Annual Report of the Parish Priest in Preparation for the Annual General Meeting

At all three services this weekend, I want, in place of a sermon to present to you my annual report ahead of the Annual General Meeting which will be held at 11.15 am in the Parish Hall.  I hope that by doing so I will not give you an incentive to not attend that important meeting, but knowing the reality that you will not all be able to be there, I thought that it would be helpful for everyone to hear this report.

The State of the Parish

We are extremely fortunate that the legacy of Father Michael Davies’ ministry in the parish is that we are in a strong and healthy situation, both numerically and spiritually.  There are many people who are engaged in worthwhile and faithful ministry in this parish, our worship continues to draw significant congregations, our site is in a good state of repair, and I detect an eagerness for us to grow.  We should be very grateful to God, to Father Michael and to those who serve here that we are in this happy situation.

Parish Leadership

I am grateful to share leadership in a formal way with the two teams that make up our Parish Council, in a structure that I have both inherited from Father Michael, and also that I was involved in bringing to you when I was the Diocesan Ministry Development Officer.  Our Parish Resourcing Team continues many of the tasks that were previously associated with the work of the old Parish Council, and shares with me responsibility for our administration, finances, building oversight, stewardship and liaison with the Diocesan Office.  The team meets monthly to execute these functions.  The Resourcing Team is made up of our Church Wardens, Parish Councillors and Parish Mission Secretary.   I am extremely grateful to all those who have served on the Resourcing Team in the last year, and particularly – if I can speak personally – for the way that they have helped to guide me and support me in the first months of my incumbency here.  The Parish Councillors, Mission Secretary and Wardens have done an outstanding job.  Maintaining our buildings, overseeing our finances and planning strategically for our two significant development projects on the Glebe and at Tenambit is an enormous task, and I commend the work of the Team to you.  Our Resourcing Team faces a number of challenges in the year ahead.  There is a weight of work health and safety legislation that will impact our buildings significantly in the coming year. We should be mindful as we come to the election of Parish Councillors that we need people who have significant skills and experience in building oversight, financial planning and management, and project development.  I want particularly to thank on your behalf our Buildings Warden Paul Ansted who generously gave us notice that he would not be seeking re-election this year.  Paul has brought considerable energy and expertise to his role, working quietly behind the scenes to ensure that a number of significant development projects have taken place on this site.  We are grateful to him.

The second group that makes up our Parish Council is the Parish Ministry Team.  The leaders in the Ministry Team share with me responsibility for the ministry and local mission of this Parish.  I want to pay tribute to the hard work of our three Parish Pastoral Workers, our Director of Music and our Parish Deacon who meet with me on a fortnightly basis to plan and reflect on ministry issues and developments in the parish.  The Parish Ministry Team is looking closely at a number of our significant ministries this year with the aim of developing them for the future.  Please surround them with your prayers.  Alongside this team I have appointed a Director of Christian Education and a Head Server to work with me and the Ministry Team in particular areas of focused ministry.  I am also delighted that Fr Wilf Redden shares with me in the priestly ministry of the Parish as my honorary Associate Priest, and that Fr Rod Galagher and Fr Peter Rothnie have also been willing to assist as priests within the parish.  We love them greatly, and are grateful for their priestly ministry here.

Parish Finances

There is no doubt that we face challenging times ahead with our buildings and finances.  The Parish Council (that is the two Ministry Teams working jointly together) have prepared a deficit budget for 2013.  This means that we expect to spend more money than we receive.   In 2012, before my arrival here, the Parish also lived with the reality of spending more than it received in income.  Our projected deficit this year is a result of a large increase in the amount of money that we are being asked to contribute to the Diocesan budget.  Whilst this will be an exceptional year for our diocesan contribution (which will be lowered again in 2014), we all need to be aware that insurance costs could rise significantly in the near future, and that contributions to the Diocese will increase, partly because costs across the Diocese are increasing, partly because a number of parishes are in significant financial difficulties having depleted their resources by long term deficit budgets, and partly because we are all now required by Ordinance to contribute to the costs of the Cathedral which is itself in a challenging financial situation.  Whilst all of this is going on we know that we also need to begin to secure and ring-fence large sums of money for future maintenance works on this beautiful building. We also know that we cannot continue to live in deficit, and we need to plan for next year (2014) to be a surplus budget year. In the light of this I am proposing a three-pronged approach to addressing our financial situation:

Firstly, we need to be more realistic about our own financial giving to the parish.

The Parish Council has premised this year’s budget on an increase in our giving to $70 per person per month.  This equates to $16 per adult participating in worship at the weekend each week.  It is clear that some members of our congregation will not be able to contribute in this way, and that others are in a position to give far in excess of this amount.  I am also asking every member of our congregations to think carefully about the possibility of making a bequest in their Will to support this Church in the future.  Bequests can be made to stipulate a particular area that the gift is to be focused upon maintaining.  We had a wonderful example of this with the generosity of Mrs Claire Simmons, whose memorial garden we opened last Sunday in the presence of her friends and family.  I hope that I do not offend you by speaking in these terms, but this is the financial reality that we face.  I commend to your gratitude the enormous work that our Treasurer Yvonne Hinde undertakes.

Secondly, we need to foster a much clearer understanding that maintaining this Church for the whole community is a partnership between all those who use and value it.

There are many people who live in our local community who want this Church to be here for their grand children and great grand children but who are not currently partnering with us to ensure that this is the case.  I have negotiated with the Funeral Directors who bring funerals to this Church so that there will from now on be a modest contribution from every funeral towards the upkeep of our Church building.  I have also initiated an increase in wedding fees so that a proportion of what is received from wedding couples goes to support the maintenance of the buildings as well.  These very small initiatives are an indication of a larger project that we need to be involved in to encourage all those who value this building, and what it stands for, (whether they worship here, come here for special events occasionally, or simply drive past) to ensure its future financial viability by contributing to its upkeep.

Thirdly, we need to bring in significant external funding for the future.

In the long term I hope that we will be able to form a tax-deductible Foundation for the benefit of these buildings, alongside an ongoing effort to attract external grants from both the State and Federal governments.  We also need to continue to progress the important Glebe and Tenambit projects to provide a further external funding source for the future.  I am grateful to Geoffrey Seccombe who has borne the lions share of the work involved with the complex negotiations on these two projects, and I hope that over the next year we will begin to see the fruits of his considerable labours.

St Egwin’s Church at Tenambit

The papers for the Annual General Meeting give notice that a motion will be brought to the meeting to pave the way for the de-consecration of St Egwin’s Church.  Whilst there have not been services of worship in the Church for some years, the building remains a consecrated space and therefore continues to have stored within it all that is needed for worship.  When I first visited the building in December  shortly after my arrival, it looked like it was ready for services that weekend.  The reality is that there are no plans for worship to be re-started there, and we are involved in negotiations with the City Council about the future development of the whole site.  It is important to recognise that no one is running towards the de-consecration of the building.  None of us, including me, are joyful or delighted that de-consecration is on the table.  But we do need to be realistic.  The current risk is that intruders, or worse a fire, may destroy the holy things in that building, including the stained glass window, that have been associated with our worship for so long.  I want to say as clearly as I can that the de-consecration of the Church is proposed in order to safeguard those things, and does not in any way negate or make less significant any of the worship and ministry that has taken place there in the past.  There will be a free and open debate at the Annual General Meeting prior to a vote.

Parish Ministry

All of these challenges could divert us permanently off track from our primary reason for being here: to glorify God and to share his love with others.  This Lent I have sought to help us to re-focus on our identity in Christ, through our Lenten programme of reading the Gospels of Jesus, our daily worship in Church, and Sunday teaching that has aimed to help us to reflect on what God is calling us to be and to do in the future.  In the report circulated in the Annual General Meeting papers I have highlighted eleven ministry priorities that the Ministry Team are working on with me this year.   They include the launching of a new family service and a new bereavement support group in the first half of this year, and the reviewing and renewing of our baptismal and wedding ministries.  As I said soon after my arrival here, we are limited only by our imaginations.  Alongside these new initiatives we continue to be grateful for all of the ministry associated with the Samaritans Foundation that takes place in our Drop in Centre, our toddler group ‘Play Time’, our Sunday School and adult home groups and the many other ministries of pastoral caring and support and community connections that continue here.  There are a large host of people who ensure that these activities continue to thrive and who are also involved in all of the maintenance and fundraising work that provides a foundation for continuing ministry here.  I want to express our gratitude to them all.

Final Reflection

I am in the very happy situation of still being so new here that nothing that is going on is happening because of me.  I can therefore speak with pride to all who visit me about this parish, without that being confused with people thinking that I am proud of myself. I do want to thank you for your warm welcome to Luisa and I and our family, and your many acts of generous kindness since our arrival.  I pray daily that I will be faithful to Christ and serve you to the best of my ability as your Parish Priest.

We come to our Annual General Meeting this morning with deep gratitude to God for his sustaining love, and with expectancy for the future.  Soli Deo Gloria: to God alone the glory.