Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Good morning. My thanks to all of you for being here for our Annual Parish Meeting. I appreciate your willingness to take care of the important business of the church. As we embark upon a New Year, once again, we find that we are still dealing with this Pandemic. But, as you know, the entire world is going through much of the same.
I do not know about you, but perhaps there was a sense of hope last year at this time that as we turned the page on 2021 this would all be behind us within a few months. But that is not the case despite man's best efforts of masks, vaccines, and mandates! While humanity can only do what we can in our strength, I want to remind you today that God is still on the Throne regardless of where we have been or where we are going! There is a wonderful verse of scripture which serves as a reminder of who God is found in Revelation 22:13 (NKJV) 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” While we cannot possibly know what the future holds, we know who holds the future! We are not even gifted enough to know what tomorrow will bring to us, but as Christians, we need to rest assured that God does!
When I understand just a bit of how much God loves me, it puts my mind at ease about His plans and purposes.
This New Year will unfold as God has planned it to happen. Not one thing will take place that does not first sift through the loving hands of an almighty God. There are many times I do not understand the ways of God, but that is really not something we should concern ourselves with. We must only trust Him! Isaiah 55:8 (NKJV) eight “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
Moving forward into this New Year, I want to encourage you to live your life to the glory of God. We can live in confidence and not timidity! We can live our lives in boldness and assurance because God is on the Throne! There is a beautiful song written by Bill Gaither many years ago, and the lyrics are as powerful today (maybe more so) as when they were written:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, yes I know, He holds the future.
This life is worth the living, just because He lives!
Keep God first in this New Year, and you will be amazed at the things God will do in you, through you, and for you!
The past year has been one of growth and of challenge. It has been a rewarding year as well as a difficult year. I continue to be very proud with the work of our staff. Barbara and Sandy continue their hard work and are committed to the well-being of San Esteban/St. Stephens. And as I said before, good people do not work in churches because of the money they make. No one will ever make their fortune working for the church. Rather, your staff gives so much time and energy because of their faith in God and their passion for the mission and ministry of God’s people; the people of San Esteban/St. Stephens. I could not get along without them and all of us owe them a debt of thanks.
I am very grateful for the hard work of your Bishop’s Committee. During the year we have had some long but fruitful meetings and those who serve on the Bishop’s Committee give a large amount of their spare time to the church. I cannot talk about the good work of your Bishop’s Committee without mentioning your Senior and Junior Warden – Carly Burton and Rick Stevenson I couldn’t have made it through this year without them. Carly and Rick have a fulltime life and career outside of St. Stephen’s and they he found a way to give more to serve our church. Over the past twelve months Carly and Rick have always done everything possible to make decisions guided by what is best for the church. Thank you, Carly and Rick.
As I said, 2021 has been a year of growth and challenge. Sixty-three people were baptized throughout the year, and we prepared over 20 young people for confirmation, which we will count in next year’s report. We have grown our programs, which I outline in my written report, and we have grown our membership. More than sixty-three people officially joined San Esteban/St. Stephen’s last year.
We raised an amazing and blessed $38,000 during our Stewardship Festival, making our stewardship campaign of 2022 a great success during these difficult times when many parishes and dioceses are seeing dramatic cuts in their income. We are well suited to continue to meet our financial obligations in the coming year. My thanks to all of you for your support to the ministry of San Esteban/St. Stephen’s.
This morning, I want to lay out the priorities which I think are essential for this coming year for the life of our Parish Family. With sixty-three baptisms and preparing so many for confirmation, our church is growing. But we have to continue to remember that growing a small parish is a tough enterprise. The first thing we need to remember is that it is not us who makes the church grow, but God. Now, please do not think that I am throwing all the responsibility of growing our church on God. I am not. God is calling on us to do to work with him. That is what the whole Christian life is about: God doing what he does, and us responding in the way which God wants us to respond in order to be the hands and feet of God here on earth. That is what you and I are called to be – the body of Christ, carrying on his mission in the world, by his grace.
In order to be a place where people want to come; in order to be a family that people want to be a part of, we need to have our business in order. And to have that business in order, we need to be constantly asking ourselves, “Is this what God wants us to do?” More than any priority which you may think our parish family may have, that must be priority number one. Are we doing what God wants us to do?
And I want to invite you today, to join with me in adding to your prayers “O Lord, what would you have us do?” That was the prayer which Paul offered up when he was confronted with the vision of Christ on the Road to Damascus. “Lord, what shall I do?” I have been asking that very question myself over the last several months. What would God have us do as we move toward the future. I want to share with you a few thoughts which I have discerned.
One area which we need to pray about is how can we do more to reach out to our community. I have struggled myself with this very question. There are a lot of wonderful ministries which God has called other churches to in our town. After school program, shelters, food pantries, nursing homes, etc., What can we do?
Within our own parish, too, each of us needs to consider how we can offer service. There are some wonderful people in our parish who bear a lot of the work. We need volunteers to help with things like serving on the altar as acolytes, chalice bearers and members of the Altar Guild.
We need more people to step up and help with special events - like dinners, special fundraisers, angel tree, etc., the more people who are willing to help the better.
In the area of Evangelism, we need to get ourselves out in the public eye more often than we have in the past year. The biggest and most important and best way to get more people to church is to invite them. If everyone in the room today, worked this year to invite just one person to church this year, we could double the size of our parish. Who will you try to bring into the church this year? Think of one person, just one and start working on them remembering that the best thing you can to start that process is to start praying for them daily. And then start inviting them.
During the season of Advent, we offered a class for First Communion and Confirmation. Around forty young people, ages 6 to 17, regularly attended. These education opportunities will be offered throughout the year during the different liturgical seasons of the year. These opportunities are directly connected with the growing of the church. In 2021 we also sent children to diocesan camps during the summer and participated in different activities that the diocese offered for youth.
Deanna says thank you to Father Pablo, the Bishop’s Committee, the discernment committee, and the parish for their support as she continues in discernment for the diaconate. She has completed the two -year study program and received her Certificate in Diaconal Studies from the Episcopal Diocese of Utah: Tuttle School for Discipleship and Ministry and the Seminary of the Southwest. She will meet with the Right Reverend Scott Hayashi in February and then with the Utah Commission on Ministry. At Rev. Pablo’s request she has preached, assisted with services, done pastoral care visits, set-up two vaccine clinics and taught a book study this past advent. She asks that you keep her in prayer as she moves through this process and maybe even join her in a book study for Lent looking at the book The Difficult Words of Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine.
The final area I want to speak about today is Stewardship. Stewardship is perhaps the second most important dimension of parish life after Evangelism. Each of us is called to share the Gospel with others, in intentional ways in our lives, that’s evangelism. What follows on evangelism’s heels is Stewardship. Stewardship involves a lot of dimensions. One of those dimensions is the maintenance of our day-to-day operations. You received today a report from our Treasurer. You will see that at the end of the year, we made ends meet and all our bills are paid. That’s wonderful. That is a blessing from God.
As we look to the future, we need to have a better understanding of how God wants us to be good stewards of our annual expenses and income therefore we need help in understand how we might become better givers in the kingdom of God for our annual budget.
Lastly, as members of our Parish we are responsible for being good stewards of the things we have been given, our buildings being a key component. We have done a great job over the years of keeping up and maintaining the buildings we have. I am grateful we have the beautiful and functional space to do that. And as part of our life as a family we are charged with making sure it is available for years to come.
I want to end this morning on a personal note. It’s hard to believe that its three year since I first stood up here and addressed you as your Vicar. I want to say how grateful I am to you all for all your love and support you have shown me. You’ve continued to teach me what it is to be a family in Christ. I truly hope that someday I can somehow repay you all for what you have done for me. I cannot even begin to express what it means. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I really do love being here with you all and serving you as a priest in God’s Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I could not imagine myself doing anything else. And I truly hope that this year will bring great blessings on our church family. May God bless you all as you have blessed me these last few years.
The Rev, Canon Pablo Ramos, D.D. Vicar
Bishop’s Senior Warden’s Report
So much for the end of Covid. It almost feels that this is the new normal but I hope that feeling will vanish during 2021. First and foremost, it has been a priveledge to serve as your Bishop’s Warden again in 2021. In spite of the enormous challenges Covid has brought to us and everyone else, for that matter, St. Stephens continues to amaze me. When I say St. Stephens, I mean all of you. Because of your dedication and commitment we have continued to survive and, in some ways, even thrive. In spite of relatively low Sunday attendance I continue to be optimistic about the future of St. Stephens. Our pledges have still continued to amaze me and for 2022, the pledges increased by $10,000. Quite amazing if you ask me. I need to thank Father Pablo for his wisdom, his leadership and his unique ability to bring people together even during these difficult times. San Esteban continues to be an important part of our joint ministry of friendship and sense of family. I am grateful for those who have served on the Bishop’s Committee including Rick, Sandy, Jane, Marjorie and Elmer. Barbara and Sandy have served on the music committee which is so important to our Sunday worship service. Even with the break-in and robbery of expensive computer equipment, we didn’t miss a step in the continued mission of St. Stephens. We are in stable financial shape going into 2022 and I am hopeful that things will get back to normal later in the year. So, in summary, I look forward to your continued friendship and support as we work to make 2022 the best year ever.
Bishop’s Senior Warden
Bishop’s Junior Warden’s Report
For my 2021 assessment of our mission, I’d like to divide thoughts into two sections: the spiritual and the physical conditions of St. Stephen’s and San Esteban.
The COVID pandemic has brought great challenges to communities of faith. Mandates from the government, as well as from our own Bishop, have made it difficult, if not impossible, to worship together. Throughout the pandemic, our Vicar, Fr. Pablo Ramos has done everything in his power to allow our people access to Holy Eucharist. Whether partaking in person in the sanctuary, having the elements brought to our vehicles, or watching the service via Zoom or Facebook, we have had multiple types of opportunities to renew our baptismal covenant. Our people are grateful to Fr. Pablo for his efforts in accommodating this.
Good relations continue to grow between the folks of St. Stephen’s and San Esteban. Our annual combined pledge fiesta brought in a healthy number of pledges. Our mission is pleased to be sponsoring Deanna Anderson for the Deaconate. The people of St. Stephen’s and San Esteban generously purchased Christmas gifts for six Dream Academy students.
We continue to enjoy a great relationship of mutual respect with our friends in the Hepisepa Wesleyan Church.
Having served on the Nominating Committee in the search for the Twelfth Bishop of Utah, I am pleased that we were able to put forth a slate of deeply spiritual and talented individuals, one of whom will become our new bishop.
We continue to see new families visit our mission and hope that they will find a home with us. It is the hope of our vicar and the Bishop’s Committee that 2022 will allow us new opportunities to extend fellowship to folks outside of our mission and will be exploring new opportunities for that.
Facilities Update: For the first year in some time, we did not have to spend money on any heating and air conditioning equipment. However, the building was broken into and thieves stole thousands of dollars’ worth of computer equipment. For this reason, locks were changed and a state-of-the-art alarm system was installed with intrusion- and fire-monitoring. The rear entrance door windows were broken, and unfortunately, due to issues with the supply chain, replacement windows have been ordered but not yet replaced.
It has been my pleasure to have served as Junior Warden. My thanks to Fr. Pablo, Carly, members of the Bishop’s Committee, Barbara, Sandy, Marjorie, Fran, Roni, and all the people of our mission who are deeply committed to our community. We look forward to what 2022 will bring and what a great year it will be for us.
With love and gratitude,
Bishop's Junior Warden