The last weekend of January was a busy one at the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown. I hope you were able to be here for the ordination and installation of new officers. As we met before worship to ponder the promises they would make, I was impressed with the depth of spirit, wisdom and commitment in the room. In worship, there was the laying on of hands: a sign of commissioning and empowering for service, and of blessing. As we joined to lay hands on new ruling elders Tom Dilger, Dave Feffer and Karen Klimpl and new deacon Jan Watterworth, and as they were joined by those returning to service as deacons, Jackie Hart, Joan Newell, Donna Scheifele and Christine Vincent, I was put in mind of the unbroken chain of blessing as well as setting aside for special service which has happened here for more than 160 years. I give thanks to God for such colleagues in ministry in this place at this time.
Following worship, we gathered for our Annual Meeting, enjoying lunch prepared with love by the Fellowship Committee while viewing a slide show of 2019 highlights. We heard stories of God’s faithfulness here in 2019 and our joy-filled efforts to love God and love neighbor. If you missed it, please reach out to any member of the session, as we’d be so pleased to tell the stories again, and to hear the ones you would add.
As we received the report on our finances from Mark Dahlinger, I thought of another unbroken chain of blessing: an unbroken chain of blessing in more than 160 years of the faithful, generous annual giving of the members and friends of this congregation, and the special support provided by our endowment. The endowment is made up of many individual gifts by those who planned ahead to be part of the future ministries of this congregation after they were gone. Their foresight and generosity years ago empowers mission and ministry in this congregation and community today. As Mark explained, their gift (taking 6% a year from the endowment leaves it sustainable in perpetuity) is why our gap is only approximately a $70,000 annual shortfall ($100,000 if you count the mortgage for the Raise the Roof campaign).
In light of that shortfall, Session has embarked on the solemn and sober work of discernment. At our daylong Saturday retreat we continued the work of discovering: What is our Triune God calling us to do and be in this season of the church’s life? How shall we close the gap between the vitality of congregational life and service to the community which happen here Sunday to Saturday, week after week, and the practical truth of what it costs to do those things? How eager we are to have your prayers and insights as we do this work of discovering where God is leading, and following in faith and trust.
At the retreat, one group was given the scenario of having to spend down all the resources of the congregation in three years. They were not to wonder why the church was closing, but only to decide what to do with all the tangible resources that were left when we did. And they refused it. They simply could not imagine that it was in God’s plan NOT to have the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown present in this community at this time — present so that we might come together in worship, learning and fellowship to seek God’s leading, to strengthen our discipleship, to love one another in real and tangible ways, and then that we might be led to open our hearts and our lives to serve those in this community in need of the gifts God would have us offer. Amen to that!