The task of writing a pastor’s report each year raises an interesting question: how to sum up a year of ministry? With all that goes on in this place, what do we highlight? How does one measure the health of a church?
By almost every conventional measure, 2016 was a remarkable year for Oak Hills. We welcomed 10 new members, and many more visitors who have since become good friends, each bringing new gifts of faith and service into the life of our fellowship. We also celebrated the baptisms of two new adult believers, rejoicing with them in new birth and a deepening journey with Christ. We saw our children’s Sunday school numbers swell, leading to the creation of a new older-elementary class this fall.
Christy Polk, after years of faithful ministry and preparation, was ordained to her position, officially becoming the first Associate Pastor in Oak Hills history! In addition to her continuing ministry with children and youth, we look forward to more of her preaching and worship leadership in the season ahead. I continually thank God for Christy’s gifts and partnership!
Alongside Christy we welcomed Kevin Gates as our youth intern, whose collaboration under Christy’s able leadership has brought new momentum to the youth program. For the first time in many years our youth group spent a week in mission and service this summer, with 14 students and four leaders travelling to Idaho to serve the poor and live out the gospel. Since that time, a number of new students have jumped into the program, and three are now pursuing confirmation, studying to make a public declaration of their faith.
We also formalized our relationship with Rev. Stasia Van Buskirk, working with Presbytery to establish her position as Parish Associate, further equipping her to serve as a caregiver and spiritual resource to our congregation as she has done faithfully for so many years.
2016 saw new opportunities for spiritual growth, fellowship and outreach. Three separate small groups formed for the season of Lent to eat “Rice & Beans” together and contribute to the needs of children in East Africa, raising upwards of $700 for ministry partners Lahash International. In April, 18 men gathered for a weekend to connect and serve at Evans Creek Camp in the Cascades, while 34 women shared their own powerful retreat experience in October at Twin Rocks Conference Center on the coast. We also reached a new high-water mark in our Backpack Buddies program, providing food for 100 food-insecure students at Lot Whitcomb and View Acres Elementary schools each week. Funds for this ministry came in part from the auction of a beautiful heirloom quilt crafted by our dedicated quilters under the leadership of Susann Smith.
Summer of 2016 brought a new Sunday morning adult class – “From Genesis to Jesus” – walking participants through the story of scripture under the able teaching of Larry Totzke. This was followed up in the fall with the launch of a church-wide curriculum – “Connect the Dots” – inviting the whole congregation to work through the Bible using weekly readings, sermons and Sunday morning classes.
Beyond programs and activities, I see deeper signs of health. One of those is in the area of care and compassion. This year has seen several of our families and individuals battling cancer. Others have experienced loss and grief, hardship and setback. In each situation I have watched our congregation come together in prayer, encouragement and practical expressions of love. I am deeply proud of the way in which we bear one another’s burdens here at Oak Hills. The richness of our fellowship is a sign to me that God’s Spirit is present here!
Financially, God has continually provided for our ministry through the faithful and sacrificial giving of our congregation. Despite starting the year with a budgeted deficit of around $14,000, through regular giving and some remarkable unexpected gifts at the close of the year, we finished 2016 ahead of budget by upwards of $40,000!! We move into 2017 with pledges to the operating budget that match our 2016 levels, as well as special pledges toward our building mortgage of close to $40,000!! This will allow us to make significant inroads in paying down our mortgage, without compromising the existing ministries of the church. While long-term building debt remains a challenge on the horizon, we are now positioned for sustainable ministry in a way that I could not have predicted, even one year ago. God provides! And you, his people, have been faithful and generous in ways that are nothing short of astonishing.
All of this is truly humbling. God’s blessing is evident and his provision has been abundant. Yet I am haunted by one pressing question: why? Why has God blessed Oak Hills in these ways? In scripture, we’re reminded that “of those to whom much has been given, much is required.” Jesus told a parable about faithful servants who boldly took what had been given by their master and invested it, taking risks in order to bring forth even more abundance for the master, while another servant – lazy and afraid – buried his master’s money and earned nothing. The point is clear: woe to us if we waste the opportunity we’ve been given! In 2017 the session of Oak Hills will wrestle with the question of our calling in the season ahead. We’ve been blessed beyond measure, we are strategically planted in a growing community, equipped with resources of people, energy, space, finances, and more. What does God long to do through Oak Hills for the sake of his kingdom? Whose heart is he longing to reach through us? What needs in our community is he equipping us to meet in his name? How will we step out and invest what he’s given so that the return for Christ’s kingdom can be even greater? These are urgent questions. As we enter a new year will you pray with me for a clear vision of our calling? When God blesses, he does so for a purpose. What an adventure lies in store as we seek him for our purpose in the days ahead!