Friday, 28 February 2014

Rector's Report to Annual Vestry 2014: St Andrew's Church, Newlands

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5; NRSV).

Dawn and I greatly value the welcome we have received into the heart of St Andrew's, and can genuinely reflect that our move here from Pretoria has been a good one, and that we are happy in your midst. We appreciate all the effort that was put into getting the Rectory renovated for our advent, and the variety of welcomes we have received from so many. We are particularly appreciative of the friendship that has been offered us in the accumulating invitations into people's homes and lives. It was wonderful to arrive and be caught up in the exuberance of the Morning Market, and to flow into the various activities leading into our St Andrew's Christmas celebrations! Thank you.

My particular thanks to all who helped keep the ship afloat and moving forward during the interregnum, especially to the Churchwardens, Treasurer and assisting Clergy. Their job would have been all the more strenuous without the smooth operation of the Church Office - thank you Bev - and the ongoing support of the Church Council and Layministers, and the supportive participation of many in the wider Parish. It is wonderful to step into a Church community where key functions work, enabling a focus on mission and ministry and the proclamation of the Gospel.

Craig van Gelder (professor of congregational mission at Luther Seminary in the USA), in his book The Ministry of the Missional Church: a Community led by the Spirit, makes a useful distinction between mission and vision: we look to the Bible to discern and define our mission; we look to our context to discern and define our vision. He further makes the point that our core Church activities of worship, care, fellowship, education, discipleship, service and witness - rather than being an end in themselves - become the dynamic space where our mission is implemented and our vision realised. Our present statement at St Andrew's "... to be a loving, worshipping Christian community, which encourages everyone to follow Christ as disciples, through being obedient to his word and spirit, and as a result taking God's love to the local community, to the poor, the needy and the world" is a powerful statement of purpose (mission). The second part may in fact be our vision, and we need to explore this further as vision gives impetus to our mission. Mission is about who we are, what we do; vision is the "why." A key word in our present statement is "everyone", and speaks to our desire to be inclusive, as does the phrase "the world." An example is our Ministry to the Needy (MTN): it substantially realises our mission to take "... God's love to the poor, the needy" and is inclusive in the breadth of need we meet, but is limited in terms of parishioner involvement. We need to take time to reflect on how inclusive the opportunities offered by our core activities really are, and whether they are truly effective in helping implement our mission. People and resources are the primary input into this process, and ministry is the primary outcome as we seek to extend the reign of God in the communities we serve and in the wider context of God's created world.

Our mission (and vision) is important because our purpose helps define who we are, what is important to us, and - in terms of vision - where we perceive God to be leading us. Being human we are often drawn to other success stories, but do we really want to be known as a mirror of another community? There is often a temptation to define ourselves, not by our strengths, but by our weaknesses. To obviate this we need to be asking questions such as: what is our particular gifting as a Christian Anglican community? Where is God blessing us, using us? Mike Keggie, my predecessor, listed substantially more strengths than weaknesses in his final report to Annual Vestry in 2012, and I would concur - even after my short time with you - with his analysis. Weaknesses are opportunities that have potential to drive further growth, but they are not definitive of our identity. We need to build our identity around our values, and again Mike Keggie noted three areas of value here at St Andrew's: proclaiming the Good News, prayer and worship, relationships and mission. We have a lot to be proud of at St Andrew's, which we need to embrace, celebrate and own.

In my listening to you over the last four months there have been three particular topics of conversation that have stood out: our building project; our need to retain our young teenagers going forward; our ongoing use of A Book of Common Prayer (CPSA), more commonly known as the South African Prayer Book (SAPB). Each of these is a conversation in itself, so let the following suffice here:
  • in no conversation has the need for the building project been queried, and while detailed usage will need to be explored further, we need to agree on a footprint in order for the project to take a necessary step forward; 
  • in terms of our teenagers we need to explore "gaps in the market", rather than get competitive with well-oiled machines like Christ Church, Kenilworth, and Common Ground who presently draw off this age-group; 
  • in discussing our use of the SAPB we need to take care that we do not ride roughshod over what may indeed be of deep spiritual significance to some.

As you are likely to already have noted from my sermons I am in essence a practical theologian, and I relate strongly to James' admonition that we should "... be doers of the word, not merely hearers who deceive themselves" (James 1:22; NRSV), believing that our Faith should at all times inform the greater breadth of our lives. I do - on occasion - recognise my fallibility, and I seek to live my faith by example. There are times when I appear slow to make decisions, due often to my ability to see the issue from both sides and it takes some time to discern the most useful course of action; a nudge is often appropriate. I like to explore how things work before delegating specific tasks, but then trust others to be good stewards of these responsibilities once in their care. I am sure you will discover many quirks in my nature and leadership as we move forward together. One quirk is my support of the Lions (having been born in Johannesburg), and I noted that supporters of the local Cape Town team were surprisingly quiet after last week's clash, but then I guess a 24 point deficit is hard to swallow. I am used to a quiet opposition: my father-in-law is, after all, a Vodacom Bulls supporter! That said, the DHL Stormers will have my full support against the Hurricanes tomorrow evening (how can I not support a team that carries my wife's initials proudly displayed upon their chests?)!

Going forward I would like us to:
  • explore the purpose and focus of our three Sunday worship services and two weekday services; 
  • find ways to extend our home groups (a wonderful base for building relationships); 
  • in addition to our Lent and Marriage courses identify other courses or programmes that will develop our discipleship experience; 
  • explore potential links with local schools and the University, and thereby build our ministry to young people; 
  • find ways for greater individual participation in various areas of our Ministry to the Needy; and
  • seek areas to build active partnerships with other Parishes in the Archdeaconry and Diocese.

The task of the new Council will be to help determine the why, what and how, and directed by our mission (and vision), identify people and resources to make these things happen. The role of Council is to direct our Church life, to motivate us and to encourage us all to participate in the mission and ministry of St Andrew's Church as we seek to serve God and the purposes of his Kingdom in the village of Newlands and beyond.

I look forward with anticipation to working with our newly elected office-bearers, and the Parish as a whole, as we embrace the challenges and joys 2014 brings us.
As I close, let us take courage from God's word through Isaiah to the people of Israel:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6; NRSV).

27 February 2014

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