The Anglican Parish of St. Peter, Winnipeg
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, February 17th, 2019

 

Today as we celebrate the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, we do so within the context of our AGM which is held following our worship. This brief reflection on our Gospel this morning provides the introduction to my annual report.

I am referring here to Luke’s adaptation of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, which Luke refers to as the Sermon on the Plain. In Luke’s telling of this, Jesus comes down with the people and stands on a level place; he stands among them. He is surrounded by people with very little to offer beyond their enthusiasm and their devotion. But they are the beginnings of this new movement; despite their poverty and need, they recognize the presence of something new and powerful happening around them. Jesus’ teachings here help give this new thing some clarity.

This teaching reverses the world as they have known it. Just as Jesus (God’s own Son) stands on level ground as he speaks, all power structures will be reversed. Jesus’ followers are blessed for their willingness to accept a rejected, reviled status in order to follow him. But those who wield power through the accumulation of riches, their status will be seriously challenged. Just a little further beyond today’s passage, we discover that Jesus identifies love as the whole point. It’s not about power and control; it is about love. Jesus embodies this brand of love (through his life, teachings, death, resurrection), and as his followers we are called to live according to this central teaching. At the very centre of our faith is this Christ who demands equality and commands us to love.

It seems to me that this teaching serves as a helpful backdrop as we reflect on this past year at St. Peter’s, and establish priorities as we move forward. At the very centre of our faith is this Christ who demands equality and commands us to love. This is the mandate that informs all that we are and all that we do.

This year we assessed in intentional ways the degree to which we are living into this mandate; we did this through: (1) A Congregational Health Inventory, & (2) A Parish Questionnaire. The Inventory and Questionnaire, together, provided us with important insights regarding our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

Congregational Health Inventory
Last April, parish leaders met for an overnight, weekend parish retreat, and completing this inventory in the company of each other was our primary task. It was designed by the Alban Institute, a respected organization which offers valuable resources for the purpose of helping churches thrive and grow; that is, grow deep in our faith so that others may be drawn into this experience of joy. Those who attended this retreat were vestry members (including Synod delegates and wardens), music director, pastors, and myself. It was a rich and rewarding experience, and going forward, the plan is to offer such an experience once each year.
Consultants working with the Alban Institute studied the concrete habits of healthy, thriving mainline traditional churches, and created this inventory accordingly. It consists of 51 questions in total, and is divided into eight categories. The questions tend to be specific in nature, making it very hard to cheat; that is, to see one’s parish through rose coloured glasses.

Areas identified as significant strengths:

Proclamation
Responses to questions in this category indicated that in all aspects of worship a strong message of grace, faith, hope, and love is proclaimed each week. Our commitment to discerning gifts for ministry was also affirmed. Of course this is an ongoing work in progress but overall we seem to be moving in a positive direction.

Community Development
This section focuses on the question, “Is this an inviting and supportive place?” Our broad leadership team concluded that, overall, we’re doing well where this is concerned.

Service
This section focuses on the question, “Does this place have energy for those not immediately connected to St. Peter’s?” Again, this was seen as a strength. This section is important because it reminds us that while worship is central to everything to do, it is never simply about worship. We worship so that we may become equipped to serve not just each other, but the world beyond ourselves. We worship so that we may become church.

Congregational Vision
Not too long ago, this parish spent the better part of one whole year, identifying God’s vision for St. Peter’s, and since then, all major decisions are discerned with this in mind. Therefore, this too was seen as a strength.

Leadership
This section recognizes the importance of strong leadership, and this survey identified that our congregation responds well to the leadership style, not just mine, but also the various clergy and lay leaders in our midst.

One weakness in this section identified that we do not yet have ways to monitor for burnout among our lay and ordained leaders. So, this is something that will require attention.

Incumbent, Pastors, Honorary Assistant Dynamics
Again, results strongly indicated that this group receives broad support.. However, it also indicated that we currently do not engage in an annual mutual evaluation process along with role reviews, and according to this survey that would help improve an already well functioning team. Also, there is currently nothing in place to ensure that the incumbent is encouraged to engage in ongoing study, as specified in the diocesan guidelines; or that the wider leadership team do the same. So, these are areas that require some attention. (While I and other leaders currently do continually engage in ongoing study, it is important to build a structure where leaders are actually expected to do so.)

Communicating the Tradition
It was humbling to discover our overall low scores in this category. Although the quality of the religious development offered to children was affirmed, there is more to be done in terms of offering adults high quality Christian education. The consultants who designed this survey recognized that thriving, growing parishes offer such things as a top quality baptismal preparation program, and encourage and support parishioners to engage in meaningful Christian rituals in their private or family lives. While increasingly we have identified this category as a priority at St. Peter’s, we discovered that this requires even greater attention.

Integration of New Members
This overall score indicated significant weakness, and this mostly had to do with the lack of a carefully designed, fully equipped intentional hospitality program and team.

Parish Questionnaire
As I mentioned earlier, this past year we also offered a Parish Questionnaire which was distributed to everyone in the parish to complete and return so that we could widen the circle of people in helping us discern how we’re doing. Fifty-seven parishioners filled this out and returned it, representing 41% of the parish.

As the results of this questionnaire were reviewed, it was encouraging to recognize that the insights from the health inventory (filled out by leadership), and the questionnaire (filled out by everyone who responded to the invitation to do so), were compatible. In other words, this affirms that our leadership teams are in sync with those who are not currently serving in those particular leadership roles.

I was encouraged to see that 63% of those who responded indicated that they are in the process of discerning how their skills/gifts can be used in parish ministries. Parishes that are growing and thriving tend to be places where disciples are encouraged to rightly discern their God-given gifts and encouraged to share those gifts accordingly. This generates enthusiasm and excitement, and St. Peter’s is committed to this vision.

So, with all this in mind, certain priorities have surfaced as a result of this feedback. In addition to the numerous ministries currently taking place in and through St. Peter’s, certain priorities will be unfolding over the coming year.

  • An annual mutual evaluation process among parish leaders, along with role reviews, will be addressed, which will help improve already well functioning leadership teams.
  • Encouragement for leadership to engage in ongoing study will be incorporated into our structure.
  • Leadership teams will discover effective ways to monitor for signs of burnout among clergy and lay leaders.
  • I am currently the only one equipped to facilitate CGS level III presentations with children ages 10 and up, although, to date, my time has not permitted this to occur often. This will remain on our radar going forward. At the moment this is not urgent as Level II still offers that age group presentations that are required to create a readiness for Level III.
  • A baptismal preparation program will become a priority. (This is already a work in progress as Baptism is the focus for our Lenten study this year.)
  • Encouraging and supporting parishioners to engage in meaningful Christian rituals at home is also a work in progress. (During Advent this past year, a workshop was held to help people build their own Advent wreaths, along with prayers they could use. This coming Lent, there is a workshop scheduled to help people make their own prayer beads and learn how to use them to enrich their prayer lives.)
  • We continue to explore ways in which the centrality and importance of Sunday morning worship may become better understood.
  • I am pleased to report that as a result of the affirmed weakness in the area of hospitality, coordinators who have discerned gifts for this ministry have designed an intentional hospitality program, and this was implemented last fall. This approach is proving to be effective and will continue as we move into the future.

These are initiatives that have arisen from our Congregational Health Inventory and Parish Questionnaire. In addition to these, identified this past year, I encourage you to read your convening circular, where you will become familiar with the numerous other ongoing ministries and initiatives that occur in and through St. Peter’s: Worship Planning Team; Altar Guild; Intercessors; Music Ministry; Christian Meditation; Labyrinth; Prayer Shawl Ministry; Building Maintenance (yes, trust me when I say this too is an important and essential ministry); Stewardship; Finance; Parish Caring Ministries; Outreach Ministry Team; San Pancho Bambino Project; Creation Care… There are countless opportunities for ministry at St. Peter’s, and if ever you wish to participate please feel free to speak with me or any other members of our leadership team.

Increasingly, all this is occurring within the context of a growing collaborative ministry model, which means that we are moving away from models where ‘committees’ functioned as little islands unto themselves. With this commitment to collaboration we recognize increasingly that we – all the ministries we share – are organically linked. One ministry is intimately linked to another. We truly are the Body of Christ: when one ministry struggles we all struggle; when one ministry celebrates the fruits of God’s generosity, we all celebrate.

So, where is my place in all this? Certainly it is different than the model we have always known. Is it a free-for-all where everyone can simply do what they please because the leader has relinquished that place of authority? No. I can assure you that is not so. That would, in my opinion, lead to unfulfilled chaos. And this is where this report comes full circle, as we wind our way back to this morning’s Gospel where Jesus stands, on a level place, to speak with authority among the people. Historically, an incumbent tended to stand on a higher place, where the people are primarily supporting the ministry of that primary leader. This model reverses that trend, and sees the primary role of the incumbent as leading, supporting, upholding, and empowering the ministry of the whole people of God… that is you. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is surrounded by people who are willing to offer their enthusiasm and their devotion; they are the beginnings of this new movement; despite their individual frailties, they recognize the presence of something new and powerful happening around them. I am here to tell you today that you are the beginnings of this new movement into a collaborative ministry model with Jesus in our midst.

Also, with this model, the Incumbent is no longer a single entity; he/she works closely, in consultation with other primary leadership teams so that all deliberations and decisions are made within the context of a shared vision. So yes, I continue to serve as your incumbent – your servant leader – and consider it an honour and privilege to do so; I take this responsibility seriously, and am discovering that while the nature of this position has shifted significantly with this new model the demands remain high; just different. It is a learning curve for us all, and I’m pleased to report that this shift is moving in a very positive direction.

On behalf of St. Peter’s, I am grateful to God for those who remain committed to this brave new shift, particularly our pastors: Shelagh (pastor of Christian Education; deacon; parish administrator); Mary (Pastor of Parish Caring Ministries); Diane, currently on Sabbatical (Pastor of Outreach Ministry Team); Rod (Pastor of Stewardship); Lissa, who continues to serve faithfully as Honorary Assistant; Helen Suh, our Director of Music Ministry; our Wardens: Laurie and Marcus; Susan Sprange: Vestry chairperson; all other Vestry members and Synod Delegates. Also, this year, we are blessed with the presence and leadership of our theology student Diane Lee, along with her husband David. As I share this long list of committed leaders, and review it in conjunction with the numerous leaders and ministers identified in the convening circular (remembering that one need not be ordained to be identified as a minister), I am reminded of just how widely leadership and ministry is shared at St. Peter’s. Remembering, of course, that we’re always working towards drawing the circle of ministry and leadership wider so that others who feel so called may become engaged in this collaborative team.

Indeed, at the very centre of our faith is Christ who demands equality and commands us to love. I give thanks for the gift of God’s Presence this past year as we have worked towards living into this mandate, and I pray that we may remain open to the gift of this Holy Presence as we prepare for the year to come.

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The Rev. Canon Donna G. Joy