In my occasional travels at home and abroad I visit churches and attend worship services of our denomination. This makes me aware of the rich variety of style and expression that engage our congregations in a meaningful way. My most recent out-of-town experience was in Hastings, where a five piece band and vocalist led the first part of the service at St Johns Presbyterian Church. This was followed by a lengthy sermon from the Minister, who used real life events and current affairs to good effect to illustrate the meaning of faith in a contemporary setting. Like many of our clergy, he could base his engagement with the congregation on his real life experiences in another occupation, in his case that of a pastry chef, before entering the ministry. The warm welcome accorded me as a visitor on every such occasion was endorsed by a parishioner, who engaged me in conversation. He told me that on arrival from the UK he had joined this congregation, when the community of his Anglican persuasion had failed to embrace him. It emphasises the importance of fellowship as a means to build our membership and involve a wider community in our various activities. In a sense each one of us is an ambassador and has a role to play in this respect.
Misconceptions and outright prejudice in denominational matters are common occurrences and are not easily corrected. Many of us have been guilty from time to time of bias in our attitude to other Christian persuasions and I am no exception. In my recent search for an interesting television programme I switched on to an interview on the Maori channel with Bishop Brian Tamaki of the Destiny Church, who gave a good account of the establishment of the City of God, its kaupapa and expected beneficial outcomes for members of his flock. He explained that on the principles his church was based, God’s blessing had to be earned. It required a righteous life, adherence to a code of conduct and good work habits to qualify. There is evidence that the Destiny Church is achieving success in achieving life style changes and addressing disadvantage, where official policy has failed. On reflection it embodies the principles of Calvinism that laid the foundations of the Reformed Church that we are part of. On the question of his visible affluence, the Bishop saw in himself a role model that inspired his followers to work hard and enjoy the fruits of their labours. It is difficult to argue against setting a good example that is rewarded with positive outcomes for many.
With this in mind I look forward to a successful retreat next Sunday to find answers and viable solutions to ensure our survival and growth as a congregation in the service of God.