Occasionally, along the journey of life, someone offers me something to read. I thankfully receive and upon reading, nine times out of ten, it was just what I needed at that particular moment in time. This happened last week when Robin called into the office with a bundle of old Newsletters beautifully tied with ribbon from 2008/9 during the time Rev Don Glenny was our Interim Moderator.
I took great delight in reading Don’s articles and they brought back fond memories of a wonderful gracious man and a deeply wise pastoral minister, whose presence I still miss within our communal life. Thank you Robin for taking the time to drop them in for Roxy and I to read.
A significant theme of Don’s articles is around the Ministry Vacancy, the Ministry Settlement Board and their process towards a new minister. This is very timely; for once again St Aidans is at this stage in its life and mission. I thought, now that we have elected our Ministry Settlement Board, it might be useful to offer you a collection of quotes from what he wrote in 2008/9 prior to my coming among you to be your minister.
We are entering a future in which fewer churches will have a minister of their own. We are moving on from minister – dependent church life. It needs to be remembered that Jesus was a lay person and so were his followers. The Christian movement was, for its first few centuries, a lay movement and a very successful one. We are having to learn to be that again.
Very naturally many of us at St Aidans are thinking and talking about the kind of minister we would like for our church. This is good and healthy. It won’t be a surprise that there are a variety of ideas about that, because people have their own ideas about what makes a good minister.
All this is happening at a time in all churches when particular words are being used to label ministers, church members, and even whole congregations. They are described as fundamentalist, conservative, charismatic or liberal. I hope we won’t be tempted to do this at St Aidans. These labels, and that’s what they are, have quite different meanings for all of us. They are disrespectful, inaccurate and I am suggesting that it will be better if we at St Aidans will say in simple respectful ways what are the qualities we hope for in a minister.
About a week ago I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the St Aidans Church Settlement Board…… They were meeting as a work group to do two tasks before the Presbytery of the North Shore will give us permission to find a suitable minister. The two tasks are, putting the final touches to a description of St Aidans Church which will help ministers to decide if they would be pleased to come here, and putting the final touches to a description of the kind of minister we think we need. These two descriptions are called profiles…….
Let me entertain you with a story about profiles. After working in three parishes for twenty five years, and as professor in the Theological Hall in Dunedin, I wanted to return to being a parish minister. When that became known five parishes that thought well of themselves pressed me to be their minister. I politely declined because I knew of many parishes which needed a minister but were not able to attract one. So I wrote to one of those parishes where, for nearly three years it had tried, and failed to attract a minister. I explained that I had worked for twenty – five years as a parish minister and had been a professor for some time years was married and that our three children were now adults and long ago had left the nest. I was fifty –eight years of age, could no longer offer them youth, but I could offer experience.
The parish wrote to me saying something like this: “ we are grateful for your offer but we don’t think you will suit us. Our profile says that we seek a minister who is about thirty – five years of age, married with four children who will add to the numbers in the Sunday School, and a wife who is a good church worker. “ I replied to say that I accepted their decision, but that we would like to spend a week–end with them, at our own cost, and join fully in the parish programme. They agreed. We went. I preached at three services and we met about two hundred people. At the end of the weekend the parish members were eager for us to join them. What happened to cause such a turn–around? Instead of meeting an invented minister in a profile they met a normal couple, just like themselves, so they abandoned the profile and they settled for the people they met. That began, from 1983 until 1989 a memorable time in our lives
When we think about the next minister at St Aidans, what image do you think most of us have of that person in our mind?…….
The 2009 year book of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, is an interesting document……. The 289 ministers available to a parish are a varied lot. Only 176 of them are New Zealanders with white skins, 85 are Pacific Islanders, 7 are Asian and 21 are Maori.
…….So returning to the original question: what images do we have of the next minister in this parish? There is a fifty percent chance that the next minister will be white, and a fifty percent chance that he or she will be brown–skinned and thirty to thirty-five percent chance she will be a woman. At present our focus is on whether we can raise enough money to employ a minister. Our focus should surely be on whether St Aidans can adapt to be a church of Asia or the Pacific.
…..On a few occasions I have been told that the Presbyterian Church has a painfully slow method of obtaining a new minister for a parish…..in my experience the way we do it in the Presbyterian Church is more courteous, thoughtful, considerate and humane than is often the case with other churches. Being humane and courteous takes time.
You perhaps have seen, that splendid ad on television in which two elderly men are seen ambling down to a lake with their fishing rods, hoping to catch a fish. They are never in a hurry, and they always say, somewhere in the ad that “ the good things take time.” They are, of course, advertising a particular brand of cheese. These two old fellows have a message for our parish at this time.
Our Church Settlement Board is doing fine work for us, and I hope to hear no word of criticism of them for taking a long time to find a minister for our parish. They know that good things take time.
Don’s words during our past vacancy are filled with wisdom and he reminds us that this process can’t be rushed, that good things take time and that we need to trust the members of the Board. Of course Don was writing when this parish had a ministerial vacancy and the search was on to fill that vacancy. In our current situation, I am still here until June 2016. However, Don’s words of wisdom may still be applied to the current process, which our Ministry Settlement Board will go through. For surely good things take time.
I want to conclude with a final segment from Don. I include this because, in it, we catch a glimpse into Don’s character and the values that he lived and offered ministry by, along with offering us in 2015 a prophetic challenge to how we may be church into the foreseeable future in these ever changing times.
This year is almost certain to be an important one in our journey of faith at St Aidans. This could be a year in which a new minister comes to work among us. (I commenced in December 2009) It could also be the year in which we discover that no minister is attracted to us and we shall go on without a settled minister until the end of the year. It might also be the year in which it dawns upon us that we cannot meet the cost of a full-time minister, a year in which we think completely new thoughts about shared ministry, or part–time ministry. It will be interesting to discover how it all unfolds. No church can ask for a more exciting life than that.
Here is a story that you might think about. On 16 December 1953, having completed seven years of university and theological study I was ordained a minister. Four days later, on 20 December 1953 I bought a book just published. Its title was ’Letters and paper from a Prison.’ It had been written by a brilliant young minister and theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German imprisoned by the Gestapo because he dared to warn people about where Hitler and the Nazis were leading the German People……
Imagine if you can, yet in my twenties and a Presbyterian minister for four days, reading Bonheoffer’s book and coming to these words:
‘The Church is the church only when it exists for others. To make a start it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free–will offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling. The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell people of every calling what it means to follow Christ and to exist for others.’
At the service of worship at which I was ordained and inducted in my first parish, one of the ministers present was appointed to preach a sermon. He did that. He preached his sermon to me. He told me that I was to work hard to bring many people as possible into the church so that the church will be big and powerful, and will dominate the life of society. Not a word about giving away its property to those in need, and not a word about not dominating the life of society.
Do you believe me when I say that I am forever grateful that I read those words of Bonhoeffer at the very beginning of my life as a minister? For that day until now I have carried those words of Bonhoeffer with me wherever I have worked. For fifty –five years they have kept me ready and willing to work in any place where a minister is needed but cannot be paid for.
As it happens I have never had to do that. All the parishes I have worked in could, and did support me as a fully stipended minister. I am in my eighties, retired and no longer available to be called to a parish. In a way I regret that. I feel that I have missed an experience of some strength and value.
Nor do I expect that we at St Aidans might give away all our property to those in need. To do that we would need to become more Christian than we are.
This year, however, we might be given the opportunity to consider a minister who tells us that he or she wants to be a self – supporting or part-time self–supporting minister. Instead of us asking them to do this, they might ask us if we can learn something new and be led by them into new ways of being a church. What would St Aidans do about that? Will we be able to write a new chapter in the history of the church? To do that we would have to be able to move from old ways to new ways. But will we?
There is nothing more to be said. Thank you Don, you still speak, challenge and encourage us from beyond the gossamer veil, which separates you from us.