We live in a Western-orientated world that Eddie Gibbs, former professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, describes in his book Church Next as unpredictable and filled with discontinuous change, a plan-do environment in which management, particularly in the realm of the Spirit, is a discerned art rather than hard science. South Africa, with its developing nation status and multi-cultural environment, interesting political developments and economic uncertainties, adds to this chaotic wider context within which we meet to review the year that has passed, and prepare for the year that lies before us. While we need to measure our performance, perhaps more important is the need to evaluate how we have grown in knowing God, and whether our lives and service reflect such intimacy (cf Gibbs: 105, 111, 121).
In today’s Psalm we hear the important reminder of faith: “The Lord protects my life. So why should I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1b; NCV). These words are a reminder that no matter the chaos of the present or the uncertainties of the future, our hope as people of faith lies in our relationship with the Divine. Isaiah’s words, “They lived in a dark land, but light has shined on them.” (Is 9:2b; NCV), remind us that even Eskom cannot inhibit the purposes of God! What then should we fear? The challenge of our Christian faith is not to focus on events around us, but on God. This is not to ignore reality, but to infuse reality with Life.
As Christians we give concrete reality to our faith through our actions. The growth in our social responsibility commitments during 2007 is one such act, and is visible in our ongoing commitment to Irene Homes and Tumelong, Louis Botha Homes and Women against Rape (WAR). Although our Audited Accounts show a meagre R10,000 commitment to Outreach, we need to add the substantial cash value of the approximate 375 food parcels contributed to Tumelong, and the ongoing monthly collections of items for WAR. In addition, we have given away monthly Sunday collections to various causes from the Bishop’s Training Fund to Mosquito-nets for Mozambique, bringing the cash value of our outward giving during 2007 to around R60,000. In addition, admittedly through one extremely generous donation, in partnership with the Diocese we have funded the Missionary Development in Willow Glen in the person of Vernon Foster. Also, a substantial portion of our Diocesan Assessment contributes to the mission of the Church within the Diocese. We can hold our heads high when it comes to our participation in, and our support of, mission.
While we have given outwardly, we have not neglected ourselves, and this is visible in the major extension and refurbishment we have undertaken of our Church building, and we owe a huge dept of gratitude to Peter Davies for driving this project. Thanks to many of you contributing over and above your normal giving, along with various fundraising efforts, a project that has cost us in the region of R250,000 has left us with a loan debt to the Diocese of only R120,000 and has not inhibited us meeting our other financial obligations.
Our dream of establishing a new congregation in Willow Glen has excitingly come to fruition, and our support for our Missionary Deacon, now Priest – Vernon Foster – has been a catalyst for this process. The Bishop’s decision to leave Vernon with us for the foreseeable future, despite pressing needs in other parts of the Diocese for clergy, speaks of the wider support this vision has within our Archdeaconry and Diocese. Seventeen families have made a firm commitment to membership of the Willow Glen initiative, and will carry a substantial portion of Vernon’s running costs during 2008. We are hugely appreciative of the Willow Haven Retirement Centre’s willingness to provide space for the new Willow Glen community to be birthed during 2007, and for their ongoing support in providing nurturing space during 2008. We are thankful for Willowridge High School’s willingness to provide space at minimal cost for Willow Glen to enjoy regular weekly Sunday Morning services during 2008.
In terms of spiritual growth within our parish I am encouraged by the large group of parishioners who have made themselves available to serve on Council in the coming year. This willingness to put aside time in the midst of very busy lives speaks of a deepening commitment to both Christ and the Church. The Planning Day earlier this month demonstrated a motivated and energised Council for 2008. The day itself birthed a number of new ideas and plans for the year ahead, of which we will hear more in the coming months. No large projects are planned for the year, but the focus will be on consolidating the mission at Willow Glen, and attempting to raise enough money to pay off our Diocesan loan for our building extension and refurbishments.
I remain concerned by the seeming lack of interest in small group involvement and the small attendance at our Lent Course last year, which I think is likely to be repeated this year. Perhaps this perceived lack of interest is a sign of the busyness of our lives, rather than a lack of commitment, and I remain thankful that on the whole Sunday attendance is good.
I am encouraged that there is a fuller participation by parishioners in the life of the parish and that the power base in the parish appears to be broadening beyond the small group that maintained control on my arrival here three years ago. We need to continuously be aware of the need to involve others, and I specifically wish to encourage those of you who remain on the periphery to be proactive in finding room to be more involved. I am hugely appreciative of the work put in by our new catering committee around our Patronal Festival last year with the focus on our cultural diversity: the Cultural Dinner opened our eyes in new ways to each others lives.
Our sense of identity continues to evolve. Our Statement of Purpose continues to play an important role in this process. At our recent Council Planning Day it was agreed that our core purpose is threefold:
Priority 1: To be a place where others meet Christ
Priority 2: To build the Kingdom of God in the wider community through outreach and service
Priority 3: To sustain traditional Anglican practices
This marks an important development in our self-awareness, and a move in our thinking from maintenance to mission. Three years ago the priority was to maintain (at all costs?) a traditional Anglican environment. While sustaining traditional Anglican practices remains a priority, our first priority now is to be a place where others meet Christ, and this is exciting!
In terms of parish “issues” the only one that we have been unable to resolve during 2007 is the ongoing concern around our music. During 2006 we purchased the Songs of Fellowship Hymn book. Concern has been expressed that apart from the family service we rarely use or learn some of the more contemporary music it contains. Also, despite our growing cultural diversity in the parish, we have not managed to move beyond an older traditional Eurocentric style in our music. This is despite one of our core values stating that while our worship should be dignified, it should also be inclusive, flexible and reverent. I think the use of the words “dignified” and “reverent” are incorrectly interpreted to maintain an outdated status quo by those whose comfort zone is severely challenged by contemporary and African cultural musical expression.
My vision for worship includes encouraging the use of solid traditional Anglican Liturgy infused with “treasures old and new”. An Anglican Prayer Book allows for such rich liturgy. It is time for those who seek to maintain a comfortable Eurocentric mind-set in this parish to relinquish control and allow the rainbow cultures of Africa to infuse our worship. In this regard, there are plans afoot to invite one of the Mamelodi Parish Choir’s to come and expose us to a different experience. Isaiah says, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:18-19; TNIV). Without losing the value of the past, we need to explore the variety of experience offered in our Diocese, and reflective of whom we are becoming. This takes courage, perseverance and commitment from all quarters of our increasingly diverse community here at Corpus Christi.
On a Diocesan level 2007 was an unsettling year as we waited with baited breath to see the outcome of the archiepiscopal election in which our Bishop was a candidate. I was certainly among a number in this Diocese who felt shattered at the result. I was in no doubt that Bishop Jo was the best candidate for the position, believing that his experience, gifting and skills base exactly fitted the redesigned job description. It seems the mind of the electorate was not where I believed the mind of the Spirit of God to be. This said, many speak well of our new Archbishop-elect, Thabo Makgoba, and he brings youthful energy to the position. It is important that we continue to keep Bishop Jo in our prayers as he re-engages with the Diocese as we enter into a new phase, one driven largely by the Diocesan 3 Year programme for Mission, Ministry and Evangelism.
The wider Anglican Communion remains in crisis around issues of sexuality, specifically a Christian response to homosexuality. The decadal Lambeth Conference of Bishops meets this year, and it is clear from recent press releases that a massive amount of energy is being focused on building and sustaining positive relationships around the globe. We are a church that seeks to build unity in the midst of diversity … some would have us shun diversity in order to push a specific agenda. We need to hold Archbishop Rowan Williams embedded in prayer as his ministry is a fulcrum in our global life.
In the past I have listed specific thanks. Today I wish to be more general: we have all contributed to the life of the parish in the past year to a lesser or greater extent, whether you have just attended services or renovated and extended our building, whether you have been house-bound and allowed us to visit you or led aspects of our worship, whether you have enabled fellowship or enjoyed fellowship, and everything in between and beyond these activities; thank you for being a contributor, and thank you that you have played a creative part in allowing us to be, to continue to become, all that God desires for us.
I do pray for God’s rich blessing on us as a Christian community in all the challenges that 2008 will hold!
I thank you.
MARK R D LONG (Canon)