Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rector's Report to Annual Vestry January 2007

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

These words from today’s Old Testament reading are a part of God’s word to me as I struggled a few years ago with a ministry “midlife crisis”. I am intrigued that they are repeated today. A reminder, perhaps, to me as I reflect on my ministry in your midst, and to us all as we reflect on our ministry together as God’s people in this place, this parish, that God is a creative God, and that “destruction” as much as “building” is part of the creative process. Personally, these words define a key aspect of my purpose and mission, and in reflection I realise also define how I put God’s call on my life into practice.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, having declared the words from Isaiah to define his purpose and mission had the courage to declare,

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

I, too, like Jesus, need to declare concerning the words from Jeremiah that these words are fulfilled in your hearing. I know many of you speak well of me, and perhaps – on occasion – are amazed at “the gracious words that come from my lips” (Luke 4:22). I hope, most sincerely, that none of you are of mind to drive me out of town and find a convenient cliff from which to hurl me (Luke 4:29). Yes, I joke, but humour often reflects the burden of deep truth that we can only hear when we laugh. I am aware that just by being myself in your midst I bring change and challenge to your lives. Find comfort that these changes – whether consequential or seemingly insignificant – are not brought about without thought or prayer, and mostly they are purposeful. Often I seek to apologise for change, or attempt to give it a different name to make it more palatable for those of you who struggle with it, but I am realising that change, be it sudden and destructive, be it a gentle process of adaptation, is – none-the-less – change. I believe sincerely in a transforming Church, a Church actively seeking to instil God’s values in the world. There is nothing gentle about transformation.

This time last year I named four priorities on our agenda for the year that is now behind us:

* The further development of structures to give priority to young people in this parish, including more regular Youth Fusion meetings, and the development of support groups for young adults and young married couples.

* The further creation and development of Home Fellowship and Support Groups to provide a fuller environment in which pastoral support, caring, fellowship, worship, and study are encouraged.

* A greater integration in our worship to reflect the multi-cultural nature of our community and more youth-friendly music.

* An intentional focus, along with other parishes in the Archdeaconry, to lay the foundation for at least two new Anglican parishes in the fast expanding East of Pretoria.

None of the above has seen exponential growth, but significant steps have been taken on which we will continue to build in the year ahead.

In terms of Young people, Youth Fusion has continued to struggle as we seek to find meaningful ways to minister to our Teens outside of Sunday worship, but plans are afoot to work in tandem with Scripture Union in this regard. The Young Adults have begun to meet under Vernon Foster’s mentorship. An attempt will be made this year to draw our young married couples together as there are a number of couples on our parish roll who have married in the last three years. Excitingly, perhaps for the first time in our history, we have elected a 21 year-old onto our Council for 2007 – this is deeply significant.

We have three more Home Fellowship groups up and running: an afternoon and evening group in Garsfontein and an additional evening group in Faerie Glen. Meeting outside of Sunday Worship is not something Anglicans easily adapt to, and the groups remain small, leaving the facilitators occasionally despondent and somewhat non-plussed as to why many of those who indicated interest never arrived, despite email and sms communications. We take courage from the Scriptures where we are reminded that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). It is encouraging to see the monthly Comfort Group drawing together those who have been bereaved, and although not officially a Home Fellowship Group, important pastoral support and caring is shared.

I was informed on my arrival in the parish that, “We are an English-speaking congregation!” and was left in no doubt that we should remain so! However, it is Diocesan policy that no service in the Diocese should be of only one language, and it seems that my “gentle adaptation” of the greeting in four of our eleven national languages has not created too much upheaval. My recent inclusion of more substantial paragraphs in Setswana and Afrikaans may not be as comfortable to some, but I have appreciated positive comments in this regard. This is all part of greater integration: English remains the main form of communication in the Parish, but acknowledgement of other language and cultural perspectives that may and do exist in our midst is very important in order for all to feel welcome and at home. Another aspect of integration relates to our music, and both Council and I were amazed at your response to the purchase of a new Hymn book, and it will become a growing asset to our worship. As the Choir becomes more comfortable with this book, we will, hopefully, begin to increasingly use some of the more modern music it contains.

We are in process of laying the foundation for a new parish in the East of Pretoria: land has been purchased in Willow Glen, and Vernon Foster appointed by the Bishop as a Mission Deacon under our care to head up this important development. The plan is to have a viable Chapelry up and running by June this year. As we speak, the Diocesan wheels are being put into motion and a plot of land beyond Mooikloof (about 15 km’s east of the Pretoria East Hospital) has been identified with the view to beginning parish development there in four to five years time, once Willow Glen is fully up and running.

In each of these four areas of challenge that I laid before you, we have seen progress. To these we need to add the Diocesan priority for Mission and Ministry, and the three year programme presented two Sunday’s ago. I await in expectation to see whether you will take up the challenge to bring a family member or friend who has not been to church for sometime to our services next Sunday.

Finance should never take centre stage, but it is a good indication of spiritual health. I hold close to my heart the concept that finance follows ministry, and I thank you all for your huge financial generosity in the past year – for many of you given in addition to massive contributions of time and energy! We have not only been able to pay off our loan on the Hall, but also able to do some much needed property development, and give money away to those in need. Our financial report does not show that which has been given in kind, but the food-parcels for Tumelong alone conservatively add R30,000 to our Outreach budget, not to mention the substantial value of the paving stones donated for the parking area upgrade. Staff changes in the office and complex Excel Spreadsheet programming have added substantial stress to those who have prepared our Audited Accounts for today, but I am confident that these substantially reflect our financial health. We are in process of moving onto Pastel Express (Accounting package) in order to conform to Diocesan needs for reporting to the South African Revenue Services, so life in the office remains interesting, and Gwen is without doubt learning to swim in the deep-end!

One of our values as a parish is broad-based parishioner involvement. As in any organisation it is often 20% of the people who do 80% of the work. But as we reflect and report on the year that lies behind us I am aware that those who stand out do so only because of the many who stand behind them in support and action. My appreciation and thanks to you all.

In trepidation of not mentioning some who may be very involved (I had a “flea in the ear” from the Servers last year), I need to express our thanks as a parish community to the following:

- Bonita Brukman for her sterling work in centralising the Parish Administration on the Parish Office over the past few years. We wish her and Trevor and their growing family well in their relocation to Port Elizabeth.

- A special welcome onto our parish Staff to our new Missionary Deacon, Vernon Foster, and our new Administrator, Gwen Heathfield.

- Mary Verryn, Peter Davies and Kevin MacGregor who all stepped in “fresh” to the responsibilities of Churchwarden – I have valued their sincere council and willingness to add action, effort, and time to their word (and to remain on board for the year ahead).

- Our outgoing councillors for their time and contribution over the last year.

- Olga Nel, Belinda Holden, Steve Verryn and Shane Smith and their willing helpers who have shown continued dedication and commitment to our ongoing Children’s & Teen Church and Youth activities.

- Gillian Sole and her team of Sacristans who somehow always manage to have everything just right around the altar, and do so in quiet dedication.

- Jeanne Jackson and Sabine Verryn, our Choir and Music Group members and musicians who give leadership to our music and singing Sunday-by-Sunday.

- The Lay-ministers and Lay-ministers-in training (formerly Cup-bearers) who have contributed to our common life out of their own spirituality and relationship with God in leading our worship from week to week.

- Peter Vieyra and Collette Martin and our wonderful team of Servers at our 9am Services, and to parents for getting them here, mostly in time!

- Our Healing Group, Prayer Chain, and Wednesday morning Prayer Group for their gentle ministry of healing and prayer in our midst, and to Margaret Acres for the huge amount of effort in contacting every parishioner for pastoral prayer.

- Our Sidespeople who welcome us service by service, see that we have a pew leaflet and a seat, and conscientiously count and record the collections.

- Our flower-arrangers who weekly remind us of God’s creative beauty.

- Our readers who keep God’s Word in Scripture before us.

- Our tea makers and snack providers who give sustenance to our bodies after the rigours of our worship.

- Those who facilitate and those who attend our various Home Fellowship Groups.

- Nan Muir and those who work with her in visiting the sick and housebound, keeping tabs on those in need in our community.

- Lex Jackson and Margaret Acres who are hugely faithful in getting Communion to the hospitalised and housebound.

- Mary Verryn for her vision and action in motivating and maintaining the practical helps ministry of the Good Samaritans, and the Samaritans themselves.

- Penny Craven for keeping our sponsorship of Louis Botha Homes always before us, and to her and Ed for their caring involvement in Miriam’s life (our sponsor child).

- Trevor Wilson and his team for organising a very successful and enjoyable 25th Anniversary Dinner.

- Lettie Harris for her coordination and selflessness in organising and providing food for various functions this year, and we wish her well in her retirement from this responsibility.

- Deacon Steve Verryn for his ongoing commitment to the preparation of Baptism and Confirmation candidates.

- Dawn Long for her leadership of our monthly parish Quiet Days, and help in preparing our Confirmation candidates.

- Father Robin Heath and Father June de Klerk for their availability to preside over our worship every third Sunday, allowing me to be with our Chapelry in Stanza Bopape.

- Father Danny Adonis and Steve Njiro for being available to Diocesan needs at Ekangala and St Wilfred’s respectively.

- Jeanne Jackson for compiling our monthly newsletter and keeping us in touch with the ongoing life of the parish, as well as her coordination of the Comfort Group.

- Jenny Moser and all who contribute so generously to the monthly Food Parcels for Tumelong.

- Peter Davies and Trevor Wilson, for their incredible dedication and commitment to improving our property, from watering systems to parking, and the ongoing oversight of our site and gardens.

- Our Parish Cleaner, Cynthia, and parish Gardener, Gilbert, for their efforts in making sure our worship and fellowship environment is clean and neat, and Patrick and David who came in to help with the site renovation.

- Our Treasurer, Colette Martin, for her dedication in overseeing our finances, together with Bonita Brukman, and recently Gwen Heathfield, who took on the challenges of doing the book-keeping and Lex Jackson who has continued to oversee our generosity giving and hall pledge schemes. My special thanks to Lex, as our previous Treasurer over many years, for being willing early in 2006 to make way for an extended Finance Team and “young blood”.

- Our parish Administrator, Bonita Brukman, and recently Gwen Heathfield, for their positive attitude in keeping our administration in order and our Rector mostly under control.

- To our incoming Churchwardens and Council for availing themselves for these responsibilities, and for the work and ministry they will perform in our midst.

- To my wife, Dawn, and my children for their ongoing support of my ministry, and their willingness to share me, especially of many an evening and weekend, with the Church community.

- And finally, to all who labour without demand for recognition or reward for the growth of God’s Kingdom through this parish.

I thank you.