plans for how to make the most of this opportunity. My sabbatical support team will be working with me, the Bishop’s Committee and the congregation to facilitate the time away.

Bryon and I don’t have many plans yet, but there is one trip we must make. We will be exploring the Civil Rights Movement and the current movement for racial justice and reconciliation by traveling to the sites which chronicle and represent some of the most important events in our nation’s history. This will be part of the movement towards Racial Reconciliation at St. Luke’s and my own growing awareness of white privilege and racism. I hope the congregation will be doing similar work in my absence so that we might reunite under a shared commitment to addressing this issue in the church. We cannot become the Beloved Community unless we come to terms with systemic racism.

It’s been a wild and wonderful five years and the way ahead is full of both challenge and opportunity. Thank you for the privilege and honor it is to serve as your Vicar as we gather as God’s people, answer the call of Christ and shine the light of the Spirit.