FINAL RECTOR’S REPORT
When I announced to Ararat Parish that I was leaving them to become Rector of Wodonga, a young girl burst into tears and ran from the building. How moving to be so loved! I nearly sobbed myself. I learned later that her grief was at the thought of losing Elisabeth my daughter, not the silly old, billy goat her Dad.
I was Rector of Ararat for a mere six years, I have been Rector of Shepparton for nine and a half. This is the longest time I have lived anywhere since I was born. Now at last the end looms. I retire and depart at the end of May. It makes this my last Rector’s Report. I must make the most of it.
Reciprocation in Shepparton
A Rector for thirty eight years in seven parishes, I have been happy in them all and have loved the job. I was born to be a parish priest. As Rector I have always felt a deeply appreciated and well loved part of the parish family, a parishioner myself as much as a priest. Particularly in Shepparton.
Whatever fundamental sanity there is in Anglicanism, it resides more in the parish than in the diocese. I grew up to the sound of my Rector father fulminating about the machinations of diocesan officials. He always fought effectively and hard for his parish. My two sons recently visited a parish in England of which he was Rector more than sixty years ago. They met an old fellow who remembered him fondly, above all else, for joining a team of workers over several months in dredging the local river to save the parish money. The parish was where his heart lay. He too really loved and felt a part of those diverse communities that congregate around and within local parish churches. He also played an active and creative part in his various dioceses and indeed was an Archdeacon in two of them, as was I in one, but his heart and strength and security lay in and with his parish and parishioners.
Shepparton has been different from all my other parishes in one very important way. It found itself called to be as much a parish priest and pastor to me as I to it. That call it responded to lovingly and well.
In 2006 I had a serious brush with cancer that required radical surgery. Shortly afterwards Margaret received her diagnosis of a terminal version of the disease. So began a long, heart-rending process leading to an inevitable end. The parish stood by us and supported us through all of this magnificently. It asked little, gave much and proved solicitous, understanding, caring and accepting. It vindicated my heart’s bias to the parish. It revealed and authenticated the radical form of loving, accepting and forgiving community life that was grounded in Palestine two thousand years ago. A community life modelled on a rag tag and bobtail, loving, forgiving and healing band of twelve very ordinary fellows, centred on Jesus of Nazareth.
In Shepparton, by no means a perfect parish of course and in some ways a difficult one, priest and people have nonetheless been truly one in a very real way. Parishioners have been priest to the priest and family as well and as much as vice a versa. To put it more evangelically and crudely. We have been Jesus to each other. Thank you.
Clearing the decks
So what of the past year? In a nutshell it has been a quiet clearing of the decks for inevitable and necessary change. We have done well. There is to be no interregnum at all. Diana and I have been able to hang on until an appointment was made. We leave only weeks before the new priest and wife move in. Diana has been hugely efficient and long on working hours, ordering the Parish Office in preparation for change; ironing out, reforming, refining and renewing the old manner of doing things that were so beloved of and characteristic of her old fashioned beloved. Our new Treasurer has even managed to put our banking online, a major and difficult achievement, and we have updated, simplified and rendered less expensive our phone system. The Parish Office has buzzed and fizzed with activity and still does.
The Parish Council, clergy and indeed the Bishop have put much thought into just where creative and necessary change might best be made in the parish to encourage growth and dynamism. At the beginning of last year there was a bold experiment in more collegiate and varied ministry. With the much lamented departure of Gail Bryce we broadened the Ministry team and employed, part time, an interesting lay worker in John Hanley. From a very different Church tradition and with some fascinating and radical ideas, his remit was to explore ministry in the wider community, among folk we hardly even touch. We also took on, very much part time, Deacon Grace as she studied full time for a teaching degree. Patti and Norm Hart from Euroa joined us for pastoral work one day a week. With myself as Rector and the incomparable Helen Malcolm and Chris Shields as talented, honorary assistants this made for a dynamic team. However, personnel are less predictable and manageable than ideas, and this experiment didn’t entirely work. John concluded that he had made a wrong decision and had the good grace and sense to admit this early and resigned. However it was also a sign that we are not stuck in mud and are prepared to attempt new ways of doing things. Both Grace and John have departed now, Grace heroically to work with refugees in Thailand, but the rest of us are still hard at it. A new Rector has been appointed and the Bishop is on the lookout for a creative curate or associate priest.
Necessary growth and change
All of us recognise that our focus needs to be on young families, the pattern of whose lives, however, has changed so much over the past few decades. Last year we gathered the email addresses and contacted the families of five years worth of baptism candidates. We recognise the need for new ways of keeping in touch with those very busy young families who are well disposed to us and who would like to be a part of us, even if attendance at worship is difficult for them. In relation to this there has been much thought about, and no small amount of preparatory work done, to begin to realise the potential for growth at the 10.30 Family Eucharist.
The 8.30 Eucharist we do well. It is a lovely service of a traditional sort and although numbers are not quite what once they were, we still gather new folk. Evidence for this is that numbers lost to death, or by leaving the parish, are far greater than the actual loss in weekly attendance over the past few years. New congregation members do quietly join us. One of my great loves and joys at this service is the choir. We have had much fun together and some outstanding music making. The Carol Service last year was the best ever. A triumph.
With an eye on the 10.30 Eucharist we have spent a great deal on improving the projection and sound systems. The screening of the service is now taken for granted and is successful, especially at baptisms and services with strangers in attendance. “Children’s Church”, with its children’s talk and activity is now weekly not monthly and it is rare for there to be no youngsters to minister to at all. There has been some development and change musically, most notably with the help of an i-pod, but a new Rector will need to be more innovative musically. A large amount of effort goes into encouraging young servers to maintain their commitment and a significant proportion of our Confirmation candidates do still play their part. I used to find the 10.30 Eucharist dreary. I no longer do so. This is as much because of a sense of purpose and direction than actual achievement, though already it has ceased to be a poor copy of the 8.30 and has its own raison d’etre, atmosphere and flair. Much remains to be done of course.
The Macedonians are now so much a part of our parish life we take them for granted, but they enrich us in all sorts of ways, not least by widening our horizons and opening us up to an inclusiveness that should be a characteristic of Anglicanism. Their members often come in to St Augustine’s during the week to light candles and revere our Lord by way of the icons that contribute to the colour and beauty of our church. In the past year Pet Redevski made a trip to Macedonia where she com-missioned a local icon writer to produce an icon of St Augustine for us (see cover of these reports). This has now been blessed and is on the wall of our baptistery. Their special days and distinctive baptisms, weddings and funerals gladden the heart and enrich the liturgical life of the clergy hugely. Their support of the Parish Fair and other great parish occasions is wholehearted and much appreciated.
We have now opened our building to the South Indian based Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church community, who use our altar and church once a month for their colourful Eucharists. We begin to get to know them and Fr Boby has contributed a little report to our AGM. On Sunday afternoons we offer hospitality to a small band of Sudanese Christians.
The band of Confirmation Candidates this year was young and delightful. Diana was their instructor and friend and loved being so. The majority are still involved in our life and worship. The actual Confirmation was a great day for us all and the Bishop, as he does, rose to the occasion magnificently.
There has been a good offering of intellectual stimulation during the past year. The very well attended study of Islam, lead by myself, concluded in January. In Lent Helen and Grace lead a much appreciated study based on Rublev’s famous Icon. The Diocesan Lay Retreat was very much a Shepparton Parish occasion, lead as it was by Helen with Rob Whalley and well attended by our folk. Rob ran a St Columb’s Fair for us and two courses, one on Thomas Merton in May and one on Marcus Borg in June. I ran an Advent course based on a chapter from Francis Spufford’s brilliant book “Unapologetic”. All this is indicative of a healthy appetite for knowledge among us and is augmented by the splendid study that is so much a part of the weekly Education for Ministry gatherings. The small Adult Confirmation course was also a stimulating educational part of parish life.
Parish life has much to do with belonging, communion and fellowship. An important part of this is feeding each others faces. We have had some notable guzzles. A Barbecue to celebrate the long overdue Australisation of myself, a good Pancake Party utilizing our fine newly bricked terrace in front of the hall, a great Patronal Festival luncheon, the Farewell for John and Robyn Southerden, three Men’s Breakfasts, four Women’s Breakfasts and a grand Mothering Sunday breakfast. Among other notable social occasions was the coach load of folk we took to the Revd Gail Bryce’s Induction to the Parish of Tatura. There have also been regular, twice monthly luncheons at the Rectory for local clergy as well as Narthex breakfasts open to anyone who wished to attend.
Pastoral Care has continued to be streamlined, ordered and refined during this past year. We keep a record of regular church attenders so as to pick up quickly anyone who becomes ill and in need of a visit or Home Communion. The last is efficiently offered by a small dedicated team of Eucharistic Assistants. Each Nursing Home has a visitor to keep a loving eye upon, monitor and encourage Anglicans to attend our Eucharists there. Splendid work done by splendid folk.
By no means somnolent
I do sometimes wonder if too much of my creativity goes into the composition of funeral homilies at the expense of more important or other activities. Yet funerals are also an important part of our love of and witness to the community. And as our AGM reports make only too clear, our parish itself is by no means dead, or even somnolent. The place is buzzing all the time. This report of mine doesn’t catalogue half of what goes on. Read the other reports in this booklet to find out about the many impressive activities that are a part of our parish life, such as Gardening, Choir, Youth Group, Guilds, ABM, EFM, Flowers, Catering, Grief Support, the great Parish Fair and Garden Party, and more. Our faithful Verger Merve Cowland, assisted by Gwyn, walk the second mile for us by topping up altar candles and attending to altar linen without being asked. Tony Pearson cheerfully cleans the hall, a sometimes frustrating task that involves juggling his timetable to fit in with activities booked at unpredictable times, and our new Church Cleaner, Reg Wells, is proving himself a most hard-working and imaginative helper over and above the call of duty.
Carole Henderson, who for reasons of health has given up many of her more obvious and multitudinous duties, still remains a reliable fund of ready wisdom and arcane parish knowledge. She proof-reads the pew sheet and keeps a motherly eye on us all, God bless her. Other than that my thanks to you all must be general. Individuals I would like to thank form a list far too long to be edifying. So thank you one and all not only for the past year, but for nine and a half past years.
As the parish faces change in the person of a new Rector it can do so positively I feel. It is ready for change, it is time for change. One of the most hopeful signs of this is the number of high quality nominations for the PCC. Our new Rector will have a good team to lead and be lead. God be with him and you all. (AN)