It has been another lively year at First Pres. We engaged in crucial ministry, even as we continued to see convulsions in the wider culture and even in our local community. In many ways, it is a dark time in our nation. Political division has reached a fever pitch. Tales of violence and crime reach our news feeds every day. Sexual immorality runs rampant, especially in the continued normalization of LGBQT+ lifestyles. And the heinous practice of abortion remains in Michigan. Though I rejoiced to see the fall of Roe v. Wade this year, I was deeply disheartened to see our state so resoundingly support a culture of death through the passage of Proposal 3. The freedom to destroy life in the womb comes from hell and, therefore, is not freedom at all but the deepest of slavery. As I begin my report this year, I want to remind you that the work of the church is the liberation of the captives. The world, the flesh, and the devil offer slavery in many forms. The gospel of Jesus Christ shatters the chains.
The liberating work of the church begins in its ministry of teaching and study of the Word. This year, I finished up a series in Genesis, reflected on several passages from Mark’s Gospel, engaged in an in-depth study of John 15-16, and considered some of the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah. Wednesday evening Bible study continued, some folks coming to my study and some joining via Zoom. Our topic continued to be a verse-by-verse look at John’s Gospel. In Sunday school, we covered a range of topics in church history and practical theology. The ladies’ book group continued throughout the year, under the leadership of Becky Patten and Lisa Roberts. We also saw the launch of a successful short-term small group program. Five groups gathered together in the fall for 5-6 weeks and reviewed material from Bible teacher Chip Ingram on the task of prayer. Thank you to all our group leaders and to all those who attended.
Worship also held its fair share of excitement this year. Early on, we transitioned to a 10:30 start time for Lord’s Day service and bumped Sunday school to the slot before worship. Thanks to Dean’s able leadership, the music program thrived. We even added a music intern program that began in the fall with the addition of Ezra Blackwell to our fellowship. We witnessed the baptism of Jude Fawley, celebrated the Lord’s Supper on seven occasions, and received additional supply ministry from Deacon Aaron Lawrence and Pastor Jeff Kunkel. Lauren Scharstein, one of our missionaries supported through the Outreach Foundation, addressed us with an excellent Moment for Mission and Sunday school presentation. We also saw the Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday services move downstairs to the fellowship hall for a combined dinner-and-service format.
We were touched by grief this year. Members who passed away included Shelley Downey, Arlan Gilbert, Betty Diegel, Mary Bearman, and Onalee Foulke. Betty actually passed away in 2021, but her family invited me to officiate a service at the veteran’s cemetery in Holly. Thanks to Alan and Mitzi Dimmers for going with me and providing a wonderful German lunch afterward! Before Mary passed away, we were able to celebrate the wedding of Jay and Linda Bearman. This year also witnessed vow renewals for Bob & Lisa Roberts and Myrna and Warren Schneider
And what could I say of all the outreach and mission work that took place this year? Soup suppers kept running under the able leadership of Marsha Rollins and her team. We ran two sessions on Life Skills. This ministry continues to be a great encouragement to me. In 2023 and beyond, its name will become Strong Foundations, better reflecting its purpose and power. We helped out again with Loaves and Fishes, produced an amazing outreach video through the production skills of Quin Waters, and hosted an informational lunch on preventing financial scams with the help of the team at County National Bank. And what about the Jerusalem Marketplace? Brenda Barron and her committee (and basically everyone in the church) worked hard to make July 30th, 2022 a memorable day in the history of the congregation. There was indoor fishing, Middle Eastern-themed food, a replica of the ark of the covenant, face painting, and all sorts of goods for sale. Finally, I would be remiss to leave out the hard work that makes the Rummage Sale possible each year. As they have in the past, Barb Auseon and Connie Erholtz rallied a wonderful team to make this annual event happen.
Other things might be added in reflection on this year. The Buildings & Grounds team was hard at work, though much of the work didn’t have the visible and obvious impact that it sometimes does. But necessary maintenance is maybe more important than big remodels. You may have noticed a bucket truck, however, moving around the building when we had our stone treated in the summer to prevent moisture problems. Thanks to the generosity of the Bearman family, we are also beginning a redo of the front landscaping. This project will finish in Spring 2023. I should also make a note about finances for the year. Our congregation was very generous during a time of deep financial uncertainty. Our church investments took a hit, but our church members kept giving. In passing, I think it is worth noting that this year’s financial planning has demonstrated that investment income and testamentary gifts are becoming significant portions of our annual operating budget. In part, this reflects that though our overall membership declined this year, we have simultaneously sought to expand our ministry and focus outward to the surrounding community
To return to the theme of the introductory paragraph, I want to remind you that the ministry of the church is a ministry of liberation. The world brings people into bondage, but the message of the gospel provides the hope of freedom. I am sure that as our cultural decline continues, we will begin to see refugees from the madness coming into our churches. Will we be ready to receive the broken and the hurting who have been waylaid by the foolishness of a secularized, materialistic society? As 2023 moves along, I hope and pray that we will.
Pastor Scott Cress