In today's Gospel reading we hear this affirmation of God's relationship with Jesus, "You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy" (Mark 1:11b; NLTse). This relationship was affirmed in last Sunday's Gospel reading, "This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him" (Mark 9:7b; NLTse). These words, first heard at Jesus' baptism and repeated at Jesus' transfiguration, are key: they draw us into the relationship of love that is God. We are reminded that it is from this base of stable, loving relationship that Jesus' ministered to his world; and it is in sharing in this relationship that we are called to live and minister in our world. Perhaps the greatest challenge of Faith is to truly accept that we are loved by God, and then to live out of and into that space. God's words, "Listen to him" are spoken in this context: we listen lovingly and carefully to God; we listen lovingly and caringly to each other; and we repent mightily when we realise that our self-interest has undermined these interactions.
We are amazingly blessed as a Church community here at St Andrew's. We are good people, caring people, loving people. We look outwards, and we generously share our resources far beyond our own boundaries. If we are not caring, it is of ourselves rather than of others, which was the key learning we made at our Vision Workshop in August. Thank you to each one of you for who you are, and for what you contribute to our common life; for your love for God, and for the multitude of ways you live that out both within the boundaries of Church life, and beyond in the fullness and chaos of your lives and communities.
I have sought to use this first year as your Rector as an opportunity to observe, to get a feel for the ebb and flow of Parish life. I am, however, and active observer, which means that there have been some incremental changes along the way, largely pragmatic and practical in nature. Radical change is normally only required in times of crisis and breakdown, and we are a healthy community. But just because we are a healthy community does not mean that there are not areas of concern, and these do need to be addressed.
One major area of concern for me is that we hold lightly the responsibilities God has given us for our Bishop and his family, and for the Kildare Pre-Primary School; and it has taken the building project to highlight this. Both relationships go back close on fifty years, a life-time for a person such as myself. Strangely, in a number of conversations over this last year the perception I get is that these two relationships are considered a hindrance - rather than a blessing - to us as a community. Instead of asking how we can be supportive of the Bishop of Table Bay, his ministry and family, we are praying for the return of the house to Parish use, with an underlying implication that Diocesan use of that facility is somehow illegitimate. Instead of seeing the school as a partner in mission, we appear to see them largely in transactional terms, somehow begrudging the fact that a facility built in the 1950's to house a school for a poorer community now houses a school for the wealthy, when in fact it still serves the community that surrounds it. In both cases I believe we are putting self-interest ahead of the Gospel. My only concern is in how we can nurture both these relationships, not end them.
It is important to note that living in Newlands gives the Bishop easy access to the Diocese as a whole, and with all the pressures of Episcopal ministry this centrality is important and life-giving. The Diocese has recognised this and has substantially invested in the house over time. In terms of the school, church and school are interwoven in the wider Newlands community perception, and we under-appreciate this at our own risk! We have this link to thank for the involvement over the years of numerous families in our church life, of whom Debbie and Rob Coombes and their family, amongst others, are a present example.
Annual Vestry 2014: Actions taken
Our Building Project
The Building Committee has worked hard to produce the results asked of them at our 2014 Annual Vestry Meeting, and we will receive a full report from them. I hope that their presentation and recommendations will receive our full support. What the committee will be proposing to us really is the only option if we are to take our responsibilities for our partnership with the Diocese and the School seriously, and still provide for our own needs as a Church community. A perennial question that arises in any Church community seeking to build often revolves around asking how we can possibly be considering spending money on ourselves when the needs "out there" are so pervasive and immense; and we are no different. However, there is a difference between self-interest and legitimate self-need, and sadly in the Christian community we often ignore legitimate self-need and in the process undermine our ability to meet the challenges of the Gospel.
We are not a community that suffers overly from self-interest when it comes to sharing our resources: through the Ministry to the Needy (MTN) we have given away R5,000,000 over the last ten years. That is not insignificant, and is substantially more than a tithe on what the Building Committee is proposing we spend on getting our facilities up to scratch for our needs as a Church community in this part of Cape Town. Our present facilities have served us well over the years, but our needs have changed and our commitments have grown; we need to spend substantial money to modernise, upgrade, and extend our facilities in order to make them more user-friendly and accessible to ourselves and to the wider community. The project is daunting on a number of levels, but that should not be our primary concern in moving forward on this project for which we already have a seed fund of R2,000,000 invested with the Diocese. We need to draw on the example of our forebears in the 1890's who had the courage to build this church with no less daunting financial costs, comparatively, and with a far poorer community-base than we have today.
The South African Book of Common Prayer
At our Annual Vestry last year the ongoing use of the South African Book of Common Prayer (SAPB) was queried, and Parish Council was asked to reflect and make some decisions around this. Council made the decision to use the Anglican Prayer Book 1989 (APB '89) for the early morning Christmas Day Eucharist, but on my request has delayed a decision on possible changes to the Sunday 07:30 and Wednesday 09.30 Services. This is in part due to my needing time to get a feel for the worship life of the Parish, but also in needing this to be addressed in the broader fame-work of service times, hymn choices, and the purpose our various opportunities for worship offer. In the next short while you will receive a survey sheet in this regard, which l encourage you please to fill in and return. Additionally, Synod of Bishops' have indicated that experimental material will soon be made available as part of a revision of the APB '89, which will add further pressure to move away from the SAPB, and to begin to consider the APB '89 as the "Old Prayer Book".
Also at last year's Annual Vestry, concern was raised about our ministry in particular to Teenagers. It is a phenomenon in many Anglican Churches that a new Rector is expected to miraculously have answers to the chronic issue affecting many wealthy suburban Churches of traditional origin. There are no miraculous answers. Our young people, generally, are in schools that demand the bulk of our children's time, have parents that fill the rest of their time with extra (beneficial) activities, and whose options for entertainment are multitude; and they find the forms of more traditional worship we offer boring in the extreme. Despite these almost insurmountable obstacles we have made some headway to retain our small group of Grade 8 and 9's, largely though the efforts of William Tough in creating a ''Teen Church" group that has some definition distinguishing them as different from the bigger Children's Church; and they are showing some interest in forming a Servers' Guild. We have also instituted a regular family-focused evening service that draws families with teenagers and young adults together on an approximate monthly basis, which is valued, but still needs some work on the recipe. We must, however, be doing something right as the St Cyprian's School boarders have elected to join us on a weekly basis at our Sunday evening service. They will review this after Easter, but in the meantime they are a definite value-add in more than just the additional numbers they bring to our attendance figures!
Our Layministers have recently undergone further training at Archdeaconry level and have been re-licensed by Bishop Garth at a joint service at St Paul's, Rondebosch. We welcome Dawn Long as a valuable new member of the team, and congratulate Jill, Edgar, Rosemary, Graham and Margie, William, Bev, Sheena, Denise, Ivor, Tony, and Jenny, on their re-licensing as Layministers. Alison's circumstances conspired to prohibit her from attending the training, but as her license is still valid for another year this was no problem. Daphne Myburgh and Steve Bethke have made the difficult decision not to renew their licenses; Daphne for health and family reasons, and Steve due to his studies and move to Brakenfell. We are thankful to them both for their contribution to our worship and pastoral life over an extended period of time. Edgar Ruiters and Bev Voight have both asked for a period of Sabbatical, which Council has agreed to; please keep them both in prayer. Thank you to each of our Layministers for honouring the call on your lives, and for being of service to us all at St Andrew's. l also take this opportunity on behalf of Vestry to congratulate Denise Ackermann on her appointment and licensing as Canon Theologian of the Cathedral.
Despite a seemingly large group of Layministers, staffing three services a Sunday is proving difficult, and we are in need of additional members. If you feel called to this ministry, or perhaps to helping out with just the prayers, please speak up. This goes for other ministries, too: we are always needing to complement the present group of readers, sides-people, tea-makers and providers, Children's Church teachers, soup-makers, flower-arrangers, pray'ers, sacristans, servers, and youth, small groups, and our annual Morning Market. Please don't wait to be asked: offer! Please feel free to chat to me, to Bev-in-the-office, or to someone already involved in the area you are interested in. And at this point my huge thanks to everyone already involved in facilitating or participating in these ministries.
My thanks to Bishop Geoff for his ongoing commitment to be with us to preach and preside on the 1st Sunday of the month and his input into a number of our small groups, and to Denise for her willingness to preach on a regular basis; and to them both for their ongoing commitment to our Lent Course. There is great value in having more than just the Rector's voice speaking into our common life, and I am hugely appreciative of their contribution. My thanks, too, to Elizabeth Cherry in particular for being willing to step into the gap in my absence. It has also been good to have previous Rectors of this Parish, Keith Griffiths and Mike Keggie, take services during this last year. Our Sunday worship has been complemented by regular Quiet Mornings, and I am appreciative of Rosemary's continuing to champion these as part of our membership of the Quiet Garden movement. Sadly, our Taize Services have fallen away for 2015, but my huge thanks to Esther and Karin for giving leadership to this over a number of years. We are hoping to offer some form of more reflective worship at the Sunday evening service when there is a 5th Sunday in the month.
Mission and Vision
In our August ''Vision Workshop" we took time to reflect on our purpose as a Christian and Anglican community here in Newlands. It was a useful morning, highlighting that we have been somewhat self-forgetting as a community, and that while we reach out meaningfully to the wider community of Cape Town through our MTN programme, we need to become more conscious of caring for and loving each other; and as mentioned above, a modernised, upgraded and extended hall and meeting facilities would enhance our ability to do this. Out of this meeting came the tag-line "Serving each other; serving the world." This is a first step towards renewing our mission and vision statements; and I am planning for us to explore this further on our Church Camp in March. We are also needing to explore how we can become more hands-on and personally involved in the projects and needs we support through the MTN programme.
In closing, firstly my thanks to my wife, Dawn: being a clergy spouse is never an easy space for a variety of reasons, and it is often difficult to "belong" in the same way the average parishioner "belongs" in parish life; and being married to a community-owned person often makes sustained intimacy a distant goal. In addition, she has the added burden of being married to me, which is not quite as idyllic as you may suppose. I am an introvert by nature, and Dawn often has the daunting task of coping with me in my "down time", where l can be distant, uncommunicative, and grumpy. l greatly appreciate her ongoing and sacrificial support of my ministry.
Secondly, my thanks to Bev Shaw, our Parish secretary. Bev has an amazing supply of patience and friendliness. Particularly amazing is her inner-resources in coping with the impact of the Morning Market on her office space! Additionally, she has the challenge of coping with my often distracted attention and seeming indecision, not to mention the family dogs! And then of course, there is the small matter of the rest of the Parish ...
Thirdly, my thanks to our out-going Churchwardens, Simon, William and David, and our Council members: thank you so much for your time, your commitment, support, and wise advice, your gifts of insight and practical help, often at cost to your own pocket. Special thanks to Noël Peagam who steps down as Dedicated Giving Coordinator and Honorary Treasurer after over ten years of substantial service to the Parish in this capacity. It is noteworthy that Council is appointing three people in Noël's place! Thanks, too, to Raymond for his facilitation of our Youth activities; to Mark and Jos for our Sunday morning music; to Steve and Andrew and our Sunday evening music teams; to Margie Barnard for overseeing our beautiful gardens; and to our garden and domestic staff, Wanda and Mombelli.
Finally, thanks to you all. You are St Andrew's: without each one of you we would not be the vibrant and healthy community we are today. Thank you for "Listening to him" (Mark 9:7b; NLTse), for being available to God's purposes for God's kingdom as God continues to work out those purposes in us and through us here at St Andrew's in Newlands.
MARK R D LONG
22 February 2015