Happy Advent & Merry Christmas Good Shepherd,
At the end of 2019, I bought a new dry erase calendar for my office that showed me the entire 2020 year in one view. I spent several hours planning out 2020 and filling in significant events planned to take place during the year. But as we all know, very little happened as planned. It has been a year that none of us could have imagined. I am glad I got the dry erase version of that calendar because I did a lot of erasing this year.
So much has changed in such a little time. And I wanted to pause for a moment at the end of the year to reflect upon some of those changes and update you on where our ministry is and where we look to go from here.
On March 22, 2020, we hosted our first fully virtual worship service. I am so grateful for the way everyone came together to make it happen. We had so many different people contribute videos of readings, songs, children’s messages, and prayers for our virtual services from March until July. Who could forget our virtual choir singing Jesus Christ is Risen Today on Easter Sunday?
We returned to in-person worship on July 5, but it was different than pre-Covid in-person worship. We were socially distanced, wearing our masks, and having to make reservations. Probably the biggest change was that we had more people joining us online than in-person. Our in-person worship attendance has dramatically declined from the beginning of the year. This has been the case with almost every church in the United States.
As the weeks have progressed, the quality of our live-stream has improved. I am grateful to everyone who contributed to upgrading our video and sound equipment. Our services have several hundred views each week between Facebook and YouTube. And we have people who join us from many different parts of the country. I am sure that live-streaming will continue to be an important part of our ministry even after this pandemic has passed.
Christmas Eve worship will be different – just like everything else. Our worship will be online only. It will go live at 5 pm on Christmas Eve on Facebook and YouTube. We want to invite you to gather with your immediate, extended, and church families to worship our Newborn King through this virtual experience.
Good Shepherd Children’s Center
Good Shepherd Children’s Center had a banner year in 2019 and was on track for an even better year in 2020. We had record enrollments, but Covid came as a shock to the system. The school was closed in March and did not re-open until Summer Camp in July.
We continued to pay our staff through the spring using government stimulus funds and reserve funds from savings. No tuition was received during that time, and we refunded tuition that had been prepaid.
Our Pre-k enrollment was down when the new school year began in September. But we were blessed with an influx of Kindergarten students and opened an additional Kindergarten class. In addition, we applied for a license change to accommodate children ages 6-13, so we could open our Remote Learning Center. This has allowed working parents to continue to work while the children are attending school here remotely. We have had up to 15 children in our class, and we have another classroom ready to go for any other children that need to come here. Our school is truly meeting the needs of our community during this challenging time.
We currently have 65 students enrolled in Pre-k, 37 students in Kindergarten, and 22 in Remote Learning. That is 123 students in total. We are grateful for Marianne and her staff for their dedication, creativity, and perseverance to make Good Shepherd Children’s Center such a success in difficult times.
Education & Discipleship
At the beginning of the pandemic, I committed to gathering every Wednesday at 7 pm to pray for the needs of our church, our community, our nation, and our world. The first gatherings were hosted exclusively on Zoom. But in recent months, we began hosting those gatherings on both Facebook and YouTube as well. We have been experimenting with the format of this Wednesday evening gathering. We are currently hosting Midweek Advent Services and are exploring the Book of Revelation. I hope you can join us.
Children’s Sunday School, Confirmation, and Adult Bible Studies basically came to a halt in the Spring with the pandemic’s onset. We were able to restart Sunday School in Fall using a hybrid approach. We have some students who attend via Zoom and some students who attend in-person. Thank you to Audrey MacDonald and all our volunteers who have stepped forward to make this happen.
Confirmation and First Communion services were postponed in the Spring. We rescheduled these events, confirmed three students, and offered first communion to four students on September 20th.
Men’s Bible Study restarted over the summer as an online-only option. We were pleasantly surprised to welcome Pastor Johnson, who joined us on Zoom from North Carolina for many of these studies. Women’s Bible Study began in the Fall. Both Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies took a hybrid approach in the Fall, with some people joining us online and some joining us in-person. These studies are on hiatus during December but will begin again at the beginning of January.
Welcome Vicar Jeff
We were excited to welcome Jeff Campbell as our new Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) Vicar. What that means is that Jeff will be serving as a pastoral intern. Jeff has been a long time member and Deacon and has chosen to pursue becoming a pastor. We installed Jeff on September 13, and he began his remote learning coursework through Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Jeff’s vicarage will last two years. He will be eligible for ordination at the end of Summer 2022 and will then serve as a pastor while completing two more years of coursework.
Unfortunately, we were unable to host our 2020 Mealpacking Event. We had prepared more than 110,000 meals in 2019 for Children in Haiti. We have packaged just short of 300,000 meals during the three years we have hosted this event. That is an incredible accomplishment for a small church like ours.
We had more than $10,000 raised toward this year’s event. But it is feared that more people in the world will die from hunger than will die Covid because of the economic downturn. In light of that, we decided to release all of these funds we had raised to Numana to fight hunger now. Looking ahead, we don’t have a date for our next event. We pray for a quick end to this pandemic so that we can soon plan it.
The Comfort Dog Ministry continues to serve our community. We are grateful for Linda and the others who continue to offer comfort, compassion, and care to those who are afflicted with sorrow, anxiety, and fear.
Our Angel Tree gift-giving effort was done virtually this year. We had more than 80 recipients who were blessed through this effort.
You may have noticed some big changes to our fellowship fall, hallways, and conference room. New drywall, ceilings, flooring, and more! Virtually all of this was accomplished by you not only in specific donations for the projects – but by your endless volunteer hours. We have been blessed to have such talented volunteers. We also had volunteers from AA help with work in the fellowship hall. AA also blessed us with a donation of new padded folding chairs.
We continue to support our members going through difficult times using our Brother Keeper Fund. Despite the economic downturn, we have had relatively few requests for assistance. If you need a helping hand or know of a fellow member in need, do not hesitate to reach out. The funds are there, and we are here to help.
Our week-to-week general fund has maintained its status quo from the last few years. Our income has struggled to match our expenses. We have cut some corners and tightened our belts to cover the costs and pay our bills. Thank you for your continued financial support even though your own financial struggles. The ministry of Good Shepherd relies on ALL the church members being generous to supply for the work of God’s mission.
We overhauled our online giving system in the Spring and switched to Church Center to manage our giving (and reservations). You can log in with your email or phone number to manage your giving and see your giving history. We will NOT be mailing out giving statements this year. You will be able to download your year-end statement for tax purposes from Church Center.
Our Year End Offering this year will go towards updating the sanctuary. There are three parts to this work.
First is the carpet. I don’t know the last time the carpeting was replaced, and I have not found anyone who can remember. The carpeting has seen better days, and it is time to replace it.
The second is the pews. The pews in the sanctuary have served their purpose. But several of the pews are cracked and require replacement. We desire to replace the pews with “church chairs.” These chairs function much like pews but are also more versatile and can easily be moved and reconfigured. A bonus is that they are much more comfortable than pews.
The third aspect of the upgrade is the reconfiguring of our AV set up. The current set up has all our equipment to the side of the sanctuary. The sound operators are often listening to our musicians from behind rather than in front. What they hear is not always the same as what the congregation hears. That makes it hard to balance the sound well. Ideally, we would move the AV equipment to the back of the sanctuary.
As part of the Year-End Offering, we would like to encourage you, at the minimum, to prayerfully consider a donation that would equal the value of a church chair for each member of your family. And recognizing God’s calling to make room for others, would you consider providing chairs for another family not with us yet?
To use my family as an example, there are five of us. What that means is that we would donate funds for five chairs (5 x $45 = $225). But we want to make room at Good Shepherd for another family like ours. That means we would donate another five chairs. That would be 10 chairs in total (10 x $45 = $450).
But the Year-End Offering is not just for the chairs alone. We have the carpet and the relocation of the AV equipment as well. So we appeal to your generosity to help us make these upgrades to create an updated and inviting space to worship our God and welcome new people into our Good Shepherd family.
To participate in the Year End Offering you can visit https://gsnj.churchcenter.com/giving/to/2020-year-end-offering.
A New Vision for 2020
Our vision team worked hard through 2019 and into the early part of 2020 to develop a new vision and plan for Good Shepherd’s Ministry. We had planned to introduce this new vision in the Fall. But Covid left us scrambling and delayed this work.
We plan to share this new vision with you at the beginning of 2021 and begin working to implement this new vision over the year. I so much looking forward to sharing this with you.
So my 2021 calendar is now hanging on my wall. I made sure to buy another dry erase calendar. I don’t know what this next year will bring, but I pray I will not need to do as much erasing as I did in the past year. I am blessed to serve as your pastor, and I look forward to seeing where God will lead us.
There is no doubt that there are many great challenges before us. Life and “church” will never be like it was pre-Covid. But when you look at the Scriptures and history, you will see that the greatest challenges provide the greatest opportunities. Nothing comes as a surprise to God. When we are open to see new possibilities, the Spirit will move in amazing ways.