It’s a bit of an unusual day today, in that what I’m about to do is not what you would usually hear. It’s not quite a sermon. Today I get to give the Rector’s Charge, to speak to where we are at St. John’s from my perspective, and to offer what I would see as our way forward.
I’ve grouped these observations and hopes under three Scriptural headings. First: “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” from Psalm 96; second: “love one another as I have loved you,” from John’s Gospel; and third, a longer one from Jeremiah: “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
“worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”
I’m beginning with worship partly to set some of you at ease. Worship and music is much-valued here at St. John’s. We take our choral tradition seriously, we pursue beauty and excellence in worship. I value our worship and music too—after all, I was a parishioner here by choice before my appointment.
I have no great desire to shake things up at 8am and 10am Sunday, except to continue this pursuit of beauty and excellence. I have very little desire for worship wars over what we are already doing—we do it well, and we would continue to do it well, as we make small but important course-corrections along the way.
But this is not to say that we should remain complacent. Instead, I do wonder if we may want to offer other opportunities for worship that don’t look like Sunday 8am or Sunday 10am. And so I wonder, whether one way ahead for us will be to offer other kinds of worship opportunities at other times. Saturday night perhaps, or maybe more opportunities on Sunday afternoons, alongside Bach Vespers.
This is not a fully-formed thought, and I do feel the need for more consultation on this. But my hunch is that this would be a good way forward, and toward reaching others we don’t necessarily reach right now.
For now, though, I am working on “Sunday Morning,” as you can see from my strategic priorities. This is not so much to change it, but to work on ways we could build communication, greater physical access for people with disabilities, continue to build on our friendliness and welcome, and to develop a greater sense of the how we work together as a whole.
“love one another as I have loved you”
I’m continuing with love in order to continue putting you at ease!
Again, I know my preaching does focus, at least at the moment, on us getting beyond our doors and outside our walls. But what I don’t want you to think is that I will abandon the ways we show love towards one another within St. John’s—making sure shut-ins are visited, making sure I’m available for pastoral care at difficult junctures in life, and making sure I’m here to offer opportunities for spiritual counsel and growth from within St. John’s. Quite the opposite! These things are foundational to our life together.
This is not an either/or proposition: either caring for one another within the worshipping community, or spending time outside the walls and beyond the fence.
I would like to underline, though, that this is shared work. Jesus says “love one another,” not “let the Rector do all the loving care”! So I will be counting on you to continue building up St. John’s as a community of love and care.
My priorities, as you see them in my Vestry report, do focus on children, families, and young adults. Again, this is not either/or—either families, children, and young adults OR caring for those who are further advanced in years. But there is an intentional focus here, because without that intentional focus we would be at risk of caring for the majority by default, and at the expense of the underrepresented.
Again, I don’t know exactly what this ministry will look like—except that will arise out of the desires, hopes, and gifts of those who are willing to work with me.
There are additional ways I would like to see us grow into our love for one another. For John, to love one another is to lay down our lives for one another—that is, to give of ourselves as Christ gives of himself. This takes the form of financial giving; it can mean sharing of other resources such as our time. This giving of ourselves takes the form of prayer for one another; it would mean giving up on grudges, and growing in forgiveness and reconciliation. Loving one another takes the form of caring for our shared building, and sustainable budgets, because these are ways to give us stability and therefore an ability to thrive in the long term.
Administration and consultation is another way for us to love one another. Administration, after all, is love in institutional form. So how we make decisions together is an opportunity to act lovingly toward one another.
I have noticed, and plenty of people have told me!, that St. John’s has a lot of “silos,” ministries that act independently from one another. In a way, this is good. If you take a look at my Vestry report, you will see that my hope is that ministries are moving away from a need for intervention and towards self-sustainability. I do though see part of my role, as Rector—working with the Parish Leadership Team and with Parish Council especially—as one integral to communication and consultation. Self-sustainability is not the same as independence. So long as we are working together as a parish no ministry will or should be entirely independent.
It’s like having one cook in the kitchen—if you’re the one cook, who do you need to consult with about keeping the pantry full? And when you get to three cooks and bakers sharing a kitchen, you can probably get away with direct communication, directly letting the pastry chef know to leave some of the flour and yeast for your bread you’re planning to bake.
But when you get to ten cooks and bakers and chefs? Fifteen? Twenty or twenty-five, all using the same kitchen? In that case, the appointment of an executive chef becomes a necessity, because the system’s too complex, and you can’t count on communication to work as it would when there’s only three. It doesn’t scale. The bakers won’t simply run into the cooks anymore. So you need someone who can organise, and make sure everyone is working well together, a person who can be a bridge of communication among and between all the people working in the kitchen.
That’s the role I see for myself at St. John’s—as a bridge of communication amongst us all, like an executive chef amongst the bakers and the cooks, helping us to keep the pantry stocked and ourselves mostly organised and working together. As such, I do try to promote a culture of ministry consultation with me, PLT, and Parish Council, because these are the people who have a good sense of how the whole works together, not as a measure of control but as a way of being a bridge of communication amongst and between us all.
So a great part of my work is to get to know all the different ministries, and to bring the knowledge of all those other ministries to bear on each individual ministry. That might mean saying “Great! Good idea! Go with it!” Other times it might mean me saying “Slow down, there are factors in play you might not know.”
But like I said, this is one of the ways we love one another, and the unity that love beings in John’s Gospel—partly because when I bring my understanding of the whole of our life together to each part of our life together, it functions as a conflict mitigation strategy. That is, when we go ahead on our own, we are at greater risk of getting into conflicts than when we are in consultation with one another, directly or through my office as Rector, or the PLT, or PC.
But in a more positive sense, consultation—as a way of acting together as a whole and being one—is a way to love one another, through working together with a shared sense of purpose and vision, a way to find ways of being one community together, even as a community with a great variety of ministries and different points of connection.
“seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”
This third direction—into the neighbourhood—is not in isolation from our first two. Worship is not our possession. It is a gift given to us, a gift we would share with others, as we welcome others into the worship of God. Similarly, to love one another is to be invited by God into a community of God’s love; and we too become agents of that love, inviting others into our community of love. This takes the shape of inviting, caring for, and sharing the concerns of our neighbours.
I know we are largely a destination church—though certainly not exclusively—and that the question of serving our neighbours in Kitchener sounds a bit odd. “But aren’t my neighbours the people who live next door to where I live?” Not exactly. We will dig more deeply into this question this Lent in our reading group.
But the brief answer is that for Christians, we are a neighbour to the person in need, and this isn’t so much a question of whose house is beside whose. The Good Samaritan came across the beaten man while he walked along the road—the beaten man was not the person who lived next door to the Samaritan, nor close in terms of culture or religion. But the Samaritan was deemed to be the neighbour nevertheless.
So long as we are worshipping in Kitchener, and we come across people in need in Kitchener, Kitchener is the place we find our neighbours. And following Jeremiah, we are invited to imagine that the well-being of our neighbour is part of own well-being.
The healthier Kitchener is, the more Kitchener is a community of care, the healthier we will be too because Kitchener is a part of our own community of care. And the healthier we are, the more open and giving and loving we are in Kitchener, the more open and giving and loving Kitchener will be, because we are part of Kitchener.
And this is why I’m putting an emphasis on community connections as part of my strategic direction for us—and not only for me, but for St. John’s as a whole, as we continue to grown in a sense of corporate responsibility toward our neighbours as a mark of our health and our own spiritual vitality.
And so, to summarise: let us continue to do what we do in worship and music, let us continue to strive for excellence and beauty, as we look for ways to develop additional worship experiences. Let us continue to love and care for one another, while we recognise that loving one another means consulting with one another, often by way of the rector, in order that we might strengthen the ways we work together as a whole. And let us remember that our worship and the love we share is not our possession, but given to us that we might share the wonderful beauty of God, and God’s loving-kindness, with those to whom we’ve been given. Christ gives of himself that we might give of ourselves, for the sake of one another within St. John’s, and for the sake of our neighbours.
May this be so, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.