Our Annual Vestry Meeting is an important opportunity to stop and reflect on what God has been doing in our lives and community, and specifically where we are in our journey of Faith. We are asked to give “bodily form” to that which is largely intangible, and certainly difficult to define outside of material instruments. In our meeting we will table parish Councillors’ attendance at Council meetings, assess our finances, and hear reports on various actions and activities. I hope we will leave with a sense that it is good to be here, that it is good to belong to the Anglican community in this part of Pretoria.
Through all our deliberations we need to be asking more fundamental questions: is God with us; are we growing into greater maturity in our relationship with God, both as individuals and as a Christian community; are we impacting positively on the world beyond the boundaries of this building in terms of Christian values, morality and ethical behaviour? What is the nature of the Good News we share with God’s creation: do our lives, our relationships reflect the inclusive nature of God’s love? And this despite our brokenness, our human fragility, the shattered nature of our daily existence.
In Ephesians 2:6-7 (TNIV) Paul says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” This reflects an ultimate Christian outcome, and leads us to ask, “How are we creating Heaven within the realm of daily life, struggle and existence?”
The past year has been a difficult one for me: standing as a candidate for Episcopal election in the Diocese of the Highveld, believing that I have the gifting and call to fulfil the role, and then not being elected left me in a dislocated place. Knowing that I was an outsider, understanding that the Diocese may have other priorities and may well elect someone they are already in relationship with, didn’t make the outcome any easier to deal with. Standing for election makes one visible, and I was subsequently approached by one of the larger parishes in Johannesburg. Dawn, too, has been through a difficult time in terms of her career, and while God has been good in providing opportunities for her to consult in the Motor Industry, she has a deep desire to find a professional direction of deeper meaning and purpose. I remain uncertain as to the present nature of God’s call on my life, but do know that it is good to be here at Corpus Christi, and appreciate the deepening relationship that I share with many of you. Being priest, pastor and teacher in your midst remains a fulfilling existence … and my sense right now is “Long may it last!”
I have registered for an introductory course to Spiritual Direction through the Jesuit Institute in Johannesburg, as well as a formal academic course towards a Masters Degree in Contextual Congregational Leadership through Tukkies. So, 2010 promises to be full and stimulating.
I look back over five years and suspect that we are a different community to that which we were in 2005. I experience a deeper ownership of parish life by most who attend Worship on a regular basis. The “us & them” mentality that noticeably marked parish life when I was first appointed has lessened, and is almost invisible. Challenges remain, and at our Council Planning Day for 2010 last week concern was expressed that we find ways to get the various ministry communities to be more representative: we noted that the catering community has only one “pale African” and that the Children’s Church Teachers are largely “Whities”. On one level this may seem a nit-picky issue in the light of far greater challenges that face our wider society, but they do speak to what it means to be family and friends in Christ. My thanks to all who continue to work hard to reach across the boundaries that mark our different cultural and international identities – you make a valuable difference.
Our financial position suggests that most of us have weathered the economic downturn quite well, and I appreciate that for many committed parishioners your regular financial contribution has become more sacrificial in recent months. I was humbled recently by a most substantial “thanksgiving donation” received from one of our parish families as they celebrated God’s sustaining presence in their midst in recent very difficult circumstances.
All our lives are increasingly busy and not unaffected by the massive amounts of time many of us spend in the chaotic Gauteng traffic that steals significant time from our family and community commitments. I appreciate the time that many of you give beyond the call of Worship, and your willingness to involve yourselves in organising, or just attending, our various parish activities. We have had some wonderful times together in the last year – our Cultural Event stands out with everything from Zulu dancers to Jenny Moser masquerading as the late Queen Mother!
Many of us set Sunday morning aside for Church, and outside of winter and various holiday periods, our Worship attendance has grown, an encouraging sign. I am hugely encouraged by the youth that gather each week for Children’s and Teen Church. We continue to find it difficult to get youth to support activities outside of Sundays, although we had a great turnout for our 2009 end-of-year event organised via Facebook.
Spiritual growth has taken place through our Baptism and Confirmation preparation classes, our Lent Course which focused on transformation, and through our post-winter course on the Baptismal Creed. There are various focus groups that meet where fellowship and spiritual nourishment are received: from the Monday night Cell Group to the Thursday afternoon Bible Study, to the monthly Friday afternoon Women’s group and the monthly Saturday afternoon Comfort Group where the bereaved and divorced meet for fellowship. The Men went fishing (again!) and celebrated 10 years of fellowship and fishing-frustration, and excitingly the Women had a Spiritually-focused weekend away that I hope will also become an annual tradition. Relational counselling has taken up a great deal of my time over the last year, both in preparing couples for marriage and in trying to keep other couples married!
Our main challenge for 2010, apart for praying for miracles from Bafana-Bafana, is to become a community that arrives early for Worship. Towards the end of last year I became aware of a conversation taking place in various contexts of people’s frustration with those who arrive late. No matter how quietly late-comers seek to enter our Worship space, their movement creates distraction. We are not a community that struggles to find transport, and so late-coming, while distracting, is also perceived to be disrespectful both to God and to those already gathered; and so my focus this year is to encourage us to be a community that values arriving early. I’m specifically encouraging parish leaders to be present at least half-an-hour before our Worship begins, and realise that for some there are major challenges in getting children and spouses to join this journey. I am attempting to set this example myself, although being at Church by 06:30 on a Sunday morning is admittedly a challenge!
At our recent Council Planning Day we revisited our parish “Statement of Purpose” and a good deal of the discussion focused on our second core purpose of building the Kingdom of God in the wider community through outreach and service. We have visibility in the wider Diocesan areas of outreach (Irene Homes, Tumelong) and in the wider Pretoria (Louis Botha Homes and Women Against Rape). The question was raised as to whether we are visible in our more local geographical environment of Garsfontein, Constantia Park, Moreleta Park and Faerie Glen. This was more difficult to define.
Outreach is a powerful form of Christian service, and if we are to truly serve we need to be confident in our calling (vision), our identity (who we are), we need to know where we have come from and where we are going. To this end our “Statement of Purpose” is critical to our confidence in serving both God and the world: our core purpose of being a place where others meet Christ, of building the Kingdom of God in the wider community, and of sustaining traditional Anglican practices needs to guide us; our core values of dignified worship, opportunity, friendship, and broad-based parishioner involvement need to motivate us; our Scriptural imperative “…go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) must impel us. The focus of many of my Sunday sermons has been aimed at equipping us for our role in the world.
The focus of our mission as a parish over the last few years has been the encouragement of a new Anglican community in Equestria, and this has been a combined project with Archdeaconry and Diocesan support. Our contribution, apart from the facilitation that I have provided as Rector, has been our partial support of a clergy person-in-training who has been charged with the day-to-day pastoral care and worship coordination of the Equestria community. At the beginning of 2009 the small congregation of Willow Glen combined with the shrinking parish of Silverton to form the mission parish of St Anne’s, Equestria. The Worshipping community has grown from just under thirty regular attendants before Easter to regularly around fifty people by December 2009. Their financial commitment has grown accordingly, and their budget for 2010 is healthy, but not yet at the point where they can, even with our help, provide for a full-time clergy person. The building of the new Church facility for Equestria in Stellenberg Road has begun, and our plan is that it will be completed before mid-year. The construction is largely being funded by the sale of the Silverton Church facilities (R1,800,000), although the agreed cost of R2,500,000 will require ongoing fundraising to meet the shortfall; in this regard, my thanks to all who supported the Welsh Male Voice Choir Fundraising event last year.
We have been fortunate to have had Vernon Foster (now Rector of Lynnwood) and more recently Alan O’Brien as the clergy presence in Equestria during their training, and together with the Equestria community we are most thankful for the Diocesan support in covering their stipends and medical aid while we have met their allowances and other costs. The Bishop, due to the pressure to fill vacancies in parishes that are able to meet the full cost of a clergy person, has made the decision to remove Alan as of 1 February 2010 and place him in one of these parishes for his year of post-ordination training as a Priest. While I remain their Rector I will not be able to offer the same level of presence that Alan has been free to do. There is no doubt that Anglican communities find security, and therefore growth, when a dedicated clergy person is easily accessible and present. The formation of this new Mission Parish remains at a critical point.
Our other area of mission focus has been to support the Louis Botha Homes, as well as Irene Homes, Tumelong and Women against Rape. We have a new, enlarged parish organising community in place for Tumelong, and our Christmas Party for the children of Maboloka Haven attests to their efficiency as well as to the generosity of our Parish community. We continue to collect food-parcels, although the number of parcels contributed by parishioners has decreased significantly in recent months, which is a concern. We also give out many tins of food from the Office during the week to the hungry and destitute.
Our Diocesan theme “Equipping and strengthening families: turning houses into homes” remains our focus of mission and ministry until Diocesan Synod in 2011. During 2009 we had “Family Life” as a dedicated Council portfolio, which was largely unproductive with the Parenting Seminars getting very little support from parents. In 2010 all Council portfolio holders have been asked to let the Diocesan theme inform their plans and actions. I was encouraged that three of our Councillors for 2010 expressed a concern for Pastoral Care, and I look forward to this portfolio in particular helping to take us forward in family issues. There are many levels of being family, and perhaps most critically at one level for us as a collective is to explore in the coming year what it means to be God’s family, the family of Christ; and at the other end of the scale finding support as parents balancing children and highly demanding careers in an increasingly hostile environment.
The Diocesan Standing Committee took a courageous decision in November 2009 to move Clergy onto a “cost-to-church” (cost-to-company) package in 2010. This will not have a big impact on us, as we were already largely following this model. There will, doubtless, be a learning curve here as we move forward, but it is an encouraging and exciting development.
I remain a member of the Cathedral Chapter (an advisory board to the Diocesan Bishop) with the portfolio of Canon Chancellor, which includes mentorship of the Diocesan School Chaplains and facilitation of the integration of the Diocesan theme and other Diocesan ministry imperatives in these institutions.
Society and Nation Building
We live in challenging times as a nation. We hear very little from our State President, Jacob Zuma, and too much from the President of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema. There can be no doubt that our leaders set an example that many in the nation follow. Malema’s example is one of disrespect for one’s elders and the ANC’s silence on his behaviour only exacerbates the situation. The ANC’s unwillingness to allow other members of the Tripartite Alliance space to influence Government policy is of concern. Stories of money for social development paid out to contractors being divided before payment to other “interested” parties, along with excessive packages paid to Parastatal executives, highlights the degree of corruption and immoral behaviour that pervades our society.
As Christians we have the responsibility to live a moral and ethical lifestyle, despite the immorality and unethical practices that surround us in both Government and Civil Society. While we cannot impose Christian values on others, we can impose them on ourselves and on the manner in which we interact with the various institutions and representatives of Government and Business. We need to persevere, even when under severe pressure to conform to the immoral behaviour that society increasingly appears to accept as normal. It is the Christian call on our lives as individuals and as a community; it is also our duty. Our actions may seem insignificant and ineffectual in the tide that threatens our nation, but Jesus’ message was always about the apparently insignificant being the source of transformation and abundant life.
You will doubtless have noted that I have mentioned few by name, and thanked no-one specifically. This is purposeful, firstly because someone “important” is often overlooked, and secondly because we do not do what we do for human accolade. God knows our hearts and actions, and will judge us all accordingly. You know what you have contributed, and my thanks goes to everyone who has contributed in some way, great or small, towards the growth of our parish over the last year. Special thanks to those who have supported me in various leadership and caring capacities, and those who have enabled our corporate worship and fellowship events. Know that your efforts are highly valued and greatly appreciated: you have made a difference, and for that I am most thankful.
MARK R D LONG