Originally Published as “Message from our Rector” in The Hoot
by The Rev. Lou Parsons, Rector, St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church, Ooltewah
March 2023 — Every year of serving in church, there is an additional discipline added to our Lenten practices: the Annual Parochial Report. The first of March is the deadline for the multiple-page report to be completed and filed with The Episcopal Church. Much of the report involves various calculations, from church attendance averages to financial reports. These reports are more easily prepared when careful accounting of attendance, as well as collections, are kept up to date.
This year, the report required not only that the average Sunday attendance be calculated but also the average weekly attendance. To avoid a one-time service causing a skew of the averages, there is a separate entry for the total of people attending such offerings as our special music services, weddings, etc. We are to account for how many services were in person, how many were hybrid, and how many were only online. Since we had no accurate way to count our online attendance, our attendance numbers only reflect those in person. So some online Wednesday nights had a total of one until people were more comfortable gathering.
My practice is to start the running totals for the number of people in-person with the first of January, then add each day’s service(s) sequentially through the year. It was striking to note through those early months of 2022 the continuation of lower Sunday in-person attendance. By Easter, there was a noticeable increase, and the largest number of people attending on a single day since Christmas 2019. The trend of better attendance continued through the year with our Christmas Eve/Christmas Day services actually somewhat higher than those dates in 2019. To my surprise (and delight), even though we were barely breaking a total of 30 people on Sundays in January 2022, our final annual weekly attendance was 72 people.
As I write this, I can hear a former colleague cautioning us, “Jesus did not tell us to count ‘My Sheep’, but to ‘Feed My Sheep.’” Blessedly the Annual Parochial Report also wanted to know about our Outreach to others. We shared the involvement of our volunteers and how we support various ministries both within our parish and in the wider community. Sharing the number of volunteers involved, from Sack Packs to Habitat for Humanity to the collections such as Souper Bowl and Walk In Love, was exciting. Even more exciting was realizing our various efforts reach over 375 people a month!
As we collect for our 20th Annual Walk In Love, know those gifts of shoes, socks, and foot care products are making a real difference for a number of people. As we gather to pack Sack Packs, those items of food support not only the child receiving but also all those who care for the recipients. Through it all, let the example of our Lord reaching out to others to bring hope and healing be our call: “Feed My Sheep.”