Thursday, 26 October 2017

Rector's Report to Annual Vestry 2017: St Andrew's Church, Newlands

“… if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.”
John 13:14 NRSV

Introduction

“Religion, War, Victory, Peace!” was the mantra of the ancient Roman Empire, which Rome didn’t claim to have invented, but did perfect; and every Empire before and after has sought to create “Peace through Victory!”  This ethos entered the Church early in our history, around the time of Constantine, and has been a dominant theme in world mission as  the Church grew on the back of Empire. Yet it is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus, highlighted in the above quote from John 13, that calls God’s people to wash one another’s feet; and seen in Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount) where Jesus enjoins us to love our enemies. We are called to nurture peace, not through victory, but through service.

Our catchphrase as a Parish over the last couple of years, in essence a summary of our Mission Statement, has been “Serving each other; serving the World”: how are we doing with that? How are we serving? How are we washing feet? How have we been served? How have our feet been washed? When and where have we allowed others to wash our feet?

While Annual Vestry is all about reports, elections, and an opportunity to address matters that affect our future and common life, at the heart of these various conversations we need to explore our experience of God, recognising that we do so through each other: we are God’s hands; we are God’s feet. Our words may be God’s words to one another.

One of the desires that envisions our Building Project is to position ourselves as a community Church: a Church IN the community, SERVING the community. How are we doing with that? How have we washed the Bishop and his family’s feet? How have we washed Kildare Pre-Primary School’s feet? How have we washed Maitland Cottage Orthopaedic Hospital’s feet? How have we washed the feet of Creswell House? How have we washed the feet of the Newlands Volunteer Wildfire Services Base? How have we washed the feet of our neighbours in Kildare Road and across the Newlands Stream? How have we washed the feet of our neighbours in Newlands and beyond? How have we washed the feet of our neighbours who drop off and collect their children form the Pre-School each day? How have we washed one another’s feet as we come together for worship, prayer, Bible Study, fellowship and outreach?

You’ll find some of the answers – but not all – in the Churchwardens’, Finance, and Ministry to the Needy (MTN) reports. You’ll find the rest of the answers in your own and your neighbours’ experience.

Looking back: 2016

2016 has been a full and difficult year, and yet within the wider context of social, political, and economic struggle and the more intimate matrix of our personal joys and hardships, there is much to give thanks for in our Parish life. My personal thanks to each one of you for the manner in which we have been able to create space for God’s love to be manifest in us and through us. There are many of you for whom I am especially thankful because your efforts have stood out; there are others for whom I am also extremely grateful, but I don’t know who you are because you have quietly been about God’s business among us. Know that noticed or not, you have helped grow God’s Kingdom in our world: thank you! In particular my thanks to our Churchwardens, to Roger, Rosemary, and Michael (our alternate), for your support, wisdom and leadership; and to our Parish Secretary, Bev, who works absolute miracles everyday in keeping us all on track in an office that more commonly reflects a railway station and storage unit, and demands a broad skill-set! Special thanks to Dawn who gives me incredible support while dealing with all the challenges of being a Clergy spouse, which includes an expectation of omnipresence from parishioners: if you don’t see her around, know she is hard at work ensuring we have food on the table and the possibility of a reasonable retirement one day; or she may just be on the beach, basking in God’s wonderful creation.

Big moments in 2016 included the opportunity to welcome Stephen Middelkoop on board again, together with his family, and the additional gifts he is able to provide, complementing the wonderful ministry Bishop Geoff and Denise Ackermann continue to offer us. We completed the major task of replacing the waterproofing material on the Church roof; and internally, the Lady Chapel at last has new furnishings – a projected initiated before I was appointed as Rector – paid for by a number of bequests, as well a substantial gift from the Bean family in memory of Frances.

Looking forward: 2017

2017 has begun well, and fast! We welcome both Elizabeth Cherry and Jess Gwynne-Evans onto the staff: already they are impacting the lives of our young people. We are thankful for the foundation Janine and William Tough, together with Raymond Quinlan, have laid down over the last few years in this area and wish them well as they explore different opportunities for ministry in this community. It’s wonderful to still have the St Cyprian’s Boarders join us on a Sunday evening, and they continue to add a positive dynamic to our evening service. We welcome Jo Griffiths, the new Kildare Pre-Primary School Principal, to our wider community and look forward to the new energy she will bring to our relationship with the School. We’re thankful for the new opportunity the Chomi Pack initiative brings to our involvement with Maitland Cottage Orthopaedic Hospital across the road, and the invitation to offer a more formal Chaplaincy to that institution. God has blessed us with the core triangle of traditional mission in this area of Cape Town: spirituality, education, and health-care .

Our Building Project

Our Building Project looms large on our horizon for this year. We have been aware, since our Annual Vestry in 2015, that we have set ourselves a significant challenge in raising sufficient funds in order to bring this visionary plan to fruition. Best business practice informs us that we have taken on an impossible task, but we are not a business: we are a Church. We serve the God of the impossible . If the Diocese of Cape Town had followed best business practice in the late 1960’s then St Andrew’s Church and this school facility would have been sold off had it not been for the commitment of Barry de Villiers, with Sam Johnson’s help, to ensure the Church was open for prayer on a daily basis, and the belief of the wider Johnson family and others – in the midst of the devastation caused by the forced removals of that time – that the community would rebuild in time to come. The School building exists because of Canon Samuel Hinchliff’s vision of consolidating the Parish commitment to education (going back at least to the early 1900’s, if not earlier) on this site. You and I sit here today, more than fifty years later, because these people implemented a seemingly impossible vision. In another fifty years we want an Annual Vestry to meet in the new Church Hall and reflect thankfully on our courage to be faithful to this visionary plan in our time.

Subsequent to our Annual Vestry meeting in March 2016, the Gabriël Fagan Architects advised that we submit plans to the City of Cape Town for the full project, not just the first phase, as the full project needs to be tested as there are possible parking concerns, for which the Architects are confident an offset can be obtained. Parish Council put the process on hold while the Fundraising Committee did some hard work; work which continues. Parish Council at their meeting in November, after receiving a report from this committee that sufficient funds are available to do the preliminary clearance work (including the relocation of the garages) and the renovation and relocation of the school, agreed that the process of application to the city of Cape Town continue. The Architects have been advised to prepare the necessary plans and documentation and to submit the plans to the City of Cape Town on our behalf. The Diocese has approved the entire project and given permission for the first phase to go ahead, with the assurance that as funds become available we may approach the Diocesan Trusts’ Board for permission to continue with the subsequent phases. We have invested almost R334,000 so far in Architects Fees (our previous Architects and now Gabriël Fagan).

While we are a Church and not a business, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to take reality into account, and Parish Council has been very aware of this in their deliberations. Our fundraising efforts only really got off the ground mid-2016. Our interaction with Kildare Pre-Primary School around a new lease and their contribution was put on hold when Margie Froud resigned as Principal mid-2016, and this has been revitalised with the advent of Jo Griffiths as the new Principal in January this year. The Parish Council (in June 2016) has given Kildare Pre-Primary School a commitment to sign a ten-year lease. Avenues towards raising sufficient funds have not yet been exhausted, and further time is required to explore our options with the plan as it stands at present. At the beginning of 2015 we had R2,000,000 in our New Building Fund: this has doubled, with a substantial amount coming in over the last six months. If we can double this again over the next eighteen months, we will be on a winning wicket. It is my fervent hope that this Annual Vestry will continue to allow Parish Council this scope.

Same-sex Unions

Another issue that faces us in 2017 is the ongoing impasse in the wider Anglican Communion around sexuality and gender, and while this may seem a somewhat distant debate it is relevant to us. Two loved and respected members of this Parish, who are in a same-sex relationship, are engaged to enter into a Civil Union towards the end of this year. Their heartache and mine is that their desire to have their union formally blessed in the Church in which they regularly worship is denied them due to the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) holding firmly to the wider Anglican Communion moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions. At the Provincial Synod in 2016 it was abundantly clear that this is unlikely to change anytime soon with over 75% of our Bishop’s voting to maintain the status quo, a stance backed strongly by the Laity present, and somewhat less strongly by the Clergy. One glimmer of light is that at a recent Synod of the Church of England members voted to “not take note” of a report of their Bishops to essentially maintain the status quo. Our upcoming Diocesan Synod in August will give us an opportunity to explore local attitudes to this issue, but until ACSA has the courage to be truly inclusive and to reject this discriminatory practise there are at least two people among us who experience the effect of this bigotry and the consequential pain and heartache that accompanies it. I plead that we find tangible ways to demonstrate God’s acceptance and love for this couple, and for other individuals and couples of the LGBTI+ community who regularly worship beside us in the pews of St Andrew’s.

In Conclusion

This is my fourth report to Annual Vestry. In it I have sought to give some direction in at least two important areas that affect our common life. I am aware that my position as Rector gives me a “loud voice”, and I’m sure that before the evening is out, we will hear from other voices that speak loudly among us. Being loud is not about volume, but about perceived influence, and my sense – and I may be wrong – is that in previous meetings some have been nervous to speak, either due to a perception that your voice may lack sufficient influence, or that somehow you may be victimised for expressing a different opinion. Generally those of us perceived to have loud voices are only sheep in wolves clothing, so please don’t be afraid to speak your mind as your words may be God’s words; and your silence may silence God.

“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 NRSV

MARK R D LONG
Rector
6 March 2017

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