by Senior Pastor, Tom McCloskey
Typically at an Annual Charge Conference in a United Methodist Church the minister of the Local Church provides a written and oral report on the state of the church. That report typically looks back at the past year and looks ahead to the coming year. I would remind you that at last year’s Charge Conference we met in the Contemporary Worship space. The AC had two temperatures … on and off … and we were preparing for the conference as workmen were completing their tasks and had just moved scaffolding out of the room. There was a full time construction superintendent on site all day and every day and some of you were wondering if we would ever be finished with this building. Our focus and our energy was on completing the building and how we would use this incredible place for ministry. The buzz word for us was “transition” or how we all would change and be changed. You and I were still getting to know each other. It was a crazy and exciting time.
Today we are done with the building and we have learned that your hard word and vision have given us an incredible opportunity to be in ministry together. We have so much to be thankful for and we recognize that our gratitude brings with it the opportunity and responsibility to do God’s ministry.
So where do we go from here? Many of you have asked me for my vision. So tonight I am going to share with you what I see as some of my priorities for our ministry together.
Jesus tells us we are to “make disciples” and “be witnesses to the truth to the ends of the earth”. There is nothing unique about this as a priority, but what is unique is how we respond. Here are three ways I think we can continue “make disciples” and “witness.”
Each year The Discipline requires the Staff Parish Relations (SPR) Committee to evaluate the performance of their church’s appointed pastor and then to set goals for the coming year. Your SPR Committee has instructed me to lead an effort to evaluate and determine what we can do to attract more people to worship. They specifically asked that this process begin with the 9:30 a.m. service and continue to the 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. They recognize that this effort will require us to honestly evaluate all that we do on Sunday Mornings so we will understand what “works” for us, but also what would invite others to be a part of the First Church family. This process will begin in January and will impact all of us.
Over the past four weeks we have participated in a Stewardship Campaign whose theme has been First Church as The Church in the City. This is a great theme, but we must decide what it means to be “the church in the city.” For me to be the church in the city means we are to be a beacon of hope for all.
Last Tuesday I was at a meeting of the Florida Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Our task was to review the paperwork of almost 60 candidates for the ministry. One of these men and women could someday be your pastor so this is important work and I take it seriously. On my lunch break I had a text to call the church because there was a problem. The issue was that there would not be enough parking on Wednesday night. The Wesley Child Development Center staff was doing a continuing education event. The number of people eating supper and attending small groups was rising and all of the choirs were rehearsing. The Magic had a game and the lots would all be full. What could we do? All kind of solutions roared through my head but I said we will figure it out tomorrow when I return. The thought that went through my head was … Why are these people taking our parking places? Then with absolute clarity I thought the real issue is why are these people going some place else and not to First Church? And what can you and I do about that reality? If I parked a Magic lot and walked away from the arena to church would anyone notice? That Wednesday night as I left the church and I listened to the sounds of a rock concert coming from somewhere else I wondered why you and I are not there. What will I have to change to become a better witness to those that walk past our doors every day.
First Church has an incredible history of compassion for those that struggle in life. You have historically led the churches of Orlando in ministries of Justice and Compassion in Downtown.
On Thursday morning I was to volunteer at an IDignity event. I had worked for several hours and at a slow moment I took a break to check my phone. As I read the texts I knew I had to return to work at the church. I tried to slip out of the back door but met Michael [Dippy] and some visitors in the back parking lot of the [Orlando Union Resue] Mission. He introduced me as his pastor and then asked me this question. What was the “most” significant thing that I had experienced that morning? But because I did not know his guests my response was not totally honest. I said something about feeling good about being a part of a mother and her children receiving IDs and Birth Certificates. What I really wanted to say was every hand I shook was cold. I knew that because my hand was warm. As I went back to work, I realized the truth.
So this year there will be three things I will do as I step away from some of my administrative duties that are a direct result of our building program.
First, I will lead an effort where we will determine what it is that we can do to continue make worship a meaningful experience for us. But I will also lead an effort to find ways to worship in a way that will attract others to the First Church family. Our effort will focus on inviting others to become a Disciple of Jesus Christ, and not just a member of First Church.
Second, I pledge that I will stop thinking of the city in terms of us and them. I will seek ways to welcome others into our space. If this means that I park off property and walk to church I will do that. But as I walk I will seek opportunities to share where I am going and why.
Third, I will ask God to show us ways we can shake hands with the “cold” hands of our city. I am going to find ways that I can serve the hungry, thirsty, and lonely and pray that God will use us to live His Love in His world.
Finally I will continue to do my best to be your pastor. I will take my pastoral duties of Word, Table, and Service seriously. I thank you for the privilege of being your pastor and look forward to our continued ministry together.