Annual Report delivered on January 28, 2023
Dear Members and Friends,
We learn from both positive and negative examples. This happens in life and it certainly happens in scripture as well. The last two weeks of January, my sermons have centered on our 1st lessons and they both focused on Old Testaments prophets. Samuel provided a positive example. Jonah provided the negative example. God spoke to both of these prophets. What was the difference? One listened and followed the word of the Lord, while the other refused and ran the other way. What was the result? Samuel grew up to faithfully speak God’s word and all the people of Israel regarded him as a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. Jonah ended up in a storm at sea on a ship ready to sink. He was thrown overboard and swallowed up by a great fish. He eventually ended up in a pool of fish vomit on the beach. I wonder which prophet did the right thing?
In this tale of two prophets it all came down to one factor, who listened to the word of the Lord. That is what made the difference in their lives. That is what determined the outcome. That is what determined how they were perceived. That is what determined their meaning and purpose. That is what determined their faithfulness and their spirituality. One listened, and one did not.
From year to year, I never really know exactly how things will turn out here at Bethlehem. Some years are fairly uneventful. We worship, fellowship together, teach our children, and support our ministries. Some years we have significant celebrations. In 2023, our worship experiences came alive with the wonderful presence of our restored organ. What a blessing it is to have Maria playing beautiful inspiring music. In 2023, we finally sold our apartment building. The burden of managing an old apartment building is no longer ours to bear, and we helped solidify our financial future. In 2023, our ministry leadership team came together as we have Michelle Miano as our school principal, Todd Fliedner as the Executive Director of the Bay Ridge Center, and Noeline Maldonado taking on the Executive Director position at The Healing Center. Wonderful, wonderful people in these important roles.
Yes, we had some positive events to celebrate this past year, but we still had our challenges. Quite honestly, the last few years have been difficult in our school. There was some negativity between the administration and faculty and our enrollment dropped significantly. Changes needed to be made to get us back on track. The pandemic negatively affected our worship attendance as our average Sunday attendance went from over 100 to 55. We are only now starting to rebound at an average of 67 in 2023. Our fellowship events are beginning to return to normal levels.
What is my point in all of this? I believe it goes back to my tale of two prophets and the one factor that determined the outcome. What do we, the people of Bethlehem, have to do? We need to listen to the word of the Lord. When we focus on God’s word and follow God’s direction, like Samuel, we will be perceived as trustworthy servants of the Lord. When we listen to the wrong voices and we deviate from God’s direction and guidance, we will falter.
On April 30, 2023, we had a congregational meeting and we decided how to handle the proceeds of the sale of our apartment building. What did we do? We supported our school, our senior center and our Healing Center with gifts totaling $500k. We paid off the organ loan, secured our operating fund, and invested for our future. What did we do? We listened to the word of the Lord. Our 2023/2024 school year began with a new principal. The atmosphere at LES has completely changed for the better and we have nine more students now than we did when we started the year. What did we do? We listened to the word of the Lord. At our Healing Center, we cherish our founder, Antonia Clemente, but we hired the right person to fill her position. What did we do? We listened to the word of the Lord. The Bay Ridge Center was about to close 10 years ago. Now we are opening a brand new state of the art senior center. What did we do? We listened to the word of the Lord.
I honestly don’t know what 2024 will bring. But, I do know what we need to do. And, by now, I am sure you know my answer. Yes, we need to listen to the word of the Lord. If we don’t, we might just run into a storm, get thrown overboard, get swallowed by a great fish, and end up in fish vomit on the beach. Yes, in scripture and in life, we have positive examples and negative examples. As individuals and as a church, like the prophet Samuel, we need to turn to God and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Listening and following the Lord’s direction makes all the difference in the world. This is what Bethlehem Lutheran Church must do. The results depend on it.
In the Lord's service,
2023 Pastoral Acts:
- Hospital, Nursing Home & Home Visits: 71