The year is barely begun, but already a new season is about to begin. We haven’t even adopted this year’s budget yet, though we meet next Wednesday night to do so (7 p.m. in the Choir Room). That’s the date of our Charge Conference, the annual meeting of a congregation in the United Methodist Church. It is a time to review the year that we’ve just been through and look with hope to the time ahead.
2017 was a good year for our congregation in many ways. April led a one-day Women’s Retreat locally, for some who couldn’t take a whole weekend away from home. Opportunities for learning and growth are available almost every month it seems. Our choir presented stirring and memorable music for Good Friday and Christmas, as well as on Sundays. Vacation Bible Camp brought together about 200 children and even more youth and adult helpers for a week of exploration and learning. Kid Zone, our after school program, is in good hands again, serving dozens of children each week and hundreds over the summer. Our preschool brings us into relationship with about a hundred families in our community every year. We saw each other through times of change as well, with the loss of dear friends and the discovery of new. God’s grace was with us in and through each of these. We have seen and felt it.
We continue to work with the City of Rolling Hills Estates to break ground on our new educational facilities. The process has been slower and more complicated than we could have imagined. But we look forward to getting started on this important work late this Spring. Once we are ready to begin we will be sharing regular updates by email and on the church web site.
It was a healthy year for us financially. I’m happy to share that we finished the year solidly in the black. In recent years we have always been just a little ahead, or just a little behind, the budget we adopted. Our finances are never entirely certain. But then again, whose are? We seek, as best we can, to carry out a generous, hopeful and effective mission. We kept moving forward, sharing generosity and hope. We helped partners in the South Bay who serve hungry and homeless families, giving away thousands of dollars to feeding programs at St. Paul’s UMC, Toberman Neighborhood Center, Circle of Life, and the Senior Nutrition Program at the Torrance/South Bay YMCA. We also prepared meals in our own kitchen to help feed our neighbors. Throughout the year the grace of God has been the source and the center of everything we have sought to accomplish. Your generosity has seen that mission through.
This month we will give thanks for the work of Scouting, welcoming the families of Troop 783 to celebrate Scout Sunday, February 11. The next Sunday we will give thanks for God’s grace in the lives of couples in our congregation who have been married for 50 years and more.
By then we will have entered another season of grace, with the beginning of Lent. This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 14. It’s not often that Ash Wednesday is also Valentine’s Day! But God’s timing isn’t necessarily our timing, either. I think those who want to celebrate loving, and being loved, will find a way to do so. It’s actually at the heart of the Christian story.
You can sign up for the prayer vigil which will take place that day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and look forward to the Ash Wednesday service that evening at 7:30. For those who’ve not been, the service includes readings, prayers, music, many candles, and the imposition of ashes for those who choose to come forward. It is an encouraging and hopeful way to begin the 40 days of Lent.
The seasons of grace in our lives are gifts of God. I am grateful to share them with you, to move through these coming days with a sense of anticipation, of wonder, of joy and hope. May God bless you, and bless others through you.
Grace and peace,