Craig van Gelder, in his book the ministry of the missional church: a community led by the spirit (2007) says that there are three important questions a congregation needs to ask, “What has God done? What is God doing? What does God want to do?” The first question is another way of asking “Why are we here?” The second question is about faith and discernment. The third question is about wisdom and planning.
In light of the above, today is about telling more of our story, adding to our history. We are here to review in particular what it is that God has done in our midst during the last twelve months: we are not only to reflect on our actions, but importantly on the meaning of these activities within the broader call to serve the kingdom of God in the wider world. We are also here to apply our wisdom and give the incoming parish council some direction in their planning for 2011.
On a personal note the past year has been a challenging one, the second half in particular. I became acting archdeacon of Madibeng, a missionary area to the west of Pretoria, and was asked by the Bishop to investigate its viability for the future. It is my hope that the work I have done will enable the Bishop to appoint a full-time archdeacon during this year, and I will get back to being a Canon. During this time I was one of two candidates for Dean of Kimberly and Kuruman, and a final interviewing candidate for Dean of Cape Town. Both positions went to locally known people. In between all this Dawn and I have completed the Jesuit Institute’s Prayer Guide Course, and Dawn will go on to complete the Spiritual Director's course over the next two years. In February I will complete my post-graduate certificate in Congregational Leadership through the University of Pretoria. This certificate counts as the course-work for a Master’s Degree, which I will hopefully complete during the course of 2011/2012.
My strong impression is that 2010 has been a year in which we as a parish have caught our breath. The previous year (2009) had been a busy one, and many of us entered 2010 needing to draw breath and recollect ourselves. The impact of the Soccer World Cup, and the demands it made on us as a society, has also had its impact. This was evident in that our Patronal Festival and Christmas events were celebrated with teas, not lunches; and one of our fund-raising events was cancelled.
This said, the 2010 was not uneventful! Isobel Holden once again organised a wonderful Parish Fete that raised in the region of R30,000; our Confirmation candidates enjoyed a spiritually nourishing camp; attendance at the Men’s Fishing Weekend was its largest in its eleven year history, and the clergy spouses hosted a very successful “Ladies Spiritual Spar Day”; our Confirmation Service, with Bishop Jo present, was one of our worship highlights for the year; we managed to produce a Children’s Church Nativity play for the first time in a number of years, and its contemporary format was a definite hit with our teenagers and younger children; attendance at our occasional Youth Fusion events was up, and our Children and Teen Church numbers were high; all of which suggests we are doing something right!
Our outreach has again been a highlight of parish life. We have maintained our relationship with Louis Botha Homes, and our “Shrove Sunday” event with them was life-giving. We donated just over two-thirds of the proceeds of our fete to Tumelong, and have maintained our monthly provision of over 30 food parcels. The Tumelong Maboloka Christmas Party was well-supported, and it was great to see a larger contingent of parishioners involved on the day. Council has also committed to a monthly financial pledge to Tumelong. Irene Homes and WAR continue to get our attention, and I hope we will give better support to our Tea Table at the Irene Homes Fete this year.
Our parish facilities (hall and barn) play an increasingly important local community role: a senior-citizens exercise class takes place every Monday morning; Taekwondo classes are offered twice a week in the afternoon and Jujitsu classes twice a week in the evening; the Cake Icing Guild meets once a month in the hall, and a branch of Alcoholics’ Anonymous uses the Barn on Wednesdays and Saturdays; the local residents security association (GarsB3) uses our hall on a monthly basis for residents meetings and the barn for a committee meeting.
Money is always a difficult subject. We have done well in 2010, all things considered. The effects of the global economic crisis continued to affect our pockets last year, and this was seen in our income from Generosity Giving remaining at 2008 levels; and commitments for this year appear unchanged. There is a limit to how much we can control expenditure increases, and your cooperation is needed to reach our commitments for 2011. I realise we are all more inclined to give to people and to specific projects rather than to a general operational budget, but while our budget looks like electricity, petrol, and other consumables, it is actually focused around people: our staff, parishioners and strangers. Craig van Gelder (quoted above) notes that our financial giving reflects the degree to which we recognise our calling to be a part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in bringing about changed lives, transformed communities, and redemptive ministry in the world.
Our parish has become increasingly intra-cultural over the last few years, something I believe we need to celebrate more often. In particular we need to find ways for our music to reflect this: music is one of the few areas of parish life where we struggle to find ourselves on the same page; we are a little out of tune with each other in this aspect of our worship, and we need to discover a melody that reflects our diversity more fully.
There is need, too, to review our Parish vision and our sense of purpose. This need was noted at our November Council meeting, and some time was spent at the Council Planning Day last week reflecting on leadership, the changes taking place in our society, and a possible model to help take us forward. Craig van Gelder (quoted above) offers a useful model that the incoming Council has agreed to interact with. It is a model that offers an open-systems perspective on congregational life, taking our religious heritage (Biblical and Confessional values), our denominational history (core ministry values), our facilities and location into account. Being an open-systems perspective it acknowledges that the church’s boundaries are porous, that the world affects us and that we impact on the world. In essence, van Gelder’s model asks us to focus on Scripture in defining our purpose (mission) and on our context in discerning our vision. Our core practices (worship, evangelism, education, social responsibility, pastoral care and community needs) become the primary manner in which we carry out our purpose and minister meaningfully in our context. The model also takes sincerely the need for strategic structures, and our programs, people, communication, facilities and finances are all taken seriously. It is a holistic model that recognises the importance of the Church being a transforming community, with the Holy Spirit being the prime guiding agent. At the heart of this model is the understanding that the Church is called, gathered, and sent into the world to participate fully in God’s mission.
Archdeaconry, Diocese and Province
My appointment as acting Archdeacon of Madibeng necessitated the handing over of responsibility for St Anne (Equestria) and St Agnes (Stanza Bopape) to other clergy in the Archdeaconry. Excitingly, the new home for St Anne in Equestria has been completed and dedicated. Frustratingly, it is taking some time to get the water connected, and the community is still worshipping at Willow Ridge High School. There is good a good possibility that St Anne should be able to take full occupation of the new Church in time for Lent. This will mark a new step in their journey, and our child has flown the nest. Thank you to all here who in some form have contributed to seeing this vision of a new Anglican Community in the East take root.
The Bishop is calling the 83rd session of Diocesan Synod to meet in September this year. This will bring to an end the present Diocesan theme focused on family life. I was encouraged by how many parishioners here at Corpus Christi noted in response to the survey we held last year that it is the strong sense of family that drew them to join this parish, and remains one of the major reasons they stay.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa adopted a new mission and vision statement, along with eight priority areas for focus, at the Provincial Synod last year: a call for us to ACT, to be Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God’s mission, and Transformed by the Holy Spirit. This is a pivotal step that the Province has taken, and it is important that we find ways at Diocesan, Archdeaconry and Parish level to incorporate these principles into our common life.
Society and Nation Building
We live in a broken and hurting world. As God’s people we are called to be a light to the nations. Leonard Sweet, in his book So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church, says, “When it comes to culture, we are to be in-but-not-of-but-not-out-of-it-either.” He goes on to say that, “to live in the twenty-first century you have to come to terms with paradox, whether you are a disciple or not.” I believe we often experience these challenges as we seek to live out our lives in the midst of family, work, community involvement, as well as in our friendship circles.
Our national life seems to remain chaotic, and Government continues to give the impression of incompetence and corruption at many levels. We need to remain positive, and highlight positives when we find them, and support those who do live out their values in our often compromised social, economic and political society. There are a number of our parishioners working at various levels of Government, and we need to hear the success stories from you, and also hear how we can better support you.
Walking through Woolworths in La Lucia Mall while on leave I was struck by posters up in the store: one read, “We’re destined for great things: the future is SA” and another, “I’m so looking forward to tomorrow: the future is SA.” South Africa remains a land of great opportunity and possibility, and the success of the Soccer World Cup last year demonstrated this in many ways. What I particularly enjoyed is that we shared a common language for the duration, and suddenly had something to talk about whether it was to the petrol attendant or till worker, CEO or shop-floor assistant. It was a wonderful time of unity, and we need more of these moments in our national life. Our future lies in our hands, and we must not be afraid to stand up and claim it.
In my earlier reports to Vestry as Rector I note that I thanked various groups and people for their support and leadership. It is testimony to our growth that I am no longer sure where to start with such a list. I hope it will suffice to say thank you to you all for all that you have contributed this past year. Big or small, your actions and contributions have made a meaningful difference to our parish life. My special thanks to my wife, Dawn, for her ongoing support and love in what has been a challenging year for us personally. Cheryl Rogers has proved a power-house in the office and my sincere thanks to her for what she has done both in and beyond the call of duty. To our outgoing Churchwardens and active members of Council: thank you for your support and contribution to the leadership of the parish. To the Ministry Team and supportive ministries, thank you for your dedication in keeping our worship and pastoral care alive and well.
MARK R D LONG