It continues to be a challenging time for churches all over the country. The Covid-19 pandemic, which lasted nearly three years, has not helped. Nonetheless, here at South, we continue to remain faithful to God’s call here in Hartford as we enter our 353rd year of ministry in this city.

We returned to one worship service this year, as it was when I arrived in 2006. We believe this start time offers more opportunity for fellowship and positions us in a better place for growth. We made it easier to engage in our worship service, launching Livestreaming capabilities mid-summer. Our new website should be up and running early in the new year as well. Our Church Leadership is looking forward to rolling out and implementing a new vision plan in 2023 that will address our embracing of the Great Commission (to go and make disciples of all the nations), as well as opportunities to participate in small groups, evangelism, group studies from home, and other outreach ministries. Here at South, we continue to try to address all of these factors.

I want to thank our Moderator Veronica Mingolelli, Senior Deacon Michael Serrano, Council members and Deacons for all their leadership.

Our children were blessed with a great Sunday School ministry led by our Sunday School Superintendent, Mrs. Caryn Pascale, and her team of teachers, Tessa Belcastro, Shelly Casiano, Doris Duggins, Allie Evans, Chris Evans, Andrew Norwood, Suzanne Savery,Joanna Serrano, Haley Serrano, Michael Serrano, and Renée Söderberg. These faithful servants are the key to the success of our rotation model Sunday School. It is awesome to see children every Sunday morning excited to be here!

I also want to recognize those who faithfully care for our Tadpoles in the Nursery on Sunday mornings: Our Nursery Care Coordinator Mary Symkowicz, and steady helpers Donna Peatfield and Linda Porter.

Our teens (Southsiders) have also had a great year. Under the leadership of our Director of Family Ministry, Alex Thomas, Youth Group regularly numbers between twelve and fifteen young people every Friday down in the Youth Center. They continue to grow spiritually and numerically. Obviously, we also want to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the new Mr. & Mrs. Alex and Marielise Thomas! As a church, it is so exciting to be a part of what is ahead for them. Especially as we await the arrival of a little boy in March.

We continue to reach out to our local community through our Sparrow Ministry. It was a challenging couple of years for them too as they transitioned from an indoor sit-down breakfast to a takeout model. Filling brown bags with food and operating outside in the parking lot. Mary Symkowicz, Vicky Silva, and all the faithful servants who come here every Saturday morning at 5:00 am to feed the hungry, both physically and spiritually, remain an important outreach to our community.

This year we were also blessed to begin a partnership with Hartford Healthcare. We are now a host site for a free clinic twice a month. A shout out to David Mingolelli for helping make that happen. Other outreach included the “No Hair Left Behind” free haircutting event on June 12, and the “We’ve Got Your Back” event on August 28, which gave out backpacks and school supplies to local children. A special thank you to one of our new members, Miguel Delvalle, for leading that effort.

We were asked by the National Organization to host the Hartford area event of the National Day of Prayer, which we did on May 05. We also hosted a 10 Days of Prayer event on September 29.

Internationally, we continue to support our sister church and their school in Camp Perrin, Haiti. If you have been reading the news, things are not good in Haiti. It is a dangerous place to be at the moment. Gangs still control a large portion of the country, and the UN is considering sending in an armed peacekeeping force as it did in the early 2000s. Cholera has also broken out there again. Due to Covid and now the dangerous conditions in the country, we have been unable to send mission teams since 2017. We do continue to raise funds for them. We had a booth at the Meriden Daffodil Festival again this year. We do not know when we will be able to return, but please pray for our sister church in Camp Perrin, and for Haiti as a whole. They are in need of prayer.

In the meantime, until we can return to Haiti, our Mission Team is currently planning a trip to Uganda in 2024. We are supporters of the Imani Milele orphanages and schools there. You’ll be hearing more about that in 2023.

This year, under the leadership of our Site Superintendent Todd Case, we renovated the south end of the building. The stone floor in the hallway as well as the floor and wood paneling in Archibald Chapel. We added a washing machine and dryer in the Cary Meade Kitchen, saving us ongoing laundering costs. Downstairs, we renovated two classrooms in hopes of opening our Tadpoles Christian Daycare ministry in 2023. These rooms will also be available as the Sunday morning nursery for our little ones. Our Tadpoles.

God did bless us with this magnificent building and the necessary resources so that we could minister here in Hartford and beyond. I promise you. No one looks after this building better than our Site Superintendent and the “So Help Me Todd” crew, our Custodian David Casiano, and our Housekeeper Allie Evans.

Sadly, in 2022, we had to say goodbye to some brothers and sisters-in-Christ. Robert Derick Brash, Jeffrey Grandahl, George Long, Sr., Deborah Maxwell, Karl Robertson, and Margaret Young. Karl was a particular blow to us all. We miss his jokes. Really. Did you ever think you’d say that? Yes, our hearts are broken; however, we also know they have entered into eternity and that brings us peace.

I do want to remind everyone that we continue to honor Karl’s memory through the Karl Robertson Memorial Scholarship. Please, pray about making a donation. Karl had such a passion for educating the next generation. You can give through our church app, online, or simply put a check in the Sunday offering plate (write Robertson Scholarship in the memo).

As the pastor, I often get the privilege of being the “face” of our church. But, make no mistake about it, ministry here is definitely a team effort. We have an amazing staff here at South Church. To that end, I want to publicly recognize Joanne Harrison, Lauren Sepko, Todd Case, David Casiano, Jeremy Söderberg, Allie Evans, and Alex Thomas. Thank you one and all for all your gifts, talents, and all that you do. I also cannot overlook our unpaid Director of Hospitality and Wedding Coordinator −my partner of forty years and “honey bunches of oats” Renée Söderberg.

It continues to be a challenging year for the economy. Inflation and the increase in cost of food, gasoline, heating oil, and electricity have all taken its toll. This reality is reflected in the increase of our fixed costs in the 2023 Budget. We are at the mercy of such entities as Connecticut Natural Gas and Eversource. Because of inflation and supply chain issues, everything will be more expensive in the coming year. Nonetheless, I believe our Treasurer, Len Diamond, Assistant Treasurer Delano Paul, Church Administrator Lauren Sepko, and Church Council worked together to present a solid budget for your consideration.

We enjoyed fellowship together this year with a Trivia Night in April, and another Fabulously Fun Frankenfestival last month. We are looking forward to our Cookie Walk and Cookie Crumble on December 11, our Chamber Choir’s Christmas Concert on December 17, and a host of other opportunities in 2023. We were blessed to welcome a new organist/keyboardist, Sarah Kennedy, at the beginning of this month, and we added a couple of people to our worship team − Glenn Symkowicz (bass) and Chris Savery (Audio/Visual, drums).

Incredibly, it will be seventeen years this coming February since Renée and I rolled into Hartford, CT. We continue to consider ourselves greatly blessed sharing God’s ministry with all of you here. You have truly become like family to us.

In the midst of some difficult times, I believe the state of our church is strong. A lot was accomplished in 2022 and I eagerly look forward to what God has for us next in 2023!