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The Challenge of a “Normal” Year

by David Romanik

Every year, both my family and the church send out Christmas cards. Just before the cards go out, I review the list of those who are to receive them, noting any changes that have occurred since the last time we sent out cards and making the appropriate adjustments. This generally involves removing the names of those who have died, changing addresses for those who have moved, and altering last names for those whose marital status has changed. What was striking about this year is how many of these changes I needed to make. Despite the relative stability on the staff and in the ordering of our common life (we never had to close the church for weather or illness!), this was a year of dramatic transition for Heavenly Rest, one in which we lost a number of people, some of whom had been part of this parish for decades, but also saw new people enter into the life of the community. It was a year in which the dust from the pandemic began to clear and we were able to begin discerning where we are and where we are going. It was a year that felt relatively normal, and it was also a year that reminded us how challenging and full a normal year can be.

Since the previous Annual Parish Meeting, we saw the continuation of several pandemic-era activities at Heavenly Rest, along with the return of many events that had been important parts of our common life prior to 2020:

In February, Bishop Mayer made his visitation to the parish, where he confirmed, received, and reaffirmed the baptismal vows of 26 people, including 20 from the 1:00 congregation. It was our Bishop’s first visit to the afternoon service, and he gamely offered several prayers in Swahili!

During Lent, we had a well-attended and fruitful study of Henri Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” on Wednesday evenings. It was a thrilling way to rekindle this Lenten tradition.

We observed Missions Sunday on the first Sunday in May, an opportunity to celebrate the off-campus missions of the parish, including Thrift House, Breakfast on Beech Street, and St. John’s Episcopal School.

Although livestreaming has become an ingrained part of our culture at Heavenly Rest, we completed a more sophisticated upgrade to our productions in 2022. The new system made its debut in the tower room on Palm Sunday. Photo by John Best.

In June, Carol Ann Weston, our Director of Family Ministries, coordinated a wonderful Family Vacation Bible School inspired by the work of the Children’s Art and Literacy Festival’s featured artist. We had nearly 100 people participate from throughout the parish and around the community.

September and October included the second annual iterations of two events: Tamasha la wa Africa, our celebration of African music, cuisine, and culture; and St. Francis at the Zoo, our service blessing the animals of the Abilene Zoo.

October also saw the return of the Chamber Music Concert series to full strength. The season so far has featured exciting performances from New York Polyphony and Serayah Peters. The most recent performance was “A Baroque Christmas,” a wonderful collaboration among Heavenly Rest’s Parish Choir, the Hardin-Simmons University Chorale, and the McMurry Chanters.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Heavenly Rest welcomed nearly 600 worshipers to celebrate the mystery of the Word made flesh.

In addition to these activities, we incorporated several young people into our Exploring Spiritual Treasure Class in preparation for Confirmation. These teenagers have also been participating in regular Confirmation retreats facilitated by Mother Corrie and several of our EST mentors. Carol Ann added a “third grade Bible bash” to the calendar, an event during which third graders were presented Bibles and introduced to the riches of Scripture. We have also seen steady growth in our youth program, including the addition of 10 youth to the acolyte ranks.

Under the leadership of Lee Hampton, our stewardship campaign for 2022 raised over $1 million in pledges, a remarkable testament to the generosity and faithfulness of the members of this community.

We have had to make a number of significant investments in our physical plant, including the installation of a new boiler for the Nave and the replacement of gas lines for most of the campus. As our Junior Warden can tell you, there is always something that requires attention when caring for buildings that are as historically important as ours.

In the spring, we welcomed Adrian Smith to the staff as our Assistant Sexton. After she was ordained to the diaconate at Heavenly Rest in June, the Reverend Dr. Susan Pigott began serving as Deacon and Pastoral Assistant in August.

The coming calendar year promises to be another period of transition. After three years of faithful service, both Judy Godfrey and Rick Willis will be stepping down from their roles as Senior and Junior Warden. These extraordinary leaders helped the Vestry shepherd the parish through the most uncertain days of the pandemic, and did so with grace and tenacity. We will also see a change in the leadership of the music program, as Jesse Ratcliffe moves on to serve a parish in Maryland. These, of course, are just the changes we know about! What we can say with confidence is that, buoyed by our faith in God and one another, we will be able to meet whatever challenges we face.

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