The Anglican Parish of St. Peter, Winnipeg
First Sunday in Lent, February 18th, 2018

 

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Today we celebrate the First Sunday in the Season of Lent, and in addition to this - here at St. Peter’s - we also include our AGM, which means that my offering to you at this point in our liturgy is my annual report. This year my focus is the structural change which we have been embarking upon over the past year. As you know, this shift is moving us into a collaborative approach to ministry and leadership, which requires members of St. Peter’s family to remember the promises made at their baptism, and to be shaped for ministry and leadership through a commitment to those vows. This collaborative method for discipleship will continue to flourish as our understanding of the purpose of baptism becomes increasingly clear. This is the Sacrament which intimately links us to Jesus the Christ, and calls us into an active faith steeped in worship, lifelong learning, and ministry.

I begin this report by first looking into our reading from Genesis, along with our Gospel, where we are reminded of the ongoing, unfolding of God’s plan. In Genesis, we are reminded that Jesus’ baptism is prefigured by Noah, because he and his family were saved through water, an event which was sealed by God’s covenant – God’s promise to remain faithful - to humanity and the whole of creation. Our Gospel reminds us that God’s plan continues to unfold, reaching its climax through the arrival of Jesus, marking a new step in this plan through his baptism.

Mark’s telling of Jesus’ baptism offers important insights as we reflect on St. Peter’s over this past year and anticipate the year to come. First of all, God’s message to Jesus at the time of his baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This message runs contrary to what we often experience as negative self talk, which nags us with messages like: “you’ll never be able to get through this” or “you’ll never succeed” or “you’re not smart enough” or “you’re not fast enough” or “you’re not good enough”… With this story from Mark, we are encouraged to put that negative voice to rest, and allow the loving voice of God to surface. The whole Christian gospel could be summarized with this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian, he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus, through our baptism. To each and every one of us, this God says, “You are my Daughter – my Son – the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” To St. Peter’s as we participate in the ongoing of God’s unfolding plan, God says, “St. Peter’s, you are my Beloved children; with you I am well pleased.” You can do this!

I think, also, there is an important message for each of us, and St. Peter’s, as we unpack that piece in the gospel which talks about the heavens being torn apart. As N.T. Wright points out, this does not mean that Jesus saw a little door open miles up in the sky. Heaven in the Bible often means God’s presence, God’s wisdom, behind ordinary reality. It’s more as though an invisible curtain, right in front of us, is suddenly pulled back, so that instead of seeing only what stands in front of us, something opens so we can see the deeper (all-too-often-hidden) Godly vision. This is what happens when we see beyond our anger at the person standing in from of us, and into the Godly vision of forgiveness; when we see beyond our greed into the Godly vision of generosity; when we see beyond the limitations of ourselves and others, and into the Godly vision of what’s possible. And, here at St. Peter’s, this is what happens when we see beyond the structures we’ve always known, and into the Godly vision of collaborative ministry and leadership.

A year and a half ago, St. Peter’s did look beyond the current leadership structure, and into the Godly vision of collaboration. This new structure envisions a time when St. Peter’s leadership and ministries will increasingly function in a collaborative manner; always as a collection of teams, working cooperatively together so that God’s plan may continue to unfold. This model was initially born out of financial necessity as the plan is – in time – for the Incumbent to shift from full time commitment and stipend, to about ¾. However, based on additional research, we have discovered that it has the potential to actually generate renewed energy and vision for the future. The model was approved a year ago and has been unfolding with great intention ever since.

In a recent parish book study ‘Collaboration: Uniting our Gifts in Ministry’, we were able to identify the very heart of this collaborative model. Here we discovered that it takes four primary steps to enter into collaboration. That is, moving from coesistence, to communicating, to cooperation… which all leads toward collaboration. If we see our ministries as separate and apart from others, we will simply coexist, and with this, increase the chances of working in isolation; protecting our particular turf. Once we create better methods of communication, we automatically work more effectively in partnership with one another. As this step becomes increasingly stronger, we then search for ways to work in cooperation with one another: honoring and upholding the ministries that we all share. And this is what collaboration is all about. (We will be talking more about this book study during the sermon time next Sunday.)

The goal is for this model to permeate each and every level of ministry and leadership at St. Peter’s. This begins with myself and the pastors, and with God’s help, spreads out to all other ministries. So, beginning with the pastors, rather than a single Incumbent serving as the primary leader, we now have four pastors, with a single Incumbent overseeing these (and various other) ministries. Shelagh Balfour serves as our Pastor of Christian Education; Mary Holmen: Pastor of Parish Caring Ministries; Diane Panting: Pastor of Mission and Outreach; and Rod Sprange: Pastor of Stewardship. As you can imagine, with this new structure, my role is evolving. You might think of me as the Pastor of Worship, and overseer of everything. If you ever have any questions or concerns regarding worship, I encourage you to continue to speak directly with me. Although I work collaboratively with Helen, and our Worship Planning Team, canonically all things pertaining to worship are ultimately my responsibility. In addition to overseeing all St. Peter’s ministries, I also see myself as working in partnership with our four pastors, and all parish leaders. I’m still, in many ways, connected to Christian Education, Parish Caring Ministries, Mission and Outreach, and Stewardship endeavours and we are in the process of discovering what my level of involvement needs to be. In pastoral care, for instance, when a particular need arises, Mary lets me know, and we discern which of the two of us is called to respond. Often we decide to both respond. If I hear about such a need first, then I review this with Mary, and together we discern an appropriate response.

During this past year we have spent a great deal of time developing position descriptions which clearly outline the responsibilities of each pastor, as well as the Incumbent. These will be continually reviewed as our roles evolve, and in addition to helping each of us be clear about expectations they will be essential in the future as new pastors step into these roles when our current pastors feel called to step down. We are mindful of the importance of a succession plan. In time, through careful discernment, we envision lay leaders fulfilling these roles. Our annual budgets will continue to include funds to provide adequate education and preparation so that all leaders may feel equipped and confident as they take on such leadership roles.

Within the context of this Collaborative model, the role of Vestry is also under review. At our February Vestry meeting we will be reviewing a newly developed Vestry Role Description, which arises partly out of the canons of the church, and partly from St. Peter’s unique Collaborative structure. This document makes it clear that Vestry members are integral to the overall parish leadership team, and particularly noteworthy is the commitment incoming Vestry members have made to participate in Christian education. Also, in order to offer further education regarding our new collaborative model as well as assist with team building, Vestry members and pastors have agreed to attend a parish overnight retreat in April.

The work on discerning gifts for ministry that Rod, our Pastor of Stewardship has been doing is integral to this collaborative model. As we discern gifts, then we can fully launch into the next step, which is uniting those gifts in ministry. Discernment is a key step. If we are good at something, and at the same time feel passionate about it, then that offers an important clue into what God is up to in our midst. One thing that is becoming increasingly clear with this new model is that we no longer require a corporation that consists of three wardens. With an Incumbent, four pastors, an honorary assistant, two wardens, and a committed vestry, that is probably all the primary leadership we need. This commitment to discerning gifts for ministry needs to allow room for the flourishing of many ministries beyond administrative roles.

As I mentioned earlier, part of this plan involves the Incumbent moving into a less than full time arrangement; perhaps about ¾ time. Together, we decided that at this point we’re not quite ready for this particular shift. The transition from one model to another requires significant care, time, and attention from the Incumbent in order to make sure that things remain on track throughout these beginning stages. How well we begin this shift will determine any future success.

In our readings this morning we have been reminded of God’s unfolding plan: Saving Noah and his family through the rising waters, a story that evolves over time and continues with the baptism of Jesus: an event that has continued through the communion of the baptized over the past 2,000 years and – through our baptism – continues through us today. Each of us, on the day of our baptism and every day since, receives that beautiful message from God, “You are my Son/Daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus, on the day of his baptism, received this message from God because he was anointed with the Holy Spirit, marked as God’s own child. Through him, we are linked to God in this same way; through him we receive this same message. Collaboration: uniting our gifts in ministry will flourish as all disciples live fully into their relationship with Jesus the Christ inaugurated with baptism, and live fully into the baptismal commitment to ministry. We are part of God’s continually unfolding plan at this moment, at this time, in this place, and beyond the walls of this building. It is important to always remember that this shift to collaboration is intended to enrich and enhance the ways in which we serve God in the church and in the world… Everything we are and everything we do must always lead to God’s missional work: Proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ; Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves; Striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being; Striving to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation – respecting, sustaining, and renewing the life of the Earth. Based on the ministry of Jesus, this is why we exist.

On behalf of St. Peter’s, I am grateful to God for those who have indicated a commitment to this brave new shift, particularly our pastors: Shelagh (who also serves as our Parish Administrator), Mary, Diane, and Rod. Lissa, who continues to serve faithfully as our honorary assistant. Our members of corporation over the past year: Ellen, Laurie, and Marcus. Helen, our director of music ministry. We have also been blessed by all those who faithfully attended our collaboration book study last fall, along with those who are currently attending the Discerning Gifts for Ministry sessions facilitated by Rod, our Pastor of Stewardship. I am aware that many of you, in addition to all this, are exploring and delving into this new model in various other ways. Indeed, we are blessed.

A year and a half ago, here at St. Peter’s, the heavens were torn apart and we were able to see past the structure which had previously served the church well; we were able to see past this and into a Godly vision for this moment, at this time, in this place. With God’s help, as we work our way through this shift, if we listen carefully, we will hear that voice which says, “You, St. Peter’s, are my children: my sons, my daughters, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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The Rev. Canon Donna G. Joy