Saturday, December 15, 2012

Buildings in the Post Canterbury Earthquake Era

Attitudes to historic, unreinforced buildings have changed enormously since the Canterbury earthquakes.  As pastor of a church I have noticed this in several ways:
  • Insurance premiums have risen significantly. 
  • Perceptions of the risk of old buildings have changed.  One woman who had left Christchurch after the February quake and moved to Dunedin told me she didn't like going into old brick buildings anymore. 
  • Government and local council building standards have changed.
At East Taieri Church we have sought to navigate our way through this in a reasonable and responsible way.  Not over-reacting, nor pretending nothing has changed.  We have also sought to avoid any sense of worry, panic, or preoccupation with buildings. The key question we seek to keep before us is:
"What is God saying to us about the facilities we need for God's mission here?"
The elders and other leaders at ET pray about the future of God's mission here and seek to discern God's leading.  Some of the vision we have expressed in the council of elders for facilities to foster God's mission include:
  • A vision for a large, vibrant, contemporary worship setting.  We see value in a multipurpose worship space which could accommodate up to 500 people.  This would also be of value to the wider Mosgiel community.
  • A vision for continuing to run large events well.  We see this as part of our calling – our Christmas Eve services, Ministry Conference, large combined services, etc.
  • East Taieri is family friendly.  Families identify with ET as a place where their children, young people, and their whole family can grow in Christ together.
  • Part of being family friendly and hospitable is the need for settings where we have good facilities for children, and we can serve food and good coffee, engaging people in interactive, alternative worship.  (FUEL and Church @6 are good examples of this) This highlights the need for catering facilities.
Over a year ago, the elders established a Future Property Development Group (FPDG) to prepare a development plan for the East Taieri site.  They have consulted widely about the future needs of ministries of the church.
Over this same period the Dunedin City Council, like all councils, established a plan to assess and identify those public buildings that are earthquake prone. The Synod of Otago and Southland (who are the trustees for Presbyterian churches south of the Waitaki River) followed up on this by establishing a well researched and informed policy for Presbyterian buildings in the south. This policy includes the engagement of an engineering firm to carry out a seismic assessment of buildings.  They will inspect and do what is called an enhanced Initial Evaluation Procedure (IEP Plus).  That will tell us what percentage of the National Building Standard (NBS) each of our buildings meets, and other helpful information.
These engineers will be visiting East Taieri Church in March 2013 to carry out this seismic assessment process with the report due a couple of weeks later. Synod now require that buildings like ours meet 67% of NBS. It is unlikely that the Kinmont Hall and the East Taieri Church will meet these standards.  We will then be faced with deciding the future of these buildings.  What can be preserved and what cannot?  Synod has set a timeframe of 8 years for either the strengthening, sale or demolition of buildings that don’t meet these building standards.
Where does all this leave us? We have a wonderful heritage at East Taieri. For example, the gospel stories contained in the stained glass windows have spoken to generations of worshippers.  One of the challenges we face is how to best honour and preserve our heritage as we move into the future.  In the long term, the existing East Taieri church building doesn’t meet the mission needs of the congregation, and we expect it would need major strengthening work in order to meet earthquake national building standards.  No final decision on the future of the buildings has yet been made, but future investigations will include replacing the East Taieri Church with a new worship centre connected to the existing fellowship centre.  Elders and the Resourcing4Mission board will report to the congregation again in late March 2013 after the engineering assessment report is available.  There will be careful consultative, evaluation, design and planning processes put in place. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

General Assembly 2012

I appreciated attending the 2012 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) last week in Rotorua.  There were some great times of worshipping God together with elders and ministers from all around the country.  Ray Coster has made a great start as our new moderator, which is a kind of national leader.  His theme for the next two years is "Reviving the Flame: Living in the Power of God's Presence and the Presence of God's Power."  For the Sunday morning worship service, assembly met outdoors in the centre of Rotorua's streets - a fitting place for a church in mission to meet.  I thought Ray led with much warmth and grace, and preached with much passion, biblical insight, humility and real life application.  I valued the way Malcolm Gordon led us in song and prayer, and it was a delight having my daughter Sophie in the music team.  One key highlight for me was catching up with many people I knew and sharing stories of what God is doing.

I had a real sense of God at work through much of the assembly - I'm sure he was at work throughout - so thank you for praying!

I thought Assembly showed that the PCANZ is seeking to move from being a settled, somewhat inward focused church, to a mission church on the move and looking to join in with what God is doing in the world (here in NZ and around the globe).  There are some encouraging signs.  The Presbyterian Youth Ministry presentation was inspiring (and I saw many people from East Taieri in their photos).  The titles of their national programmes communicate that they are on mission: Going Further, Going Deeper, Going Global...

Assembly is sending out discussion papers to parishes and presbyteries about various efforts to focus more on mission.  There is a proposal for a four year, full-time term for the moderator who would become more of a missional leader.  I don't aspire to ever being moderator, but I'll know East Taieri have had enough of me if they nominate me for moderator as this four year term would necessitate ministers leaving their current parish.  Assembly affirmed that the purpose of the Church's property is to serve God's mission, and that the accumulation of significant wealth in church property and investments raises important biblical, ethical and financial issues.  It is proposed that in the future, a percentage of church property sales will go into a mission enterprise fund, that will make grants toward mission projects around NZ.  I thought this could have been approved there and then, but assembly was more cautious and decided to consult with parishes and presbyteries.  I do think we have to be prepared to trust people enough to get a move on with this.

Levels of trust are not increased by the difficult debates we encounter at assembly.  Every Assembly some liberal parishes bring proposals to fall from the 2006 ruling prohibiting those in sexual relationships outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman from being ministers or elders.  This time there were three and each one was defeated.  These debates are emotional and often torrid, leaving everyone feeling bruised.  It is important to understand that those in favour of people living in gay and lesbian relationships being ministers and elders see this as an issue of justice, liberty of opinion, keeping up with the times, and avoiding discrimination.  The majority of assembly seemed to believe that the Bible teaches us that God calls us to his standard for sexual relationships as within heterosexual marriage.  As I voted with that majority, I reflected that being in the majority can easily lead to a harsh judgementalism of those who are different.  Christians are called to both grace and truth (John 1).  We must demonstrate love while standing for biblical values.  Is it possible to welcome gay and lesbian people into churches while saying we believe a homosexual lifestyle falls short of God's standards?  Gay and lesbian people would say that isn't possible.  I would argue that we welcome all people, and all are challenged to repentance in some area or other.  But the "love the sinner, hate the sin" argument isn't easy to live out in practice.  My challenge to myself and to all who believe that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful is: How many gay and lesbian people are you showing the love of God to?

In a related debate, Assembly voted by a large majority to affirm the historic Christian understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and urged Parliament not to proceed with the "same-sex marriage" bill.  A submission from the PCANZ will be made to the select committee.  Assembly was one vote short of passing a resolution to restrict ministers to conducting marriage services to only a man and woman.  Was such a resolution necessary?  Can we rely on all ministers of the church to abide by the stated position of the General Assembly on marriage?  The answer will become obvious if Parliament passes the "same-sex marriage" bill.  I do encourage people to have their say by writing a positive, respectful, constructive letter to the select committee and also to their MP.  The East Taieri elders are also making a submission.

Some people claim that we must find a third way through such debates.  But neither side has been able to do so in over 20 years of study, dialogue and debate.  I think the issue is whether or not God has given definite boundaries for sexual relationships.  It is hard to find a third way of answering that.  Having said that, I believe we must not hate or fear people who believe different things to us.  Jesus even calls us to love our enemies! 

I have allocated too much of this post to the debate on marriage and sexuality.  Sadly it also took too much of the assembly time.  It is important because it reflects basic understandings of the nature of the Bible and of human beings created in the image of God.  However, I look forward to the day when I don't come home from an assembly feeling battered and drained from such issues.

Assembly made other decisions.  The Pacific Islands Synod gained the status of a presbytery which is a hugely encouraging decision for the large PI section of the church.  The new contemporary confession of faith, the Kupu Whakapono, was formally adopted.  We have used the Kupu Whakapono in worship at East Taieri on several occassions.  Assembly also agreed to work for the interests of vulnerable children; endorsed the concept of a living wage; and agreed to advocate for climate change refugees in the Pacific.  The moderator-designate who will take over from Ray Coster in two years was elected.  He is Andrew Norton, minister of St Columba (Botany, East Auckland).  I think Andrew will make a fine moderator.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Sister Karen

In the run up to Christmas my little sister died.  Karen was 44 and her brave battle with cancer was over.  I want to pay tribute to Karen's love of life and family.  She expressed her emotions openly and told us she loved us.  She had a smiling determination, a love of sport, animals and the outdoors.  Her lasting friendships were obvious at her funeral when we heard from three friends from three particular stages of her life.  I particularly appreciated hearing about her high school years, which were largely unknown to me having left home for University by then.  I also want to pay tribute to Karen's husband Dallas who cared for Karen so faithfully and well right through her many health struggles. 

My family and I have so appreciated the support of friends, family and our church family at East Taieri.  It has drawn us closer to people here.  As I said one Sunday morning, in a church the size of ET, some people won't have known that a sister, let alone that she had cancer.  That is completely understandable.  The wonderful thing is that some people knew, and those who were close to us have been incredibly thoughtful and supportive, especially elders and the ministry team, and those I work most closely with.  Thank you everyone.

I have taken many, many funerals in my 20 years as a pastor, and sat with many grieving people.  I'm reminded again how true it is that comfort came from people who managed to say a few halting words of sympathy or write a simple card.  It wasn't their profound words, but their love and care that counted.

It isn't easy for me to speak about the trials we face.  It makes me vulnerable.  In this case, the vulnerability led to people being able to care for us.  Keeping a "stiff upper lip" and not saying anything would have shut people out and kept the relationships shallow.  Have you had an experience of being vulnerable leading to deeper relationships?

This time has also reminded me that the message of the resurrection is amazing and full of hope.  I know this in my head, and preach it from the scriptures, but I've been reminded of the importance of the resurrection by seeing Karen's body waste away.

"Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands... Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."  2 Cor 4:16ff

I have preached from these verses in the last week at a dear saints funeral.  I think I'm more motivated to share the good news of Jesus than I have ever been!

God bless you,