Rector's Chronicle

Rector’s Report
Given at the 204th Annual Parish Meeting
Sunday, February 7, 2021 

Well, that was the year that was! In some ways, of course, 2020 will long be remembered as an awful year by all of us. COVID struck, nearly did for the Rector, and threw the parish, along with the country and the world in fact, into a most challenging time. For the first time in our Churches 203-year history no celebration of Easter took place in the Church and the Holy Eucharist was not celebrated here for six months. Indeed, our sanctuary was silent and empty for that whole summer. Even during civil and two world wars, nothing like that ever happened. Yet, as God is wont to do, in times of trials and difficulties, he raises up leaders and brings light out of the darkest of times. Crystal Hardin did a tremendous job as the only full-time priest standing, and with her, and all the staff, Chad Thorley provided outstanding leadership throughout the period I was sick and recovering. His calm sure-footed presence, unbelievable capacity for work and constant support of Crystal and the Staff was remarkable, not least as he somehow continued his day job in a key leadership role in the FBI. My thanks to him, Crystal, and all the staff for stepping up and holding the parish steady, not just in my absence, but in the face of the huge adaptions we had to make in the face of COVID. 

If the sanctuary was empty, however, we have seen the emergence of some excellent virtual services which have people reading and contributing from their own homes. I think that seeing people we know, but can’t see in person is a great thing. It reminds us of how much we miss each other. I am grateful to Tom Smith, Lain Wilson and Anne Stone who have given unstintingly of themselves to producing these offerings at the very high standard that we have come to expect of worship at Christ Church. Also, out of the crisis, we have seen the emergence of a Lay Pastoral Committee, now chaired by Andy Sigler and Mary McCarthy, that began as a response to the concerns about people in the parish, but that has remained as an invaluable new dimension to pastoral care in our congregation going forward. I would also like to thank Rob Volmer who played a really important role the interface between Christ Church and the media who, understandably, were very focused for a time on events at the corner of 31st and O. He also helped me enormously personally as I worked through my dubious 15 mins of fame as “Patient Zero”. Being briefly famous for being sick is not quite the kind of fame one would ever seek, but Rob was excellent at persuading me of the opportunity it represented to speak for the Church and the Faith to the wider community. Even if a number of the more secular minded media outlets did cut out all the references to God and the faith that I made, some did, I hope, allow a Christian perspective to come through in that difficult time.
As if COVID was not enough, and no doubt influenced by it to some extent, we then faced a summer of protest and civil unrest in the city and the country, including some looting even in Georgetown itself, as deep anger around race and racial tension flared up following the death of George Floyd. In addition, we also faced a viciously polarized political atmosphere in the run up to and through this last election. As a Church that, traditionally, leaves our own particular politics at the door, all this was a particular challenge to our community; parishioners, staff and clergy, as all of us struggled to find an authentic response in ourselves and as a Church. To remain nonpartisan as a community under these circumstances was hard, particularly so, for some, but I think we retained as much balance as we could in most unbalanced time, and, while we no doubt did too little for some and too much for others, I think our series of Conversations on Race and Culture has been, and with David Brooks coming this month, continues to be, a thoughtful Christ Church response and a valuable and high-level contribution to the national reflection on both the issue of race, and the wider issue of culture. Our Mission Committee, under the excellent leadership of Martha van Dale, has also continued to ensure that our mission and social justice work has gone on regardless, supporting Mission Partners like Bishop walkers School and the Washington School for Girls in underserved communities in South East Washington.  Alongside those, I am most grateful to all those who supported our one-month campaign to help those most affected by COVOD in those communities. $46,000 is a tremendous response in such a short period of time and, that this parish is able to do that, on top of the tithe of our pledged income we give each year to similar mission partners, is something to be profoundly proud and grateful for. Conversations are good but action that actually changes people’s situations is even better. We will continue to do both in our measured and apolitical way here at Christ Church.  

Christ Church is a very distinctive parish and I am proud of the way this congregation has navigated these stormy waters where all our vocations and outlooks have been called into question to some extent. Those waters are not calm yet in our society, by any means, but I sense we, as a Church, are emerging stronger in some very important ways, and also with a clearer sense of who we are, and what we long for, for our world, even if we, like everyone else, can’t quite yet see how to achieve it in the bigger sense.  
Financially too, as you have heard, despite everything, we have come through this last year remarkably well. A small surplus is great achievement under the circumstances, but what really is a mile stone for us as a congregation, is that we are debt free for the first time since before I arrived here as your Rector. In all we have repaid over $800,000 in debt to the Bank and to our own endowment over these last four years. That was a substantial burden to carry, and deal with as well as doing all the things that we do, but thanks to your great generosity we have done it and, finally, we have got ourselves to a debt free starting point for the first time in some years and we are in a strong position to move forward in the years ahead. Part of the first fruits of this is our ability to begin addressing the large amount of deferred maintenance that has accumulated as we have had to use capital project money to repay that debt. 

I am also delighted that, despite always knowing that 2021 would be the pinch year COVID wise, that, thanks to Harry Volz, Catherine Onnen and the Stewardship team, we have been able to set a positive budget that will allow us to recruit staff back up to the level we are used to in preparation for the time when we can return to full activity as a parish post COVID. Again, this really comes down to those of you who give so generously and sacrificially according to their means. As you heard, we will have to lift our game again next year, but considering what this last year has been, I think it is testament to this parish that we are in as strong position as we are.

As we have moved through a turbulent year, we have also seen some staff changes. Crystal Hardin sadly for us, moved on to take up a post in her sending Parish, St George’s, Arlington. John McDuffie’s time as Temporary Assistant, came to an end, though I am happy to say he is preaching here next Sunday. I am delighted that Melissa Hollerith has taken over John’s role and is leading two Bible Studies and a Youth Confirmation Course as well as being a growing pastoral presence in the parish. She really is a tremendous asset. We are also most fortunate to have Tish Mills join the staff as Parish Coordinator. Tish’s wide experience at the Cathedral and on the Hill is making a huge difference to the Office and to me. Our new Associate Rector, Andrew Kryzak, also started in August and, by his preaching and dynamic personality has already done so much to lift the Parish in this time of adjustment and change. Many of you will still not have had a chance to meet Andrew properly, but when you do I think you will be as glad as I am that he is here.
As we move forward and regather further, I am so grateful to all those from all our Guilds, and Committees who have stood firm through this time. Particularly to those who have been part of the small teams that have done double or triple duty to support the in-person worship while many are yet unable to come back. I think it is fair to say that Christ Church has led the way in the Diocese in regathering in a measured and safe way. Worship, it hardly needs to be said, is the heart of what the Church is about and our work in this area, both virtually and in person, bears witness to our absolute commitment to that. 

Last year I said that 2020 would be the year we would plan. Well, as the Jewish Rabbi said, “Make God laugh. Tell him your plans!” We certainly did not plan for what has happened! Yet, despite being set back a few steps as we poured ourselves into our response to this year’s events, we have been planning. The Strategic Planning Committee has been looking at our buildings and particularly our great and most underused asset, the Parish Hall and we will see the fruits of their work and that of some feasibility study groups later in the year. 

As we step forward in this still very uncertain time, it is clear to me, that we emerge from this, in some ways, brutal year, stronger than we were before. Like everyone, we bear some scars, but I think we know more deeply who we are. Whatever uncertainties that may exist in the wider Church and in our society at this time, Christ Church, we know, is a traditional, affectionate, non-political, community of faith that is committed to service of the poor, exemplifies the best in the Episcopal tradition in worship, education, preaching and theology, and, alongside all of these things, seeks to provide connection with God, each other and the wider community for people at every stage of life. We do not say that ours is the only way, just that this is our way, and the way we believe Christ is calling us to follow.

In 2021, we will, God willing, regather, reestablish where needed and discern what God’s will for us is now, given all that we have been through and all that we have learned. 

I will finish there except to say some thank-yous. First, I must thank Rusty Lindner for all his work, sage council and outstanding support as Junior Warden. He has helped Chad and I negotiate the very troubled waters of our current day. He has taught me a great deal about the nuances, pit falls, mirages and complexities of this unique city and context. I do not understate the fact when I say that his appointment has been pivotal in enabling us to hold Christ Church steady through the events of this last year. Thank you Rusty. Christ Church and I owe you a great debt. 

I must also underline my thanks to our Senior Warden Chad Thorley who has spent himself so unstintingly in this last year. I doubt if any of you realize just how many hours and how much care he has applied on your behalf. We would not be where we are without him.  My thanks also to the Vestry, especially those retiring this year, in particular Morgan Hodgson, whose long experience in the Church’s finances and professional expertise was, behind the scenes, simply essential in the same cause. 

The staff have also been outstanding and all worked extremely hard. Paul Barket has played a huge part in reorganizing our financial affairs, achieving a clean audit and putting us in the excellent place administratively we find ourselves in today. I would also like to thank Katherine Brown who has made a really significant difference in Youth and Families Ministry. Despite COVID and despite us being a priest down, Katherine, by her diligence and organization, has made us able to see the slight growth of the Sunday School in this year. Considering all that has happened that is a truly remarkable achievement. Despite the drastic reduction of our ability to make music thanks to COVID, Tom Smith and our Choir have produced some very lovely on-line services and supported the in-person services as much as is allowed under the restrictions. 

There are too many people to thank in fact, but I do thank all the leaders of all the many groups, organizations, committees and Guilds who have given so generously of your time, affection and thought to all the areas of the life of this wonderful congregation, especially perhaps to Jane Matz and Anne Berry who stood down at the end of the year as chairs of the Flower Committee having done a magnificent job.

Finally, my thanks to all of you. It is a constant joy to me to wake up each day and realize that God has blessed me in the work we have all to do here and with the knowledge that I am your Rector.

The Reverend Timothy A. R. Cole, Rector