I continue to work in the ministry of priest at Christ Church Cathedral with a significant sense of thanksgiving. The role of Dean is demanding. Being the one stipendiary cleric in a congregation of our size, is no lunch break. It is still, however, enough of a change for me after over a decade in diocesan administration that I’m enjoying it all. As I continually hope others do, I recognize often that I am but one person and continue to feel fortunate for the number of individuals committed and engaged in various ministries that contribute to making it work. Assistance with pastoral care, liturgical assistance from honorary assistant clergy, administrative work by Bishop and Chapter and not least of all the Chair, Fran in the office, David as interim sexton, our Director of Music and choirs, the Parish Nurse and Health Ministry Team, our Verger, all have been integral to making ministry happen during 2015. And while its important to recognize those who receive compensation for their work, those many who give freely of their time and effort, too many to mention, are perhaps most to be recognized.
While reporting to an annual meeting is an important way of creating a snapshot in time, I like most reporters, have looked at last year’s report in an attempt to bring an element of consistency to the story being told. In my case, what I found was more than slightly amusing. The report I prepared last year is probably the report I would make this year! That’s not surprising since the Church as a corporate organism – the Body of Christ – moves slowly. Changes are too often almost undetectable save to the trained eye or to one close to the action. We are the way we are and inertia alone, as simple laws of physics affirm, keep us travelling mostly in the same direction. My question from a theological standpoint however is this: Is it the direction God would have us travel?
The report I prepared last year is probably the report I would make this year!
So while it would be of interest to at least some of us to hear a completely new take on where we’ve been and where the Spirit may be suggesting we should be going, I think rather that some repeat of those now year old reflections expressed in a slightly different way will be closer to what is appropriate, at least from my standpoint. For those who missed it last year, it will be new. (Read 2015 for a different translation.) For those who didn’t, perhaps we could take steps again this year to further deepen our prayerful understanding of the issues I hope I’ll raise with at least some success.
Some of the most significant challenges with which we were presented this past year:
• The announcement of the retirement of Isabel Cutler as Parish Nurse;
• The resignation of our Director of Music, Dr. Willis Noble;
• The continuing of illness leave of our Sexton, Kevin Hayward
• Building health and safety issues with Cathedral Memorial Hall
• The need for planning for development of facilities to support Cathedral ministry into the future
• The need for a strategic plan for longer-term maintenance of the Cathedral proper
At least some of our accomplishments in 2015:
• Generous grant from the Diocese of Fredericton to assist with some of the Memorial Hall issues after the dissolution of the joint project planned
• Health and safety issues addressed at Cathedral Memorial Hall, including a new roof
• Continuation of Spaghetti Tuesdays, our effort to reach out to young adults
• Children and Communion programme executed with 10 children making first communion
• continued progress in establishing Bishop and Chapter working committees and encouraging their function
• improvements in communication with monthly Chapter News and new web site launch in December 2015. The web site is a work in progress but now on a framework upon which we can expand and tweak to our future needs
• in December the schedule changed slightly with the Sunday School joining 10:00 a.m. Sunday worship at the Offertory instead of the beginning and leaving before the Gospel
• questionnaire regarding the 2016 budget created a channel for feedback and suggestion in the difficult task of stewarding our resources
• the Dean is an attending member of Diocesan Council, Diocesan Executive Committee, Diocesan Finance Committee, Diocesan Synod Planning, Diocesan Stewardship Team, Diocesan Creative Matters Working Group, Clericus of the Deaneries of Fredericton and York, Commissary for the Bishop of Fredericton and the Bishop and Chapter and its committees and the Board of the Atlantic School of Theology Integrated Alumni Association.
• 52 weeks of worship, 176 sermons preached, seasonal festivals celebrated, liturgical hosting of diocesan events, 21 monthly special care facility communions, home communions on request, hospital visitations
• 68 home visitations
Where to from here?
Although we may wish or want, the spirit being willing, the flesh will be weak. We simply cannot do everything. There is absolutely no shortage of good ideas. (That’s an original quote.) We have a very diverse congregation and a wide range of possible priorities. As Bishop Ed Salmon said to us during a diocesan stewardship conference, “We need to plough the good fields first.” We need to maintain what we do best and continue to do it with that same excellence in mind. I’m one person with but one opinion, but in my role it may be important for all to be aware of my priority list. The non-negotiables, in no particular order: worship (prayer); care of those in need (reaching out); communication (proclamation); formation (modelling faith); stewardship (good management).
We simply cannot do everything. There is absolutely no shortage of good ideas.
There is much we do well. I’ll address what appears to me to require more concentrated focus:
Who we are is our first most valuable resource. Tertullian (155-240 AD), one of the early church fathers, once said in a sermon, “Christians are made, not born. Christianity does not come naturally. Christians do not come to the church through birth, you get Christians out of the baptismal font.” This faith is not primarily a matter of digging down deep within yourself, thinking it through, closing your eyes and trying real hard to believe. This faith is something that is told to you, given to you, lived before you, a gift.
For those of us who somehow hear the word “formation” translated as “Christian Education” that’s not what this is about. Formation is a life-long, intergenerational process and extends far deeper than our learning more about being a Christian. The day the Church decided that sending the children downstairs (or across the street) during worship to learn what they need to know to be Christian was a sad day indeed. We are only now, in our own day, seeing the results of that fateful approach.
I don’t suggest an about face is possible, but I do intend to continue a constant pressure on our rudder as a course correction for the Cathedral community. Our very future depends on it. Actually, our present also depends on it. What this means is that we all need to see a role in forming, molding, shaping one another in the faith. Most importantly, we need to respond to opportunities to model that faith for others. Sunday morning is important for our own individual faith, but as long as its all about Sunday morning, we’ll not be attending to the critical priority of building the Body of Christ. Some specific programming that will continue to help us do that include an emphasis on: Baptism Preparation, First Communion Preparation, Confirmation Preparation, Charis groups, various outreach initiatives and I’m sure many others will arise if we are attentive to the need. Specifically, a mentor model will be employed whenever possible. The Committee on Christian Formation, while not necessarily any more important than the others, I believe carries an absolutely critical mandate for us.
Many of us hear the word “stewardship” and sadly immediately think only of what pertains to Sunday monetary giving to the Church. Its one of the least understood of all the churchy words we use. If it weren’t so firmly biblical, or if another could replace it in meaning and comprehensiveness, we might well use another. Its those of us who find our financial giving to the church a challenge that least understand what stewardship is about. There are those of us who know what we don’t know; those who don’t know what we know; but most destructively those of us who don’t know what we don’t know. Stewardship is not the church trying to get us to give up what is ours. Stewardship is about us finding the joy in using what God has given to our own greater satisfaction and the greater satisfaction of God. (Another original quote.) Frankly, most who discount proportional giving as something that “does not work for them” have never tried it. We all believe we are the special case. None of us are that special.
“Stewardship” is one of the least understood of all the churchy words we use.
Needless to say, even in light of fairly regular and consistent advice to the contrary, we’ll continue to keep stewardship before us as a learning edge, not in an attempt to make those among us most challenged in this area uncomfortable, but to continue to invite us all to take steps in faith that will always assure surprising results.
Christian Mission – continuing to focus outward
While a certain amount of our energy needs to be spent on things internal, reaching outside of ourselves is the only activity that will bring true regeneration and life. That’s entirely counter intuitive and flies in the face of the common survivalist/scarcity mentality taught by our secular culture. That mentality is not misguided because its secular, its wrong because the Church is different. After all, isn’t that why we are Christians? Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “the church can only call itself the church if its focus is outward, not inward.” If our reason for being is not something besides self-preservation, we have little reason. Worship is not a show. Sermons are not self help lectures. Our buildings, beautiful as they may be, are “facilities” and they need to facilitate. Said yet another way by Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple: “The Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”
“The Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.” Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple
Each time we step outside of the tighter Cathedral community circle, we venture into the world God has made. We become the Church scattered. Our task there is to proclaim what we have heard, seen and experienced when we were last the Church gathered. Not the sermon, but maybe the sermon. Not the scripture, but maybe the scripture. Not the announcements, but maybe the announcements. More to the point, to proclaim the Good News that is ours because we are part of a family called together by the Divine. What does our connection to and membership in the Church communicate at the deepest level? Anglicans characteristically don’t think much about that. But its time we did. That may mean issuing an invitation to worship but more importantly it will be an invitation to God. It may mean a visit to the hospital or helping at Monday Outreach, or the Community Kitchen. Or it may be the simple conversation with someone you thought you knew well. Faith on the inside is the simple part. Faith on the outside more the challenge – its not about us at all.
Faith on the inside is the simple part. Faith on the outside more the challenge …
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. Forgive me for the times I misstep or express myself in ways too easily misinterpreted. With all of the talking I do in the run of a week, I’ll without doubt stumble from time to time, issuing offense when the intention was challenge. With my attempt to maintain a discipline of prayer and study of scripture, at times I hear God saying something to us that we all may not. Pray for me that I will find ways to best steward my limited time, energy and resources to best fulfill what God would have me do on your behalf. My prayer for you will be likewise and that he will richly bless as we stumble together into the plan he has for us.
Geoffrey Hall, Dean of Fredericton