A sermon preached at the Mornington Methodist Church on 21 November 2004
For her wonderful account of her family’s life as missionaries in the Southern Highlands of New Guinea from 1969 to 1973, Marcia Baker chose the title ‘You Go Where?’
In an early chapter she explains where the title came from. ‘From our bush house we looked out on our new world. There was always movement, always someone going somewhere…. It seemed that they always walked with a purpose in view, and perhaps this is why as they passed they greeted each other with the words, ‘Where have you been? Where are you going?’
If there is a text for what I am going to say next, for once it does not come from the Bible. It comes from those words, the greeting passed from one Papua New Guinean Highlander to another: ‘Where have you been? Where are you going?’
I think these are natural questions for travellersall travellers. So they are good questions for Christians on a life-journey of faith, for a congregation on the move, like ourselves. ‘Where have you been? Where are you going?’
Looking back over my own journey with this Mornington Methodist congregationa journey which has so far taken more than seventy yearsI am struck by the distance we have travelled and the places we have visited.
What I see now is a remarkable group of people, with remarkable leaders, constantly responding to the challenges of an ever-changing world with imagination, creativity and courage. I see a steady growth not so much in numbers as in the depth of their worship, their understanding and exploration of social and theological issues, their willingness to experiment and take the risk of adventuring into the unknown, their compassion and service to each other as well as to the needy outside their community, and in their vitality and resilience as people of active faith and strong hope.
‘Where have we been? Where are we going?’
I think Mornington began to change from its previously quiet and placid existence as an ordinary congregation, diligent at worship, busy being what the old Methodists called a ‘society’ and focusing on a few charitable works, with its decision to commission a new church building from a Catholic architect in 1981.
This open, generous, beautiful building, with its richness of art and colour, its freedom of space, positively demanded that we begin to live lives worthy of its character.
Another crucial decision was made even earlier, in 1975, to gather new hymn and psalm settings into a congregational worship book that stressed the best of contemporary thought and expression and gave special prominence to New Zealand composers and hymnwriters, Mornington had always had a strong musical tradition, but this set the compass direction for the future. The Mornington choir and you the congregation have since become test drivers for a body of church music of national, international and interdenominational importance.
I also want to stress the importance of the early decision to enrich this church building with the work of artists in glass, paint and pottery, wood and fabric. That was a crucial vote for the association of our spiritual lives with the creative artsand the presentations of our children and youth group each Sunday show how important that has been. We have said yes to creativity and imagination: as a consequence our religious ethos has gained a distinctive freedom and openness.
We have been remarkably blessed in the quality of our ministers. From Andrew Johnson and Evan Lewis to Lynne Frith and Ken Russell we have been kept in touch with the most recent and up to date theological thinking, we have been challenged to engage in political and social issues, we have been prompted to think for ourselves and encouraged to deal with the real world outside church walls. Donald Phillipps, Norman West, Lynne Frith and Nicola Grundy have all taken the highest places in the leadership of the national church; Evan Lewis, David Kitchingman, Tim Langley, Norman West and Geoff King have all served the church overseas; we are a support congregation for chaplains active in the work-place, tertiary education, the health service, and for a time the army.
We have suffered together and fought together for a liberal and inclusive attitude that embraced as equals all people, whatever their gender or sexual orientation. We have declared ourselves to be a ‘reconciling’ and inclusive Church, and lived out that declaration in our congregational and parish life.
We have been enriched by the arrival of folk from many other cultures and ethnic backgrounds; beginning with our sponsorship of a number of Cambodian refugees from the horrors of the Pol Pot regime. Once we were a small closed community of pakeha; today we rejoice in the presence of folk from the Americas, from Papua New Guinea and the Solomons, most recently from Korea and Zimbabwe. We have celebrated a Buddhist/Christian wedding and a Buddhist/Christian burial service, we have worshipped with a Malaysian Chinese Methodist congregation, we have welcomed visitors from English Methodism and Buddhist priests from Tibet to our Sunday morning service, scandalising narrower Christians.
‘Where have we been? Where are we going?’
From this congregation have come initiatives leading to:
Our work with schoolchildren at Mornington Primary School helping children to improve their reading skills.
The Toy Library (an initiative with the co-operation of the local Plunket group).
A network of pastoral support for one another, even for those who have left us to return home.
‘Going Places’, in which travellers shared with us their vivid experience of distant countries.
Our Millenium projects, including the celebration of Adam and Eve’s birthday and wedding, and the visit of Charlie the Tuatara and his devoted keeper.
The Streamscape project, gradually transforming ‘our’ section of the Kaikorai Valley stream into a place of natural beauty and recreation.
The Open Education programme, leading to encounters with local Buddhists, Muslims, Bahai, Quakers, and the Jewish community, in the conviction that learningeven for mature religious peopleis a life-long activity.
The Parish Website: a modern, invaluable and much-visited witness to and expression of our ethos as Methodists.. Here, if anywhere, we are equipping ourselves to engage with the next century using the technology that has already radically altered the way in which we communicate globally with each other.
A vibrant Sunday school and youth group capable of attracting and holding our future generations, hard at work in involving them deeply and positively in the general life of the church.
The Explorers Group, meeting in absolute openness to discuss the relevance of Christian faith and theology to contemporary life.
I see a congregation rich in people resources, though not in money, rich in invention and generous in response; a congregation determined to remain closely engaged with the real world outside these walls, a congregation that frankly enjoys its own corporate life, a congregation that is resolute about keeping an open, liberal stance and resisting the dead hand of fundamentalism; a congregation that values and acknowledges its past but is open to tomorrow; a congregation that loves equally its babies and children and its most senior members.
But for me at least the question returns: what are we capable of next? How will we continue to maintain the initiatives we have already put in place? What new direction should we take? What will the 21st century hold for us here in Mornington? What should be our next project?
We know where we have been. The question remains, ‘ Where are we going?’ And the answer is something we must all look for together.