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A Year Like No Other

My  “Pastor’s Message” for this week,  is my  “Pastor’s Report to the  Congregation”  for the year 2020.   It is included in the “Congregational Annual Report” but I share it here as well.

Blessings to each and all of you as we move into the new year.  It is the season of Epiphany.  May the Light of God shine within us as a congregation/community at Grace, and as a people united as one Nation.
May God’s Light shine upon our new President and Vice President.

Peace, Joy and Health to all.
Pastor Hillmer

A Year Like No Other

We KNEW it was going to be a different kind of year from the beginning, because…
Leaping lizards – 2020 was  Leap Year! Always a fun way to start.  But “who knew”?!?!?
the kind of year it would be:

  • A pandemic
  • A ‘shut down’ of much of socio-economic activity.
  • “No Church” (gasp) on Sundays
  • Economic hardship and recession
  • Widespread unemployment
  • A Census (which would be contested)
  • An Election (which would be contested)
  • 375,000 Covid-19 related deaths 
  • An Impeachment
  • The occupying of the US Capitol by insurrection
  • Another Impeachment

Who KNEW?!?!?

The year began with weddings and baptisms and January retreats, an up-beat Congregational meeting at the end of January.  In February a “Chili Cook-Off” led by the youth, and a fund-raiser for the National Gathering.  1st Communion Classes began, and our Confirmation Youth led the congregation in Sunday morning worship on Transfiguration Sunday, February 23 Lent began on Ash Wednesday, February 26, ushered in by an Italian meal prepared by your Church Council.

Then came March.   The U.S. had been hearing about a strange new virus whispering its appearance in our lives. The whispers became louder, stronger and more frequent.  Then on “Friday the 13th” of March, we received communication from our Bishop Pedro Suarez, in keeping with most Christian denominations across America, recommending that public, corporate Sunday morning worship be suspended.  That following Sunday – March 15th – worship was cancelled.  We scrambled to begin filming, editing, recording on Facebook our Sunday worship services in order to “be” Church, and to remain vital “as” Church.   Different. Scattered. But Viable and Vital.  We would continue to live in a state of “suspended animation” for all of April, May and into June.  That means we “lost” :  Holy Week,  Easter,  and Pentecost.  The 1st Communion of our youngsters and Confirmation of our youth would not be celebrated.

Our April Annual Congregational meeting was cancelled; the Florida-Bahamas Synod Assembly was cancelled; Stephen Ministry consortiums and graduations were cancelled.   We grieved, and are grieving still, Jill Lawniczak’s sudden and tragic death on July 1st.   The summer also brought Nancy Richardson’s retirement; Nadine Anderson’s retirement; and the passing of Jim Crouse, Eva Pizzaro, Betsy Owers, Pedro Pizzaro, Mary Strous, Paul Denton, Diana Dunaway, Alan Jankowski, Sharon Olenski, Bill Daily, Bob Stuck and Barb Pilcher.

But there were celebrations too, as the people of Grace soldiered on. Public Schools opened on-line and/or in person.  Sunday School resumed – online. Confirmation resumed – online. Church was redefined by “zoom”.   The choir prepared music – online.  The 50th Anniversary celebration of Grace went off “not as planned” (who could have foreseen the pandemic), but WHAT a celebration!!  Online AND in-house worship. A Cookbook! A “50th Anniversary handbook” was prepared and given away in a keepsake tote bag. A banner was commissioned, and created by Jan Hillmer A video greeting from our Bishop.  Special music by all choirs and music ensembles. A new hymn-tune written by James Sawyers, setting to music a new hymn-text for the commemoration of a congregation. Deepest thanks to the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee: Liz Planz, chair and her crew – Laurie Crickenberger, Maggie Gould, Linda Gravatt, Charlotte Hunter, Dottie Pihl, Jim Sawyers, Maggie Scott and Lisa Watson.

A surprise celebration, marking 20 years of my call to serve Grace – September, 2000.

Another surprise celebration, the 40th anniversary of my ordination – November 30, 1980.

What a year it has been!!  A year like none other. A year no one expected. A year I don’t want to repeat.  Nevertheless, a year that has so clearly revealed how God is always with us.  The Grace of God, and the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been our rock, our sustenance, and our guiding light through all of 2020.  The sun is shining still.  “Let the sunshine in”.

Our financial health is strong, thanks to all of you, our faithful members. I encourage you, I implore you, I rejoice with you, in remaining strong, financial stewards in the year to come.

I am deeply grateful for our Council leadership which has steered a steady course through uncertain waters:  Lisa Hamilton, Mike Milo, Charlotte Hunter, Anna Smith, David Vickers, Brad Schmucker, Susan Andree, Jacci Milo, Suzanna De La Cruz, Marcia Pihl. Finally, I offer highest praise and appreciation for President of Council, Fred Borchers who has provided steady yet resilient, progressive leadership while safe-guarding the well-being of all members of Grace.

As we turn to 2021, I see how God is guiding us still. I see God continuing to draw us!

God draws us first to Jesus, in whom we find fullness of life and every blessing.

Then God draws into us new hope, faith and love.  Finally, God draws us into each and every new day that opens, and then sends us into every corner of life to be a blessing to others.

“Blessed to be a blessing”!

Pastor John S. Hillmer

Grace Lutheran Church at Carrollwood

“Grace is a place of Faith, Hope and Healing for ALL”