A shortened version of my message for the LCPC Annual Report
We had all hoped that 2020, the second year of the Vision 2020 strategic plan, would be a time for growing fruit. Isn’t that the Lord’s will for us? “I am the vine; you are the branches… This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit” (Jesus in John 15).
It turned out to be a year for prayer and pruning. Covid-19 presented us with a seemingly endless series of challenges – mountains beyond mountains, to cite a Haitian proverb. We basically spent the year improvising, often with mixed results. Sunday worship was always a challenge. Meetings were awkward. Fellowship events were virtually impossible to pull off. (Thank you, Lord, for YouTube and Zoom!)
It was a rough year in all kinds of ways, but I wasn’t one of the millions who said good riddance at year-end. I believe the prayer and pruning that occurred here at LCPC and in the Church world-wide were necessary and beneficial. Those who were hungry for the Lord found themselves crying out to him in the darkness. Many discovered an intimacy with him they had never known. Those whose faith was weak or insincere were tested even more severely. Sadly, some made the decision, consciously or unconsciously, to separate themselves from the source of life and seek their happiness in the world.
So often, when we did familiar things in strange new ways – worshipping without singing, dining ‘together’ on meals left on porches, mentoring wiggly 3rd graders on Zoom, celebrating birthdays with drive-by parades – it felt like we were fumbling our way through…because we were. But we accomplished perhaps more than we realize. So often, it was in the grit we showed as we fumbled and the love we shared when things looked bleak that we were at our best. If we were short on achievements, we were long on perseverance. And as Paul reminds us, “perseverance [produces] character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into or hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
So often, it was in the grit we showed as we fumbled and the love we shared when things looked bleak that we were at our best. If we were short on achievements, we were long on perseverance.
In retrospect, we can see how God used the evil that stalked us all year to bring about good. In the mid-morning of 2021, Christ’s Church is smaller but not necessarily weaker. Or if we are weaker, the Lord has taught us that, as we seek him and obey him, he becomes our strength. (That’s what Paul was talking about when he told the Corinthians, “…I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Cor. 12:10.) The pruning has eliminated branches that were sucking life and energy from the church, and that never were going to produce any fruit. Leafy sprouts are now appearing, and it won’t be long before they become healthy branches laden with fruit.
But I don’t mean to suggest we were short on tangible achievements. Again and again, even on the darkest days of our sheltering, I was startled by the creativity, resourcefulness, generosity, courage, diligence and love demonstrated by people from every quadrant of our church family. As a consequence – by God’s grace – our harvest in 2020 was surprisingly abundant:
We developed a planet-wide outreach ministry in the form of pre-recorded, post-produced Sunday worship services. A firm foundation has been laid. We now have the capacity to vastly expand our online influence.
We expanded and greatly improved our posts and live-streams on Facebook and Instagram.
On July 19 we began to worship on Sundays in the Courtyard, with music leadership alternating among Dan Blessinger and the praise band, and Gary Woodward and Elzbieta Nawroka. Average attendance grew to about 70.
Building on a solid foundation established over several years, we reconceived and rebuilt our church website.
Various ministry circles (e.g. the Deacons, Be Still, Men’s Ministry, Prayer Ministry) became more deliberate about meeting regularly online for prayer.
Our intrepid CFC and LCPC staff managed to keep the church and CFC open to the public throughout the year. Special thanks to Pat Chambers and Nancy Thomas.
We secured two large PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans to enable us to keep CFC solvent and a large portion of our staff on payroll.
We hired an excellent new Finance Manager in the spring. Cindy Charles brings a depth of experience to her work that has proven to be invaluable.
For the first few months of the pandemic, the “Sheltering Blog” on our website featured short, daily reflections from LCPC members about the work of the Holy Spirit.
We made a conscious decision as a church family to focus on justice issues relating to race. We established a ministry of Biblical Reconciliation. We’re continuing to explore what it means for all ethnic groups to be one family in Christ.
We refurbished the magnificent stained glass windows on the east and west walls of the sanctuary. We exceeded our goal of raising half of the $84,000 expense, thereby reducing the amount we drew from memorial funds for the work.
We launched numerous projects to upgrade technology used for ministry throughout the church campus. Finished projects include: new big screen monitors (for worship leaders) in the sanctuary, greatly increased Wi-Fi capacity. Projects we started that will be completed in 2021 include: installing user-friendly sound/video/lighting technology in Fireside Room, the Courtyard and Koopmans Hall; refurbishing the former Bell Room as a Discipleship Center for small groups, classes, meetings and prayer circles; creating a sound and video studio (for taping or live-streaming) in the John Estelle Room.
We began our search for a permanent Director of Children’s Ministry.
The Wildlife Tour in July followed by the Abide Alpine Adventure in August enabled about 45 members and friends to enjoy fellowship and intimacy with God in the spectacular eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Through Zoom, Facebook, Google Hangouts and at dozens of outdoor gatherings (featuring masks and distancing), Children’s Ministries and Student Ministries helped young people to stay connected to each other, LCPC and the Lord.
The LCPC Kids Hope USA mentors stayed connected to their mentees at La Crescenta Elementary School through weekly Zoom meetings.
Our Deacons (and many other invisible LCPC saints) employed a range of innovative strategies to share God’s love with the congregation.
Our Strategic Planning Committee met throughout the year to update the Vision 2020 plan and create a new plan for 2021.
Our plant manager, Baldo Murales, took advantage of the reduction of routine duties to focus on tasks requiring greater focus and energy. Property Committee hired a team to systematically downsize and reorganize storage spaces. The campus has never been cleaner or leaner!
Several months ago, my daughter Holly had a dream. In the dream I had pruned the long bank of roses in our backyard all the way down to the ground. Not a single woody nub was showing – it looked like I’d killed them off. But the next morning in her dream Holly went to check on the roses and was astonished to see that they had bloomed. Each rose had produced an abundance of flowers all the size of volleyballs.
Holly interpreted the dream as a sign of God’s favor for the next season of her life. I think she was right about that, but I saw something more. The dream illuminated a wonderful truth about God, and what he does for his children when trouble strikes. He prunes…we wait in silence… we fumble our way through the darkness… the dawn finally breaks… and new life comes.
May it be so for you and our whole church family. May it be so for every church that’s struggling to be faithful in this promising year that lies before us.