Running the Race

Introduction

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 today/tomorrow 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, as we have done over the last few years, for everyone to hear from me now.

The State of the Parish

The vision of our Parish is summarised in our mission statement “Bringing humanity to life through hospitable welcome, generous care, transcendent worship, spiritual learning and growing together for all ages.”   During 2015 we have continued to focus on each aspect of this statement: welcoming, caring, worshipping, learning and growing together.

The reports contained in the papers for the Annual General Meeting provide a snapshot of many of the important new initiatives and ongoing ministry that has taken place here over the last year.  We are a busy Parish with many programmes, some new and some old.

At the end of 2015 the Parish Council adopted a comprehensive Mission Action Plan focused around the key areas of our mission statement that will guide our decision making and set our priorities for the next three years to the end of 2018.  The Mission Action Plan is contained in the AGM papers.  This longer term planning is designed to help us to move from reacting to the next event that takes place, and instead have a clear focus for where we are heading as we “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” in the words of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrew Church.

Welcoming

Over the last year we have worked hard to continue to be a place of welcome and to introduce the life of the Church to those who have not previously experienced it through our community outreach, special events and advertising.

Saint Peter’s Emergency Relief led by Judy Cordwell and her team, and the Grandparents as Parents Support Group, led by Beverly Steggles and her team are wonderful examples of the practical hospitality that can be offered through the resources of this Christian community and we are grateful to all those who are involved in these important ministries.

One of the happiest examples of welcoming visitors to share in our life over the past year was our record-breaking Christmas celebrations at the end of 2015. I looked back to statistics since 1979 and we had a significant increase on participation compared to any of those years.  We are very grateful to all those who assisted with the various Christmas Masses and events, and particularly to the sponsors and donors who enabled us to hold the community carols event ‘Carols on the Hill” on the Church site for the first time in many years.  We are a Parish Church, here for the whole Parish, and we need to continue to be focused on those people currently outside of our current congregations.

Caring

Our pastoral workers continue to ensure that those who would otherwise be dis-connected from us due to illness or infirmity continue to be lovingly cared for.  The re-assuring presence of someone visiting on behalf of the Church is greatly valued as is the opportunity to participate in the worship and fellowship of our First Friday Healing Mass. Coral Galagher’s continued ministry of sending cards is appreciated by all who receive them.

The majority of members on our Parish Roll have received a visit in their home over the last year. We are grateful to Deacon Will (who has co-ordinated our pastoral ministries in 2015), Father Peter, Deacon Wendy, our Parish Pastoral Workers Judy Cordwell, Richard Fellows and Yvonne Bell, and John Page who retired from this ministry at the end of the year, together with our Pastoral Partners and those who co-ordinate our First Friday Healing Mass for their continued pastoral ministries over the last year in homes, hospitals and nursing homes.  Being a caring community is a vital sign of what it means to be a healthy Church.

Worshipping

The total number of individual acts of worship recorded in our services register rose again in 2015. The total number of acts of communion increased as well. The number of baptisms increased from 81 to 91 in 2015. Ten years earlier in 2005 the number of baptisms was 42, less than half the number in 2015.

We are grateful to all those who work hard to ensure the continuation of our worship. Our musicians, servers, readers, intercessors, flower arrangers, brass cleaners, welcomers and those who provide hospitality at the end of services are all a valued and essential part of our life.  We are particularly grateful to Evanne Sherringham our Director of Music and Terry Thomson, Head of the Guild of Servers who give so much of their time and energy to the preparation and delivery of our worship.  People are inspired by the beauty of Saint Peter’s Church and we seek in our worship to help them to connect with the living God who loves each one of us.

Learning and Growing

The reports from our home groups and fellowship groups indicate the ongoing commitment and vitality of the opportunities that we have in this Parish to learn and grow together.  We give thanks for those who lead these groups, and I underline the welcome that is extended to all of us to be part of one of these activities to continue to learn and grow together.

The Ministry Staff Team

I am privileged to minister with a gifted and enthusiastic Ministry Staff Team: Deacon Will, Elizabeth, Deacon Wendy, Father Peter, and our Parish Ministry Apprentices – Scott Mudd last year, and now this year Jesse Poole.  I have said more about them in my written report, and I am grateful to them for their ministries amongst us.

In particular the reports relating to our Family Ministry programmes: Play Time, our play group; God Time, our contemporary family service; Fun Time, our termly games night for school aged children; Apis Te, the youth group that we have shared with neighbouring parishes; and our Sunday School should fill us all with joy and gratitude for all that Liz, as our Parish Families’ Worker is leading us towards.

I have greatly appreciated Deacon Will’s sharing with me in the ministries of our Parish. In November 2015 Deacon Will requested leave from his normal duties in order to focus on his academic studies, this leave has continued into 2016. He will conclude his ministry in the Parish on Sunday 1st May 2016, and we wish him well for the future.

We all continue to value the wise presence of Father Wilf and Judy Redden and Father Rod and Coral Galagher amongst us.

Facing the Past: Shaping a Healthy Future

In June 2015 our Bishop made a formal and public apology to all those who have been the victims of abuse at the hands of clergy, church workers and lay people within the Diocese of Newcastle.  Later in the year we faced together the reality that allegations of abuse had been made by survivors in relation to a former Parish Priest of this Parish. This reality that we were confronted with brought out a range of emotions and feelings in us.

Some of us were concerned for those who had been abused but were not affected personally by the news. Others of us were bewildered, disappointed, hurt, angry and ashamed.  We received assistance from a team of leaders from outside of the Parish to help us to face these realities. I am proud of the way that members of this Church were able to come to terms with all of this together.  The advice that I receive, and my own observations, lead me to believe that we have a robust child protection culture in place in this Church at the present time.

Saint Peter’s Endowment Trust

At the end of 2015 the Saint Peter’s Endowment Trust (established in 2014) had a balance of just over $950,000. This significant increase in the funds held in the Trust means that the Trust will contribute over $30,000 in interest income to the Parish Ministry Budget this year.

The Resourcing Team has set a target of increasing the funds held in the Trust to $3.5 million over the next few years. A fund of this size would provide approximately $100,000 to the Parish in interest income each and every year into the future.  The growth of the Trust will be achieved principally through the sale of a portion of the Glebe Paddock, but will also require other income sources to achieve this goal.  We are all grateful to Geoffrey Seccombe for his continued guiding hand through this process.

I have indicated that we will not achieve the desired level of funds in the Trust through the sale of a portion of the Glebe Paddock alone. We need further assistance in order to make this a reality.  Funds are held permanently in the Trust and therefore any donation becomes part of the permanent capital of the Trust and has a long term benefit for the Parish.

One tangible way of supporting the Parish for many years to come would be for those of us who love Saint Peter’s to leave a bequest to the Trust in our Wills.  For example, if every member of the Parish who was able to do so arranged for a sum of $5,000 or $10,000 to be given from their Estate to the Trust after their death this would ensure the continuing growth of the Trust into the future.  Peter Kirsop is available on a confidential basis to assist anyone who would like to explore this further, and we are grateful to him for his legal advice to the Parish Council throughout the year.

Parish Finances

The Parish Council made a commitment to achieve a break-even budget in 2015, rather than the losses that have been incurred annually for many years.  I am pleased to report that the Parish Ministry Budget had a surplus of $16,593.32 at the end of 2015. The Parish Council and I thank you all for your generosity.

Our Mission Giving provides the opportunity for us to share some of what God has given to us with mission partners locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. It also enables us to connect with the wider Church. Lyn Bellamy leads us in this area of our life and we thank her and her team for her work.

I acknowledge the enthusiastic hard work of our Fundraising Group, Rotary Catering Teams, Saint Peter’s Pantry Catering Group and Recycling Group and we all thank them for their work over the past year. Our recycling activities concluded at the end of 2015 after many years of operation.

We are especially grateful to Yvonne Hinde for her tireless work as our Treasurer.

Building Development and Maintenance

Custodianship of our wonderful buildings and beautiful site comes at a significant ongoing cost. Maintenance work is required every year, and we have a backlog of major projects that are becoming increasingly urgent and that we are trying to undertake over the coming years in a planned way.  These projects are detailed for the next three years in our Mission Action Plan.

The Resourcing Team and Church Wardens reports included in the papers for the Annual General Meeting detail the most significant of the building and maintenance projects carried out during 2015, many smaller projects were also undertaken. The list of what has been achieved represents much hard work, and I commend these reports to your reading.  We are grateful to Anne Page, Kay Sharp and Kevin Short our Church Wardens for their commitment and hard work. I enjoy working with them immensely and I am grateful for their leadership of the Parish.  The Wardens are supported by a team of gifted gardeners led by Charlotte Brock, and our lawn mowing team led by John Osborne, as well as the men who attend to our day to day maintenance issues, amongst them Ken Gormley, Bruce Eveleigh, Terry Thomson and Bob Taylor to whom we offer our thanks.

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.  As I have indicated in previous years, being your Parish Priest gives me great joy, but it is not always easy. Many of the issues – financial, pastoral, theological, practical and spiritual – are complex. There are no easy answers to the deep challenges that this and other Christian communities face at this point in our history, or at least if there are easy answers no one has told them to me.  Often there is more than one answer that seems to be of equal value and a judgement has to be made. I am grateful to all those who share with me in these decision making processes, and ultimately I take responsibility for the decisions that have and will be made here.

My beautiful wife Luisa continues to support me in all of this. She is the greatest gift that God has given me.  Luisa and I and our boys have been greatly blessed by the birth of our daughter Annabel at the end of 2015. Your kindness in celebrating her arrival with us, and then joining with us a few weeks ago in her baptism into the life of Christ has been overwhelming for us.

We are a busy Parish and there is much to distract us from our primary task of bringing delight to God through our worship of him.  In all that goes on we continue to strive to fix our eyes on Jesus, running forwards with perseverance, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrew Church writes,  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith.”

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!