Monday, June 28, 2010

25, 55, 500, 145

Yesterday I went to four church events. I participated in worship at two services in a parish church, also preaching and presiding. 25 were present at the first service and 55 at the second. A case could be made for such a parish being a 'stock-standard' NZ pakeha suburban parish. In the afternoon I was present at a farewell for one of NZ's longest-serving vicar's. Wally and Rosemary Behan are leaving St John's Latimer Square, one of our largest parishes, normally with some 500 people worshipping each Sunday across three congregations, many of whom are children, teenagers, young adults, and young married couples. Wally and Rosemary are aroundabout retirement age, but they will be far from inactive in ministry in the foreseeable future. In the evening I went to Festal Evensong at St Michael's and All Angel's Church with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preaching. The sidespeople gave the attendance number at 145.

Just to get something out of the way, in case I unwittingly convey a sense that this post is building up to some demolition of the Schori sermon, the sermon was fine. Indeed, thinking of all episcopal sermons I have heard in my life, one of the better ones. It began with greetings from the 16 countries of The Episcopal Church. Its texts were 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and Galatians 5:1, 13-25. It articulated a case for enlarging our freedom in Christ, and used a number of illustrations from Episcopal life and mission (e.g. Haiti, Sudan) to elucidate the challenges some Christians are facing in respect of enjoying the abundant life of God for which Christ has set us free. In spirit the sermon was akin to a recent one noted here. 'Fine' does not mean I have no theological quibble, but let's see if the text is published or not, before I reflect on that. [Text is now published on Taonga]. But 'fine' does mean lots and lots to agree with, to be encouraged by, as well as challenged by. Incidentally, I thought the Presiding Bishop's voice is very nice to listen to. Not every preacher's voice is (what I call) 'listenable'.

Readers familiar with New Zealand Anglican modes will know that St John's Latimer Square stands very solidly in an area described in terms such as Reformed, evangelical, and low church - with these labels being proudly owned by St John's staff and congregation (see further on their website). In the course of yesterday's speeches of farewell and thanksgiving reference was made to other markers of one aspect of the Anglican spectrum in our Communion: 'Proclamation Trust', 'Sydney', 'Dick Lucas', 'Moore College', and 'Peter Jensen'. By contrast St Michael's and All Angels stands very solidly in an area described as 'Anglo-Catholic'. It would not just be some local Christchurch bias on my part to suggest it is New Zealand's best known Anglo-Catholic church, if not it's longest standing one. Last night's evensong did not disappoint in any way: splendidly robed clergy and lay ministers, a robed choir, bowing and crossing at appropriate points in the service, and incensing. The last mentioned being something on which there is no stinting. I am not sure which theological labels, if any, the staff and congregation there would own, so I will not give any here. (You may wish to explore their website further).

Our challenge as a Diocese, and as a church in these islands, includes holding together our diversity. A wide 'diversity' by any Anglican measure. It includes finding ways to build up the numbers of participating worshippers in 'stock standard' parishes. It includes finding successor ministers to those who have created the great challenge of leaving their parishes in extraordinary good heart and great numbers. It includes discerning what is drawing young people to our parishes (and what is not drawing young people to our parishes), and then fostering the results of that discernment. It includes enhancing our freedom in Christ and appropriation of the abundant life God has promised to us. It includes making decisions about the polity and policy of our church for the years ahead which are both faithful to Scripture-based Anglican theology and representative of the make up of our church. It includes not dividing our church.

Our life as an Anglican church has many things to be grateful for, and huge potential yet to be reached. Its breadth of diversity was on evidence for me personally through the course of yesterday. The day ended on a lovely note, including a convivial and generous reception after the evensong. Such feasts of worship and fellowship are always pictures for Christians of what the church seeks to be in its completeness. We are not there yet. By God's grace may we become what God is calling us to be.

PS There is a very nice photo of my colleague Bosco Peters with ++Katharine at the reception, posted here, and a witty reflection to accompany it!


liturgy said...

Thanks for highlighting the forthcoming movie, Peter :-)

I agree with the tenor, challenge, and points of your post.

I just want to caution readers who don’t know Christchurch well about drawing more than Peter would want from the statistics that form the title of this post as there is a change of gear from numbers at a service to a total across all services. The official statistics of the diocese give:

St John’s: 22,855 attendance in the year; 1,878 in June; 3,380 communicants for the year, 46 at Christmas, 51 at Easter; 4 baptisms;

St Michael’s: 18,286 attendance in the year; 1,619 in June; 12,935 communicants for the year, 220 at Christmas, 207 at Easter; 16 baptisms;



Anonymous said...

St Michael's has a school, so I don't know how that fact may feature in the global attendance figures.
Are these figures for >16s?
Do they count 'twicers' on a Sunday?
Do they include 'non-Sundays', eg.g carol services, Ash Wednesday etc?
Communion is obviously not a big thing at St John's.
It would make more sense (and shed more light) to give average Sunday attendance.
Al Mynors

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Al,
In my experience NZ attendance stats include special festival services (and, as the case may be, school services) but not funerals or weddings. Generally "average Sunday attendance" figures are not required (where figures are required). Though I think one diocese at least seeks to have annual returns sent in for Sunday attendances in the month of June.

All such attendance totals would include "twicers" and "thricers".

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter - more transparency about what the figures actually mean would help. No school, for example, gives cumulative annual attendance, but the numbers on the roll and weekly attendance %.
ACANZP really ought to be colecting and publishing meaningful statistics, viz.
1. ASA for >16s (excluding twicers)
2. ASA for <16s
3. numbers of <16s in children's work
4. congregations 'broken down by age and sex', as the old joke has it.

Not that numbers equate with being right or righteous either, as the truth isn't decided by popularity but by fidelity to Scripture.
Al Mynors

liturgy said...

Al focuses on the communion stats. I was interested in the baptism stats. At that rate, even with 100% retention rate, St Michael's would only just retain its current congregational numbers within a generation. St John's congregational numbers would be reduced to a fifth of current numbers unless they rely on transference from other Christian communities.