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The year of 2015 flew past and I cannot believe that Christmas is almost over and the Annual Meeting is upon us. I continue to love serving God with all of you at St. John’s and I am truly and deeply grateful for our ministry, prayerful and sacramental life together in Our Lord. This year I was reminded in SOOOO many ways of all the aspects of St. John’s that I love and appreciate. The many parishioners who have stepped up into new responsibilities and have committed to managing some essential set of tasks or ministry or fellowship, your generosity in community and your collaborative gifts, your volunteerism and “can do” attitude about all manner of challenges and projects, your care for people you know and people you don’t, are all features of the good people and parish of St. John’s that I cherish.

Undoubtedly, the biggest change of this year was bidding farewell to our brilliant and beloved Seminarian, Jane Hale, in June.  We had a wonderful and well attended party in Jane’s honor, but the festivities did not conceal our sadness in parting. I have missed Jane tremendously, at both a personal and professional level.  I continue to have the privilege of seeing her at least once a month and I am grateful for that gift and joy. As I write this report, Jane is taking the General Ordination Exams.  I have enormous confidence in Jane’s gifts, character, knowledge and skills, and I feel certain that our collaboration with Jane is only “on hold” and not ended.

St. John’s continues to step out in faith to contribute to God’s mission in the world, and the people of St. John’s continue to work collaboratively to meet the challenges that face all communities of faith and fellowship in our region today.  Living a faith that is contagious is not easy, but the people of St. John’s are not all about the easy path, thanks be!!  From our fruitful relationships with St. Vincent’s School in Port au Prince, Hawkwing and the Cheyenne River Lakota Indian Reservation, the Cornerstone and Phelps House, to our growing and hugely successful and awesome Relay for Life Team, our local food ministry, our Organic Garden, our role as a Diocesan leader and partner in Environmental ministry and witness, the continuing richness of our East of the River collaboration, the fact that 2013’s eight new confirmands are still active and engaged with the ministry and fellowship of St. John’s and that we have 10 youth currently in confirmation class, that our Church School is small but mighty and staffed by three awesome volunteers of our parish, are several of the many signs that the Holy Spirit is moving among and through us and doing a new thing in Vernon.  I am so pleased by all the ways in which St. John’s parish and people are engaging in the mission of God in the world, outside the safety and security of our Sanctuary doors.  This emerging pattern is both our joy and our continuing challenge in faith.

One of the biggest reasons our parish works is the excellence and dedication of the staff we have.  Markus Centola is a gifted young man and we are so blessed to have him as our Director of Music.  He has helped us widen our musical horizons and his professionalism, his playing of our instruments and his leading of our choir add immeasurably to the beauty of our worship and the bonds that unite us.  Markus’ management of the Concert Series has been a great boon to the parish and the concerts have been a privilege to attend. We have so much for which to thank Markus! I especially appreciate Markus’ flexibility and enormous competence in every pastoral and worship situation: Sundays, Festival celebrations, and all the funerals and weddings we do together.

Margaret Mullen is the parish’s (and my) right hand woman.  She is unwaveringly cheerful, capable and efficient.  She gets mountains of work done in two days per week.  She manages a million little details with calm aplomb and I could not manage without her kind, generous, good humored and cheerful help and foresight. I also must remark upon Margaret’s incredible patience!  Margaret is a gem and we are blessed by her dedication, kindness, practical commonsense and steady reliability.

If Margaret is the right hand of the parish, Paul Brown and Bill Gutzmer are the sturdy arms and strong back of this parish.  I don’t know how they do all they do!! Our buildings and grounds shine (Really, I wish my home was as clean and dust free as my office!) and they handle all sorts of odd jobs with their customary cooperative, faithful and “it’s all in a day’s work” approach. These two men work SO hard for our parish!  I never take their devotion, loyalty, industry, or their open and warm hearted ways for granted.

Markus, Margaret, Paul and Bill make all things possible by who they are; their skills, their character, and their professionalism.  It is a privilege to work with all four of them and I cannot imagine being Rector without each of them working in their areas of expertise. They make weekdays fun and collegial, and I appreciate and cherish our teamwork!

The Vestry of St. John’s remains strong and fully engaged.  We have had a wide ranging variety of significant, and sometimes challenging, conversations.  After each discussion, we vote and then move on together as a body unified in seeking what is best for St. John’s Church as we live into our call to be the Body of Christ in this place and time. I thank Kevin Fenner and Betsy Sartori for their steady, often inspired, and unfailingly gracious leadership.  (No one gets a meeting DONE like Kevin!) I thank our tireless and timeless Treasurer, Gerry Cosman for the twenty plus hours he spends each and every week tending our bills, accounts, and financial affairs with cheerful thoroughness. I am grateful to Alfreda Barber for her careful and thorough taking of minutes and I thank each member of the Vestry for their prayerful presence and careful deliberation on behalf of our parish and community life.

The moment I have been dreading and can hardly imagine has come.  This will be Gerry Cosman’s last annual meeting as Treasurer.  Gerry has acted as our Treasurer for 16 years.  He has prepared 192 financial reports for the Vestry.  He has spent countless hours worrying and working on behalf of our parish. Mostly, he has been here for St. John’s through thick and thin, good times and hard times. Gerry is a wonderful combination of attributes that uniquely suited him to be the Treasurer.  Gerry is frugal, but never cheap.  Gerry is deliberate and careful.  Gerry is smart and able. Gerry is industrious and organized. And he is very, very, very patient.  I am personally deeply indebted to Gerry for mentoring and guiding me when I first arrived.  For my seven plus years of service at St. John’s, Gerry has been a father figure (Although he is WAY too young to have a daughter my age!), a sounding board, an excellent listener, and a steady and reliable source of advice and guidance. It has been a true joy and exceptional privilege to work with Gerry. I trust Gerry and his judgement absolutely and I will miss him tremendously.  He has seemed rather pleased about finishing up of late, and I wish Gerry, and his shadow assistant, Shirley, more peace at home and time together as a consequence of his retirement from “Treasuring” for us.  I will always treasure my memories of all Gerry has done for all of us and given of himself to this parish.

Kevin Fenner has been an extraordinary Senior Warden of this parish, serving the full three years allowed.  Kevin has an enormous heart and cares passionately for God’s mission in this parish.  He is a natural leader. He is cheerful, smart, incisive, faithful, compassionate, and brave.  He runs a tight meeting, which has always made safe space for every voice and view. He has supported our growing inclination to step out into the world, as well our continuing need to build and maintain a faith community that is sustainable and sturdy.  Kevin knows intuitively that we cannot “legislate the Holy Spirit” but we can respond with committed and intentional action to the direction of the HS and celebrate the inspiration and light of the HS.  I am grateful beyond words that Kevin has agreed to be the next Treasurer of St. John’s.

Betsy Sartori has served as Junior Warden for two years.  She too is a very authentic and natural leader. She brings a high level of wit, insight, and competence to every meeting.  Betsy has a genuine, unique and fresh perspective and I have always appreciated her willingness to step in to help in a variety of ways, as unexpected needs arose.  Betsy’s kindness and humor have helped us resolve and/or find common ground in many situations.

Three class members need special mention.  Cheryl Abbot has been a tremendous asset to the Vestry.  She has a history of St. John’s and knowledge of our tri-town area which has been hugely helpful.  She is woman of vast common sense and deep and thoughtful kindness. She helped with several special events, including the send-off for Jane Hale last June and our hospitality and welcoming work. We cannot wait to get Cheryl back!  Alicia diLeo has been a wonderful vestry member, serving in her own committed, steady, open, generous, and upbeat way.  Alicia has helped with hospitality and welcoming as well. Alicia always has an eye on what is happening with our children and youth.  She also had some experience with solar energy and other green initiatives which became important in our conversations and she is always willing to pitch in to make something fun for our families GO, like the Halloween/Trunk or Treat party and many of our various monthly fellowship gatherings. I am deeply happy that Alicia has agreed to be our next Junior Warden.  Andy Halpryn is a man of many skills.  He has a knack for asking the important questions and is deeply committed to our children and youth programming.  Andy takes the long view and that perspective has helped us in a number of situations.  He is also good at finding ways to compromise and build consensus, and I appreciate that gift more than Andy may know. Andy has agreed to head up our Long Term and Legacy Planning efforts. I am so pleased that Andy has also agreed to be our new Assistant Treasurer.  I think that Andy is uniquely suited to this position and I feel certain that Kevin, Andy, and Margaret (who will help in the Treasurer configuration) will be a great finance team. (Please note that it is taking three people to replace Gerry!) Finally, after many years’ service as the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Francis has agreed to be the next Senior Warden.  I am delighted! Bill is a lifetime and enormously devoted member of St. John’s.  He is a leader in our community, a choir member, and seems to know everybody. He is rock solid, good at asking hard questions, a kind and careful listener, and a faithful member of our community.  I look forward to our work together on behalf of St. John’s. I will miss Betsy and Cheryl from our meetings. Thankfully, they aren’t going very far!

I wish to thank Andy Halpryn, Jane Sucliffe and Maureen Pinkerman for their dedicated service in running our small church school.  They create a cheerful and safe environment for our small ones to engage with God and each other and I am grateful every Sunday for all they give of their time and their hearts. I offer abundant thanks  also to Diane Dalo for her continuing leadership and teaching (and the great heart and energy she brings to this ministry) of the confirmation class.  Diane Dalo, Dwight Feenstra and Maureeen Pinkerman are our Youth Group Leaders and they make things happen and they make them FUN!

I thank all our outside lawn, leaf and tree men. Carl Schaefer (and his son), Tom Valliere, Ron Cronsell, Jamie Bull, Dave Farrell, John Horan, and Dave Smith have managed grass, weeds, leaves, and falling branches on nasty rainy days and on hot humid ones. Their work is behind the scenes but essential, and we are grateful! After many years of devoted service, Tom Valliere is retiring from heading up our lawn crew.  Thank you, Tom for all you have done to beautify and maintain our grounds.

Speaking of behind the scenes work, thank you, thank you to our Altar Guild who make our sanctuary beautiful and our worship run smoothly. I think that most of us don’t realize what the Altar Guild really does and how lost we would all be without their tireless, behind the scenes work, organization, and weekly efforts.  In addition to managing all the Sunday worship, special services, and decorating at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, they help at weddings and funerals and think of every, single, little thing!  Every priest and parish should be blessed by an Altar Guild like ours!  You know who you are ladies and I love and appreciate you all!

Also behind the scenes is our Communications Coordinator, David Clarke.  David manages our email address list.  He handles the recording of Sunday worship and also finds help when he is not able to be present. David makes all our flyers and manages our publicity efforts.  David has spent buckets of time and energy this year learning how to set-up, maintain, and manage a website and soon you will see changes to ours led by David. I am deeply and humbly grateful for all David does, always with his wry humor and good cheer. David is my “go to” person for so many quirky details.  I appreciate his skill, willingness, and smart wit more than he can know!

Thanks also to Brett Palmer and his gifted daughters, Olivia, Grace and Claire, who offered the gift of music at the Thanksgiving Ecumenical service, on Christmas Eve, and several Sundays throughout the year.  Abundant thanks to Tom Sessions, our Outreach Chair, and his able co-chair and spouse, Terri Sessions, who both keep us focused on what matters most. Abundant gratitude to our official “gasman” Carl Schaefer for all his skill in keeping the heat on! Thanks also to our Kitchen Queen, Diane Gutzmer, and to Diane and Mary Wilson for all their help again this year with funeral families and arrangements here at St. John’s.  I greatly appreciate Skip Sutcliffe’s dedication to our Stewardship work and his leadership of our annual appeal.  All these individuals’ work and vision is integral to our survival and success as a parish and I am grateful for all the ways in which they share their passion for our Lord and for St. John’s by their gifts of time and talent.

Mission, service and fellowship continue to be the underlying and intertwined themes of our endeavors and encounters.  The list of mission and fellowship groups that meet within our parish is long and growing. The Brotherhood of St. Andrew, the ECW, the Youth Group, the music program, the concert series and the Senior Choir, the Knitting Fellowship, the Environmental Committee, the Book Club, the Good Grief Group, the reinvigorated Prayer Group, the Senior Luncheon, the church school teachers and children, and Rite 13 Class, the Acolytes,  the Counters, the Altar Guild, the Flower Ministers, Pastoral Visitors and Lay Eucharistic Ministers, the Ushers, the Greeters, the Cooks for a Cause, the Outreach to our “away at college young adults”, the Facilities, Outreach and Stewardship Commissions,  all our gardeners and growers, weeders, waterers, and harvesters, and the outward expression of our connection and bonds manifested by The Tree of Life, are all essential and integral parts of our community expression of faith.  We are invited to deepen our living of our Baptismal Covenants as we respond to God’s call to seek and serve Christ in all persons.  Our various service and fellowship groups help us to answer this call and they deepen and enrich our personal and communal experience of our faith journey.  As I think of each one of you and these small shepherding groups, I smile and I give thanks to God.

A special word of thanks to Linda Borovicka, Bethany and Sid Chanthavisouk, and Kimmie and Dave Farrell for starting a Tree of Light Advent and Christmas tradition that I hope will last long into our future.  They provided and decorated a cut tree this year.  Their invitation to honor, remember, and celebrate loved ones by “purchasing” lights for the tree, raised $525 for refugee work here in Connecticut, and gave more than fifty of us a lovely evening of fine fellowship, good food, and exuberant caroling (thank YOU, Markus!).  In March, the clan will plant an evergreen tree on the parking lot edge of the driveway, close to the Parish House.  This will be our permanent Tree of Light.  May it grow strong and tall!

I baptized three children, conducted seven weddings and handled ten funerals this year.  It has been my goal to be pastorally available whenever needed, to facilitate and support your ministry ideas and fellowship initiatives, and to offer appropriate leadership in our common life as the Body of Christ gathered in this place. I have tried to strike a balance between being fully engaged as a partner in ministry and mission and encouraging and letting you try on and implement the ministry directions the Holy Spirit has inspired within you.  Sometimes I am successful in this balance and sometimes I am probably not.  You always have my full attention and devotion.  I love living and working amongst you and I am grateful every day for the privilege of serving and glorifying God alongside you.

All communities have challenges and ours is no exception.  We need to continue to strengthen our programming for Christian formation, for children, young people, and adults.  We need to assiduously follow up with visitors and newcomers to St. John’s. Our Greeting and Hospitality ministry are absolutely critical to our future.  We have been blessed to welcome several new members this year.  And there is more that we could be doing together to welcome new people and to encourage people to visit us. We are called to welcome and offer the hospitality of Our Lord to all who enter our doors. Our ministry to the sick, elderly, homebound, and bereaved among us remains a priority. The Youth Group delivered a record number of gift bags to homebound members of the parish this Christmas and several of us continue to bring the Eucharist and worship to Fox Hill and Evergreen nursing homes on a monthly basis.  We must continue to push ourselves to venture out into the world to see what God is doing and how we can participate more fully and perhaps in ways that are hard to imagine, at least at first glance. Engaging further with the greater Vernon area remains an important challenge.  I am especially eager to connect in some meaningful way with the Islamic Center of Vernon, given the events of the year just ended and the hateful rhetoric of many politicians and groups in the U.S. I am grateful for Ben Brockman’s leadership in this effort to connect. I am also hopeful that there may be opportunities for us to assist and to partner with our sister parish, Trinity, Sigourney Street, in their critical work with the poor and immigrant children and families in downtown Hartford. Another Stewardship season awaits us shortly and the financial realities of these days continue to press us forward towards sacrificial service and generous giving. SUSTAINABILTY (environmentally, fiscally, and missionally) and the critical and challenging work of EVANGELISM remain the primary challenges for St. John’s (indeed for most parishes across our Diocese and New England). Our commitment to living a faith that is contagious is essential as we journey forward and deeper together in Christ.  We are each called to “come and see” and then to “go and tell” as we live the GOOD NEWS in our personal journeys of faith and in our communal life.

In all the changes and chances, in all the challenges and joys of our life together, I rely on the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. God is good and continues to push, prod, pull and provoke us to be His hands and feet in this place and time, in new ways, and with open hearts. As one of my colleagues says to me often, “Christ has no hands and feet but us.” I am convicted that God’s power and love working in us can do infinitely more than we can ever ask or imagine, and I thank God for all of you and for our ministry together. Thank you for witnessing to God’s love and redeeming power, for your prayerfulness, and for your kindness and generosity, especially to me and Tom personally, and to our family. With a full heart and with deep thankfulness and love, I remain faithfully yours in service to Our Lord.

The Rev. Virginia W.G. Army, Rector, St. John’s, Vernon

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