Pastor’s Annual Report for 2019

What is our narrative at Faith Lutheran Church in 2019?

The word, ‘narrative’, means story. In this Annual Report, which catalogues and describes events and figures from 2019, you will find our narrative, our story.

But let me encourage you to read everything between the covers of this Annual Report. In other words, you can’t just read a part of it or only one or two of the documents you find in the table of contents. That is, if you want to get the whole story.

It’s like eating your favorite hamburger. The overall taste is what makes it such a great hamburger compared to others. You won’t get it by only eating the tomato, the relish, the mustard, the bun or even just the meat – and leaving the rest out. It’s all about sinking your teeth into the whole of it that you can say: “This is the best burger ever!”

The whole story includes the numbers and the words. The whole story includes the pictures as well as the tables of data. The whole story includes even items that you would not normally ‘eat’ on their own. Eating curry paste by itself can be a harrowing experience. But mixed in just right with other ingredients, it can make a meal a wonderful thing.

So, I encourage you, in these pages to digest its entire contents, ponder the ‘big picture’ and take it in as a whole. Then, you might get a taste of the narrative that is Faith Lutheran Church in 2019, and beyond.

The narrative of loss

2019 for me was marked by personal loss, especially at the death of my father and former pastor of Faith, Jan Malina. I experienced much love and support from parishioners and friends in the community. It is one thing, over twenty-two years of ordained ministry, to offer others support when they lose a loved one; it is quite another to be on the receiving end of the care and grace given by others when I couldn’t function in that helping role. Thank you. 

Besides the number of funerals experienced in our community in 2019, the year also saw another kind of loss. After nearly a decade of serving as primary musician at Faith, David Santry took leave of us to pursue music ministry in another congregation. We say goodbye to him with sad hearts for we miss his energy, skill and dedication to our community.

The narrative of gain

Highlights in worship over the past year, for me, include the Good Friday worship service done in conjunction with Cityview United Church – whose liturgy included a physical moving about our sanctuary and ended in the sanctuary at Cityview; and, whose theme focused on the Stations of the Cross vis-à-vis the environment and the world’s sin today. We continued to build our relationships with other local congregations such as Julian of Norwich Anglican evidenced by another strong turn-out at our annual joint Christmas morning worship service.

As well, a baptismal service in October stands out for me, when we joined hands in a circle around the sanctuary passing a ribbon and singing “Bind us together, Lord, bind us together in love.” Music continues to be a strong element defining our identity and passion in the congregation. 

What worship experiences stand out for you, in the past year?

A narrative of gain was also evidenced by welcoming new members, a trend which continues into the new year. As well, for the first time in at least three years, the budget of 2019 posted a healthy surplus.

A financial narrative

A narrative approach tends to combine what is sometimes deconstructed. For example, we normally separate the finances from everything else. We keep the numbers to the end of the report. And sometimes these are not even included, due to timing challenges, until the last minute, and on separate photocopied documents handed out at the annual meeting. I don’t offer this as judgement but merely as exposing our bias towards keeping certain items separate.

Normally we have kept a separate record of ‘outside charity’ donations, and outside the budget. Our missional activity, recorded in this way, tells the story of members’ activity apart from the operational and functional work of the church.

Yet, from a narrative approach, if members of Faith value these outside charities, I have to ask, then why is this activity not included in the budget? Why do these efforts of the Faith community not belong in the big picture of how we spend our financial resources? Separating these individual interests are from the budget proper, suggests the only thing we are committed to do together, is take care of ourselves — our own internal needs in maintenance, building and salaries. I know that is not who aspire to be. Because there is over $21,000 in 2019 that individual members donated to outside charities and missions that is not accounted for in the budget.

Our purpose, narratively speaking, is not to direct traffic for these other charities. It doesn’t make sense to involve Faith merely as an administrative intermediary for other charities that issue income tax receipts themselves. What resources we do have need to be channelled towards mission initiatives which we commit to, together. These mission initiatives can be what we have historically supported and have formed our identity as a congregation in West Ottawa and a member of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

And these ministries and mission initiatives, in this view, need to be integrated into our narrative, including the financial structure of our mission and work. Let me mention just a few that might be incorporated into our budget (and not left outside of it), such as Lutherlyn Camp & Conference Centre, Algonquin Campus Ministry, the Ottawa Lutheran Refugee Sponsorship Committee, and the Ottawa Mission. You will notice that Carlington Chaplaincy has historically remained within our budget, and has been the only exception. 

What would you add to this ‘mission’ list? What are mission initiatives that our communitycan rally around, ministries in the community and in the world that reflect who we are and where we have come from (i.e. our narrative)?

Presenting a narrative tends to integrate all these elements into a wholistic approach. Some written reports about programs and ministries, you will notice, include financial costs involved in exercising that particular ministry. I hope you can see the integration of costs as exercising quality programming. In other words, there tends to be correlation between level of financing and quality of ministry. This applies as much to Christian Education and Pastoral Care programming as it does to paying the organist.

Bringing it all together

The entire Scriptures reflect the grand narrative of God’s relationship with God’s people – from the creation of the world to the story of God’s people under kings and prophets, to the story of Christ with us and for us, in the early church all the way to a vision of God’s kingdom and God’s future which is good.

May how we ‘do church’ in the coming decade celebrate the narrative of who we are, in this time and place in history. Even when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of budgets, updating constitutions and submitting these reports every year. We need to present who we are to the world in a compelling and accurate way that tells our story, and makes the case why they would want to support us with their presence, commitment and dedication. 

Stories come to an end but – from a faith perspective – do they really? A narrative is not something that ever ends. It remains open for interpretation. Throughout this introduction to your 2019 Annual Report, I have left you with a couple questions, to fill in the blanks. Because you, the reader, are an important part of the ongoing narrative. We write our story together, not apart. 

What will you say about our narrative?

Respectfully submitted,

Pr Martin

Annual Pastor’s Report

Effective Partnerships

The most significant event in the life of Faith Lutheran Church in 2016, was the decision to complete an extensive renovation of our worship space and narthex hallway. To complete this major modernization project, we partnered with the capable and esteemed contracting company from Stittsville, “Amsted”.

This decision precipitated what may in the long run prove to be just as significant, if not more so: The decision to join with the local Anglican parish on Sunday mornings during the time of the renovation (which lasted into 2017).

Even should nothing enduring come of the relationship between Faith Lutheran Church and Julian of Norwich Anglican Church, the mere exercise of gathering as a hybrid congregation for the last ten consecutive Sundays in 2016 plus two Christmas Eve services caught the attention of the Christian community in Ottawa and across our Eastern Synod.

Meeting to worship with local Anglicans affirmed both the existing Full Communion relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), an agreement existing since 2001. As such, given the other options during our vacancy from 43 Meadowlands Drive West, meeting with an Anglican congregation was attractive, since doing so facilitated many logistics of worship between our similar liturgies, as well as kept a certain momentum alive for meeting at all, during the renovation/vacancy period.

On Lutheran liturgy Sundays (every other Sunday) at Julian of Norwich, we expressed our unique identity within the union of two distinct congregations. For example, each congregation has different histories, as well as contrasting governance structures (i.e. Anglicans are governed episcopally, while Lutherans are governed in a congregational structure).

While comparing congregations is fruitful, challenging and enjoyable, the fact that we began this relationship knowing we were returning home at some point allows us to pose critical questions of review of our ‘way of doing things’ freely, both around sacramental practice and mission.

During the Eastern Synod Assembly in June, your lay delegate (Julia Wirth) and the pastor heard again the four main, missional themes of the Eastern Synod (Effective Partnerships, Healthy Church, Spirited Discipleship, Compassionate Justice). No doubt, our congregation participated in a way no other Eastern Synod congregation has, in affirming the value of seeking “Effective Partnerships” in fulfilling God’s mission, especially during times of need and change.

Loss and Transition

A basic assumption of committing to the renovation project was that we had to take leave of our current building, and specifically our place of prayer. Doing so was an act of courage. Leaving a place that has symbolized a constant certainty in the lives of Faith members for over fifty years was not easy. Our sense of stability in faith was disrupted, as we were challenged to distinguish between the form (‘our’ building) and function (the purpose) of faith.

This leave-taking coincided with other endings. June 2016 marked the last time the Faith Lutheran Women (FLW), structured the way they had been for the last few decades, met in typical fashion (see report). For some time prior to this they had been talking about closing their account and ceasing to meet ‘as is’. In the latter part of 2016, that talk became reality.

Also, the Confirmation program that for several years had been a successful experience for leaders and participants alike, did not in the Fall of 2016 achieve the critical mass of students to warrant a class structured in the same way. As a result, no program started up at the start of the school year.

These events, I believe, constitute ground for growth and maturity of our community as we practice the spiritual gifts of detachment and trust. The prophet Isaiah spoke the word of God to the exiled people in Babylon in the 6th century B.C.:

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Before the new thing arrives, we need to stop the old thing. These endings are not failures as such; rather, they provide the space for the new thing God will have for us. What we are called to in disruptive times of loss and transition, I believe, is to be patient, have presence of mind and openness of heart, and be willing to take a risk together when something presents itself in our hearts as possibility and passion.

Poised for renewal

Moving into the new year, Faith Lutheran Church is poised to embrace a season of discernment, reflection and new beginnings.

Not only will we return to enjoy the gift of a refreshed, safe and healthy environment for meeting in our newly renovated building, we will be encouraged to reflect on what this space, created for at least another decade of ministry, worship, and mission, will be used for.

Late in 2016, the congregational council unanimously endorsed a proposal for a 3-month sabbatical for the pastor in 2017. The sabbatical covenant, based on the Eastern Synod Guidelines for Sabbatical, addresses the need for leaders to take periodic and extensive ‘pauses’ in vocational life, for renewal, reflection and discernment.

The benefits for the congregation mirror those for the pastor. From the perspective of providing some distance, a sabbatical gives freedom for everyone to step back, assess the structure of ministry and mission in the congregation, and contemplate new ways of supporting one another in our lives of faith.

For example, healthy congregations in general have several highly functioning lay leaders who engage proactively not only in managing a church, but in leading the mission of the church. The health benefits to the congregation, as for the pastor, following the sabbatical give opportunity for renewal of the mutuality of the relationship between pastor and congregation in God’s mission. The ‘reset button’ is pressed, and energy flows again.

Adaptive Change: Put away the mallets and start asking “Why?”

“There is a wonderful story of a group of American car executives who went to Japan to see a Japanese assembly line. At the end of the line, the doors were put on the hinges, the same as in America. But something was missing.

“In the United States, a line worker would take a rubber mallet and tap the edges of the door to ensure that it fit perfectly. In Japan, that job didn’t seem to exist.

“Confused, the American auto executives asked at what point they made sure the door fit perfectly. Their Japanese guide looked at them and smiled sheepishly. ‘We make sure it fits when we design it.’

“In the Japanese auto plant, they didn’t examine the problem and accumulate data to figure out the best solution — they engineered the outcome they wanted from the beginning. If they didn’t achieve their desired outcome, they understood it was because of a decision they made at the start of the process.

“At the end of the day, the doors on the American-made and Japanese-made cars appeared to fit when each rolled off the assembly line. Except the Japanese didn’t need to employ someone to hammer doors, nor did they need to buy any mallets. More importantly, the Japanese doors are likely to last longer and maybe even more structurally sound in an accident. All this for no other reason than they ensured the pieces fit from the start.

“What the American automakers did with their rubber mallets is a metaphor for how so many people and organizations lead … a series of perfectly effective short-term tactics are used until the desired outcome is achieved. But how structurally sound are those solutions?

“ … Long-term success [is] more predictable for only one. The one that understands why the doors need to fit by design and not by default.

“Going back to the original purpose, cause of belief will help … [churches] adapt. Instead of asking, “WHAT should we do …? the questions must be asked, “WHY did we start doing WHAT we’re doing in the first place, and WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life considering all the technologies and …[other] opportunities available today?” (1)

Being poised for renewal means we need to understand the nature of change in institutions such as the church. Some definitions, outlined in a report generated by the Eastern Synod Mission Committee late in 2016, draw the distinction between Technical Change and Adaptive Change:

Technical Change is about fixing problems while essentially keeping the system the same. In other words, where’s the mallet?
Adaptive Change, on the other hand, is about addressing fundamental changes in values that demand innovation, learning and changes to the system itself. Start with ‘Why?’ And then lead from there, by design not default.

During this coming year, which will give all of us permission to pause and reflect, please resist the temptation to rush into doing something either because ‘we’ve always done it that way’ or because we are too anxious not to remain awhile in the uneasy ‘in-between’ time of loss and transition. Be patient, take deep breath, pray, and reflect on the following questions:

Our adaptive challenge questions for 2017:
1. How do we communicate? To whom is each of us accountable?
2. How well do we listen and seek to understand the other? Give concrete examples.
3. Will we create a list of those who are not in church (technical strategy); or, will we identify the needs in the community surrounding 43 Meadowlands Dr West, in Ottawa (adaptive strategy)?
4. How will prayer be our starting point?
5. What are other ways besides worship that serve as entry points for the public to engage the church? This is important.
6. How do we see worship as a launching pad, not a destination, for following Jesus? This is very important.
7. What are the gifts we have as a church? (personnel, space, talents, passions, etc.)
8. How well do you know your fellow congregants’ jobs, professions, contacts, interests, hobbies, talents, passions?
9. Why do we initiate a ministry or mission outreach activity in the first place? Who is the target group? What is the purpose of doing it? Does everyone know the purpose? Why or why not? Is there general agreement about the purpose? Why or why not?

Thank you again for the privilege of another year doing this work with you. Blessings and Grace, on our journeys moving forward,
Pastor Martin

(1) Simon Sinek, “Start With Why”, Penguin Books, New York, 2009, p.14-15, p.51