About 20 years ago St. John’s embarked on an ambitious building campaign. We began with a self-study which revealed the need for better and bigger space for very young children. Then we began to dream about how better and bigger spaces might help us grow in our mission as a parish. We struggled with the dream because it got really big. We thought about taking it in littler pieces and doing a phase at a time. Not without careful consideration, we decided to plunge ahead with all of it. The facility we now identify as St. John’s took shape in that dreaming phase.
The project included gutting and renovating the parish hall; building a new kitchen and serving area; gutting and reforming a three-story education building; construction of a 20,000 square foot office and education space to include a library, state of the art nursery space and youth space, a children’s chapel, choir rehearsal space, and an archives room; a labyrinth; expanded parking and green space; a new roof; a rebuilt and improved organ; landscaping the grounds which claimed an entire city block; and painting the entire structure. As we took it all on, we were not naïve but we really couldn’t see just how big the work would become.
Financial support was given generously and with excitement. The parish responded with enthusiasm, not just in one campaign but in three separate campaigns. It is not an exaggeration to say that we have been raising money for all these 20 years. We kept asking and we kept giving.
Now we have come to the end of that huge effort. The dream has cost over $15 million. And last week we received the final gifts which will allow us to retire our debt and pay off our mortgage. You’ve seen the debt numbers in the Eagle. They started in the millions and have steadily dwindled, went down to $15,000 last month, and now will be paid in full. Along with the sheer accomplishment itself goes the satisfaction of knowing it has been a true group effort. The project has never been the work of a few but of so very many. St. John’s is now debt free and we all can claim it as a success. And all the building payments were made without once using operating income, quite an unusual accomplishment.
This past Sunday we read from Colossians: “God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us….” When we realize the burdens we carry in life and the erasing of those burdens by the persistent loving action of God, there is a great freedom that we really cannot understand until the burden has disappeared. When the weight is lifted, we have a new perspective on life and wonder just how we made it all those years carrying the burdens. The burdens of past misdeeds, things left undone, various failures and shortcomings, gradually grind us down. They mount up slowly and we adapt to them, not realizing how much the weight is reducing us. The new light of grace pops in and we feel reborn. The weight of all we have carried has caused us to forget the wondrous possibilities of life. Once that is lifted we see more of what could be.
Most of us are used to taking on some debt and then whittling away at it until it is gone. We borrow money to buy cars and houses. We commit to the monthly payments and we accept the limits such debt brings to other things we might like to have. When those debts are finally paid off, we can reimagine how we might like to use our resources. There is a new freedom and generally the taking on of a new commitment. Often we are led to commit to something with more meaning to the world, something different than a material possession.
Comparing the relief of our financial debts to the forgiveness of Christ is pretty trite. But it does give us a little insight into the possibilities God envisions for us. St. John’s has worked hard to pay off a huge debt. We all are to be congratulated and the effort appreciated. It has taken all of us working together and it has taken the continual inspiration of the Spirit to keep us encouraged. Though the effort is human and ours, it has not been ours alone.
The erasing of the record that stands against us in life is more completely God’s effort. God’s love brings a new freshness to our daily living. Our participation in that is to realize the gift that has been given and to live the new life offered. If you’re living like nothing is possible, if you’re lugging around your own offenses or those of others, if you’re overly self-involved, you are not seeing yourself as God sees you. God has erased all that lies in the past. God will erase all that is awry today. Move along into the new vision that is Christ’s for the world. You are debt free. You are set free. What will that freedom allow you to do?
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.