If you weren’t ready for it, 2019 may have caught you by surprise. Another year has gone by, and we are already a month into a new one. It’s hard to keep up!
Life feels the same way at First United Methodist Church–it’s hard to keep up! The momentum of ministry is leading us into a new season of flourishing. In 2018, we saw nearly 10% growth in weekly worship attendance. From November 2017 to November 2018, we received 83 adults and 17 children as members. Giving to our annual ministry budget increased by over $181,000 in 2018.
Now, we all know that these numbers aren’t everything. However, they confirm what I am seeing and hearing all around the church: our mission to “build a community where all people are invited to know the love of God and sent to join God in transforming the world” is expanding. You are inviting people to come and find a place to belong and serve. People want to be a part of what God is doing in this place and among this community and, as a result, we are able to carry that mission even further. Here are a few ways we have seen our mission grow in the past year:
- New members are joining Sunday School classes and study groups, getting connected to a fellowship where they can belong, beyond simply attending worship. Our newest Sunday School class, the Austinites, is outgrowing its space. Additionally, sixteen “Table for Eight” groups are meeting each month and building community with new—sometimes unlikely—friends.
- We’ve seen a marked increase in participation in Youth Ministry activities under the leadership of Youth Director Devon Bailey and a dedicated team of volunteers. This year we extended the Confirmation program to provide a more thorough preparation for this important step on the journey of faith.
- Our United Methodist Women (UMW) are mobilizing a movement for advocacy at the current legislative session to address the maternal mortality crisis in Texas, while others are investing energy and resources to equip and strengthen ministries at the Border, providing care and resources for asylum seekers, along with education for all of us in Austin.
- First Church goes beyond its already-extraordinary generosity by funding efforts beyond our annual budget, including monthly mission emphasis offerings for our mission partners, as well as nearly $98,000 given to our Easter Offering to renovate our Sanctuary elevator to ensure that we are able to welcome all persons to worship, over $24,000 to support Austin Region Justice for Our Neighbors (ARJFON) ministry of legal assistance for asylum seekers, and $14,000 to support the worldwide ministry of the United Methodist Church.
- We received an extraordinary gift from one FUMC family that eliminated the debts for our Family Life Center and a previous HVAC project, totaling $1,586,713.07. This gift frees our annual FUMC Endowment gift to be used in new ways, all of which promote our mission. Already, we have created a fund to save for long-term capital projects; we are also able to direct funds toward the development of new ministry opportunities through “seed money,” as well as the maintenance of our facilities that form the bedrock of our missional presence downtown.
- Meanwhile, core ministries continue with new volunteers to serve and lead them, including Mobile Loaves and Fishes, Silver Link Ministry to the homebound, Vacation Bible School (VBS), English as a Second Language (ESL), Choir and Handbell Choir, and so many more.
As we head into 2019, I am more convinced than ever that we exist to make a difference in the lives of individuals and the community around us. At our best, we stand at the corner of 12th and Lavaca with our arms extended out–ready to receive the people and gifts God is sending our way, and offering all that we have to serve those around us. The results of our generosity campaign in the fall were strong: we anticipate $95,000 in additional gifts this year, and we celebrate the 36 families who took a new step and made a pledge to give for the first time. As a result, we are taking every opportunity to align our resources—staff, facilities, leaders, etc.—to serve our mission even more effectively. Here are a few ways we see that happening in the coming months:
- Pastor Cathy Stone’s time is now solely devoted to the ministries of Mercy and Justice. In order to make that possible, Emily Buchanan has taken on the staff role of Director of Discipleship, with responsibility for Adult Discipleship and oversight of Youth and Children’s Ministries. We need new places for new people to connect; part of Emily’s work in the coming months is to determine where we need new opportunities for adults to connect and belong, whether through new Sunday School classes or other discipleship groups. We’ve already begun conversations about ministry with those nearly or newly retired, as well as young adults in their twenties.
- We are planning an expansion of our ministry with neighbors currently experiencing homelessness. Pastor Cathy and lay leaders are gathering a team to provide needed services and ministry to women on Thursday mornings following the “Feed My People” Breakfast and worship service. They are gathering a team of volunteers for that effort.
- We are hiring an Assistant to the Pastors in order to support our Pastors’ administrative needs, so that we can better meet the pastoral needs of the congregation and the community.
- We celebrate the ministries of Tom Mays, Business Administrator, and Laurie Barr, Assistant Business Administrator, as they approach their coming retirements. We welcome Galen Fischer who will serve in an expanded role of Director of Finance, and we look forward to hiring an Assistant Director in the coming months.
In sum, FUMC is a vibrant, growing community of faith that is both experiencing and participating in God’s redemptive transformation of the world. God is on the loose, and we are on the edge of our seats—no, strike that, we are out of our seats, leaning forward to see what God will do with us next. Even as the broader United Methodist Church struggles to overcome injustice with regard to our LGBTQ siblings, we are seeing just what God makes possible when all are included, loved, and invited to take their place in God’s work.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude at the opportunity to serve as your Pastor, and I cannot wait to see where God will take us in the coming year.
With gratitude and anticipation,