Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters:
Greetings in Jesus name:
I begin my report by giving glory to the almighty God for keeping us all alive to see today. I thank God also that our church has continued to survive against all odds. God indeed has been faithful. Thank you all for making it all happen.
All our annual programs were held as scheduled.
We had all our Sunday services except one day when we were all snowed-in. Attendance has remained averagely below 90 however. I pray we will be able to break the 100 mark this year. Our financial state has been a source of worry in recent times. We have been struggling from month to month to meet up with our basic needs.
While we want to believe that all is going well with us as a congregation, I will want to pause everybody and every activity so we can critically review our work here in our local parish against the backdrop of experiences of churches around us. Instead of coming with reports of success stories of the past, I want us to see how we can reposition ourselves to win the future. I come with a sobering question; What Must We Do To Be Saved ?
What is the greatest question ever propounded by mortal man? Some businessman might say it is the question of how to make a fortune. The sick might answer that the greatest question has to do with a cure for cancer, tuberculosis and diseases of the heart. However, the statesmen might contend that the greatest question is how to promote peace among nations and prevent all future wars. While these are all important questions they have to do with the fleeting things of time and this life only.
The question ,"What must I do to be saved?" or "What shall I do, Lord?" or "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 22:10; 2:37; 9:6.) has to placed in right perspective to adequately proffer some answers.
Can you please permit me to take you down memory lane so we can remind ourselves of how we got to where we are now ?We started off with four Episcopal churches in Atlantic City at the beginning of the 20th century.-All Saint’s Church, St James Episcopal Church, Church of The Ascension and St Augustine’s Church. Today we are left with only two, and if the predictions of statistical figures take their normal course, we will be having one left soon. Lets be reminded of the words of the great American philosopher, that, ‘they that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’.
Whatever happened to the others will be happening to us soon if we don’t learn from their history.
History Of St. James Episcopal Church Atlantic City
Let us take a quick look at St James’ history to see if there is anything to learn from history. Below are some extracts I garnered from an article in the New York Times of December 1983.
Two years after the Civil War, St. James Episcopal Church opened its doors here at Pacific and North Carolina Avenues. Decade after decade, generations of wealthy tourists returned each summer to worship. St. James prospered. In the 1950's, however, the tourists began going elsewhere. St. James, and the rest of Atlantic City, began to slide. The handsome church, of native Jersey sandstone and Italian marble, never recovered. In the end, Father Gale took to selling cupcakes at noontime outside his church in hopes of raising money and recruiting new parishioners. The effort was futile. It left him embittered. On Oct. 16, 1983 the 116- year-old church closed after a final service. Three people attended. According to Father Gale, ''I really think the church in Atlantic City has had it,'' he added. ''There's absolutely a lack of spirituality here. The people who come to Atlantic City have no interest in anything but the casinos.'' Father Gale, of St. James Episcopal, came here in 1974 with a reputation for saving failing churches. But, he said, the tide was irreversible.
''In my nine years, I never had a wedding,'' he said. ''I've had maybe a half-dozen baptisms. But there have been lots of funerals.'' Clergymen staying here stress the need to adjust, and attempt to capitalize on the casinos and the people they bring to town.
The demise of St. James Episcopal has not been an isolated incident. In the mid-1970's, the Olivet Presbyterian Church closed and was turned into a discotheque. Early in 1984, All Saints Episcopal Church was shut and razed for a parking lot. Early 1983, Temple Beth Israel was sold to Resorts International, the first of the city's nine casinos, after the synagogue had withered for 15 years on the edge of a wasteland left from a bungled urban renewal project of the 1960's. And there are trouble signs at other churches. The Calvary United Methodist Church has closed its regular building for the winter because it cannot afford to heat it.
The fates of the churches in Atlantic City are not isolated experiences. Churches are being closed in quick successions all over our Diocese. The time for keeping churches on “Life-support’ forever is gone. Looking at our own church we need to get our heads out of the sand. As much as we want to believe that all is well, statistical data seem to speak contrary . Our birth rate is lower than our death rate. Our funerals outnumber our baptisms. Weddings are almost non-existent. Does that not speak volumes? We hear rumors of closure of churches around us and yet we fail to recognize that death is closer than we can imagine. The truth of the fact is that if we fail to learn from St James’ or All Saints’ histories and stop ‘these cupcakes-selling’ interventional measures and start engaging in serious ministry work, we will be closed very soon.
It is against this background that the question asked by this Jailer and other brethren in acts of apostle needs be seriously asked again and again. ‘What Must We Do To Be Saved’? This was a desperate question asked by a desperate people under a desperate situation requiring a desperate intervention.
If you’re trying to rescue a struggling institution, whether it is General Motors, Dell , it’s wise to identify what factors will turn the crisis around. These factors are not difficult to identify. Further, if leaders establish a core of critical priorities in time, energy and resources, they would yield fruitfulness. Our problem is not that we do not know the way toward a turnaround but that, like most failing organizations, we lack the corporate will to make it happen. The answer, best articulated by John Kotter a decade ago, is that many churches are too complacent and too invested in the status quo, even if it is failing. Reversing decline and making changes is a big challenge .Change is often difficult because it means letting go of what we know and moving toward what we do not know. It involves taking risks. We must make some major changes if we expect to be saved. Aggressive malignant tumors often require radical treatments. Chemotherapy is unpleasant. But the man or woman who wishes to live after being diagnosed with a cancer has to decide between losing some hair and gaining a few extra years in life or refusing treatment and dying with all hairs on the head ! Somebody must make a choice.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.