It was a cool and sunny morning on Saturday, February 21st, 2015, when the faithful of St. Michael, Surrey, started to gather for a very distinct occasion in the life and work of this faith community. The morning was filled with much anticipation and excitement since it was the very first time, after many years, that the parish would engage in a conversation focused on Congregational Growth and Parish Development.
It was a day when everyone in this faith community would have an opportunity to immerse themselves in the call of ministry and respond to God’s love through obedience and be ready for every good work. The driving force for the unity of this assembly was no less than the presence of the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, The Rt. Rev. Melissa Skelton.
At the appointed time, the congregation convened in the sanctuary for a solemn morning prayer, a liturgy that is seldom used in this parish. Presided over by the Bishop, with The Rev. Marnie Peterson and the rector of the parish as concelebrants, it was very appropriate that the day should start with a communal worship service.
After the reading of the gospel, The Bishop and The Rev. Peterson were welcomed to the parish by Joseph and Gilda Giorgis, with their children Naomi and Adam, and were each presented with a bouquet of flowers. St. Michael’s Sunday School children sang to our guests with a favourite song entitled “O Be Careful Little Eyes”. At the last verse of the song the congregation sang with the children and gave them a warm welcome.
Included in this liturgy was a public welcome of new members to the congregation. The secretary of the parish called out the new member’s names and presented them to the Bishop to be formally welcomed. He made special mention that these families went through “St. Michael’s 101” prior to this event. With the affirmation to support the life and work of the parish, the three new families, with the encouragement of the congregation present, were formally welcomed to the parish by the Bishop.
The next facet of the agenda was regarding teaching and nurturing God’s people – a workshop on Congregational Growth and Parish Development. The Rev. Peterson introduced the Diocesan School for Parish Development which was launched in our Diocese in 2012. It now has two formats – weekends and week long. This congregational vitality program for Clergy and Lay People has now been adapted by five new dioceses in the Anglican Communion.
The city of Surrey is the fastest growing city in the province and one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. During her talk, the Bishop shared a brief conversation she’d had with an immigration judge preparing new immigrants for their oath taking ceremony. There are about seven to eight judges in the Metro Vancouver area who administer the Canadian Citizenship Oath Taking ceremony. On almost all occasions, there are at least eighty families being granted Canadian citizenship every day from Monday to Friday. So the question would be, how does the influx of immigrants reshape the Anglican community? What would our church look like in the next few years?
Within this context, the Bishop and Rev. Peterson introduced the Gather, Transform and Send Model to the participants. One way of describing the primary task, the unique purpose and work of a congregation, is to gather those called by God into Christ’s body, the Church, a community of transformation of mind, heart and action, and to send these same into the world to be and to act as God’s loving and transforming presence.
Another way of saying this is that the purpose of a congregation is to be the body of Christ and, with God’s help, to create and renew the Christian folk who in turn, create and renew a world that we believe both already is, and is in the process of, becoming God’s own realm—a realm of forgiveness, reconciliation, courage, justice, peace and hope.
The participants were divided into three groups and were asked to have conversations around (1) What they are most proud of at St. Michael’s Church? (2) What is their vision of this faith community? and (3) What are the steps they should take together to have these visions realized? They then went back to the plenary session and presented their work.
A concrete evidence of the diversity of St. Michael, Surrey was seen again with the food that was brought in by the parishioners for the potluck lunch fellowship. Everyone had been nourished and there was a lot of leftovers to share with everyone. It was a continuing reminder to us that God’s grace is more than enough as exhibited in Mark 6:30-44.
The afternoon session was used to conduct the business matters of the parish in compliance with the Canons of the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster. The reports of the various ministries were commended for a year of continuing effort to expand the core of mature practitioners. There was much desire to focus on the Youth Ministry and on encouraging inactive parishioners to return to the fold of the church.
A Vestry Meeting is not just about receiving the reports of the various ministries and approving the parish budget for the fiscal year. It is about celebrating the life and ministry of the Church. It is all about praying together, learning together and eating together as one big family. The culture that we wanted to see for this faith community is to continue to persevere and build up the Kingdom, not for the glory of anyone but for the greater glory of God’s name – “To be obedient, to be ready for every good work”.