Well, there is definitely one thing I do not miss about Sydney – Sydney traffic!
I have spent the last three days making my way across the city to Ashfield and negotiating tram lines to access Central Baptist, looping around Garigal National Park to visit St Ives, driving all the way back through the northern suburbs to Crows Nest and making a trip through Neutral Bay and Mosman to Seaforth – far too close to peak hour for my liking! But I have had some wonderful conversations with pastors ministering in different situations with wildly different budgets, but with similar challenges and joys, and with a similar passion to us to be faithful disciples of Jesus in our time and local community.
Some of my initial observations:
The legacy of past faithfulness
Every church I visited spoke about the legacy they had received from preceding generations. For some this was the property they had inherited or the financial gifts they had received. For others it was the impact of personalities who had shaped the culture of the church, or programmes that had enabled them to build connections and foster faith. (I was humbled – and surprised – to see a programme I’d started at Northside 20 years ago was still running!) And there was a strong sense that continuing to be faithful to God’s call, as others had in the past, meant continuing to be creative and responsive to the needs of the present; that if this meant bringing a programme to a close or transferring ownership of a major asset (because the time had come or the life of the church was now located in other areas) that this was the most appropriate way to respond to that ongoing call to do God’s work in that place.
Volunteers are gold
It was wonderful – as I observed different situations and heard ministers speak – to see how gifted and enthusiastic each congregations was. Although the ministry models varied, depending on the demographics of the church and the size of the church, every church’s ministry was significantly being carried by volunteers; in pastoral care, in significant areas of administration and service, in youth and children’s ministry, in welcoming and connecting people to the community. At the same time, every pastor spoke of gaps in the volunteering ranks, and then went on to tell stories of how other gaps had been filled in the past by new leaders! Perhaps this is part of the ongoing struggle of church, that there will always be turnover, always be needs, and it is meant to keep us reliant on God and open to newcomers.
Every pastoral care model is different
It was fascinating to see the diversity in pastoral care models and attitudes. In one church it was an anathema for the minster to do pastoral care. It was considered poor stewardship of the church’s resources because of the significant amount of time pastoral care consumes. In most churches there was no systematic model for pastoral care. It was ‘demand driven’ reactive care with the ministry team having different degrees of participation. In one church there was a systematic model, but the work was directed by volunteers, a married couple in the church. In other churches all pastoral care responsibility was held by small groups.
Ministries and ministry teams are grown – not made
Speaking to ministers I was struck by their reliance and sensitivity to the Spirit of God. “Every group that I have deliberately set up, “ said one pastor, “has failed. But every group that has spring up because a few people had a passion or been sparked by a conversation has taken us into wonderful new places.” People spoke of recruiting staff along the same lines, too. Waiting for the right people to come along, for the conversation that appeared to open new possibilities, and for going in the direction that the wind of the Spirit is blowing. Even those who spoke of formally recruiting spoke of recruiting for certain kinds of people – rather than certain kinds of job descriptions.
There are other women!
This is a bit of a personal comment – and source of encouragement – but one of the wonderful things about the group that came together to oppose the motions that were brought to Assembly was the strong participation of women pastors. I had the opportunity to meet with four of them over the last few days and we all expressed our thanks for no longer being the ‘token female’ – in the room or on the committee. It was a sign of hope after an International Women’s Day that had highlighted the ongoing struggles for women in society and especially in leadership.
Anyway, I will be unpacking this more with the deacons and with the church when we receive the final report from our consultants on future staffing models, but it has been a very informative and valuable week.
On another personal note, we had a wonderful time with my family – finally getting around to Christmas dinner (previously cancelled when the Northern Beaches became a Covid affected area in December) and celebrating my father’s 82nd birthday. At the moment, while he continues chemotherapy, his cancer is at bay and we are enjoying having this time with him.
Thanks, too, to Paul who preached last Sunday on ‘The Power of the Cross’, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. I continue in a similar vein this Sunday we look at John 3:14-21 about the significance of the cross in our lives. It was lovely, too, last week to welcome Sienna Maill into membership!
May we all continue to live our lives in the light of Christ!