Friday, December 28, 2018

A Letter about Zion

[This is one of the most difficult letters a parish pastor could find himself writing, and a member of a congregation receiving and reading. spt+]

                                        December 21, 2018
                                        St. Thomas, Apostle

Dear members of Zion, family, and friends of the congregation,

    Peace and all good.

    “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.…” (Psalm 126)

    Several years ago I realized that Psalm 126 had become my favorite psalm. This is partly because I have served this congregation called “Zion” ever since my ordination. The psalm begins and ends with rapturous joy. But in the middle you realize this joy is sung in the midst of despair. For some 2500 years, not a week has gone by without some of the children of Israel or the followers of Christ praying this psalm. And most of those years were not good ones for the city of Zion (Jerusalem).

    During this last year at Zion we have struggled to arrange our governing documents so that the congregation, with fewer people willing and able to take leadership and make decisions, could continue to legally manage its own affairs. Pending approval of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod Council at its next meeting in January, we have accomplished that.

    Anticipating that approval, the Congregation Meeting last November 11 elected four people — Linda Husby, Marian Meinert, Mike Schwindenhammer, and Becky Zentko — to the Congregation Council and approved a budget for the year 2019 — thus giving the Council authority to spend available funds.

    The meeting was then opened up for general discussion of Zion’s future ministry, following-up on discussions from earlier meetings. The conversation was frank and heartfelt, and included discussion of finances, building needs, and the continued ability of the congregation to support a pastor. At its conclusion, the congregation’s voting members voted to set Sunday, January 27, 2019, as the date for Zion’s last regular worship service. The Council has determined that service will begin at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so that pastors and members of our sister congregations can also participate.

    This decision is but the first step in concluding Zion’s ministry, a mission first planted in 1882 by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church as a parochial and Sunday school at the corner of Easton and Hayes, which organized as the Zion congregation in 1894.

    To accomplish the next significant step, Zion’s Council has called for a Special Congregation Meeting on Sunday, January 20, 2019, immediately following the 10 am service. The purpose of this meeting is to consider a resolution to dissolve the congregation and to appoint trustees to oversee that process. All voting members are urged to attend this meeting. Voting members are defined in Zion’s Constitution as confirmed members who, “during the current or preceding calendar year, shall have communed in this congregation and shall have made a contribution of record to this congregation” — that would be the years 2018 and 2019.

    It would be after this meeting that the trustees — whom the Council recommends be the elected members of the 2019 Council named above — would provide for the sale and disposition of Zion’s assets. Because Zion is a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization, there are strict Internal Revenue Service rules and federal and state laws regarding the disposition of the church’s assets. They may be sold or given to similar tax-exempt organizations (such as other churches, church agencies, or charitable organizations) or government agencies for a public purpose.

    But anything owned by the congregation is “permanently dedicated to an exempt purpose,” so property cannot be given to members of the congregation or others. Certain records and other historical materials will eventually be placed in the ELCA Regional Archives at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. The trustees will seek to honor the purposes for which things have been given to Zion, and your suggestions for suitable recipients or assistance in sales will be appreciated. Under our Constitution, at the final dissolution of the congregation — and that will take some time — any undisposed property passes to the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, ELCA.

    Members of the congregation will want to consider where to transfer membership. We will be providing information about nearby Lutheran congregations to assist you. We will also be arranging for continued pastoral care of those who are homebound or may be unable to arrange the transfer of membership. Details of these will be forthcoming.

    You are probably aware that I have been open to receive a new congregational call. But the process takes time and it is unlikely that I will have received and accepted a new call by Zion’s final services. Nevertheless I have tendered my resignation as Zion’s Parish Pastor effective January 31, 2019. I appreciate your prayers for the discernment of a new call and, if it is necessary, for an appropriate interim pastorate until then.

    “Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
    will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”
                                                                    (Psalm 126:7)

    Faithful followers of Christ are not exempted from disappointment or sadness, worries or fears. We find these even in the tender Christmass story. But they are never the end, or even the focus, of the story. Over the next few weeks we will continue to celebrate at Zion the Holy Communion and hear the Gospel each Sunday at 10 am, as well as on Christmass Eve (for the 125th time!) at 7 pm. While, sadly for us, Zion congregation will soon no longer proclaim the Good News, the joyous message of redemption in Christ will still be proclaimed by those whose Christian Faith has been instilled here. Thanks be to God!

                                        Your servant in Christ,

                                        The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
                                        Pastor and President

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

17 Years Today

It was 17 years ago today that Sebastian joined Pastor Zip's household. So I drove him to the Peoria Riverfront to see, behind the Museum, Seward Johnson II's 31-foot-tall painted bronze Abraham Lincoln.

The sculpture, placed here about a year ago as part of the Illinois bicentennial, is called "Return Visit," because not far from this location in 1854 Mr. Lincoln gave an important anti-slavery speech. With Lincoln is a "contemporary man" holding a copy of the Gettysburg Address.

Sebastian, my 2002 VW Golf GLS TDI, is nearing 196,000 miles. I still enjoy driving him, and I think he's looking quite good after 17 years in Central Illinois.