(An edited version of Duncan’s final report as Parish Rector and Team leader to Parish Council)
I look back on the past 31 years in the Parish with profound gratitude to God for the privilege I have had of leading Christ Church for 23 years and the Parish for the past 8 years. When I say it has been a privilege, I mean it. This is an amazing parish, unique in its make-up of six churches, the Warehouse and the SJLA and our shared heritage and ethos as Evangelical, Anglican, Charismatic and Missional.
Allow me to share three highlights and three challenges that need to be grasped.
Three things of note emerged, following what was termed the Toronto Blessing which broke upon the Parish in 1995. The first Alpha course was run; a number of people went into full time mission work of various kinds; the giving went up; and CHS was planted in 2000. I have written about this in the CCK Centenary book. CHS, now well established and embarking on a frightening and exciting building project is now a vibrant 20 year old full of passion and energy.
Another aspect of the renewal that God brought was the start of what we called Ministry Among the Poor (MAP), spear-headed by Elizabeth Clack.
This, along with the weeks of generosity, gave birth to the Warehouse, with Craig Stewart being appointed as Warehouse manager in July 2002; he and Elizabeth nurtured the infant ministry, housed in the double garage at Christ Church Centre.
The Warehouse has grown and expanded, reviewed its strategy, adapted and become a beacon of hope and innovative engagement that has international recognition. The vision of seeing the church of Jesus actively living out the peace and justice of God for the world is expressed in the support they give to local congregations, enabling dialogue, facilitating collaboration and inspiring hope-filled imagination that leads to action.
The St John’s Leadership Academy
We launched the SJLA in January 2016. It has been an exciting journey over these past five years and I grateful for all that God has done and the opportunity afforded me to lead the SJLA.
In 2016 and 2017 we were very much still finding our way. We met initially only one Saturday morning a month in 2016. We moved to meeting weekly in 2017 while still trying, rather unsuccessfully, to run a Saturday programme at the same time. 2018 marked the start of a more structured three year programme with a well set out curriculum based on the praxis cycle and clearer strategy. We now have our first group completing the three year journey and moving on.
I worked initially very closely with Peter Holgate. Peter always had a dream and longing to see St John’s as being a training parish that produced missional leaders. He gave his support and encouragement right up to the end of his life. He came to our Board meeting on the 8th of May 2017 and went into hospital the next day for major surgery from which he did not recover. I thank God for Peter who was, true to his name, a real rock of support.
There are many others who have given time and input and helped not only in building the plane as we fly it, but to shape and improve the design as we have gone along. Jerry Van Niekerk, Morea Josias and now Trevor Joshua have served as Chairs of the Board. Wayne Toms has helped us do strategic reviews.
I want also to record the support and backing we have had from Archbishop Thabo. He has championed us and encouraged me and always given his support.
I am pleased to say that one of first students Brendan Fox was ordained Deacon last year and will be ordained to priesthood next week. Another of our students Philip Donald (not from this Parish but from St Peter’s Mowbray) will be ordained Deacon February and is being sent to us for his curacy and will serve and be exposed to ministry across the Parish under the oversight of Natalie Simons-Arendse. There are two others in the Fellowship of Vocation and more seeking to be admitted.
In the past few years I have had the immense privilege of being part of a team and working closely with Keegan Davids, Natalie Simons-Arendse and René August. Each have played a significant part in getting us to where we are today. I have learned so much from them and being part of this team has been a high light of my ministry as PRTL. Brendan Fox will be joining the team next year and it is with confidence that I entrust the care of this fledgling to them to take it into the next chapter.
As I hand over the reins of the Parish I want to highlight three challenges that need to be grasped.
Vision and Heritage: We have used the words Anglican, Evangelical, Missional and Charismatic to describe our heritage and ethos. They give some clarity but also open to various and sometime misguided interpretations of what these words mean. They need to be grasped and explored afresh. Our heritage must inform and inspire us, but not control us.
The leadership of the Parish is currently engaged in look at what it means to be evangelical and Rob Taylor and others are leading discussion around the Lausanne Covenant could help us in that. For too long we have hitched our wagon to a brand of evangelicalism that has emerged from the UK and the US. We are discovering and I urge more attention be placed on listening to and engaging with Evangelicals who come from other parts of the world. We will be enriched and inspired as we do.
We are also, and will always be, engaged in discerning what it means to be missional and engaged in God’s mission as our context and the needs of our neighbours (whom Jesus commands us to love as we love ourselves) change.
The Anglican Church, along with all others and indeed the world has experienced a major shake-up in this year COVID. Everything we have done and relied on in the past has been shoved into new spaces. This is a creative space and I trust we will not let the opportunity and pain be wasted for us to explore what it means to be church in this new world.
In all this I want to stress the importance of being women and men of the Holy Spirit. We need the inspiration, gifting, empowering, prophetic wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let’s us not get trapped in trying to “do it again like we did last summer” but being open to the new things the Spirit wants to do in and through us.
Money has a way of getting us on our knees. One of the areas in which we have felt particular pressure is in our finances. Our income across the Parish this year is projected to be R1 million less than last year. Rather than throw up our hands in horror and defeat this means we have to think innovatively and creatively taking what we do have – holding it with a greater sense of thanks – and using the resources of staff and our buildings (the two greatest draws on our budgets) in different and more strategic ways.
A key consideration here is how do we deploy and possibly share clergy. It will mean breaking out of old and established ways of doing things – but only established relatively recently. All manner of creative and empowering things could happen.
We also need to look at use of our buildings. CHS does not have to be the only church building a Life Centre. I sense that God will use CHS to prompt all the churches across the Parish to look at how our physical spaces are used and could be used creatively and differently.
Back Young Leaders
In the SJLA we are focussed on the formation of pioneering mission-shaped church leaders for our context. Pioneers are those who lead the way to places we have not been before. They break new ground and discover the new things that God is doing and join in.
We have seen some very exciting things happen this year in the midst of COVID. We had our first ever combined Good Friday Three Hour Service. Following that there have been monthly Sunday evening worship services. The children’s pastors have collaborated around producing material – St John’s Parish Kids. (Please pray for Rene Barry the Children’s Coordinator at St Luke’s who has tested positive for COVID). The youth pastors have developed the Colabs exploring faith and life and looking most recently looking at a theology of friendships that transform our world. There have been webinars on how do we do anti-racism discipleship; discussed how we can respond to the issue of GBV and patriarchy. Inspiring stuff. Checkout the St John’s Parish YouTube channel for loads of locally produced material.
The micro site at CHS – which Phineas will tell us about – and may other things happening across the Parish have taken place largely (not entirely I hasten to add) because young leaders have stepped up and grasped the opportunity. The challenge is for us to allow the energy and passion of our young emerging leaders to shape the Parish. They are invested in the future and want to shape it and make more like the Kingdom of God. They are pioneering and will take us where we have not been before.
The challenge is, will we make way and let them? Yes there are lessons to be learned from the past. Lessons we learned – certainly in my case – mostly by making mistakes.
I joined this Parish and took on leadership of Christ Church aged 34. David Prior was 31 when he took on leadership of Christ Church. So this is something we have done before. And we are doing it again. Natalie came, with experience and having met the challenges of being a school chaplain to lead St Philp’s not having not led a church before. The same is true for Thabang as he came with experience in the Salvation Army and indeed in the South African Military but having led an Anglican church to take up the leadership of St John’s just a year ago. The same is true for Brendan who has taken up the reins at CHS. And the same will be true for Guy Axelson when he comes to take the rein here at Christ Church.
Letting young men and women lead is in our DNA as a Parish. Let’s hold onto that and do it again. Allow them space to lead and make mistakes. I would want those who follow me to stand on my shoulders and go higher.
As I conclude I want to thank God and you all for the immense privilege of having led the Parish these past eight years and to have had the opportunity to see the idea of the SJLA morph into reality; to watch the nest being built and fledgling take off and fly. I am full of excited anticipation. I am retiring from being Parish Rector and Team Leader, but not from ministry. As Gordon Macdonald said many years ago – “there is no retirement in the Kingdom of God”. I will continue to watch and pray, and cheer on the great team that is in place.
So, whether we are retired or not, young or old, volunteer or staff … we press on to take hold of that for which God in Christ took hold us.