Giving Thanks for God’s Faithfulness: Parish Priest’s Report to the Annual General Meeting

 

At all three services this weekend, I want, in place of a sermon to present to you my annual report ahead of the Annual General Meeting that will be held at 11 am in the Parish Hall.  I hope that by doing so I will not give you an incentive to not attend that important meeting, but knowing the reality that you will not all be able to be there, I thought that it would be helpful for everyone to hear from me now.

The State of the Parish
Saint Peter’s is a wonderful place to live and work.  Luisa and I are very grateful to be a part of your life, and to share with you in ministry to each other and those who live around us.  This is a very happy environment in which to raise our four sons and we never take for granted all that has been given to us.  We hope to stay here for as long as we can be useful amongst you.

I know that this experience of being in a loving, caring and encouraging community is shared by many of you.  It is right on this Mothering Sunday weekend to give thanks for the life of the Church that nurtures us in faith as a mother nurtures her family.

Reading the annual reports that have been prepared for this Annual General Meeting should fill us all with gratitude and a right sense of pride.  There is a great deal to be thankful for.  The reports document the work that has been undertaken towards the goals set for 2013, and you will see that we, under the leadership of the Resourcing Team and Ministry Team have made some good progress.  The reports to be presented at this year’s Annual General Meeting are filled with hope, and signs of faithfulness.

We should be greatly enthused by the state of the Parish.  God has been faithful to us, and we have sought to be faithful to him and to his Church.

Parish Leadership
The Parish continues to be led by a Parish Council that is made up of a Ministry Team (responsible for ministry matters) and a Resourcing Team (responsible for overseeing our finances, administration and buildings).

The difference between management and leadership is vision.  Those who seek only to manage are often reactive to events that take place around them.   But proper responsible leadership requires us to be proactive: to have vision, to set a direction for the future, and to plan and lead others towards it.  I believe your Parish Council has worked hard to do this over the last year. I have learnt much from them, and they should be congratulated.

This is a complex Parish with important financial and maintenance decisions needing to be made on a regular basis.  The Resourcing Team, and especially our Wardens, have needed to respond to a number of challenges in their oversight of our buildings and their governance of the Parish, and we thank them all.

The Ministry Team has helped us to not become so overwhelmed by those challenges that we have forgotten to do the ministry that sets us apart from any other organisation, as the Body of Christ.  Their work continually calls us to focus on pastoral care, worship and prayer, ongoing education and outreach to those around us.

I thank each member of our Ministry Team and Resourcing Team on your behalf, as well as my fellow priests Canon Wilf Redden and Fr Rod Galagher for their Godly presence and ministry amongst us.   It has been a particular joy for us to be able to celebrate milestones in their priestly ministries during the last year, and I appreciate their companionship greatly.

Behind the scenes a great many people ensure that our life as a Parish continues: all those involved in maintaining and developing our beautiful gardens, Ruth in our Parish Office, those who serve in our pastoral and caring ministries, all who are involved in our music and liturgy, those who lead and attend our home groups and our other organisations – Mothers’ Union, the Men’s Fellowship and the St Egwin’s Guild to name just three,  those who serve on our behalf from our ministry centre through the GAPs and Emergency Relief programmes, those who teach SRE in our schools,  the brass cleaners, flower arrangers, fundraisers, caterers, recyclers and the fixers of the many things that need repair and attention.  I cannot name them all, but we are grateful to them.

We recognise with great gratitude the work of a number of people who have retired from key leadership roles in the last year, amongst them Thel Elphick from the Pinetree GAPS Group, Brian and Fay Burke from St Peter’s Emergency Relief (Samaritans), Barbara Horn from editing the Cross and Keys Journal and from co-ordinating our gardens, and John Waddell from overseeing for many years the columbarium.  In addition Elaine Taylor will be retiring as Priest’s Warden at this Annual General Meeting. We are grateful to each of them for their servant ministry amongst us.

The Priority of Family Ministry
We live with the reality that although there are 256 adults on the parish roll, the average age of adults on the roll is 74.  45 adults on the roll are of employment age (not all employed) and of these only 26 adults are under 60.   With 211 parishioners in the retired age bracket and only 8 young families on the parish roll we know that we are heading for a massive crisis.

Nevertheless, we also hold onto the belief that the Gospel calls us to live in hope, and we are working purposefully for that hope to be realised.

We have worked hard in the last year to begin to prioritise making connections with young families.  In 2013 there were 86 baptisms in the parish, the highest number since 1997; and 18 weddings, compared to 8 the previous year. 832 people attended our Christmas worship – many of them young families, the highest number since 2003 and the third highest since 1995.  In all of this we are remembering that we are limited only by our imaginations of what can be possible.

Around 30 new people have joined our congregations in the last twelve months. However these newcomers are largely replacing faithful members of the congregation who are moving away from the parish in their old age or who have died in the last year.

You will see that the Parish Council (the Resourcing and Ministry Teams together) have set one primary goal for 2014: to focus the ministry time and resources of the Church on connecting with the young families who live around us.  This does not mean that our pastoral care is no longer important, on the contrary it has expanded over the last year – but it does mean that the urgent task is for us to share the Good news of God’s love which has so nourished us, with another generation.

We spent much energy in 2013 preparing for this work and the first fruits are already evident, particularly in our Junior Choir led by Evanne Sherringham, and the continuing work of our pre-school group Play Time.

A number of new ways of bringing young families together in the life of the Church are being embarked upon this year, and the fruits and learnings of this will be presented at next year’s Annual General Meeting.  These include our new monthly family Mass, ‘God Time’, and our Youth Group, shared jointly with the Parishes of Morpeth and Thornton-Beresfield.  The Youth Group is an example of what can be achieved when we are willing to work with other parishes around us, to pool resources for our common goals.

Parish Finances
Under Yvonne Hinde’s watchful eye the Resourcing Team has spent an enormous amount of energy focusing upon our finances in 2013.   We have consolidated the number of bank accounts that we operate with and developed the restricted funds that we hold for our long term future.  We have implemented a new financial management reporting system and made a start on reviewing every area of our income and expenditure working on the primary principle that maintaining our glorious church building must be a partnership between the congregations and those in the wider community who use our facilities.  I outlined this principle at our Annual General Meeting last year and we have implemented it.

A new structure of fees has been developed across our activities and this has led to a significant increase in income beyond our offerings, with the result that our other sources of income beyond the giving of the congregation increased by nearly $60,000 during 2013.

We were challenged during the year to respond to unforeseen costs relating to the Glebe and our buildings.  These costs amounted to over $44,000.  We held a one-off gift day and received over $44,000 in gifts covering the costs in their entirety with a small amount to spare.  If we were members of a Pentecostal church people would be dancing in the aisles in response to the generosity of God’s people.

At our last Annual General Meeting I challenged us to be more realistic about our giving to God’s ministry here at Saint Peter’s.  Some of you heard that challenge.  The giving of members of the congregations increased by $18,000 compared to 2012.

The gift day, the increase in congregational giving, and the increase in income from other sources means that our total income rose by nearly $120,000 compared to 2012. This is staggering.

Of course our costs also rose.  The result is that we have made either a very small surplus or a very small deficit depending on complicated calculations relating to GST returns and depreciation. This has been an enormous achievement compared to the annual losses made in previous years.

Challenges in the Year Ahead
One of the oddities of the Anglican system is that we begin to talk about 2014 nearly four months into it.  Your Parish Council has once again set goals for ministry and leadership for this year, which we have been working on already since January.

  • The first of these is ministry to young families, and alongside this is our need to develop better ways of incorporating people of any age into our life.
  • There is more work to do on our finances.
  • We have begun a systematic review of our buildings with the aim of preparing them for the next 100 years of ministry.  These include big plans for which we will need much faith and wisdom.
  • We expect to finalise the next stage of Glebe negotiations in the near future and hope to have agreement for a sale by the end of the year.  For much of this work we are hugely indebted to the gifts and knowledge that Geoffrey Seccombe has shared with us, and the hours of work that this has required of him.
  • We plan to deconsecrate St Egwin’s Church this year and begin to develop solid proposals for the future of that site.
  • In all of this the heavy cloud of compliance to the government’s Work Health and Safety legislation now looms larger than ever before.   This has legal ramifications for all of our buildings, and will lead to decisions having to be made that impinge even on how we serve morning tea.

We must be people who are steadfast in prayer if we are not to be diverted from our core calling of worshipping God and sharing his love with others.

Final Reflection
I pray daily that I will be faithful to Christ and serve you to the best of my ability as your Parish Priest.   Being your Parish Priest gives me great joy, but it is not always easy.  Luisa continues to support me in all of this, and I do not have the words to express the gratitude that I have for the gift that she is to me. We cherish the opportunity that God has given us to be here with you.

We come to our Annual General Meeting with deep gratitude to God for his sustaining love, and with hope and expectancy for the future.   Soli Deo Gloria: To God alone the glory!