2014 AGM VICAR’S REPORT
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
Romans 12:3–8 (NRSV)
Almost one year after our arrival Anna, the children and I are so grateful to be here and for how you have welcomed us. This is a warm church fellowship, with two vibrant communities and an astounding environment in which to be living and serving the people of the Mackenzie.
It takes more than a year to really come to grips with the uniqueness of a parish and the Mackenzie Cooperating Parish is no exception. In some ways it has more uniqueness and more variety than many other parishes. For that reason alone I am grateful to be here for the long term. I’m also grateful to be here longer term because it gives us the opportunity to grow together.
I’d like to share a few of things I see in relation to church’s life and future here in the Mackenzie.
I was recently shown one of George Empson’s beautiful photographs portraying two streams flowing together at the head of the Lillybank road. It seems to me that this image holds out a wonderful vision of our church community. We’re called the Cooperating Church of Mackenzie because 40 years ago the Anglican and Presbyterian churches in this district decided to start working together. Regardless of what practicalities lay behind that decision at the time, God has used it to bring us to this point.
In the same way that these two streams in the photograph flow out of the same mountain range, many spiritual movements have flowed out of God’s unique revelation in Jesus Christ. At this time, in this place, God has begun to bring these movements together. This hasn’t happened in order for us to sit around telling ourselves what fantastic church traditions they are, or to argue about them. There is a lot more going on here than a pragmatic liaison between two denominations. We have been brought together in order to be renewed in our commitment to God’s purpose and to exist as a living witness to Christ’s resurrection.
The photograph shows two streams that have become one. They have journeyed side by side until this point. But now they come together, they become one. They each bring their gifts which they now share in common. We too bring God given gifts from our Presbyterian and Anglican heritage (though I think we could more accurately use non-denominational language and speak of our reformed, catholic and charismatic heritages). I understand some people are reluctant to lose distinctive church traditions. Sometimes I confess, I feel like that too; there are simply some ways of worshiping or relating to God that we’re accustomed to, that make us feel comfortable, familiar and at home. We should never neglect or forget the theological and spiritual gifts of those who have gone before us. But the question we need to ask is not where the Holy Spirit led the church in the past, but where is the Holy Spirit leading us now? I can envision a church community that is faithful to all that was good and praiseworthy from the past, but that most of all is willing to be faithful to the future that God calls us into.
When we’re part of a church we all want it to grow. To be honest we often have different reasons for wanting it to grow and we have different theories as to how it could grow. We also know there’s more to the church growing than having more people coming to worship on Sunday morning. Although it’s natural to talk about growth, I’d prefer to talk about renewal. This church, as a community of faith, has the potential to experience renewal.
renew ■ verb
1 resume or re-establish after an interruption.
2 give fresh life or strength to.
3 extend the period of validity of (a licence, subscription, or contract).
4 replace or restore (something broken or worn out).
It’s quite possible that any one of the Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of renew could apply to the church, but let’s be positive and consider renewal in terms of being refreshed and strengthened.
Being refreshed and strengthened in our commitment to Christ. Being refreshed and strengthened in worship. Being refreshed and strengthened in the practical difference Jesus makes in lives of real people like you and me as we live in relationship to real people around us. Being refreshed and strengthened in our service to others. Being refreshed and strengthened in extending God’s love, forgiveness and new beginnings to the wider community and world. True renewal doesn’t come from having a new minister, or great programmes, or a large operational budget, or skilled professionals on parish council; even though all these things may be good in themselves! Renewal happens as people encounter the life-changing God who Jesus reveals. Renewal happens when the church moves beyond simply managing assets and rediscovers what a life-changing, community building power God is.
Renewal is a natural consequence of recognising and celebrating God’s presence and activity in our lives. For renewal to happen it may be necessary for us to repent of those attitudes and habits that have hindered the Holy Spirit’s work among us. We typically recognise greed, un-forgiveness, and bitterness as attitudes that restrict our lives and need to be repented of. But there are also other things we in the church take for granted as good that need to be repented of. We may have to repent of moralism – thinking of Christianity only in terms of right behaviour. We may have to repent of ritualism – thinking of Christianity only in terms of right religious ceremonies. On a more positive note renewal also involves us engaging one another in conversations, shared study, and shared spiritual practices such as prayer and service that calibrate our awareness and natural love for God and neighbour. That’s what being a disciple involves. That’s what Jesus enabled to happen among his first followers and he will enable such deepening and renewal to happen among us today if we are willing and faithful.
By now the practical among you will be hankering for a to-do list. I won’t give one, but here are a few practical considerations I’d like you to consider.
Parish Council leads the way by establishing the culture of the church. The council serves by providing vision and governance and supporting those responsible for the day to day work and mission of the church. One irony of this is that the council may in some ways need to become less practical! By committing significant time together learning to pray and reflect theologically and biblically councillors help renew our understanding of what the church is and how to live out of a Christ-centred vision. Spending time in study and discussion together is one way council members can practically work our way through many of the “denominational” misunderstandings that have weighed down the church in the past and rediscover how the gifts of Baptism and Holy Communion can enliven every church member in their everyday ministry. I’d also encourage Council members to seek renewal in their own lives and the life of the church by taking part in one quiet day and one visioning day this year. The first of these has been scheduled for June 6th, 2014 and will be led by Dr Peter Carrell. The theme is Discipleship in Matthew’s Gospel. The Parish Council has also recently agreed to meet alternately in both LakeTekapo and Fairlie and to investigate how to safeguard and promote even representation from both communities on Council.
While the Parish Council provides governance to sustain our vision it’s the committees and teams that seek to put vision into practice – whether that’s through Worship, Outreach, Pastoral Care, Financial Stewardship, Education or Building Development and Maintenance. Over 2014 I would love to see teams and committees develop somewhat independently in both Fairlie and LakeTekapo. The simple reason for this is to free people to contribute their gifts where they live without the need to travel huge distances for committee meetings. Tekapo and Fairlie are different communities. While as a parish we seek to work towards a common vision, how that gets worked out locally will be shaped by those who live in those places. I also believe that our structures need to be light and flexible enough to allow people to invest their energies compassionately and creatively without having to write reports back to Council every month! The New Testament describes the church as the body of Christ, with different parts of the body representing different God given gifts and skills. So renewal also involves recognising and supporting each other to grow in the gifts we have to offer.
I have attempted in the latest Mackenzie Musterer to outline the church’s protocols of membership along with my thoughts about the meaning of church membership. There are two reasons for doing this. The first is because guidelines and protocols about membership often stay mysteriously hidden in Parish Handbooks and Church constitutions only to be discovered when we ask someone who knows. So it’s helpful to have all these processes out in the open in a transparent and concise form so that people can make informed decisions. The second reason for describing the meaning of membership the way I have is to steer us away from thinking of membership as something institutional or about “joining a club” or getting with a denominational programme. Some people may not appreciate me using words like “commitment” in relation to faith and shared spiritual practices such as worship, study, service and prayer. I don’t do that in order to judge people but because we have a choice between two types of membership. The first is institutional and based on legal requirements, rights and power. The second is organic, relational and based on our commitment to share and participate together in the common grace we receive from Christ. This is why the apostle Paul described church membership in terms of being members of a body. Membership from my point of view is mainly about the second type and that’s why I place such an emphasis on shared faith and practices. In my view it’s the only way church can become natural and practical rather than an institutional relic of a by-gone age. It’s up to all of us to work out what membership looks like in practice, for each of us individually and as a congregation. I won’t be ticking any attendance books but I will encourage all of us to find ways of deepening our relationship with God. Even though that may look different for each one of us, we will benefit from finding meaningful ways to make the journey of discipleship together.
If you have read this entire report, I thank you sincerely for your patience. You have my permission to agree or disagree with anything I have said and to think aloud about those agreements or disagreements. I don’t make any claim to having all the answers but always appreciate the opportunities to sit down and listen and be informed by the views of others.
Thanks again each one of you for your love, prayer and support.
May God’s grace
revealed to us in the face of Jesus
grow in each one of you
by the power of the Spirit
shaping your outlook
and your living in wonderful and refreshing ways.
 Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 2004).