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September 28, 2008

Ginny Fluit

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

A Call From God

All three of the lessons this morning talk about God’s children and how to live as His servants.

In the Old Testament lesson, we see the Israelites grumbling, quarreling and testing God (as we often do). And God responds dramatically by producing water from a rock to assuage their thirst, thus reassuring His faithless servants that God is indeed always with us no matter how bad things may seem.

In the Epistle, Paul tells us to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. Rather, he commends us to look not to our own interests, but to the interest of others. He recommends that we aspire to be servants like Christ who emptied himself, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death. This is much too tall an order for most of us, but there is hope because God is at work in each of us, enabling us to do His will.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the two sons, one, who when called by his father to go and work in the vineyard, said no, but later changed his mind and went. The second son answered the call “I will go”, but he did not. Many of us are often like the first son who says no and then changes his mind. But according to the Gospel, what matters to God is not what you say, but what you do. Even if we are stubborn and resistant, ultimately those who listen and hear the call of God will dwell in the kingdom of God.

These are tough requirements: stop grumbling and have faith, put other people’s needs before your own, and listen and answer the call from God in your life. I don’t know about you, but I find these very difficult to do.

I’d like to tell you a story about my journey in God’s service. I’ve been an Episcopalian since birth and my family was always very active in the choir, the vestry and church activities, so I was raised with the notion of service. However, like most young people, I left the church for about 10 years while I was out sewing my independent oats. When I returned to the church, I quickly picked up the old family model by joining the choir, becoming a Eucharistic minister and serving on various committees. Over the years, I heard many times the lessons about God’s calling us to follow him and I yearned to “hear” his call for my life. Silence…

I didn’t hear any voices, urges, calls, etc. so I kept on doing and joining more activities. I looked for opportunities to serve in my job and my local community. Still I felt the need to hear His call for a special ministry for me. Silence......

Finally, when we retired and moved to NH and came to St. John’s, I thought, ”now is the time”. I can start with a fresh slate and surely I’ll hear His call.

You guessed it ......Silence......

By now, I’m beginning to grumble like the Israelites.

But I was sure I could be of value since I now had more time on my hands. I decided that, since God wasn’t calling, I would answer whoever called. Whoever had a need that I could meet, I would say “Here I am”. Maybe God would be directing the calls.

I found the church office trying to make a transition to computers and I said “Here I am”, with my IBM computer and organization skills. I found the choir in need of an alto, and I said “Here I am” with my years of choir service. I found the Women’s Guild in need of a president and I said “Here I am”, with my project management experience. I found the church in need of a long range plan and I said “Here I am”, with my IBM strategic planning experience.

Now, the crucial thing to note here is not the number or types of projects I answered the call for. Instead, notice that, in all cases, they were jobs that I had skills and qualifications for; they were things that I was comfortable with and knew well how to do. I’ve since wondered if it was my call not God’s that I was answering.

Fortunately, God snuck His call in when I was least expecting it. In 1999, we had just opened St. John’s Community Day School. Ernie Tremblay and Annette Patch had done yeoman’s work getting it up and running. Then Father Bill got sick and Ernie and Annette lost their support. Annette was at the end of her rope, trying to keep the school running, dealing with the state, and figuring out how to do all these financial reports that required by some Budget Chairman (who shall remain nameless). I started showing her how to use Excel to create the financial reports.

One day, one of the Board Members said I shouldn’t be working with the financial records if I wasn’t on the Board, so I said “OK, put me on the Board”. They did and at the first meeting, asked me to be Treasurer. Whoa!!! Not treasurer. I hate numbers. I hate financial reports. Any job but that. I’m not comfortable in that job! But finally, I changed my mind and said “Here I am” because their need was clearly greater than my own discomfort.

Soon after that, Dave McKechnie asked me to be President and, once again, I replied “Here I am”. However, there was no one to be Treasurer, so I kept that job too. When it became apparent that we could get money from grants, I took on the job of writing grants because no one else knew how do it. I had no idea how to do it either, but I figured I could learn.

I was under stress continuously, because the School always seemed to teeter on the edge of financial ruin, especially in the early days. We even tried to build up a contingency fund for hard times, but we kept having to use it up. I think God wanted us to rely on Him.

One day, one of the Board Members suggested having a Silent Auction to increase our fundraising and I jumped on the idea – I even signed up as co-chairman. As may have noticed, I am a bit predisposed to taking things on and, as you can imagine, I was soon quite overloaded. I badly needed to find some balance between the needs of others and my own needs.

Slowly and painfully, I began to build the board up from seven members to ten, resulting in a strong group of dedicated individuals. I recruited Sarah Hayes for Vice President; she took over some of my responsibilities and enabled me to get away on occasion. Fortunately, God sent us a wonderful candidate for Treasurer, Joe Wesley, and he has done a great job of the financial reports. Plus, we are really lucky to have found a super new Silent Auction Chairman in Penny Ellis. The result is a much stronger Board, a more resilient organization and every one is using their skills!! Plus, it made my job much easier!!

Looking back, I see that God had indeed called me to a very special ministry, not with a resounding voice, but by the needs of others. He had indeed been calling all along as I learned skills and abilities that would help in that ministry. During that ministry, however, I learned that what the organization really needed was not my talents, but my willingness to use and develop other people’s talents. I learned that the things I didn’t know how to do were probably more valuable to me than the things I did well.

Most importantly, I learned that God is always with us and that every time I was sure we were going down the drain, new students always arrived to fill the gap. No matter how dire the situation, things always worked out for the best in God’s time. Regardless of the struggle through these lessons, I learned that God was always at work forming a new and wonderful creation.

In addition to teaching me many lessons, this ministry has been extremely rewarding and fulfilling. It warms my heart to see and experience the incredibly loving environment that Annette and her teachers create for the children. I have seen parents leave their children gratefully in the care of these wonderful women. I have seen parents cry from gratitude when awarded financial aid in a crisis. I have seen children in need of assistance helped through Annette’s dedication to early intervention. Most importantly, I have seen lots of children become so excited about learning about Jesus and his love. Many of these children would never have known of the love of God without St. John’s Community Day School. It’s an honor to have participated in and led such a wonderful ministry.

However, October is my last meeting as President of the Board, since we are going to Virginia in November for the winter. With great sadness, I leave the Day School in the very competent hands of Annette, Sue and the Board. I will be available as an adviser, grant writer and volunteer, but, regretfully, I cannot continue as President.

I have called some of you to fill this need, but have been unable to find a willing replacement. Like God, I’d even welcome an unwilling replacement! The Board, the Sr. Warden, Sue and myself all feel strongly that the President of the Board needs to be a member of this church, for various reasons that benefit the Day School as well as the church.

God is calling someone at St. John’s to this ministry. The need is great, but the rewards are even greater. I know that He is with us and will bring forth a leader. Won’t you consider answering His call? Will you be the worker who changes his mind and goes to work in the vineyard? Will you be the one who says “Here I am”?

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