IntroductionToday is our 2nd Annual Vestry Meeting, and marks just over a year of our existence as the Mission Parish in Equestria. Since our 1st Meeting we have gained an identity, and I hear us talking about ourselves as “St Anne’s” as if we’ve always been here, which I see as exciting and positive. We come today to celebrate the last year, which is good; but more importantly we need to look forward with expectation. We need to make ourselves available to God, again, that his life may flow through us so that we may be truly be the light of Christ in this part of God’s world. We need to hold close to our hearts Pauls words, “If God is for us, who can be against us?“ (Romans 8:31b TNIV)
The foundation of our Christian confidence lies in four things: our calling; our identity, where we have come from; and where we are going. It is about vision, knowing who we are, and understanding our context.
Our callingWhen I arrive in the Archdeaconry five years ago there was a desire to expand the Anglican Church eastwards, and two areas were identified: the area from Silverton through to Silver Lakes, and the area south east of Mooikloof. These two options were explored and land bought. A development centred in the Willows was identified as the priority area and in 2006 I was asked by the Diocese to drive the process with Corpus Christi (Garsfontein) as a base with support from St Francis (Waterkloof) and Holy Trinity (Lynnwood). By July this year (2010) the first phase in reaching this vision, this mission development, will be achieved with a worshiping community based in a new worship facility in Stellenberg Road, Equestria.
Where we have we come fromWe needed to define a new Anglican community, and the Diocese committed to helping us do this by providing a clergyperson-in-training to help us determine if we could get a community off the ground. In 2007 Vernon Foster began canvassing in the area, speaking to various parishes, and before long we had a core group of Anglicans willing to join this new venture; the missionary congregation of Willow Glen was formed, and necessary ministry and administrative structures were put in place during 2008. The community was not growing fast, but the journey was exciting.
Alongside this process another more painful journey was taking place. This was the journey the Parish of All Saints (Silverton) was on with the Diocese. Again, a small core of people working diligently to keep head above water, but with the currents of Diocesan opinion – combined with an increasingly semi-industrial environment booming in the wider Silverton geographical surroundings – threatening their existence.
In July 2008 I was asked to explore the possibility of combining the Parish of Silverton with the missionary congregation of Willow Glen. The option was clearly viable, but necessitated the very hard step of Silverton saying good-bye to their home in Pretoria Road and, a bit like Abram and Sarai, stepping out into an uncertain journey. It required of Willow Glen a willingness to walk away from their still new identity, and inclusively embrace a hurting community.
And so a new community was born on Advent Sunday 2008, and the Mission Parish of Equestria (us!) came into being. Fr Veron acted as mid-wife to this event before his almost immediate redeployment by the Bishop to take up the position of Rector in Lynnwood. Alan O’Brien, also a clergyperson-in-training, was assigned by the Bishop to assist me, and has helped oversee the nurturing of us as a new community. It is thanks to Fr Alan’s leadership, as well as your willingness, that we have forged a united Mission Parish over the last year. While not negating our past we have had the courage to overcome our pain that walking away from the Parish of Silverton required and the sense of loss that walking away for the very young Willow Glen congregation required – and for your courage I salute you!
Our identityWe are still, like Abram and Sarai, on our journey to the “Promised Land”. The site and building-in-progress in Stellenberg Road is giving some tangible reality to the vision, and we are thankful for these facilities at Willow Ridge High School that help contain us on the journey. During 2009 Diocesan Chapter placed the dedication of St Anne on us, which we have accepted. It has some roots in our shared history with Silverton, and so is a touch-stone with the past. St Anne was the grandmother of Christ, and there is always something very comforting about having a granny in residence! But just as Anne bore Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, so our name is a continual reminder to us that our calling is to make Jesus known to the world, to give birth to him in the wider community we serve, and to give birth to others who will continue to give life to the vision and continue to respond to the call.
It has been encouraging to see our community grow from under thirty people at worship early in 2009 to regularly around fifty people now. Our financial position has been far in excess of our Budget for last year. Although we may be relatively small in number there can be no doubt that we are big in heart! My thanks to all who have worked and contributed tirelessly in helping us become who we are, and who we will be. I’m encouraged by God’s name, as he shared it with Moses, because it can be translated as “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”: a reminder that we are always more than we appear to be, and that we must never limit our future by how we perceive ourselves in the present.
Where we are goingI know that many of us are mourning Fr Alan’s redeployment to St Bede’s (Soshanguve), and that we had hopes that he would be with us for another year. The reality is that we have had substantial help from the Diocese over the last three years in the form of both Vernon Foster and Alan O’Brien, and there can be no doubt that had they not been with us we would not be where we are today. The Dioceses’ support in the form of Clergy-in-training has helped us find our feet and become a viable Christian community. With Alan’s recent move there is the temptation to feel abandoned by the Diocese, but if we are honest with ourselves such a response is that of any young adult facing the world as parents set them free to explore the world on their own. As we know, parents wait anxiously see if their child will fly, and are ever ready to step in with support. We now stand as many Chapelries and Mission Parishes stand throughout the Anglican Communion: on our own feet with the challenge to grow to the point where we can fully support our own full-time priest. In the meantime we are better resourced than many: we have a Rector with our needs at heart; we have access to two self-supporting Clergy who, together with the Rector, will ensure we have a Eucharist most Sundays; we have four trained and licensed Layministers; we have a committed Council and Churchwardens, also with our needs at heart; and we have each other.
The vision for our existence has been the vision of others; we have accepted that vision, but the challenge now is to make that vision fully our own, and sustain a vibrant and growing sense of family, meaningful worship, caring and fellowship. Both Vernon and Alan have helped engender this in our midst. The timing of the Bishop’s redeployment of Alan may not be ideal from our perspective, but know this: God has purpose in it, and we will look back in time to come and understand. It is part of the journey. Jeremiah says, ““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 29:11-14a TNIV).
Let us hold to the vision and keep the faith!
The year aheadChallenge number one: hold the vision, keep the faith!
Challenge number two: we are family together in Christ, and we need to stand together. It is likely that by July we will be ensconced in our new home, and the challenge will be exactly that: to make it “Home”.
Challenge number three: grow! We need to find and take every opportunity of reaching out into the community. The sooner we grow our numbers, the sooner our income will expand, and the sooner we will be able to apply to the Bishop for a full-time priest. However, this should not be an end in itself, nor the focus of our efforts. If it is it will fail. It needs to be an almost unintended consequence of our desire to serve God through Jesus Christ, to serve God’s creation and the wider society in which we find ourselves.
The challenge that lies on the shoulders of our new Council is to give us direction and lead us into the “Promised Land”: it is a massive task. But I trust we will all share the load and continue to walk this journey together. God is here, we are not alone, and we have the archdeaconry and the Diocese behind us.
Let us embrace God’s love, and walk together in his grace.