2020 Annual Elder Report
It may be that this is the first time that you have participated in one of our annual business meetings. Every year, the elders try to report on the state of the church. We look back to 2019 for the goals that we set for 2020, record how we are doing -as well as giving you an idea of the next steps for coming year for our church body. Who would have known at our last annual meeting, that we would be having the type of year that 2020 has turned out to be?
But what is amazing (yet not surprising), God was completely aware of what would happen and provided us with a word to help us endure. He gave us Psalm 57 as our Psalm of the year. Allow me to read that to you once again. Psalm 57:1-11 (ESV) 1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. 2 I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. 3 He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! 4 My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! 6 They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah 7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! 8 Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! 9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. 10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!
We anticipated challenges for 2020, but never on the scale of what we have endured. But each of those trials were opportunities for God to prove his faithfulness to us. After the year we have had, I think we can testify along with our brother David, that our God’s steadfast love is great to the heavens, his faithfulness to the clouds. (WE sing together) 11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!’
Of course, the biggest challenge has been the pandemic. Compared to other churches, Providence was ahead of the game by already having the ability to livestream before we suspended our public services. It was developed four years ago when Kevin Hammond presented the idea to the elders as a ministry for our shut-ins. We never knew how valuable his idea would become to every member of the church. And to that end, we must thank Kevin and Andrew Smith and all the members of the audio/visual team in keeping us connected throughout the pandemic.
But while others were paralyzed by fear during these troubled times, members of Providence stepped up to serve. Robert Smith formed a quarantine team that could assist those who were in isolation. He and other members prayer walked in the community to drop of flyers announcing our service to our neighbors. And while few took advantage of the opportunity, we heard positive feedback from our community thanking us for being proactive in the pandemic.
And then when we resumed public services again, we had members step up to make it happen. Laura Hogue, Pam Giles, Kelly Milby and Kim Vaugh helped come up with procedures to help sanitize the church. Marty and Michelle Pavelik offered the services of their cleaning busines to sanitize the sanctuary at no cost to us. Robert Smith recruited members of an ushering team that helped the membership learn how to enter, be seated and exit the church in a manner that helped make visitors and members feel safe. To this end I must thank the college and career ministry (along with, Daniel and Elizabeth Smith) for stepping up to help. And then, we worked to return to having Sunday School. One tricky area was how to handle our children. Ric and Giselle crooks, along with Pamela Rigsby put in a plan to get our children’s ministries back on track and it has been successful. And we have had some creative ways to gather- such as our first ever outdoor services to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is amazing to look across the lawn of the church and see the body of Christ desiring to partake of the body and blood of Jesus. And I want to thank our entire membership for accommodating these measures to keep us safe. They have been uncomfortable, but we have been able to find a happy medium that accomplishes our goal at public worship while maintaining our unity in the gospel.
And because of these safe practices, you have returned and others have come to visit. So many have desired to be back with us that we have had to offer two morning worship services to accommodate everyone. And this with more than 30% of our membership still preferring to view from home. If you haven’t done so, you should thank our musicians, song leaders, ushers and sound team for being willing to bless us with an extra hour of their volunteer service. There has been no way we could have done it without them.
And through it all, we have experienced unprecedented growth during the last seven months. For example, I had twenty adults participate in our most recent prospective member’s class. And the response to Adult Sunday School has been unprecedented. Whereas, we normally offered 3-4 adult classes each quarter, we found ourselves needing to add more classes. Currently we have six adult classes meeting. I have to thank the teachers that stepped up to teach out of turn (especially Roger Fries) and our Sunday School director Mike Watson for his leadership during this time. Yes, it has been a challenge, but God has certainly provided for our needs and blessed us abundantly.
It has allowed me to continue to our study of the Gospel of Matthew. You can never go wrong in your worship when Jesus is always the topic of every sermon. By my count, we have had 47 sermons from Matthew so far. But we have had other educational opportunities as well. One of those was our first ever Theology Conference on gender. I would like to thank Doug Walker and a former member, Alex Carr, for serving us with their academic gifts. I am already aware that some of those messages have been circulating around our community via our website.
In 2020, through both Sunday School and from the pulpit, the elders were fully able to introduce our 5 Points of Emphasis to the church in how we expect to move forward. If you will remember, THESE ARE five areas we wish to focus our energies for our spiritual growth. Those are understanding our unity in the gospel, becoming dependent upon the Holy Spirit, obeying Christ’s commands to become more like Him, loving the world through the love of the Father and persevering until he returns. All five of those emphasis are certainly manifesting in our church body. When other churches are dividing, ours is keeping the gospel the main thing. It has certainly been the leading of the Spirit that has guided us these past nine months. you are hungering for the word desiring to be obedient to Christ, you are learning to love our neighbors, and we definitely have seen the need to persevere more than ever.
But COVID has not ceased our ministry to one another, to our community and to the world. Last year, we told you that it was our desire to see a ministry formed to the women of the church. That plan has been successfully implemented in 2020. Sue Carter, Janet Cox, and Vicki Hutchinson helped organize a series of meetings with the ladies of the congregation- the result of which is a plan that oversees women’s bible study, a prayer ministry, opportunities for retreats and fellowships, planning showers for births and weddings, and developing mentoring among women in the church. As they soon as they are able to meet, more opportunities will be made available.
Robert Smith has organized a robust prayer walking ministry in our surrounding neighborhoods. It has not only promoted our quarantine ministry, but it has also introduced our church to people that wondered who we were. I cannot emphasize how important it is for you to participate in this- walking the neighborhood is healthy, safe and a calming presence to our neighbors. And through it, evangelistic opportunities have popped up. Robert has also provided Excellent leadership in our college and career class. I would refer you to his report for more details.
Our student ministries have also been active. When the pandemic broke, the students met virtually through zoom. Brian and the youth leadership team has been highly creative in finding ways to minister to the teens. As the year progressed, they were still able to conduct their summer beach retreat in Panama City and just recently returned from their fall retreat at vision camp in south Huntsville. While there, they learned not to hide behind self-created masks, but let the light of Christ shine through them. And once again, I would refer you to Brian’s written report in your information packet.
The elders have used the time of the pandemic to focus on several house-keeping issues. In addition to their normal time to pray for you, they have developed several important policies for the church. They have worked out a benevolence policy that provides clear and consistent guidelines for how to help others in need. They have created a cemetery policy for the use of the church’s graveyard. And they have developed a policy for public testimonies to enhance our corporate worship services. Due to the limited time for our services (it is our desire to keep both services as much the same as we possibly can) we have not yet been able to implement those public testimonies in the way we desire, but we saw an example of it when Jim Milby shared at our last Lord Supper’s service.
And in addition to this, we have been blessed to add a new elder. Brian Fourroux was officially approved as an elder at our last church business meeting. He has been apprenticing with us over the last year. Both he and his wife, Kelsey have been discovering the challenges of serving in this role. And we are delighted that they have answered the call.
Not only our congregation and our neighborhood has been served, our focus on missions outside of Huntsville has continued. In January, you sent me back to the Philippines to teach at the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. Through that relationships, I have been asked to supervise two young men in their doctoral studies. One has the potential to become one of best theologians in Southeast Asia. The other has the potential to become a future president of the Philippine Baptist Convention. God has used you to position me to have a Godly influence on an entire nation.
We were going to send three young men to central Asia, but due to COVID-19, those gentlemen have had to postpone their trips to next year. But we have still maintained our prayer and financial support for our missionaries and church planters throughout the world. For example, last year we set a Lottie Moon Goal of $9,000 for the International Mission board. You gave $12,670.10. It is why our missions team did not think the 2021 goal of $10,000 was unobtainable. And you still maintained your giving to support our other missionaries directly. You will be hearing reports from them this Sunday evening at our missions night. We have still maintained our support and care of the children that still remain at the boarding house in Southeast Asia. Overall, in terms of both budgeted missions and love offerings Providence has given $90,964.04 to missions between December of 2019 through November of 2020!
Of course, the most noticeable change that has happened in 2020 is the building to my right. Let me take you back to December of 2019. When I delivered my report then, we were having one combined Adult Sunday School in the sanctuary. Our children were meeting in classes that even included the church offices. And the church thought, as we saw the concrete being poured, we were only getting an education building. And look what we have now. I promise you, I still feel like I am in a dream as I peer down the hallway of the building. We must thank Dwain Clardy, Scott Dolloff, Ken Pruitt, Barbara Ellen Smartt and Ellen Vickery for their tireless work to the new building. We also must also thank our mortgage team of Mike Ingram, Beau Sams and Cassie Lofts. We were able to begin utilizing the education space fully this past summer. And many thanks needs to go to Ric Crooks, for making the building functional as soon as we moved in. Now we have 6 adult classes, a college and career class, the youth, and eight children’s classes meeting in our new building. That means sixteen classes total have their own designated space.
But as we thought back in December of 2019, that would have been all we would have looked forward to being was just classrooms. But that was before we took in $318,838.30 for the building fund. And that was in addition to supporting the church budget. Due to the generosity of our membership, it became apparent we could proceed with finishing out the building to include the fellowship hall and the kitchen all under our current loan. And with our growth and COVID-19 protocols we need it. And to the praise of our God, the fellowship hall, barring an unforeseen delay, will be ready for use in two weeks time.
As hard as 2020 has been, it has been a year of victories. But it has also been harder for some than it has been for others. Not only have some members dealt with serious illness, we have also had to watch some of our dear senior adults isolate from the rest of the body of Christ. And then, some have witnessed family members enter the portal to heaven. It has affected us all. And to that end, I wish to express the deepest sympathy of the congregation to the families of Sam Butler, Matt Kelly, Jim Milby, Carolyn Stephens, Virginia Eckfeld, and bother George McGuinness. Their losses will be deeply felt in the years to come. But we know they rejoice before our king in heaven to see all that the Lord has wrought in this place.
So what is planned for 2021? We never want to presume upon the Lord, but there are already various changes that will be implemented in the coming days. First, Laura Hogue has asked to share the responsibilities of the church secretary position. As many of you know, the Hogues moved closer to Athens this past summer. So having established regular office hours has been more difficult. To meet this need, it our joy to welcome back Linda Barnett to the office. Laura will be taking care of the bookkeeping and Linda will oversee the needs of our onsite ministries. It is a dream team of secretaries so speak to have these ladies whose talents complement one another working for our church.
It has also been our joy to have Robert Smith interning for us this past year. He has blessed the congregation is ways we never could have foreseen. But as wonderful as it has been to have him here, we are not allowed to keep him to ourselves, but we must help him fulfill his calling. So beginning in the spring, we will begin transitioning Robert and Lindsey to their church planting ministry in Franklin County, Tennessee (County- not Franklin). There will be ways for you to help with their endeavor. Please be praying and paying attention to how you can get involved.
In the area of missions, you were introduced to a family this past fall that will be working with Wycliffe Bible Translators in West Asia. The missions ministry team has decided to include them in our 2021 full time missionary budget. This brings the total number of fulltime missionaries and church planters that Providence supports up to nine.
Already on the calendar is our Church History Conference. We have rescheduled the event we had hoped to have last year for 2021. Dr Tim Larson, Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College will be coming to lecture on the contents of his newest book, The Oxford Handbook of Christmas. Tim will be share with us how the first advent has been communicated throughout history. That event will be the first weekend in November.
As I mentioned before, while we are in two morning worship services, we are determined to keep both the same. Therefore, we have a time limitation in the first service that keeps us from adding additional elements to the second- one of those being special music. To continue to allow those who have the gift of music to continue to serve us, the elders are introducing a music worship team. These will be four people who will sing the four-part harmonies of our hymns. Let me be careful to add this is not a ‘PRAISE and worship team’. These people will not perform for us. Rather they will lead us in our singing. Our desire is that the main instrument of our congregational worship- the voices of God’s people will learn how to sing better. And it will allow those members to use their musical gifts until choir and special music can resume. Robin Kramer has been tasked to organize this ministry, so be on the lookout for her upcoming announcements.
Our work as elders is not done. We have become increasingly concerned over how our culture has been sending mixed messages of what it means to be a man. That confusion has affected not only the home, but also the ministry opportunities and leadership of the church. Currently our elders are working on a strategy for men’s ministry and leadership development within the congregation. We are only at the initial stages of our research and study on the subject, but we covet your prayers as we continue.
Of course, the congregation has much to celebrate in 2021. Two are on the forefront. First, we will have a new building to dedicate. And as we have done with every blessing of Providence in the past, it is important for us to offer Thanksgiving and dedicate the ministry of this space to the Lord. We will do so when we know we can gather as a body once again. But I want to make you aware our work on the building is not complete until we pay it off in full. To that end, the elders will be implementing two giving Sundays a year where we will collect a special offering with two purposes; 1) to apply to the principle of the building and 2) to keep the goal of paying it off constantly in mind. As a member of the Financial Ministry Team, this was an important vision for our brothe,r Jim Milby. He spoke to it at our last business meeting. Those ‘giving days’ are scheduled for the last Sunday in February (We are calling it the BFF Giving which stands for Building Fund Faithfulness and the last is the first Sunday in November which coincides with Jim Milby’s Birthday- It will be referred to as the Jim Milby Memorial Fund. And as Jim would hope, it will be withdrawn when the debt is satisfied). So hopefully, we can have two celebrations for the building- dedication and debt retirement. (of course, you don’t have to wait on our special days to make a donation for the building fund).
A second celebration concerns our staff. It was ten years ago to the day, that I returned from my studies in England to spend the holidays with my family. I was also able to attend the annual church meeting that month and on the agenda was a vote to add a part time youth pastor to the staff and that the Rev. Brian Milby was the candidate for said position. I was pleased to cast my vote in the affirmative to both propositions. And our church has been blessed ever since. This January will mark the 10th anniversary of Brian working for the church. And while it is appropriate for us to say congratulations then, we hope Brian will not mind the delay of a full celebration until we can all gather again in person.
We began this report with a Psalm and we will conclude with a Psalm. Our Psalm of the year for 2021 is Psalm 33. This is a Psalm that offers praise to God for his delivery from a difficult time. But it also recognizes that not all the challenges are over yet, the story is not complete. And God’s people still must wait on the Lord. But while we wait we will testify along with verse 4 and 5, of that Psalm, Psalm 33:4-5 (ESV) For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.’ We hold on to that promise while simultaneously singing the last three verses, Psalm 33:20-22 (ESV) Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.’ Let 2021 be a year that we continue to hope in our God and his faithfulness.