11 Sep 2012
Diocese of Christchurch Synod
One of the central images of the New Testament is Jesus the healer. Jesus is also a teacher and a preacher; Jesus leads the disciples and Jesus feeds the 5000; Jesus confronts the religious authorities and Jesus turns water into wine. However, in every one of the Gospels, Jesus heals. Jesus is confronted with broken people seeking health and wholeness of life. By the laying on of hands, by prayer and sometimes simply by His presence, Jesus heals the sick and welcomes the restored person back into the community and relationship.
At this Synod we come before our Lord as a geographical region broken by earthquakes and aftershocks; and as a distraught community that is desperately tired after two years of struggle and further seismic activity. As a Diocese we need to receive anew the healing presence and peace of Christ. Of course we need energy and vision for the physical re-building and new builds of the future but that is not enough. Decades from now when many of us no longer walk this earth, we will be judged on our church’s response to the largest natural disaster to hit New Zealand. Yes there will be the on-going conversation about our Cathedral and there will be new churches and halls.
However decades from now, conversation also will be influenced by how we commit ourselves to prayer in the next year. An unhealthy community which only cares about building monuments for the future will not further the Kingdom of God. Due to the quakes and shakes, the city of Christchurch divided against itself; the division over the Cathedral and the anger about things not being done to our liking and according to our timetable, and the recent articulation of the reality of earthquake prone buildings, we find ourselves burdened with a spiritual challenge that cannot be ignored.
We need to seek the healing Christ offers everyone both as individuals and as a community. Our prayers for healing need to be for the Diocese as well as for the larger community which is torn asunder. We know that the conversations going on in some places are extremely destructive and seem to be more about power and control than community and well-being. So I ask us to pray. We need to pray and seek healing.
But before I say anything more let me clarify a little. Often in the New Testament there is the misunderstanding by the community that sickness is exclusively caused by wrongdoing and sin. However Jesus is clear that bad things do not happen exclusively to bad people. Luke 13 explains that those who suffer calamity are not worse sinners than others. All need to repent. We need to remember that all have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of God. God’s healing grace is available and offered to all. As a community of faith in this earthquake damaged region, we need ourselves to be healed that we may better minister Jesus’ gift of health and wholeness to others. I am not saying that every criticism is undeserved. But when a negative spirit prevails, is anyone really praising God?
Therefore I stand before you today to call for a year of prayer and study so that we might better understand and receive the healing God offers, and furthermore be better equipped to offer God’s wholeness to others. We cannot stop everything going on in the recovery work in order to concentrate purely on prayer and study for 12 months. We have a responsibility of care for others. However I think we need to rework our time and add the priority of prayer to the top of our “to do” list.
I am not suggesting for a minute that no one is praying. Rather I am asking all of us, including myself, to make prayer the priority and let other important matters fit in to the remaining time. I remind the clergy again of our common commitment to pray the daily office of Morning Prayer and to read the Scriptures from the daily lectionary. I ask you to renew your commitment to this and I ask every member of Synod and the Diocese to commit to a daily time of quiet reflection and prayer.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the whole diocese in all our various places and spaces prayed Morning Prayer every day? What a difference that would make to our lives. Let’s be honest, we are facing an epidemic of exhaustion. If we do not fall upon the resources of our Lord; if we continue to think we can get through this extraordinary challenge ourselves, we are misguided. With God all things are possible, but we need to consciously seek God’s great goodness and grace.
We have heard about the insurance situation, about the challenge of earthquake prone buildings and about rationalisation. I want to thank Gavin Holley who is a wonderful addition to our staff as Chief of Operations. I am deeply grateful for all he has done. I also wish to thank the rest of the CPT staff for their extraordinary dedication to the work of the rebuild. We have wonderful Project Managers in RCP and I also thank Warren and Mahoney, whose work on the Design Guidelines was received and approved last Synod. Traveling to California and Europe with Warren and Mahoney architects, Bill Gregory and Blair Johnson, senior project manager Marcus Read and Acting Dean Lynda Patterson was a great privilege and truly inspirational.
There are copies of Cathedral Conversations available here at Synod. Please make sure your parish has two or more copies and I suggest you use it for the purpose of study and discussion. In particular I ask that you move out of the circle of Anglicans and ask neighbours and nearby churches to study the book and to share their responses to the questions at the back of the book.
Last Synod there was concern about lack of community consultation and we investigated the possibility of using the Christchurch City Council’s software which was used for the “Have your Say” exercise. It would have cost over $200,000 and we decided to go in another direction. We are planning a number of community gatherings where residents are invited to come and be part of a wider conversation. The Cathedral Project Group and the Cathedral Chapter are committed to ChristChurch Cathedral communicating the renewed ancient vision of the proclamation of the Gospel in the centre of the city, and a Cathedral design which makes mission and outreach as much part of its expression as the daily round of worship and prayer.
At this time I wish to thank the staff of the Anglican Centre. Every member of staff works long hours in less than ideal circumstances and gives their best to our mission. Special thanks to Pamela Galbraith the Diocesan Manager and to John Day the leader of the mission team. I again want to say that the hospitality of John Sheaf and St. Peter’s Upper Riccarton has been of Biblical proportions!
On 3 and 4 November this year we will have a fleeting visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. It will be one of his last pastoral visits to a diocese and part of the visit to New Zealand of the Anglican Consultative Council in Auckland in October and November. To date there is more media interest in the Archbishop’s visit to Christchurch than any other part of his visit. We anticipate a possible opportunity for him to address the city in a gathering at Linwood Park, probably two large church services (Christ College Chapel possibly for a choral Eucharist in the morning, and a more contemporary service at St Christopher’s in the early afternoon). He will tour the devastation of the Christchurch city caused by the earthquakes and we hope his entire visit will not be taken hostage by the ChristChurch Cathedral debate. I am in the UK next week and hope to learn more about what he is prepared to do while he is with us.
Let me move now to the topic of Structural Review for the Diocese, sometimes called “rationalization”, although I think we need to drop that title.
As you have heard already, the structure of the Diocese as it stands today will not meet the needs of the future. You know that the shape of the city and other communities is changing. On the outskirts of the city and in the hinterlands, new subdivisions are springing up all over. Prestons and Rolleston each will have over a thousand new homes and there are 6-8 new housing developments that will appear and which are already appearing. These new communities are not served well by the churches we have there right now.
We need ministers and buildings that offer excellent ministry to these new areas. In other parts of the Diocese we have churches in close proximity to each other which are neither full nor growing. In some instances the population is lower than what was recorded before the earthquakes. Consequently we know we do not need as many churches in some parts of the Diocese as we once did and we will need renewed outreach and presence in other parts of the Diocese. I do not think we can do this piecemeal.
Consequently I want to call us back together for a full Synod in just over 6 months to consider a new plan for the parishes of the Diocese. I am asking for nominations at this Synod for people to serve on a small strategic working group for this purpose. It is my hope that two members of the previous Strategic Working Group will be part of the new smaller Structural Review Group. I promise you that every parish will continue to be included in the diocese-wide conversation that began last April. I rejoice in some of the leadership that has been offered for this first round of conversations about sharing buildings and am excited about what is yet to come.
I am delighted to announce we have Suzie Sauer present as our guest at this Synod. Suzie Sauer is a committed Christian and a change management agent. Her company is called Creationworks. She has been hired as our consultant for this process of re-imagining the Diocese. Also coming on the Diocesan team part-time is Craig Dixon of the Cathedral Team. Craig is the creator of the very successful Vege Co-op. Craig will lead the Rebuild as an Event project described in the Design Guidelines. It is my hope and prayer that with the help of these people and the new Structural Review Group we will present to Synod for approval a new diocesan parish map at the next Synod.
The highest governance body of the Diocese is Synod and it is to you we will bring the hopes and plans for the future. It will be you the Synod who decides about what the future Diocese looks like. That is an immense responsibility and so I want to end where I began which is with a call to prayer and a year wherein the diocese will intentionally pray for the Lord’s grace and leading. If we are to move forward in accordance with God’s will, we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and a renewed vision for the future. For me this means into spending more time with God in prayer with a lot of deep listening.
There are so many other things I would like to talk about. Many important topics were raised by General Synod and I want to return to those topics at another time. The resolution before this Synod about Social Housing is an urgent need as is the advocacy work that Mike Coleman has been doing in the eastern suburbs. I want to commend CCR for their outreach and support of the same eastern population. In the next couple of years I dream of another entity called Anglican Advocacy that is commissioned to challenge the unjust structures of society even as Anglican Care seeks to support those who are too often invisible to society. Having Jolyon White as Social justice Enabler is the beginning of this vision becoming reality as are his research assistants Tessa Laing and Kate Day.
But fleshing that out will be for another time because if we do not put prayer to the forefront of who we are and what we are trying to do in the name of Jesus Christ, we will not be faithful stewards. In the prayer of St Augustine, “Lord you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” It is in God’s presence that we find the Lord’s vision for our future. As we read at the start of Friday Morning Prayer: “Through Jesus Christ, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that acknowledge God’s name.”
Glory to God, whose power working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Glory to God indeed.
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