My sisters and brothers, on March 1, 2020 we will have celebrated two full years of ministry together as Parish and Rector. The first two years of ministry can be for most parishes, the most difficult for a new ministry. However, God has blessed us in ways that are moving us forward to follow God’s call on this community. Expectedly, God has made a way for us to achieve many of the mission goals, God has placed before us. St. Monica’s has been growing numerically, but most importantly, we are growing spiritually, growing in a deeper love and commitment to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “To engage, equip and empower one another to live our baptismal promises.” We have a clear mission, we are blessed with talented staff and lay leadership, we have abundant resources, and we have operational and organizational structures that will support us, as we accomplish God’s mission of reconciliation and love in this little corner of Collier County. We are organized for mission!
Almost two years ago, in April 2018, the vestry and I adopted a parish organizational structure called SWEEPPS, which has been in use in the Episcopal Church for many decades. The acronym SWEEPPS stands for: Service/Local Mission, Evangelism, Education (Christian Formation), Pastoral Care, Parish Life, and Stewardship. Within each of these areas of parish organization, two vestry members serve as co-Commission Chairs, and are charged with supporting the many ministries and team leaders who serve under their care. Each ministry of the parish falls within one of these categories of mission, and we build our ministry plans around this structure. It is still new, and yet we are growing into this new structure and in time, it will constantly improve.
I will recap how God has empowered, resourced, encouraged, and made possible, incredible ministry growth and effective mission in each of these SWEEPPS commissions over the last 12 months. I will share with you a big challenge, a big vision, and a path for the parish in 2020, which I believe God is giving us. I believe God’s desire for us is so much bigger than the vision, any single one of us (including me) can imagine, so it will take all of us to discern the future ahead. The question we need to ask going forward is “Can we do it?” My hope is that our answer is now and will always be, “Yes we can!”
Service – Local Mission
At our 2018 annual meeting, God challenged us to grow our local mission efforts because “our neighbors have many needs: spiritually, emotionally, and physically, and thus, there are new mission opportunities in which, we can be involved. In my annual meeting address, I stated, “I am convinced that in the future, God will reveal even more ways we can go outside these four walls and serve as the hands and feet of Christ for our hurting world.”
Through our parish survey, we learned that “Outreach” or Service/Local Mission was the number three (3) and five (5) priorities identified by you for St. Monica’s over the next five years. I am not surprised, because serving our neighbors as Christ’s hands and feet in the world has been at the heart of the mission of this parish from its inception.
Over the last 12 months, we have continued our mission support of Baby Basics, Immokalee Soup Kitchen, the St. Matthew’s House Soup program, Heavenly Day Preschool, and the new Meals of Hope partnership (started in 2018). However, God surprised us again with a new mission opportunity. In 2019, a partnership began with New Horizons, a non-profit that provides Christian based tutoring for at-risk children in our area. Each week we offer St. Monica’s parish hall for use by the children participating in this program. We also have some of our parishioners serving as tutors and supporters of the program as well! We have a ministry team that worked to collect gift cards and presents for the children and their families, making for a joyous Thanksgiving and Christmas possible for all! Now, in 2020, we will see this ministry expand with 10-12 new children joining the existing group.
In 2019, a team of parishioners felt that St. Monica’s needed to become a more active place for wrestling with social justice issues, and a few months ago we tested a monthly “Speaker Series.” We hosted speakers who have brought attention to the plight of our migrant worker sisters and brothers in the Immokalee area. We hosted a speaker from FGCU who spoke about climate change and its effects on our beautiful Southwest Florida. Both events were well attended and in the coming year, we look forward to more speakers, who will bring education and awareness of the issues to which, we Christians must respond.
In the coming year, I encourage God’s people of St. Monica’s to continue to discern and seek out new opportunities by which, we can bring God’s grace and justice to bear on the plight and difficult circumstances of our neighbors. I challenge us to develop and engage even more local mission teams, so we might increase our parish support of God’s mission of love and reconciliation in the world. As Rector, my goal would be to have at least 50% of our parishioners actively engaged in some form of local mission work. Can we do it? Yes, we can!
Over the last two years, we have made some changes to our liturgy, our bulletins, our altar adornments, and much more. Despite these minor changes, the good news is that we are not innovating away from our Episcopal tradition. As a matter of fact, we are re-discovering and bringing back some of the traditions , all while retaining the beauty of the culture of this wonderful parish. Our music program under Dr. Ron’s leadership continues to become one of the best in the diocese (in the province). We also have incredibly dedicated, faithful, and talented team leaders and lay ministers, who serve on our worship teams (Lectors, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, Acolyte/Servers, Altar Guild, Ushers, and Greeters).
Last year, I said, “We can double the size of St. Monica’s with one additional service on Sunday.” On October 6, 2019, we launched our new 11:30 am service with a team of parishioners who were committed to its success. Now, I can tell you that it remains a small, an intimate group of 14-18 faithful people, but through this service, we have had new people come to St. Monica’s, and some have joined the church and started attending one of the other services. Now, do I see this service growing beyond its current size? Yes, I do. Will it take time? Yes, it will. Will we try new variations to the service? Absolutely. I am excited to continue to adapt this new service and let it be an entry point to the community. So, if you have not yet attended the 11:30 am service, I want to encourage you to give it a try; better yet, invite your friends to join you.
Later this month, we will live stream our 9:30 am worship service and offer archived videos of our worship services. This is another incredible opportunity for St. Monica’s to broaden our reach and share the beauty of our worship with others. We are investing in new camera equipment, live stream hardware, and soon, we are developing a new “techie team” who will help us with this new ministry. Honestly, we are behind the times in this endeavor, as many of our sister churches throughout the diocese, province, and national church are already way ahead of us.
In the coming year, I encourage God’s people of St. Monica’s to continue to discern and seek out new opportunities where each of you can take your appropriate place in worship. Pray about serving as an usher, greeter, chalice bearer, server, altar guild, or some other ministry. Take an active part in worship and help us lead our voices and actions to bring honor and glory to God each week.
Last year, I encouraged St. Monica’s to take advantage of the multiple opportunities available to learn more about our faith as disciples of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God challenged us to participate in the new ways to explore the richness, depth, beauty, and history of the Episcopal tradition, and to make time for your own Christian formation. To that end, we have intentionally expanded our Christian Formation offerings for all ages here at St. Monica’s.
In September 2019, in response to the vestry’s 2018 goal to become a “Church for all Ages,” I called and hired a ‘Youth Minister,” who is charged with establishing curriculum, recruiting and leading lay teachers/instructors, developing and implementing a Middle and High School Youth Program that provides for Christian formation, local mission initiatives, participation in diocesan youth camps and programs, and mission trips. Our Youth Minister Laura Guindon is engaged in the often arduous and challenging entrepreneurial ministry of starting something new. She is doing a fantastic job though, because she is not focused merely on numbers and attendance measures, she is pastoring our children and youth through difficult situations, school challenges, and the struggles of being a disciple in a changing culture.
Through Laura’s weekly Youth Group meetings, Sunday Cocoa Hour, local mission engagement, and her coordination with our Sunday School team, she is helping us keep our baptismal promises, to help our parents raise their children as followers of Jesus. Laura was hired originally as our Interim Youth Minister, because she will return to her home in Canada in May 2020. I hired Laura to help us establish a foundation program on which, we might build going forward. In March 2020, I will begin the process of looking for a more permanent Youth Program Director, who will take the solid foundation Laura has built, and help us take our youth program to where God is leading us to go.
In the area of Adult Christian formation, we invited Doug Ball to join our Adult Education Team, and he has been busy teaching and facilitating. Doug has offered an in-depth study of the Old Testament and most recently, he started a study of the “Shack,” a book that explores the Trinitarian nature of God through this 21st century novel. Additionally, Betsy Smith continues to lead our Friday morning Bible Study and Morning Prayer group, which studies such topics as “The Revelation to John,” and many others. Betsy takes her rotation like Doug and facilitates some of the Sunday morning classes after the 9:30 am service, where she shares reflections on “What Scripture Means today.”
I continue to take my rotation on Sunday mornings offering “Advent Reflections,” scripture studies, and other studies on various topics. I continue the Rector’s Weekly Study covering scripture areas such as: “The Acts of the Apostles,” and this month, I am offering a review of the traditions of the Episcopal Church in my study called, “So I am an Episcopalian.” I also offer two annual day-long retreats for Advent and Lent, and both have been well attended. I also provided confirmation classes in preparation for the Feb 17, 2019 Bishop’s visit at which, 10 parishioners were either confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. Additionally, there are two new opportunities emerging for St. Monican’s to grow in a deeper love and commitment to Jesus Christ: Cursillo and Daughters of the King. Bob and Ginny Carter and Dorothy Lowrie are leading an initiative to revive Cursillo at St. Monica’s. Also, my spouse Terri Eros and Mary Gentzle are leading the development of a new Daughter’s of the King chapter right here at St. Monica’s.
There are so many opportunities to learn, to grow, and to be transformed here at St. Monica’s. I encourage each of you to grow in the faith! Grow as a disciple of Jesus! Grow in your knowledge of our tradition, liturgy, history! Grow! As Rector, my goal would be to have at least 50% of our parishioners are actively engaged in some form of personal Christian Formation. Can we do it? Yes, we can!
Terri and I used to make weekly parish visits to the 77 churches in our diocese, and I always heard people tell me, “Fr. Eric, we are a welcoming church,” however, it did not always ring true. However, here at St. Monica’s we take that phrase to heart, and we mean it, and we live it! We are a radically welcoming church. Want proof? Since March 2018, we have added 79 new people as “Communicants” here at St. Monica’s. Now, that does not include our seasonal folks, who do not officially transfer into this parish, and retain their membership elsewhere. We are growing folks, but still there is much work to be done.
We all need to stake our claim as an “Ambassador for Christ” every single Saturday and Sunday. When new people come to the church, we need to welcome them, ask if they would like to sit with us, and help them become actively engaged in ministry here. We need to increase the size of our Greeter team! The people who stand and greet new folks at our Welcome Desk are the first “Face of Christ” new folks see here at St. Monica’s. We need your help.
Did you know that once per quarter, Terri and I host a newcomer’s gathering at our home? Over the last two years, we have had five Circle of Friends gatherings, and at one gathering over 20 people joined us, and with each event, we keep growing! Other initiatives have been put in place to help us “get the word out” about this incredible parish family. First, we contracted with a web designer who has completely revamped our website. Take a look at it! It is user-friendly, people-focused, and ready to share the good news. Our own Sarah Meador, Evangelism Commission Chair recently began working with the computer club at Gulf Coast High School and we now have four non-stipendiary student interns who are on a weekly basis, updating our website, serving as webmasters and expanding our reach through social media.
Speaking of social media, last year St. Monica’s explored the use of Facebook ads to market our parish events, and we had discovered much success in this approach. For less than $100, we ran ads for several events and reached 4,647 of our neighbors, had 149 people engaged with the ads, and 124 of those folks actually clicked through the ad to our Facebook page. More specifically, we have found that at least three (3) of the new people who have come to the 11:30 am service found us through the Facebook ads. Also, many of the attendees to our new “Trunk or Treat” event, found us through our Facebook ads. We will be using this method for advertising more in 2020! Our intentional welcome and hospitality will continue to create more opportunities for new people, to grow in a deeper love and commitment to Jesus Christ, by walking this journey of faith with all of us.
Nonetheless, regardless of how many ads we run, live stream sermons we post, or road signs we install, God calls us forward in ministry together to be evangelists. I know that word is frightening for Episcopalians, but we have to remember, there is only one priest, and yet there are 250+ people who are a part of this parish. We all promised to God in our baptismal covenant that we will be Ambassadors for Christ, evangelists in the world, and bearers of Good News. If we want to grow, it will take all of us to do so, and we must continue to invite our friends to come experience God’s grace and love in this community. Therefore, as Rector I want to challenge each parishioner in 2020, to make a commitment to bring at least one friend with them to church this year. Can we do it? Yes, we can!
St. Monica’s is a parish that loves to eat, have fun, and be together. So, let’s do more of that in the coming year! When we have pulled together potluck dinners, everyone present has had a great time. When we went to the minor league baseball game a couple of years ago, it was a fun evening we all enjoyed. When we had “Trunk or Treat” last year, we had 20+ cars and parishioners dressed up passing out candy, and most likely over 200-300 families come visit us! SO, let’s play more in 2020! To do it well, we will need to develop some new teams though, to share the load of developing opportunities for play and fellowship. We have had the gift of our sister Jill Ducatman, who has worked tirelessly to help make Parish Life active and fun, but we need to help her, and the parish needs to expand the ministry and move to a team approach for parish life.
This year, I encourage us to develop the following teams to lead our efforts to play more in 2020! First, we need a Special Events team who will help plan several fun and active fellowship events throughout the year. Next, we need a Coffee Hour team who will train folks to minister at coffee hour, and to recruit and schedule folks to serve each week. Finally, we need a Kitchen Ministry Team who will help manage our kitchen, coordinate ordering supplies through the parish administrator, occasionally do some special cleaning, and assist the Junior Warden from time to time. We may need other teams as well, so if you have ideas, come see me. Better yet, when the new Parish Life Commission Chairs are in place this month, reach out to them and share your ideas. As Rector, I want to challenge each parishioner in 2020, to have more fun and to fellowship together in 2020! Can we do it? Yes, we can!
St. Monicans take care of each other as a sign of our love for God and our neighbor. Did you know that since March 2018, we have ten trained and licensed Lay Eucharistic Visitors who are available to take communion to our parishioners who are either sick at home, in the hospital, or in care facilities? These faithful parishioners under my care, serve others, and I am grateful for their ministry among us. Please know that if you are ever in the hospital or home sick and you would like communion brought to you, please do not hesitate to call me.
Did you know that at St. Monica’s, we have several trained Stephen Ministers who are available to walk the difficult paths of life with you? These qualified and trained spiritual friends are able to help our parishioners traverse the difficult times of grief, loss, depression, and loneliness. If you ever need someone to talk to, please call me or Beth Moss and we will make sure to connect you with one of our Stephen Ministers.
Did you know that we have a team of Healing Ministers at St. Monica’s? These gifted parishioners after each worship service offer our family, the prayers of healing and anointing with oil. If you are struggling and need the special prayer of anointing after receiving communion, please allow our healing team members to pray with you.
As your priest, I am always available to you if you have a pastoral emergency, even on my sabbath days. Also, please call me if you are going into the hospital, if you are having a procedure or surgery, or if you ever just want to talk. My cell phone number is published in the bulletin and in the E News. My door is always open to you, (especially for a pastoral crisis), but if you would like to chat on any subject, please call and setup a time, so that I can be fully present and available to you.
Although we have several wonderful ministers already serving in Pastoral Care, we still need to expand our teams. If you feel God may be calling you to the ministry of Pastoral Care, please call me. We need to continue to care for one another. Can we do it? Yes, we can!
Over the last two years, St. Monicans have with great generosity, made the commitment to return to God a portion of God’s abundant gifts given to us. We have responded to God’s call and through your Time, Talent, and Treasure, we are providing abundant resources to fund our mission in this parish. In 2017, our pledges were only $386,000. In 2018, our pledges increased to $406,000. In 2020, you have responded to God’s call and our pledges are nearly $440,000. We have made wonderful progress with our financial management and operations as a church, and we ended 2019, in a very good financial position. However, our work is not yet finished. We still need to fulfill our pledges to support God’s mission through the ministry of St. Monica’s. We depend on the generosity of our members to continue that mission throughout the year.
I want to challenge the congregation and vestry in 2020, to start a two-year campaign to pay off our $293,000 mortgage. We can do it. Did you know that if the 224 pledgers (not to mention those who do not pledge yet) gave only $12.58 more each week (that is less than three Venti Lattes at Starbucks), we would pay off our mortgage in only 24 months? Did you know that without a mortgage payment, we would free up approximately $34,800 a year in our budget, which we could use for more mission and ministry initiatives, needed staff enhancements, and we could definitely take care of some of deferred maintenance we have already started to address . What do you say, let’s begin that soon! Can we do it? Yes, we can! Hang on though, don’t write a check yet, there will be more information to come.
Administration and Operations
In a few weeks, we will have new roofs on both buildings! The structures of the church are now sound for many years to come. I offer a special thank you to our Junior Warden Ray Lapierre, our Senior Warden Tom Cote, John Varsames, Matt Devlin, Janet Ross, and many others on the Building Committee, who worked tirelessly to make this project happen.
There are still some operational opportunities and challenges that we need to address, in order to strengthen the solid foundation on which, we can grow, but we are well on our way! We have an incredible ministry staff! Ron Doiron is not only a talented organist; he is a pastoral leader and wonderful director of music. Thank you, Ron! We have a committed, dedicated and gifted Parish Administrator who is doing an incredible ministry among us. Thank you Jennifer! Our new Comptroller/CPA hit the ground running and she is effectively managing the daily finance operations of the church with great skill and professionalism. Thank you Maria! We have an interim youth minister whom I mentioned earlier, but I want to thank her again for all she is doing. Thank you Laura! We have a great Sexton who works three jobs and one of them is at St. Monica’s. He works tirelessly to make the church look spic and span. Thank you Cesar! We have a great Nursery Coordinator who also helps supplement our Sunday School staff. Thank you Cassandra! We have also in the last year, completed the transition of three staff positions since my arrival in 2018.
We have been doing the hard work of transition, realignment, and foundation building, and none of those challenges associated with that work has held us back from looking to the future, which God has in store for us. God is doing a new thing in our midst. Last year, we had four baptisms, ten confirmations/receptions, but we need to continue to grow disciples in the Episcopal Church tradition. We are once again in new ways moving out of the four walls into the community with hands and feet to bring Christ to our neighbors. We have begun the hard work of establishing a strong financial and administrative foundation for growth and sustainability, but there is much more work we need to do, and we must begin now.
My hopes for our Next Phase of Mutual Ministry together
- Monica’s will continue to focus on growing together in a deeper love and commitment to Jesus Christ, and with each other, because that is the purpose of being in Christian community in the first place.
- Monica’s will continue to SHARE ministry TOGETHER, by raising up new leaders in each ministry, because ministry cannot be done by one person or by one small group alone, it takes all of us.
- Monica’s will continue to focus on new ways to gather and worship together, because we can grow within our existing campus structure.
- Monica’s will continue to focus on going outside our four walls together, doing local mission in our neighborhoods (being hands and feet of Christ), because that is what Jesus commands us to do.
- St. Monica’s will continue to focus on inviting our friends and neighbors to experience God’s love and grace found in this incredible community, because that too is what Jesus commands us to do.
How might we do this?
- We will seek God’s vision for us by praying together, worshipping together, ministering together, and playing together.
- We will move from maintenance, status quo, or “we have always done it that way,” to live more into a nimble, flexible, renewed vision and mission, living, serving, and transforming as disciples, growing in a deeper love and commitment to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
- This is what God’s people do!
Last week, Serena Romero quoted this scripture and I almost fell out of my chair, because I had already written my annual report. In this scripture from Jeremiah, God gave the prophet a vision and promise, and God gives the same to us. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-12) God is calling us to a new day. The question is, “Can we do it?” I believe we all know the answer, “Yes we can, with God’s help!!”