From the Rector 3.10.21

From the Rector

Sunday Worship – Season of Creation 
It was a joy to see so many of you join in our online service last Sunday. I think we had a record number of devices participate last week. I appreciate the kind messages that have been coming in from people to say how much they have appreciated the services. Under the current restrictions recording full services in church is not permissible as only one officiant, a camera person and a sign language interpreter are permitted. I think the hybrid form of Zoom service we are using, with pre-recorded sermon in the church and hymns, and then “live” readings and prayers is probably the best arrangement we can provide in the circumstances. I think it allows us to maintain a sense of community as we see one another and a sense of worship. 

Having celebrated Spring these last few weeks, this Sunday we draw the Season of Creation observance to its climax under the inspiration of St Francis of Assisi, whose feast falls on 4 October.  And remember clocks change this weekend!  

Easing of Restrictions and Reopening 

Since the announcement this week about the ACT Pathway out of lockdown, I have had discussions with the churchwardens and we have received communications from the Bishop’s office about managing the resumption of services and other activities. The graduated process that the Government is planning means that the first stage of eased restrictions is unlikely to make for any difference in terms of our parish life. The gathering limit of 25 people means that services will continue to be held online until November. 

A Diocesan meeting is to be held next week for fuller consideration of these matters.  In due course the Parish COVID-team will be adjusting our COVID-Safe plan as more details become available from the Government about the steps on the Pathway and in particular what that means for places of worship, as well as in light of Diocesan requirements. So please be patient as this process continues. I expect that before we resume in person parish activities there will be an online WHS session for all staff and volunteers to be briefed on the updates to our COVID-Safe plan. 

Parish Vision Casting
What a great response we had to our online vision casting briefing last week. I know that many parishioners deeply appreciated the opportunity to engage directly at the beginning of this process. The breakout room discussions have raised several worthwhile points for consideration. Already we have received some thoughtful written responses. A new email address has been created for the Vision Casting Committee. It is vision@stpaulsmanuka.org.au If you would like to make a contribution for consideration, please send it to that email address and all committee members will receive it. 

I think it is helpful at the outset to clarify a few issues that were raised last week at the sessions: 

  • the concessional lease status of the St Paul’s site means that commercial ventures are not possible;
  • addressing the current restrictions and limitations of our site is a critical step in the Parish Council’s vision to resource and stimulate ministries in the Parish to fulfil their potential. For example, current facilities do not provide for a dedicated rehearsal space for our choirs, child friendly play areas and child appropriate facilities, disabled access that affirms the dignity of all people, or adequate storage of equipment.
  • this process is not just about bricks and mortar. It is about continuing to reflect on and discern our understanding of the nature of the ministry and mission that we should be carrying forward in this parish and then looking at how we resource that into the future. The place making study we have commissioned is an important part of this ongoing process and one that will involve broad consultation. 

Identifying Room for Improvement and Resourcing the Vision
It was apparent from our discussions last week that familiarity has perhaps desensitised some parishioners to the inadequacies and frustrations of our current facilities. I guess we can get used to almost anything overtime and that means we perhaps put up with that which we ought not to put up with. This is where the vision casting is helpful. If we start to scrutinise our facilities in light of the Parish Council’s stated vision of being an inclusive and accessible place of hospitality and welcome,  or its aspiration to resource clergy and lay leaders for flourishing ministries, or to provide a point of gathering for the community, or being multigenerational, we start to get a sense of the sort of changes we might start identifying as being in order as we notice the stumbling blocks that might trip us up in pursuit of the vision. 

With those ideas of hospitality, welcome, accessibility, multigenerationality and inclusion in mind, we can start to spot stumbling blocks right at the entry doors to the church. For example, the lack of an entry narthex at the church means that there isn’t an adequate ‘reception’ space for people arriving into the church where welcomes and information can be offered without disturbing others prayerfully and contemplatively waiting for services to being; or a space where prams etc can be left. It also means that every arrival and departure from the building in poor weather invites the poor weather in. (We don’t need to be quite that hospitable.) To protect against the weather, usually one of the doors is kept bolted in place and the other is manually opened by the ushers. It is tricky if you are trying to get in and no one on the inside notices you and you have a pram or a wheelchair to try and get through because it is no mean feat to unbolt a door from the outside… And the banging and creaking of the doors to let people in and out during services is not conducive to a prayerful atmosphere.

Then there’s the question of amenities. The current toilets are hardly ‘conveniences’. They are at an inconvenient distance from the church, an important consideration when time can be of the essence in reaching them, not to mention that only the initiated will know where to find them. Our main parish hall does not meet afford them dignity. Our gathering spaces (Mollison Room, Hall) are unattractive and uninviting. They don’t have any climate control and project a tired, unloved image. (Admittedly there has been no incentive to invest in these facilities while their fate is uncertain, yet even if all the power in the hall was working again and they had some cosmetic work, its spaces are not suitable for the needs of a 21st century church.)  If we are thinking of being multigenerational we might also notice that there are no designated child-friendly play spaces on site and that the church and churchyard are on an island in a car park.  

Imagine, for instance, if the church had a commodious entry narthex which could provide for better internal access to the organ loft, accommodate parents room / disabled access toilets and a kitchenette, and thus provide for post-service refreshments and other gatherings that would not require relocating to another building. Such a space would not only provide a proper ceremonial entrance to the church but would greatly enhance its hospitality and accessibility.  

Looking at things from the perspective of the Parish Council’s vision to affirm, resource and allow the ministries of clergy, staff and lay people to flourish will open our eyes to numerous stumbling blocks. Our vestries are inadequate for the number of personnel we have at Sunday services. For instance, there isn’t enough hanging space for vestments, or storage space for sanctuary items. Our choirs do not have adequate rehearsal and storage facilities or even lockers where they can store things during services. Our study groups do not have comfortable meeting spaces where they can study and pray without freezing in winter or melting in the other months. Staff do not have proper meeting/ interview rooms or dedicated office spaces.

I raise these things to demonstrate how this process is not about starting with a list of things we think would be nice to have, but how, in response to our sense of the community we are called to be we can then meaningfully identify the resources and priorities that will support the materialisation of that vision. That is what we as a Parish are being asked to do in response to the Parish Council’s identified general vision for the Parish (see below)  – to engage in the conversations and processes that will enable us to fill out that vision together.  

We are blessed with an extremely vibrant parish community that is inclusive, welcoming and celebrates a rich and uplifting liturgical and theological tradition within Anglican Christianity. It is our Parish Council’s fervent desire that we allow the gifts God gives us in and through each other to meet with the opportunities presented to us here in this context. Please join with me in praying that this process leads us to a shared common vision for the future direction of our Parish that inspires us and is informed by our prayerful consideration of the ministry and mission to which God is calling us. 

Pax, 
Ben