The Rector’s Vestry Report

The Rector’s Report to the Annual Vestry Meeting
of Saint George’s Anglican Church, London
February 3, 2013

I. Thanksgiving

I give thanks to God and to you all for celebrating with me the tenth anniversary of my appointment as Rector of St. George’s, London.  I rejoice that you continue to offer rich hospitality to me and to Ruth and that you continue to support and encourage us in the work to which we have been called here.  My prayer and my hope is that we will continue to journey together in ministry and mission, in worship and fellowship, for some time to come.

I give thanks for the lay leadership of this parish, especially our Wardens, who once again this year have guided us wisely and worked very hard to achieve the goals which they set for themselves.  You have supported them and given them the resources that are required to fund both the maintenance of these buildings and the work of the gospel.  I acknowledge with thanksgiving the work of our senior Warden, Jim Marquis, as he steps down from the team this year.  Jim has given unreservedly of his time and expertise and has offered real leadership to this parish family and its Parish Council.  The Wardens and staff are supported by a team of volunteers who freely and cheerfully give of their time, energy and talent.  As Vaughan Radcliffe and Bill McFall step down from the Parish Council I extend a vote of thanks to them for their excellent service over a number of years.

I give thanks for our staff, each of whom has gone through a year beset with many challenges.  Bonnie Neaves lends her admirable talents and robust commitment to leadership in the ministry of music.  It is our hope this year to support the choir by supplementing their fund-raising efforts and enabling them to procure new choir vestments. I thank her and you for the support of our Choral Scholarship programme and for the blessing which these musicians bring into our worshipping life as a congregation.  Wendy Proctor and John Allt give us attentive service to the needs of an expanding programme of ministry and mission and to increased traffic in and around our building.

I give thanks for the fellowship of the clergy staff of this parish.  Our Parish Deacon, the Revd Gwen Fraser, continues to serve with exemplary faithfulness, good cheer and high energy. When you read the Ordinal of the Book of Alternative Services, it is no stretch to say that Gwen’s picture (and all that it symbolizes) could well replace the text of that liturgy.  If you want to know what the office and work of a Deacon in the Church of God is all about, look at Gwen!  I think we all need to underline in our minds the fact that she is non-stipendiary and so the gift of her time, talent and treasure to this parish family is an outstanding example of faithful stewardship for which we should all thank God and thank Gwen!  We said farewell this past year to our Priest Associate, the Revd David Tiessen and to his wife Leanne and daughters Ella and Rosie.  I am very thankful for the three and one-half years that Fr. David and I shared in ministry here and I must say that I miss him very much – his keen intellect, his insightful and compassionate caring for our members, his zany sense of humour and that good energy he brought to this parish and to me personally.  Fr. David now serves as Associate to the Rector at The Church of St. John the Evangelist, Edmonton. In addition, I want also to acknowledge the contribution to our life of the Revd Canon Bill Cliff, Chaplain of Huron University College, who worships with us and supplies ministry, often preaching and presiding, during the summer months when the Collegiate Chapel of St. John the Evangelist is closed.  Canon Cliff has been a rich source of encouragement to this parish and again to me personally.

I give thanks for our theological students who look to us for formation in the practice of Christian ministry.  The Revd Andrew Wilson graduated from Huron University College in May and now serves as deacon assistant in the parish of Port Franks, Grand Bend and Exeter.  Mr. Chris Evetts has arrived, taken up his place in our life of worship, ministry and mission and will enter more formally into a Field Placement experience here come September when he enters the Master of Divinity programme in the Faculty of Theology at Huron.

I give thanks for everyone of you who offers gifts in the ministry and mission of this parish.  I am continually astounded at the faithfulness of so many of you and amazed at the range of tasks you take on with joy and hope as we journey together.  Myrlene Boken, author of the report Who Is My Neighbour?, listened to your wardens describe the full programme of our life here and remarked, “You just aren’t big enough to be doing all this!”  She may well be right and yet you do do it all with glad and generous hearts!  Thank you.

 

II. Retrospect and Prospect:  Opportunities and Challenges

 

In Lent of this past year I proposed a set of five categories, borrowed from the work of the American Methodist Bishop, Robert Schnase, as a lens through which we might view, analyze and plan for the work God calls us to do in ministry and mission. Sermons were preached, a midweek programme was held, and a sense of what we are doing presently and what we might begin to do in the future was gained.  It was suggested at that time that we might use the next five years together to address these matters. In what follows I use these same categories to describe what we have done together and what remains to be done in addition.

1. The Practice of Radical Hospitality (the welcome we extend in Christ’s name)

We challenged each other to welcome and to get to know the parishioners sitting in the pews around us and the stranger standing alone at the coffee hour.  It was conceded that many of us, even long-term parishioners, do not know each other’s names.  Any welcome to visitors is an extension of the welcome we offer each other.  I have noticed many of you making a concerted effort to greet, introduce yourselves to, and get to know the members of this parish family. Newcomers have indicated how warmly welcomed they have been. We are making a good beginning.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that our church building is inhospitable in at least five ways to many people. First, we have suffered with a very indifferent sound system for a long time; some times it worked amazingly well and at others it was next to useless.  This year we replaced its essential components.  We hope that all will be able to hear with this system and the related assistive devices available for those who are hearing-challenged.  Second, the building is inaccessible to those with mobility problems.  There is no washroom in the building accessible to them and no elevator to move people unable to cope with stairs between the various levels of the building.  The Wardens will be bringing to a Special Vestry this year a major capital project to enable installation of an elevator and accessible washrooms as part of our response to the diocesan Renew Campaign. Third, during the summer months our worship space is far too hot (given the increasing temperatures over the past few years) for many of our senior members.  Attendance at worship suffers as a result.  There is new technology developing that may bring air-conditioning within the range of affordability. We will pursue this matter.  Fourth, there is ancient and inadequate lighting in our worship space and throughout the building.  A first step was taken in addressing this by the installation of LED lighting in the Chancel.  The results have been impressive.  You can see quite clearly during evening worship now.  This lighting, which is energy efficient and long lasting, needs to be extended throughout our building where florescent tube lighting is the norm.  This is an expensive project but one for which there may be government funding available.  Fifth, we need a more adequate nursery facility given the number of new babies born to members of our parish family and there is an amount allocated in the 2013 budget for this project. I want to underline that these five improvements to the fabric are not an end in themselves but a necessary development of our facilities in relation to our ministry and mission.  If we are intent under the providence of God to carry the work of St. George’s into the future these five aspects of “radical building hospitality” need our attention.

2.  Passionate Worship

Congregations that practice faithful and fruitful discipleship offer passionate worship from the heart and seek to draw everyone into receiving God’s grace and giving thanks for all of God’s many gifts to us in Christ.  In our study session a consensus emerged that our Anglican traditions of worship are alive and life giving. Preaching aspires to be both biblical and in concert with the Tradition of the Church. Our worship follows the patterns and rhythms of the Church Year and involves a significant number of parishioners in the leadership of worship each week. Belonging to this Anglican Way with its local, national and international bonds of communion is important to our identity in this parish and to our sense of calling to ministry and mission.  It was suggested that this strong sense of order offers support in the midst of a chaotic world and stability in the face of a frenetic pace of life.  Beginning with our youngest Sunday School students we are teaching an Anglican way of prayer, liturgical and personal, and the rationale for why we worship as we do. We have begun to invite our children to offer their gifts of music in worship from time to time and it is my fervent hope that this will continue.

I must also record my gratitude to the number of students from Western University who are not formally Anglican but who attend worship with great regularity on Sundays and at the early Eucharist on Wednesday mornings.  There are deep veins of liturgical wisdom and piety in these forms of Anglican worship which, I believe, we neglect at our peril. I am also thankful for the designated gifts of parishioners that enhance our worship.  In this past year we were given a sterling silver chalice and paten, an oils ambry, and another memorial gift of a new set of red hangings and vestments which is about to be commissioned and may be finished by Pentecost. The East Window was repaired and refurbished and a plan adopted for the ongoing maintenance and repair of all of our stained glass windows. Small repairs were carried out on our pipe organ which, you will be happy to know, Ross Doddington has pronounced to be in excellent condition.

3. The Practice of Intentional Faith Development

It is often said that Christian faith is caught, not taught. That assertion is true in what it affirms and false in what it denies.  An unexamined faith will soon be troubled and disturbed by biblical preaching and even our most cherished ideas about God and ourselves will be subjected to rigorous cross-questioning by the Tradition of the Church. For the past decade we have offered a diverse and sustained set of practices by which to “learn Christ” and follow him in faithful discipleship.  It is estimated that some 90 members of our congregation are involved regularly in such practices as Bible Study groups, nurture events (Emmaus, Books & Breakfast), Sunday School and related educational events.  All of these emphases are ongoing.  Two areas for major improvement have been noted and are being addressed.  First, we need to continue to extend a gracious invitation to all who desire to participate and to welcome them as fellow learners on the way.  Second, we need to do a better job of making these opportunities known both within and beyond the parish. Nathaniel Holmes has volunteered to tend our website.  We need folk to write copy for him to post re: events.  We also could benefit from a parish Facebook page and other forms of social media in which an increasing number of people in our society meet each other.

A fruitful development has been the St. George’s Theological Colloquium, the brainchild of Fr. Timothy Dobbin and Fr. David Tiessen, which celebrated its second anniversary in June.  We have used the leadership resources of this parish to offer a high-quality, budget-priced continuing education event to a group of some 16 clergy in the Diocese of Huron.  The theologian facilitators have included Prof. Gary Badcock of Huron University College and Prof. Doug Harink of the King’s University, Edmonton.  A major enabling gift has been given by a catering team from St George’s, led by Mary Marquis and Sue Merritt, who have prepared and served our meals. Continuing education for our parish clergy is a matter that Gwen and I take quite seriously.

4. The Practice of Risk-taking Mission and Service

The Church exists to bear witness to God’s mission for the sake of the world, to point to it in praise and thanksgiving and to join with God’s work by serving others in faithfulness to Christ.  Disciples are called to open themselves to others, to share good news with them and to welcome and care for the stranger in all the ways that were important to Jesus. We have opened our building to others as a place of hospitality, feeding and support and to other groups whose ministry addresses the needs of those who are suffering and broken.  There are 3 substance abuse Twelve Step groups that use our building each week.  There is a weekly coffee drop-in and Sharing Cupboard programme.  Once a month a community hospitality meal is served.  Christmas Dinner is served on Christmas Day.  We are engaged in a ministry with refugees.  We bring volunteer and material support to the Daily Bread ministry of our Cathedral, including its Christmas Share programme.  (Each May our Loaves & Fishes outreach and also two White Gift Sundays also support the Cathedral.)  We reach out to the communities of Chelsey Park and Cherryhill Village.  Each September we welcome the parish and neighbourhood to a Community BBQ.  At the beginning of Lent we serve a free pancake and sausage supper on Shrove Tuesday.  We also staff a satellite food depot of the London Food Bank at the Kinsmen Arena once a month. We made a first attempt, thanks to Marietta Drost, at a community garden and our Youth Group produced a crop of potatoes in support of our meal programme. We assist members with transportation via the bus ministry and by providing rides for seniors to a number of parish events.

There is a marked increase in the use of our Sharing Cupboard and we are thankful that Ecole Jeanne Sauvé continues to run a food drive twice annually in support of it. We suspect that there are other pressing needs in our immediate neighbourhood that will come to light as we get more involved in service to our neighbours. There is a remarkable team of parishioners, now aided by a team of students from Huron University College, who ensure that these ministries continue to happen and to stretch us.

5.  The Practice of Extravagant Generosity

The basic conviction which flows from the heart of the gospel is that our God is extravagantly generous – in creation, in salvation, in providential care for us and for our world.  The gospel of grace describes an economy not of scarcity but of abundance.  At the heart of fruitful congregations of disciples shaped by this grace there is the practice of receiving and giving gifts.  There are gifts of time, talent and treasure on which this congregation depends for its existence.  Without them the practices of radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development and risk-taking mission and service would be impossible. We have resolved and we must continue to resolve to give generously in proportion to what God has given to us.

This past year we have been the beneficiaries of the extravagant generosity of faithful members of this parish family who have left us bequests of various kinds and amounts from their estates, among them Catherine Andrewes, C. H. Webb, Betty Gallagher, Merlyn Love and Hilda Nichols.  These funds, currently invested with the Diocese of Huron, will support the ministries described above.  These faithful people have found a means to support their parish even after their death.  Please note that information about how you can join with them in this act of faith and commitment is published in our Parish Newsletter.

It has become de rigeur among some clergy to set “standards of giving” in their parishes and to make it their business to know how much parishioners give.  This is not my practice.  My practice (together with Ruth) is to give generously and regularly of time, talent and treasure.  I would hope that we would all without exception encourage each other in a spirit of graciousness and thankfulness to do likewise and to avoid practices that amount to imposition of a new law that defeats the gospel of grace.

One last category deserves special mention, namely the practice of pastoral care.  The clergy continue to make visits in hospitals, retirement communities and private homes.  The truth is that I am way behind in the part of this work that falls to me, especially home visits.  I am glad that subject to the licence of the Bishop of Huron, four Lay Eucharistic Visitors have been commissioned and deployed. Louise Gass, Christine Fortner, Doneen Silvester and Carol Ford will assist (not replace) me in this ministry and I am thankful for their willingness to serve.  The members of the Pastoral Care team continue to do their work of visiting, preparing meals for homebound members and those recuperating from illness or surgery and other tasks of pastoral support.  By the time we meet for Vestry we will have had a major consultation in the parish, facilitated by Marilyn Malton, on how we might be more faithful in this aspect of our ministry and mission.

 

III. Personal Remarks – Who is sufficient for these things?

 

The year 2012 was an exhausting, challenging and yet deeply rewarding year for me in my role as your Rector.  I fret, as you all know, that our Sunday attendance is not higher and our envelope givings more generous, etc., and so on and so forth.  And God, I’m sure, smiles at my lack of faith, of basic trust as newcomers arrive, people young and not so young seek me out for conversations about belief and commitment, the ministry and mission of the parish expands, and students come to be mentored in the practice of ministry.  I want St. George’s to flourish, not as a monument to my own ego, but to the greater glory of God.  Imagine our beloved parish “fully alive”, even more so than it is now.  That would be the glory of God and who would not want to glimpse that glory.  So thank you for listening, encouraging, supporting and caring about me, especially when I am in the fretting place. But I want to ask each one of you to do something.  Will you covenant to pray daily that God would bless the ministry and mission of this parish so that it may be built up in faith, knowledge and commitment?  And will you covenant to pray for me, for Gwen, Bonnie, Wendy and John in our respective ministries? Thank you.

I said last year that I wanted to become more like a rabbi, deeply immersed in the Scripture and the commentaries on it, more and more learned in the Tradition of Faith, ever more faithful in proclamation.  I still want that very much.  Then I read a comment that the office of rabbi has been made impossible by the protestant pastor and his/her jack-of-all-trades, omni-competent status in the church.  There is no time, the rabbi complained, to study Scripture, learn the Tradition, weigh carefully each word of the sermon, etc.  Well, be that as it may, it is worth trying to carve out this time and to persevere, the Lord being my helper!

I did no teaching beyond the parish this year save for one lecture in Prof. Dan Smith’s Scripture course at Huron.  I served as a member of the Diocesan Council, as delegate to Provincial Synod and will be a member of the forthcoming General Synod in Ottawa in July.   I continue to serve as a member of the Diocesan Doctrine and Worship Committee and am currently engaged in the work of the Search Committee for the Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Huron which began last fall.

 

There is much to do and so long as God gives me strength, energy and vision and you continue to offer me hospitality among you I am happy to do it.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

The Revd Canon Dr. Timothy G. Connor

Rector