Father David’s Report to the Parish on 2016

“Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Romans 15: 7

One of the great revolutions in instant communication in our lifetimes has been the ability to send text messages on our mobile telephones.  Where once we sent letters and cards, or made telephone calls, we now regularly send short text messages instead – How are you?  Can I call you?  What time shall we meet?

Before many of the family ministry programme events take place in this Parish we regularly send out text messages to remind people when and where things are happening.

When I first came across the concept of sending text messages it rather defeated me, and it is certainly still not my preferred method of communication, unlike some of the more youthful members of the Ministry Staff Team whose texting is prolific.

One of the problems for me, even now, is that I do not understand most of the abbreviations that people use in their text messages.  It is like conversing in a different language.

When texting first started I noticed that I received quite a lot of texts that ended with “LOL”.  I presumed that this meant “lots of love”, and I was quite touched by this display of affection, particularly from people that I had not previously considered to be close friends.  So I started routinely putting “LOL” at the end of many of the text messages that I sent to people as well.

It took some time before a friend corrected me, after I sent a message to someone whose relative had just died ending with what I thought was the abbreviation for “lots of love”, only to be told that it stood for “laugh out loud”.  It turned out that putting “LOL” at the end of some of my texts had not only been confusing but entirely inappropriate.

Whatever situation we find ourselves in, there is a language to be learnt, together with the expected way of how things are done.

I enjoy being the Chaplain to the local sub-branch of the RSL.  There are the great moments of the ANZAC Day Services of course, but this is only once a year, and I try at other times to have a ministry of being quietly present and available to people who want to talk, or who I might be able to assist in other ways, hanging around before RSL meetings, and providing my contact details in the newsletter for people to contact me if they would like to.

I respect and admire the men and woman of our local RSL sub-branch very much, but by and large they speak a language that I do not understand.  The armed forces exist on pseudonyms of two or three letters that are designed to confuse and perplex.

It is good to step into an organisation with a different culture and try to understand things, because it is a reminder to us of what it is like when people come to visit the Church.  Those of us who have been around here for a while forget that we use a language and customs that are largely foreign to people who are not actively involved in a Church community, even though they are foundational to the culture and ethos of our society, often without people realising it.

On most weekends of the year we have at least one new visitor or newcomer at our weekend Masses, someone who is passing through on holiday, or in particular need, or trying us out to see what we are like.  There are many more visitors during the week at baptisms and weddings and funerals in the church building or at our family ministry and community ministry programmes.  We always need to remember that there is a work of translation that needs to take place to help these visitors to understand the life and the culture of the Church.

Saint Paul appeals to his brothers and sisters in Christ in the Church in Rome to ‘welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’.  We echo this imperative in our Parish vision of ‘bringing humanity to life through hospitable welcome, generous care, transcendent worship, spiritual learning and growing together – for all ages’.

Hospitable Welcome and Generous Care
By and large hospitable welcome and generous care are things that we are good at, and there are a number of ways that we try to deliberately seek to provide that welcome and care to others.

Firstly, we try to offer variety across our weekend worship, and our ministry programmes.  There were 25,278 acts of worship on our site last year.  We all know that one size will never fit all, and so we are increasingly trying to make each of our worship opportunities and programmes distinctively different and welcoming to different groups of people.

Last weekend I made a rough count of people who were in Church for worship on that particular weekend and I think that you might find these figures interesting:

On Saturday evening there were 31 people, of which 10 have joined us in the last 3 years.

On Sunday morning at 7.30 there were 54 people, of which 7 have joined us in the last 3 years.

At 9.30 am there were 62 people of which 19 have joined us in the last 3 years.

When the Petrus Community met the week before there were 49 people of which 41 have joined us in the last 3 years.

Our numbers vary every weekend, and we need to add to those numbers all those who receive Holy Communion in their homes or in the retirement facilities in which we minister, and of course all those who come here for pastoral services – baptisms, weddings, funerals and the like, but that snapshot illustrates something about where we are as a community: 196 people across an average weekend, of which 77 (well over a third) have joined us in the last 3 years.

To those who have joined us: we are grateful that you are here.

There is a great difference, for example, between what we do on the First Friday morning of each month, and what we do when the Petrus Community Church gathers in the Parish Hall for worship, and we hope that each is meeting the needs of different groups of people.

We are grateful to John and Kathy Pearson and Ross and Barbara Horn who have led the hospitality team at the First Friday Healing Mass since it started.  Ross and Barbara have concluded their leadership role during the last year, and we are grateful to them for the foundations that they have laid for the future.

We are also grateful to all who contribute to our various opportunities for worship including our readers, intercessors and servers, and most especially to our choirs and musicians led by the Director of Music Evanne Sherringham.  There are weeks when Evanne is here in church every single day.  Thank you Evanne for the beauty that you bring to our worship.

Secondly, we try to offer a genuine, warm and helpful welcome both before and after services and throughout the various programmes that happen during the week.  We are all grateful to those who provide a welcome on our behalf, and to those who provide hospitality after services, at parish lunches, through the friendship group, and at other events for us and for visitors.

Thirdly, we try to offer appropriate pastoral care, both to members of our Church community and to our neighbours.  We are grateful for the work of our Pastoral Care Team, and thank our Pastoral Workers Richard Fellows, Dawn Morris, Yvonne Bell and Judy Cordwell for the way that they lovingly visit and support members of the congregation.  Coral Galagher continues to send cards on our behalf as a practical sign of our care for others.  Our wedding and funeral ministries try to support people who come to us for times of joy and times of sadness.  We have had more funerals in the church in 2016 than in any year in the last twenty years.  These are sacred opportunities for us to welcome and care for others.

Fourthly, we try to provide the kind of information that people want to know, both on our website, through the Cross and Keys monthly newsletter, in our welcoming materials, our advertising distributed across the parish, and at our welcome receptions which are held to explain how the church works for those who have joined us.

Fifthly, in our welcome and care we try to meet the needs of those in our broader community.  The number of people who are connected to the Grandparents as Parents Support Group, started by the Parish and led by Beverley Steggles and her team of volunteers is inspiring.

The ministry of Saint Peter’s Emergency Relief, providing food, friendship and assistance each week is a practical outworking of our welcome and care.  Judy Cordwell has led this ministry for the last three years and she concluded her term as the co-ordinator in the last few weeks.  We are all grateful to her for the way that she has led this work, and the evident fruit of her work and the work of the volunteers.  There will be some significant changes to this ministry in the coming months, with the support of the Samaritans Foundation, and I look forward to reporting this to you at our next Annual General Meeting.

Sixthly, we try to help people to know God better within a community in which we can know each other better.  The ongoing opportunity to gather as the Men’s Fellowship, Saint Egwin’s Fellowship, Mothers’ Union and in our many discipleship groups provides these opportunities.  Thank you to those who lead and participate in these community-building and faith-building activities, which are open to all of us.

Seventhly, we try to make it easy for people to come to us.  Our Christmas and Easter services, our All Souls’ Day Service of Remembrance and particularly Carols on the Hill are ideal times for people to come and experience and explore being on our Church site.  Feast Fest was another attempt to provide a non-threatening way for people to wander onto our church site.  The weather was not kind to us on a number of occasions last year, most notably Carols on the Hill and again on Christmas Eve during the Family Masses, but nevertheless we had a wonderful time, with many visitors.

The principles of hospitable welcome and generous care are at the heart of the Mission Action Plan which underpins and guides the development of our ministries and the use of our financial resources.  We pray that we will be known by others for our welcome and care.

Parish Ministry Staff
I am grateful to God for those who have shared leadership in the Parish with me over the last year, and particularly colleagues in the Ministry Staff Team and in the Resourcing Team, who together make up the Parish Council, the senior governance body of the Parish.

Our Ministry Staff Team are a great gift to us all.  I hope that you will find reading the reports of the work that they are leading and supporting in the Parish exciting and inspiring.

In January 2016 Jesse Poole commenced his time with us as my Parish Ministry Apprentice.  Jesse has brought a great deal of creativity, enthusiasm and new life to our Parish.  Jesse settled into ministry in the Parish very quickly, and I know that he is greatly valued by you all.   Jesse has a key role in many of our ministries, alongside his ongoing theological studies and formation.  I was delighted when Jesse and I agreed that his time with us would be extended for a second year to the end of 2017.

In April 2016 Maryka Gibson joined the staff team as the Parish Office Administrator and my Personal Assistant.  Maryka has had a distinguished career in administration and management, and now shares these gifts and skills with us.  She has transformed the way that the Parish Office operates and has helped us to develop new systems and procedures.  I value Maryka greatly and I am very glad that she is with us.

In May 2016 Deacon Will Johnston concluded his time with us as our Assistant Curate.  Deacon Will had been with us for two and half years, firstly as a ministry student and then, after his ordination, as our Assistant Curate.  We were able to assure him of our prayers and best wishes at a special morning tea at which we presented him with an icon of Saint Peter.

Throughout 2016 Father Peter Rothnie directed the pastoral ministries of the Parish, particularly focused around co-ordinating the work of the Pastoral Care Team.  Father Peter also continues to lead our Men’s Fellowship and share in the worshipping life of the Parish.  We appreciate him and Marie very much.

Elizabeth Brown continues to minister as our Parish Families’ Worker, co-ordinating our growing number of family ministries programmes, ministering amongst younger women in the parish and sharing in preaching and teaching.  The reports relating to these programme should fill us with great joy as we celebrate the achievements of Play Time, Fun Time, God Time, Church Time, the Talitha Community and the Esther Community and our ministries amongst Baptism families.

Deacon Wendy Brack continues her ministries as Pastoral Chaplain at the aged care facilities and pastorally supporting the work of Saint Peter’s Emergency Relief and the Grandparents as Parents Support Group and in our worshipping life.  Her quiet re-assuring presence is appreciated by many.

It is a great joy to work with such a gifted team of staff, particularly because they have so many gifts that I do not have myself.  Alongside our Staff Team we all continue to value the wise presence of Father Wilf and Judy Redden and Father Rod and Coral Galagher amongst us, and we thank God for their witness to us and their ongoing ministries amongst us.  In early 2017 the Parish Office was renovated to bring it up to standard as a professional hub for our staff to work from.

 Two support staff have concluded their work with us.  Valerie Jones concludes her work as our Parish cook, and Karen Andrews concluded her work with us as our cleaner, both in early 2017.  We recognise the significant contribution made to our parish community by these two ladies who have both served here for more than ten years.  We will miss them.

Ministry Amongst Children and Younger Families
We are extremely fortunate to have a good number of younger families involved in the programmes of the Parish.  Our connection with families has been transformed over the last few years, and whilst these programmes are new and fragile, they continue to grow.  We have made ministry amongst younger families one of our core priorities.  We are now at a stage where we need the help of some members of the church as these programmes continue to grow.

Firstly, we need someone, or a group of people on rotation to prepare a simple meal on two Sunday afternoons each month for the Petrus Community.

Secondly, we need someone or a group of people on rotation to come to the Parish Hall at 9 am on a Friday morning to help move furniture and toys around for 30 minutes before Play Time starts, and then to come back at the end of the morning and help to put them away.

Thirdly, we need some people who love young children to assist by being actively present on a Wednesday morning or a Friday morning at Music Time or Play Time.

These are important programmes and they need the participation and assistance of a greater number of us in order for them to thrive.

In 2016 we were confronted, along with the rest of the Diocese and indeed the rest of the country, by the reality of historic sexual abuse within the community of the church.  The Royal Commission has not yet concluded its investigation into the Diocese of Newcastle and in 2017 there will be further hearings related to the Anglican Church, as well as the publication of the report by the Commission including its findings about our Diocese.

This has not been an abstract or distant matter for us.  Clergy – both priests and bishops – that we have known and loved have been named in the course of the Commission hearings.

I reported last year, and I report again, that the advice that I receive, and my own observations, lead me to believe that we have a robust child protection culture in place in this Parish at the present time.


New Ministry Plans
During 2016 we developed some exciting new programmes and activities for launch in 2017.  Craft Time is our new craft group for members of the Church and the local community, led by Christine Butler.  Music Time is an additional programme in our group of family ministry programmes aimed at providing opportunities for parents and carers to enjoy music with young children.  Both programmes have started well, and we hope that they continue to thrive.

I have been working with the local Scout Troop, which was originally established by the Parish many years ago, to try to build some bridges between the Troop and the Church.  Last year I had the privilege of spending three evenings with a group of 20 scouts in the church building talking about faith.  I am exploring how these connections can be deepened in 2017.

We look forward immensely to the completion of the Anglican Care facility at Tenambit.  Work is progressing at this time, and we anticipate that we will have a chaplaincy presence on the Anglican Care site by the end of this year.  This is the fulfillment of a long held dream by members of this Parish and we celebrate that it is in the final stages of coming to fruition.


Church Site
It would be easy for us to be overwhelmed and paralysed by the enormity of the task of caring for and bringing up to standard the heritage buildings on the beautiful William Street site.  The Wardens’ report lists the substantial developments that have taken place this year.  We are in the midst of a rolling programme of upgrades which will last for many years to come as we make our site fit for purpose for the changing ministries of this Century.

It was a very great joy for us to gather on the Feast of Christ the King for the hallowing of the first two groups of stained glass windows.  Thanks to the significant donation of benefactors and the skilled expertise of Jeff Hamilton, the windows are now installed beautifully in the clerestory.  The plan is for a further two groups of windows to be installed in 2017 and for the final two groups to be installed in 2018.

Saint Peter’s Church is a living building and I hope that the significance of installing stained glass windows that will be in the building far beyond any of our lifetimes communicates to you the confidence that I have that our church building will be home to a Christian community for hundreds of years to come.

In February of this year we were able to hallow a votive candlestand thanks to the generosity of the Freeman family as an aid to our prayers.

I am enormously grateful to all those who maintain and repair our site, and particularly – and I say this on behalf of my family – those who care for and look after the needs presented by the Rectory in which we live.

Thank you to Charlotte Brock and our gardeners who not only maintain our beautiful grounds but continue to develop them, thank you to John Osborne and those who cut the lawns, thank you to the volunteers who work with Kevin Short on maintaining the buildings, and thank you to our brass cleaners, flower arrangers and those who prepare our church for worship.  You can read about all that has been achieved over the last year in their reports.

Ken Gormley has gone beyond all expectations over the last year in assisting us with electrical work on the site.  He has run cables, installed lights, replaced switch boards, and in doing so saved us thousands of dollars whilst providing us with excellent developments.  We express our gratitude to you Ken.

Church Site Developments
In 2017 we plan to permanently light the exterior of the West End of the Church, continue the programme of restoring the Rectory and address the drainage issues that are compromising the South West corner of the Parish Hall.  As I have already mentioned the first part of a two phase renovation of the Parish Office was completed in early 2017, and we are waiting to see if we have been successful in a grant application before commencing the second phase.

More significantly, the Parish Council has been working for a number of years preparing plans for significant developments on our site.  These include:

Firstly, re-imagining the way that we use the back of the church, the location of the font and the adequacy of disabled access at the North door.

Secondly, restoring the stonework and replacing the failing guttering at the East End of the church.  We will shortly undertake a test project to replace the guttering on the choir vestry before making a final commitment to the extensive work that is needed on the exterior of the East End.  We have already received Heritage and Diocesan approval for the whole restoration project.

Thirdly, creating new future uses for our hall and ministry centre that will enable us to welcome more members of the local community onto our site and also fund the work that is required to bring both buildings up to an appropriate standard, whilst also ensuring that there are suitable spaces on the site to house all of our current ministries.

These are once in a generation projects that we need to get right.  I hope to call a special meeting of parishioners later in the year to share with you our proposals, some of which are currently with the State Heritage authorities, and others of which are in an earlier stage of planning.  We will then have an opportunity to assess their merits and decide together how we will proceed.

What is clear is that our site is full of potential as a community hub for East Maitland, and we need to evaluate and seize the opportunities that this presents.


Parish Finances
In 2015, after some years of annually decreasing deficits, we achieved a surplus of income over expenditure of $16,593.32.

In 2016, after the budget for the year had been approved, the Parish Council agreed to employ a skilled and experienced Parish Administrator on terms which did not reflect the allocation in the budget.  In making this decision the Parish Council knew that we would be spending the surplus that had been achieved in the previous year.  In 2016 we therefore spent $16,700.00 more than we received in income, bringing us to almost a break-even situation across the two years.  The Parish Council’s intention is for us to have a modest surplus in 2017.

To put these figures into perspective it might be helpful to compare our 2016 situation to the situation in 2012.  In 2012 the Parish Council budgeted for an income of $218,000 and the Parish achieved an income of $215,000.  The Council budgeted in that year for expenditure of $205,000 but spent $276,000, a deficit of $75,000.

When comparing the Parish Ministry Budget for 2016 to the Budget of 2012 we are on our way to  doubling our annual income ($215,000 in 2012, $381,000 in 2016).  These changes have transformed the financial position of the Parish, and have provided for the employment of ministry staff to develop and lead new programmes, as well enabling us to fund an ongoing programme of maintenance on the site.

These figures do not include the substantial donations of the stained glass windows and other donations where we received goods or services rather than money.  A conservative estimate would be to add $100,000 to our income to reflect these gifts, more than doubling our income compared to four years ago.

We are in a healthy financial situation, but this is not without its challenges in 2017.  As I indicated in the March issue of the Cross and Keys Newsletter, after the Parish Council prepared the budget for 2017 it became clear that the figures would be unsustainable due to a number of factors, largely external to us and beyond our control.

The budget was revised to increase income from what had been proposed in the draft budget by 10% whilst reducing expenditure from the proposed budget by 10%.  This means that:

Firstly, the staff are working with me to economise on the way that we do things in order to achieve the budget that has been adopted by the Parish Council and which will be presented to the Annual General Meeting.

Secondly, we need to increase our income in 2017 by 10%.  To put this plainly, we need everyone to please review what they currently to give to God through the Parish and to see whether it is possible for this to be increased.  At the same time the Parish Council is working on strategies to achieve additional income from sources beyond the Parish.

As our Parish income has increased over recent years, so our contribution to the ministries of the Diocese has increased as well.  In comparison to other parishes, we now give one of the largest contributions to the work of the Diocese (in 2016 this was $21,884.53).  It is likely that our contribution to the Diocese will need to increase more sharply in the coming years as the Diocese seeks to provide financial redress to survivors of sexual abuse.

We have also continued to increase the financial support that we give to our mission partners.  In 2016 we contributed $10,421.60 to external mission agencies and a further $1,600 to support scripture teaching in local schools.  Lyn Bellamy has been an effective Mission Giving Secretary.  Lyn has indicated that she is not able to continue in this role in 2017 and we thank her for her leadership over the last year.

The Parish Budget for 2017 includes details of all the financial assets held by the Parish which currently total $1,289,463.81. These assets include our working account, restricted reserve funds and the Saint Peter’s Endowment Trust which was established in 2014.  In early 2017 we received a generous bequest of $15,000 from the estate of our dear sister Joan Swanson.  This bequest will be added permanently to the Endowment Trust.

Sale Contracts for a portion of the Glebe Paddock were signed shortly after last year’s Annual General Meeting on 24th May 2016.  The sale process is now in the stage of being finalised, and we hope that all of the work that has taken place over many years will come to final fruition in the coming months.  A significant proportion of the funds from the sale will be transferred permanently into the Saint Peter’s Endowment Trust, providing an annual return in perpetuity.  The remainder of the funds will be used to complete work to the fabric of the church building, and be provided to the Diocese to fund redress for survivors of sexual abuse.

Our Parish finances are bolstered each year by the work of a number of groups.  Our Rotary Catering Team has for many years provided additional income to the Parish through their work. Marlene and Neville Foster are in the process of concluding their leadership of the Rotary Catering Team after many years of continuous energy, and we are grateful to them and their team of volunteers.

The Parish Pantry not only provides hospitality at parish events and funerals but also raises income for the Parish in the process, and we are grateful to them.

Our Fundraising Team, ably led by Judi Moore, brings us together for enormous fun, and supports the maintenance of our church building in the process.  We are all aware that there is much work behind the scenes in preparation and we are grateful to Judi and her team.

I want to thank Geoffrey Seccombe, the Chair of the Resourcing Team, and Kay Sharp, my Warden and the Chair of the Wardens’ and Treasurer’s Meeting for their leadership over the last year.  I speak with Geoffrey and Kay very regularly and they provide me with trustworthy and wise advice, as well as a sound balance of encouragement and caution when it is needed.

We also thank Anne Page and Kevin Short, our Church Wardens, and Yvonne Hinde, our Parish Treasurer, as well as the other members of the Resourcing Team, Ian Amos, Lyn Bellamy, Stephen Booker, Maryka Gibson and Peter Kirsop for their leadership of the governance of the Parish in the last year.  Stephen Booker joined the Resourcing Team when a vacancy arose during the year, and has brought to us his expertise in heritage architecture which has been of great assistance.

I want to particularly underline the work of the Wardens’ and Treasurer’s Meeting which operates as an executive of the Resourcing Team with some delegated powers.  The Wardens and Treasurer work tirelessly to manage our finances and site.  They are an extremely capable team to whom we owe a great deal.  I thank God for them.

Final Reflection
Luisa and I continue to be overwhelmed by the unexpected and surprising acts of kindness to which we are the recipients from so many of you: the food, the gifts for our children, tickets for us to go to a model exhibition, the Newcastle Show and to the circus to illustrate by naming just a few!  Parishioners even took our boys to the Maitland Show so that Luisa and I could have a night out without them!  These gifts are generous, but the kindness behind them make us ever mindful of how fortunate we are to be living and ministering amongst you.  We are grateful for you.

I pray daily that I will be faithful to Christ and serve you to the best of my ability as your Parish Priest.  As I have indicated in previous years, being your Parish Priest gives me great joy and enormous amounts of excitement, but it is not always easy.  There are some things that I am good at, and some things that I am not so good at.  We have been together long enough for you to be able to write the lists.  My beautiful wife Luisa continues to support me in all of this.  Luisa and our family are the greatest gift that God has given me.  Thank you for providing a home and a community for my family to thrive in.

We are a busy Parish and there is much to distract us from our primary task of bringing delight to God through our worship of him.  This Lent we have been reminded that the outworking of our worship is to live as Disciples in Mission.  In all that we do we continue to strive to persevere in our discipleship and to offer hospitable welcome and generous care to others, as Saint Paul exhorts us, ‘welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’.

We come to our Annual General Meeting with deep gratitude to God for his sustaining love, and with hope and expectancy for the future.

Soli Deo Gloria: To God alone the glory!