Why Are We Here?

Why are we here?  A message from the Vicar.

This was the question which Chris Tweddell asked in the sermon on 14th June. Not ‘Why are we here in church this morning’, which most of us would be able to answer fairly easily. But rather “What is our purpose as a church? What do we each believe that we are here to do, to achieve, to take part in?” This is a vital question, probably the most vital question, which we as a church need to be asking ourselves, both jointly and individually.

Please stop reading for a short time, take a reflective moment of prayer, and try to answer this question for yourself.

The Anglican Consultative Council, which meets every 2 -3 years and includes representatives from 165 countries worldwide, wrote the Five Marks of Mission in 1984. These express the Anglican Communion’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic/integral mission. They express our joint mission as a church and our individual mission as members of that church.

  • 1) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

This is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus’ own summary of his mission. This is the key statement which underpins everything we do.

Chris asked us to consider: How well do we do this in the Wakatipu Anglican Parish? How many people do we actually reach of the people in the Wakatipu Basin? There are around 500 people on the Parish Roll, 1359 stated ‘Anglicans’ from the 2013 census, and approximately 70 Parishioners in church each week. Which is between 0.5% and 8.8% of the 15,480 people in the Parish area. Is this good enough? How can we reach more people?

There was a Parish audit process started by Vestry in 2012, towards the end of David Coles’ time as Vicar. Figures calculated at the time suggested that we were a growing Parish. This is actually not the case. The counts of congregation sizes made in the previous 12 months had included all the weddings, funerals and baptisms, of which there was a particularly high number. When these are taken out of the statistics, we are actually more or less maintaining the numbers attending church. But place this in the context of an area of high population growth, and we see that are actually shrinking. People stating on the Census that they are Anglican have dropped in the Parish from 13.72% in 2001 to 8.78% in 2013.

We also don’t really know who we are as a Parish. Where and how do most of our Parishioners live? How committed are our Parishioners to the life of the Parish? What values do we, as a group, think are important? Do we actually represent a cross section of the Parish in age, income, culture / identity?

And crucially, who is it who proclaims the Good News in our Parish? It seems to be left to the Vicar and the lay ministers to do behind the doors of the church, and to Emma with the young families. We each have a role to play – the marks of mission apply to all members of the Anglican church. 

  • 2) To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

How many of us really know and understand the Bible? Chris was delighted at the enthusiasm and commitment seen at the recent Lenten studies. But he was surprised at the relatively low level of knowledge held by many, even those who go to church regularly. As a church community, we have been offered very few opportunities for learning and development in recent years. This is something Chris hopes to address, initially by establishing Bible study groups hosted by willing volunteers in their homes.

We carried out 11 Baptisms in 2014. Of these, 8 were local children, 3 were from other places. How many of these families do we subsequently see as an active part of our worship community? We now have the Small Seeds programme to offer them, which is fantastic. But Chris is asking us

  • Is this enough?
  • Is it part of our mission as a whole church, or a stand alone programme?
  • Should we have a range of education opportunities available to all ages across the Parish?”

Chris asked us which we thought would be the fastest growing church in the area. Some suggested City Impact, some suggested the Presbyterian Church. In fact the Presbyterian Church is in fact shrinking faster than the Anglican Church in this area, and Impact doesn’t show a huge presence in the Census statistics. It’s actually the Catholic Church which is showing the greatest growth. Chris asked what the ‘secret to their success’ was. Yes, partly the incoming South American and European immigrants who have been brought up as Catholic. But they are the only church in the area with a school attached – education and teaching is at the heart of a growth in Christian faith.

  • 3) To respond to human need by loving service

Many of us do fantastic work volunteering in the area – at the growing number of Charity Shops, for local schools, for elderly neighbours, for other organisations. But Chris asks us how many of us realise that this work is part of our personal ministry and mission as Christians? How many of us are actively aware of this ‘living out’ of our faith, and demonstrate this in our actions?

There is also the question of how well the church is meeting the needs of our local community. What are the needs in this area? To a visitor, the main problem might well be the level of alcohol abuse and related violence and disorder issues. ‘City Angels’ run by a group of churches in the UK has been fantastically successful at addressing these problems.  In Chichester, crimes of ‘Violence against the person resulting in injury’ has been reduced by 82%. Yes, 82%!! (See http://www.cityangels.org.uk/ if you want to read more about this terrific project.)

To those in church, who may not find themselves in the town centre on a late Friday or Saturday evening, we each have our own view of the most significant local problems.

Take a moment – what do you think those problems are?

How could the church be attempting to meet those needs?

  • 4) To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation

Are we as a church community making any efforts to address any of these issues? We believe that we are good at hospitality here, but how far does this really go? We offer refreshments after church, but how many of us actively seek out visitors to speak to each week? How many of us would take a stranger home for lunch after church?

Are we attempting to meet the real needs of the local community, to make changes to how social policies are carried out in our area, or taking steps to make meaningful connections between people from backgrounds and cultures different to ours? As the song says, “When I needed a neighbour, were you there? I was cold, I was naked, were you there? I was hungry and thirsty, were you there?

It may come as a surprise to some to know that Queenstown Islamic Centre are using the Parish Centre on a regular weekly basis to meet for their worship, and they came here each night during the month of Ramadan to break their fast. We also have a Buddhist Meditation group and Yoga groups using the Lounge and Hall regularly. The Islamic group in particular found it very difficult to hire a space for worship in town as they were turned away by several other organisations, and were delighted to be made welcome here. So much so that they have offered to help us with events or projects we may be doing. Vestry were unanimous in allowing them use of the facilities – this is a practical demonstration of our desire to break down barriers and to welcome all people.

  • 5) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Most of us would call ourselves ‘greenies’ to some extent at least. We take part in recycling schemes, we give unwanted clothes to charity shops, we are conscious of our use of fossil fuel. But again, do we do this as part of our Christian mission, with an awareness of carrying out Gods work?

Are we as a church community making much effort to take part in recycling of waste, clothes, toys, books or anything else for the good of the local community? Are we taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint? What do we think is important to try and improve in the Wakatipu basin?

In summary:

Until we know more about our Parish, about the lives of the people who live here, about the problems we are facing as a church community and as a wider local community, it’s going to be hard to grow as a church and to progress in our Mission. Once we know where we are and how we currently stand, what our aims and values are in the context of the local reality, we will have the beginning of the answer to ‘Why we are here?’.

Vestry started the Parish audit in 2012 and have done some great work. We now need to continue that by carrying out a complete census of everyone on our Parish Roll. Emma is currently designing this document. It will include questions about us and our lives, and about what we think is important. It will be sent out by email, then by post, and for those who haven’t responded, eventually completed by people coming to your door - it’s vital that every single person is given the specific opportunity to be an active part of this process.

We will also be carrying out a monthly survey of those who actually come through the doors to worship on Sunday mornings, over the next year. We need to take a count of

  • locals
  • locals registered on the Parish Roll
  • visitors