Worship was in fine form at St. Martin’s in the Desert, Pahrump, Nevada this Epiphany morning. For those who don’t know, Pahrump is a desert town situated between Las Vegas and Death Valley. Surprisingly it boasts at least one winery. I heard there was a second but have not seen it.
A lovely crèche was in the front of the nave. Three children processed bearing figures of kings and camels to complete the Nativity scene. The big deal about today’s service is that we received 9 new Episcopalians – all adults. To put this in context, that means we received as new members about 20% of those present.
Today’s vestry meeting was taken up mostly by discussion of community social ministries – a report on the monthly Teen Night hosted for community teens by St. Martin’s, the Stand For Children program hosted by St. Martin’s, the collection of school supplies for low income students, a $1,000 gift to Meals on Wheels because there is a waiting list of senior citizens needing that service. Most of St. Martin’s energy and attention is pointed outward.
We did go over the proposed budget, which will be presented to the annual meeting. It included the assessment paid to the Diocese plus a substantial additional contribution to support Ministry Development around the Diocese. The vestry expressed gratitude for the training the Diocese has provided them in the past. They want to support our effort to offer programs to other congregations. They want more training themselves, but mostly they see their contribution as “paying back” or “paying forward” for what they have been given. It’s sort of like the Eucharist – a giving back and receiving again.
The proposed parish budget for this year is a deficit budget, but the vestry wasn’t too worried about that. They adopted a deficit budget last year and wound up with a surplus. So they are hopeful.
But the St. Martin’s vestry was concerned that other congregations in Nevada may be struggling financially. They had heard about this in table conversations at Convention. They wanted to know if they should send support to struggling congregations out of their deficit budget. I assured them that the Diocese would take care of that and they had done their part by paying in their assessment.
St. Martin’s has a generous line item in their budget for outreach. They have another line item to support the operating budget of Camp Galilee (our diocesan camp & conference center). That line item does not include the money they send to Galilee out of their education budget to pay the expenses of sending children from Pahrump to camp. Some of these children are members of St. Martin’s. Some are just kids in town who need a week of camp at Tahoe.
There was talk about the upcoming MLK Breakfast where St. Martin’s has sponsored a table and Rev. Julie will give the invocation. They will do another project later in the year for the Bishop’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal, probably a Stand For Children event.
The vestry did not discuss The Knitting Nancys of St. Martin’s. But we did talk about them over the coffee hour. They had been featured in the national newsletter of The Seaman’s Institute for the sheer volume of gifts they produce for people who need them. None of this even mentions the prayer and study being done by St. Martin’s members of The Episcopal Community.
Oh bricks and mortar issues. There was a bogus rumor last year that our church in Tonopah was up for sale. So St. Martin’s members expressed some anxiety during the coffee hour for the well-being of our congregation in Tonopah. I wish there were not rumors that the Diocese is closing small churches. But I like it that one small church cares about another.
Being a bishop, I did my best to find fault with them. So I challenged the vestry on the budget to provide continuing education funds for their priest.
“Covered,” they said, “it’s under ‘training’.”
“What about her costs of attending clergy conference?” I shot back.
“It’s under ‘business travel’,” they replied.
“And her Convention costs?” (I was scrambling.)
“We pay full fare for both clergy and lay delegates,” they said.
“How about a Basic Discipleship class?” I asked.
“Done and dusted,” they said.
“How about following that up with a Gifts Discernment Workshop?” I countered.
“Calling you this week to schedule it. And by the way how are you coming on another Lenten mission discernment program as a sequel to the one we did last Lent?” they replied.
I was defeated. So I gave up and went home.
The Congregational Life Office of The Episcopal Church featured St. Martin’s in the Desert in a documentary film last year as an example of a congregation that is growing and flourishing because they are connected to their community. When they gather to sing and pray, they have a tangible sense of mission. Their mission field is right there in Nye County.
Having failed to nail St. Martin’s for any failures, I was left with nothing to say this morning but to commend them for actually acting like Christians.