Report of the Pastor for 2017


For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Romans 3:28


Dear Members and Friends:


I began my report for last year’s annual meeting by saying: “2017! This is the year we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.” Now that this special year is over, it would be good right at the start to review how we observed it.


First, a number of us read the book, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton. Even though it was written in 1950, it remains one of the best and most readable biographies of the great reformer. In addition, we studied Luther’s Small Catechism on Wednesday nights during Lent, using a special Anniversary Study Edition issued by Augsburg Fortress. Also, the adult Sunday School class read and discussed a number of Luther’s writings throughout the year.

During the fall we had three special services to observe the 500th Anniversary, starting with a joint Lutheran/Reformed tradition service held at 11 am on Sunday, October 22 at our neighbor next door on Monument Avenue, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. On Reformation Sunday itself, October 20, we celebrated a festive service in our own church with the Schubert Mass in G in place of the usual ELW liturgy. A string quartet composed of Richmond Symphony musicians and augmented choir with guest soloists enriched the worship experience, which was followed by our traditional Reformation Pot Luck Dinner in the Fellowship Hall. Finally, on All Saints Day, November 1, approximately 260 members of Lutheran congregations in the Richmond Conference (including a good representation from First English) and local Roman Catholic congregations came together to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at Epiphany Lutheran Church. The service was based upon the joint Lutheran World Federation – Roman Catholic event with Pope Francis in Sweden last year. During the service, representative families and individuals signifying different segments of our faith communities read the “five ecumenical imperatives” for Roman Catholics and Lutherans and lit a candle. The homilist (preacher) was Father Don Rooney from St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Springfield, VA.


We did we learn from this special year? First of all, we reaffirmed our belief in salvation by grace through faith, the good news of the gospel that Christ through his death on the cross has saved us from our sins and that salvation and peace with God is a free gift. Out of thanksgiving for God’s love revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we respond by serving our neighbor in love, not to earn our salvation, which has already been procured for us.


One of the ways we at First English express our thankfulness to God is through social ministry, which throughout the sixteen years I’ve been here has taken many forms under the leadership of the Social Ministry Committee. Our Congregational Life Committee has also provided good leadership in his area. In addition to our ongoing support of Feedmore and special drives at specific times of the year, (such as the Sooper Bowl of Caring on the first Sunday of February and our collection of 500 cans of food for the number of years since the Reformation) we have now embarked on a new feeding ministry through participation in the Daily Planet’s Breaking Bread program. Many thanks to Deborah Hubbs and Pastor Dennis Andersen who are providing leadership in this endeavor; more information on this renewal of feeding the hungry as an expression of our being free to serve will be provided at the congregational meeting. And I don’t want to forget the good efforts of the Soul Stitchers group, which provides a gift bag of handmade items to newborns and a knitted Christmas gift to the homebound.


The gospel of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ which we were constantly reminded of during the year and our eagerness to serve in a spirit of thanksgiving for this grace, this free gift of salvation, is summed up well in our official mission statement: “We are a Lutheran community celebrating the gospel of Jesus Christ and striving toward faithful living in God’s world.”


One of our challenges is to grow in numbers. It’s not the 50s anymore, when all you needed was an attractive facility and the people came. Indeed, new people continue to worship with us; hardly a Sunday goes by without visitors being present. One of the challenges is inviting them to stay and become actively involved in the life of our congregation. In addition, those of us who have been here for some time should always ask themselves two things: is regular attendance at worship an important part of my life, and does my participation in the life of First English reflect a good sharing of the time, talents, and gifts with which God has blessed me? Visitors sense a spirit of enthusiasm for the gospel and many of them are looking for a way to make a difference for good in our troubled world. It is our task to convey to them that they can find here both a celebration of the gospel and opportunities to live faithfully in God’s world.


So far as my own unique activities are concerned, in 2017 I performed four baptisms and four funerals; Pastor Ruff performed one funeral on my behalf (therefore, five members departed this life in 2017). We received four new adult members. One family - two adults, two confirmed young people and two baptized children – joined another congregation (which does not require letters of transfer). Three of our young people were confirmed on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017. Our average weekly attendance for 2017 was 92; this does not include the weekly Morning Prayer services on Wednesdays. In 2015 the average was 91; last year it was 98.


We continue to attract students from Virginia Commonwealth University, most of whom wish to attend on a “now and then” basis, and I attend the monthly meetings of the Interfaith Campus Ministers’ Association at that instruction. Rejoice in Jesus Ministries (which came to us through ICMA) continues to worship in our building on Saturday evenings.


In conclusion, I would like to thank the members of First English for their love and support.  Special thanks to Sheryl Finucane for her faithful service as Council President for the past two years. Thanks also, as always, to Brian Wingfield for running our office so efficiently. We all appreciate the dedicated service of our organist, Linwood Lunde, whose enthusiasm for First English knows no bounds. Finally, as every year, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Carol, whose vast experience as a pastor in her own right helps me to keep my eyes on the goal and feet on the ground as I go about my work at First English.


Faithfully yours,


Pastor John Schweitzer

Report of The President

As my year as president comes to a close, I first and foremost give thanks.

Thank you, to the entire First English family, for your support during the past 12 months. There are many people who pour a great deal of love into keeping First English a lively and vibrant place to worship, learn, and enjoy fellowship, to all of you, THANK YOU!!!

To my fellow council members, thank you for your support, for your vibrant discussions, for sharing your faith and love. Council said a fond bon voyage to Carolyn Heltzel, we rejoiced with the return of both Roger Riggle and Joyce Smith to the council table. Roger’s short absence and Joyce’s longer absence were deeply felt.

In conjunction with Advent, a Wed morning prayer service was started with invitations to other congregations in the Stuart Circle Parish. Thanks to council member Josh Eckert for developing the idea and Josh and council member Richard Ruff and the Worship and Music Committee for getting this off the ground. Also initiated in Council discussions was holding a food drive for the VCU RAMpantry, thanks to assistance of the Congregational Life committee this will be coming up in winter/spring 2017.

Carol McCue (Council Vice President) and Jim Byerly were tasked with looking at the FELC constitution and bylaws. Delays in updates from the synod have delayed any recommendations for changes. Council approved reducing the number of members to 9 through gradual attrition over the next few years. This change was allowed within the existing guiding documents.

One of my personal concerns is having effective communication about faith, worship opportunities, and activities within the congregation and extending out into our wider community. Cheryl Shiembob resigned as our newsletter editor. We are working to make the midweek update an effective replacement for the newsletter. Nicole Krause continues to work on keeping our website up to date, and a number of people work to keep our Facebook page active. Pastor Schweitzer is sending out a weekly message. If you are not getting the electronic communications please let the office know, copies can be mailed to those who do not have e-mail. Also, please share ideas for improving communication!

Over the past year, it seems that there has been a slight increase in the number of children and young adults present on Sunday mornings. Please actively invite individuals new to the First English community to join in faith development, service, and fellowship opportunities.

For many years, First English has ran a deficit budget. This year was no different. You will find details in the Finance Committee report. The council met with members of the First English Foundation Board to refresh our understanding of the Foundation’s mission and policies. We are thankful to the Foundation board members and to the foresight of past members for creating the Foundation.

After being elected President of the Council I started reading about the declining trajectory of “traditional” Christian churches. On one hand very sobering and on the other inspiring to read about how some “traditional” churches are finding ways to bring active and vibrant faith and ministry to their communities. This is a challenging time not just for First English. I ask that everyone, look toward the future with an eye on how to bring the message of Christ to the broader community, being open to the concept that the future might not look like the past. As we embark on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is a fitting time to be committed to prayerful discernment in order to discover the path God has for the future of First English Lutheran Church. Leaps of faith may be needed.

Yours in Christ,

Sheryl Finucane,
President, FELC Congregational Council

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