Christmas Letter 2022
My Siblings in Christ,
"All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”" - Matthew 1:22-23
This quote from the birth narrative of Matthew’s Gospel was making clear to all who would read this gospel that something new was beginning and God was would be with us in a new and real way. It wouldn’t be as we human beings would expect. It would be greater, and more challenging, and longer reaching, than they or we could imagine.
Certainly, as Matthew tells the story, that first Christmas wasn’t the start that anyone would have expected. Certainly not Joseph or Mary, who were only planning to start their life together as a married couple. Then God stepped in and sort of turned it on its ear. According to Matthew’s Gospel, the difficulty level of their lives would be higher than they could have imagined because of the child’s birth. First, Jesus’ conception was extraordinary and ran against religious and social norms, yet his parents stuck together with God’s encouragement. Second, the Wisemen show up unexpectedly, with big expectations and gifts in one hand, and trouble in the other. And lastly, the little family now had the region’s most powerful ruler out to kill their child, but with God’s help and guidance, they escaped on foot to Egypt.
Our experience of Christmas in 2022 will also be celebrated and marked in ways that face challenges that we too won’t expect. We continue to walk under the long shadow of the pandemic, society’s economic troubles, and our world’s challenges with climate challenges and nations at odds. We have been able, and continue to be able, to face those challenges together because we can trust that God is with us.
A Challenge for St. Mark’s
Yet, I also need to put before you the major financial challenge that St. Mark’s is facing as a result of almost three years of change brought on by the pandemic. Even as we have begun to return, with care, to restoring our ministry and worship back to pre-covid levels, our donations have not returned as we had hoped.
We had forecasted correctly that as we reopened for consistent in-person worship and gatherings, that many good folks like you would return to the level of financial generosity and support that you had given so faithfully prior to the pandemic. I am truly grateful for your support. Yet, the pandemic did have an impact on our congregation and by this fall it was apparent that there was still going to be a large shortfall despite our returning.
“We realized that through 2020 and 2021 the loss of those people, through death and moving away, left not only spaces in our pews and in our community, but also reduced our yearly donations by around $45,000”
We all knew that we had a number of members who had passed away, or whose lives were changed by the pandemic, and some who moved away, but when we examined the historic givings more carefully, we realized that through 2020 and 2021 the loss of those people, through death and moving away, left not only spaces in our pews and in our community, but also reduced our yearly donations by around $45,000.
During the first two years of the pandemic, this loss of donations was somewhat masked by the emergency relief the government provided and the reduced cost of interim ministry. In 2022, without those supports and savings, we are feeling our losses and facing a significant shortfall.
It would be an understatement to say that my first year as your parish priest has been challenging as we began to emerge from under that shadow of the biggest waves of the pandemic. It has been a challenge for all of us and a time of grief and uncertainty. And it wouldn’t be my preference to spend time in my first Christmas letter to the parish to have to highlight our financial challenge. But, I felt it imperative to be as straightforward as possible about communicating our situation and our need.
I am very grateful for the ministry of St. Mark’s and its faithful and active volunteers that make the good work we do together possible. And I am grateful for the financial support that our community has given so generously throughout this world crisis.
God Is With Us
As a church community our current situation has been, and will continue to be, a test of the depth and resilience of our faith. Although we often focus mostly on the great gift of Christ’s birth at Christmas, this year we might find more inspiration than normal from Matthew’s Gospel’s story of the uncertainty and turmoil faced by Joseph and Mary and the Wisemen because of Jesus’ birth. They were inspired and led by God through events that were difficult and even threatening to their very lives, so that the Good News of the Gospel would have a chance to take root and grow. They knew that God was with them.
“As Matthew’s Gospel tells of the birth of Jesus, even it reflects the great challenges that the Good News always faces.”
I trust that God will see us through, even if the path is difficult and full of challenges to overcome. We know the challenging and life altering story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As Matthew’s Gospel tells of the birth of Jesus, even it reflects the great challenges that the Good News always faces.
I look forward to celebrating Christ’s birth with all of you. I look forward to singing the carols, reflecting further on the story, and being inspired to grow in faith. Especially, as we face the current challenges that are before each of us and our community, trusting that Jesus, identified as “Emmanuel” from the prophecy, is with us.
The Rev’d Rob Park
To support St. Mark’s and our ministry together visit our Support Us webpage.
If you would like to join in our Christmas worship together read about our Christmas Services here.