Rector’s Report on the Year 2007
The year’s greatest achievement
The year 2007 was memorable. Largely unpleasantly so. Margaret’s diagnosis early in the year was dark enough to tint my spectacles to much of the light of job contentment and satisfaction. It blurred my focus as a parish priest somewhat. Looking back I feel that as a Rector I’ve been blundering about, procrastinating, navel gazing and equivocating rather more than leading, encouraging and guiding.
(Pause for loud protests to the contrary, expressions of admiration, lists of the Rector’s achievements and a standing ovation)
This being so, the year’s greatest achievement, as viewed through my tinted and blurred spectacles, has been the support, love, prayers and concern for Margaret and myself from the parish family. Parishioners have authenticated their Jesus and his Gospel, by their care, understanding, generosity and love. An authenticated Jesus and Gospel are a gift and grace second to none, so no mean achievement of 2007 this. The greatest of them all really. Well done good folk.
(Pause for parishioners to blush, and utter expressions like: “aw shucks”, “we were only doing our duty”, “it was nothing at all” “I wish we could do more...”)
Financially, as the Treasurer’s Report indicates, it has been a good year. The Planned Giving campaign of last year has borne its fruit in this, and we can congratulate ourselves on living up to our pledges and being faithful in giving.
The numbers of those attending our services, however, are less heartening. They are at best static, at worst in very slight decline. I mentioned this to the bishop recently, and he said, reassuringly, that for numbers to be static in this day and age is to be ahead of most parishes in the country. Small comfort though.
He and I went on to discuss why the traditional, moderate and rational Anglicanism that we both love seems so unappreciated and unsupported in contemporary Australia. The reasons are complicated and involved. At my age though I am tempted to think that I am past sweet-talking, wheedling, pleading, wooing, molly-coddling, seducing and mollifying the unchurched, once-churched, anti-church and unthinkingly agnostic or atheistic to come to their senses. They know not what they miss. One day, surely, the average citizen’s arrogant, self-sufficiency and his blindness to all but the material, tied as it is to a shonky and myopic affluence which in turn is built largely upon debt and the poverty and misery of other nations, will come crashing down about people’s ears. Then, perhaps, the pavements leading to St Augustine’s and its lovely tradition, Gospel and God will be better traversed.
Having said all that though we do have to keep trying. We must, this coming year, turn the 10.30 Sunday Eucharist into more of a “Family Eucharist” and try to make it more 21st Century culture-friendly. I was talking recently to Tim Scheuer the head of the Church Army, it would be good, with the Church Army’s help and expertise, to attempt a serious missionary endeavour among the totally unchurched here in Shepparton. He tells me that they have had some notable success in so doing and I shall continue to talk to him for he is good egg, and we might be able to initiate something with his help.
One of the great events and achievements in 2007 was the long awaited erection and subsequent blessing of the Statue of Jesus’ Baptism on the outside west-facing wall of the Church. The statue itself is a triumph and still gives me pleasure as I walk regularly past it. Certainly it adds significantly to the public face of our parish church, demanding of passers by a response to its beauty, and inviting questions as to its meaning. It marks the end of a long and involved saga, a happy ending. The service of blessing and celebration were a triumph. It was a great day and many thanks to all involved, not least to the Pleming family for their generosity. The day was made doubly significant by the blessing of Ella Egan’s beautiful “Ascension” wall hanging in honour of the hard work and devotion of so many of the ladies of our parish down through the years. The wall hanging is a truly imaginative, thought-provoking and meticulously crafted piece of work, a great asset hanging there to meditate upon during boring sermons (very rare in St Augustine’s) and a complimentary focus for meditation to the finest of our stained glass windows above it.
Another outstanding event in 2007 was the visit of the Revd Dr Scott Cowdell. He was our guest for the Patronal Festival and the lectures he gave on the day before were brilliant. His talk at the luncheon was more personal and informal than his lectures and very moving. It was a great privilege to have so talented a guest. This year we are to be similarly privileged, because the Archbishop of Melbourne has agreed to join us.
The joyful visit of the Sudanese choir, as well as Matoc Achol’s little homily and the subsequent luncheon, singing and dancing was a great 2007 event. We raised over a thousand dollars for Yirol Hospital in the Southern Sudan, a sum which the Parish Council doubled. The visit coincided almost exactly with a strange decision of the Federal Government of the time to halt the immigration of Sudanese refugees because of purported insurmountable cultural differences that hinder their settling among us. It seemed to me that our visitors had far more in common culturally with St Augustine’s folk than do the thousands of hedonistic materialists who appear to dominate our secularised society these days, but then perhaps that was just the point.
Worthy of note
The 2007 Parish Fair and Garden Party was a triumph and yet again it raised a record amount of cash in profit. However, as I remarked last year, this annual event is a force for good in parish life that transcends mere fund raising. Like the statue on the outside wall of the church, it is part of our public face, our witness to the wider community. Many, many folk, who rarely come to church, use it as a means to express their sense of belonging to us. It is regarded rightly as one of the very best Fairs in our city and district. Many thanks to Pat Gibson who was the force behind my chairmanship of the Committee, her vision and inspiration were invaluable to me and to many, as was the hard work and well practised labour of so many folk, all of whom year by year help ensure success.
We are slowly and agonisingly moving towards improving and updating the hall. During 2007 a small Hall Committee has lead the way in drawing up proposals and plans for the Parish Council to agree or disagree upon. Already part of the foyer has been turned into an “atrium” for the “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd”, and other improvements and changes are under serious consideration.
Our happy relations with the local Catholic Church and Uniting Church continued throughout the year, mostly through our common membership of the Shepparton Inter Church Council and our annual get together to celebrate the Martyrs of Africa. However even more significant was Monsignor Peter Jeffrey’s stepping in to take Morning Prayer for us one Wednesday morning, when both of our own clergy were away. One day it will be the Eucharist perhaps. Many thanks to Father Peter. The Inter Church Council also fosters links with other faiths and this coupled with my own participation in and now Presidency of the Azem Elmaz inspired “People Helping People” ensures that links with the local Muslim community are not only maintained but enjoyed.
This, that and the other
We need to acknowledge and be grateful for the good work done for us by Alan Tattersall. He acquired most reasonably a hearing loop for the church, and then at his own expense installed it for us. This is a great boon to the hard of hearing. Alan does a lot of work for us, largely unnoticed and unsung. Thank you.
Our Church services and worship are well ordered, planned and prepared for. Week by week and indeed day by day, reverent acts of peaceful and lovely worship are offered for us all to participate in. The Holy Week and Easters services were especially notable as too were the Christmas services, particularly the Carol Service and the Children’s Christmas Eve Mass, both well attended. The latter has now taken over from Midnight Mass as the best attended of our Christmas services. It is filled with children and their parents, but also with a fair number of elderly folk who find the time more convenient than any other and delight in the company of the young.
The Macedonian Community has continued to play a part in the life of the parish, not least at the Parish Fair, but also their big festivals are well attended and a joy to be a part of. Their Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals and Grave Blessings are a rewarding facet of your clergy’s life. One of the minor little joys is a whole congregation that appears to enjoy clouds of incense unincensed, that is, without any censorious nose wrinkling and ostentatious coughing.
So parish life continues and is worth living and being a part of. The Churchwardens have been wonderfully supportive of me, all of them great workers not only for their particular church and congregation, but for the whole parish. Our Pastoral Care team, continues its good work as does the Grief Support Group. The nursing homes and hospitals of the city are well visited and cared for both by the clergy and a remarkable team of devoted laity. The Children’s Church work continues to be effective and a delight, Sue Lear having willingly taken over Margaret Neaum’s role. The small but most effective little Youth Group: “Arise 255" continues to play an important and imaginative part in the lives of those who are a part of it as well as in the life of the parish. The Play Group continues to be yet another example of our very worthwhile public face to the community, as does the generosity of Fairley’s IGA and many parishioners in supplying our Emergency Food Cupboard so bountifully. We attempt to manage these handouts responsibly, cheerfully and sensitively, and largely succeed I think. Some of those we help have become valued acquaintances and even friends. The Prayer Line continues to pray effectively for those in dire need. The Social Responsibilities Committee remains active and adventurous. The work of the Catering Committee is outstandingly effective. We have held some good Study Groups through the past year and the Serving Team remains faithful, though we need more recruits, especially at 8.30am on Sundays. The two Choirs continue to provide much pleasure, occasional pain and lots of fun, good and faithful folk. Last year’s offer of a modest choral scholarship to a youngster is to bear fruit this year. The Welcomers, Tea-providers Welcome Table minders, Readers and Sides-people all are appreciated for the part they play in enhancing and facilitating our Sunday Worship. The Pet Service graced our calendar last year and will again this year we trust. Outreach, the parish magazine, continues to be an interesting and stimulating read, and the Pew sheet both provokes and informs, as well as aiding our worship each week. Men’s Breakfasts have been well supported by the discerning and exceedingly well catered for and the Flower Guild ladies are wonderfully devoted and inspiring in their work. The Guilds continue to provide fellowship for members and creative ideas, hard work, valuable and generous donations and suggestions for us all. The Gardening Team has developed into a lively and creative parish group, and the results of its labours are widely and appreciatively commented upon.. The heart beat of parish life is provided by the Eucharist, celebrated daily and our Eucharistic Assistants remain key people whose devoted service extends well beyond the sanctuary, not least in taking the sacrament to the house or hospital bound. The Fabric Committee has continued to keep an eye on the wonderful legacy of buildings and assets left to us. Council Meetings have for the most part been stimulating and good humoured, our Councillors managing the affairs of the parish with acumen and devotion. St Mary’s and St Luke’s remain a pleasure to visit each Sunday and many thanks to Anne Russel for being so willing an officiant at Morning Prayer when no priest has been available. Our Sacristan, Carole Henderson has been as assiduous and conscientious as ever, and even when less than in perfect health continues cheerfully to perform all sorts of tasks about the place. Our Treasurer, Norm Mitchelmore, has again performed his onerous task with quiet efficiency and admirable clarity. He seems almost to relish being taken for granted, a most pleasing form of modesty that needs to be ignored now and then, not least in the Rector’s Report. Well done and thank you Norm. The Office Volunteers have provided excellent service to both the clergy and their parish, and my occasional sorties to the Office on my day off are made pleasurable by their cheerful good will. Our Parish Secretary has again transcended the role of a mere employee by being a true and valued parishioner, agreeable and loving to all who come to us for help, a gentle and valued adviser and trusted confidante to both your clergy, charitable, warm-hearted and a thoroughgoing Christian. Thank you one and all.
Again a huge thank you is due to the Revd Gail Bryce, our Associate Priest, and a colleague of colleagues. She, like me, has this past year had family worries and concerns to deal with and overcome. She has not let it affect her support of myself or the parish and has remained a conscientious, hard working, dedicated priest, tolerant and indulgent of my foibles, jokes, and occasional bursts of outrageousness. The complementarity in ministry that we were looking for in her appointment continues. Thank you indeed Gail.
I tend in Annual Reports to end, very rightly, with a thank you to Margaret for being so stalwart a spouse, co-worker and prop both to me and the parish. The greatest and most valuable proportion of her contribution to parish life goes largely unnoticed, taking place, it appears, in my shadow, though in fact that shadow is as much her as me. Things have been different this year. To a great extent I have worked in her shadow because the bright light of her acceptance, good humour, fortitude and faith in terminal illness has been the past year’s greatest of all graces, gifts and achievements. Certainly it has lightened up my life and faith, has illuminated many others likewise and appears even to have taken aback her cancer, for the original prognosis suggested that I should now be reporting on her death. Not so. Thank you Lord God, and Margaret. Andrew Neaum