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THE PARISH - a reflection

By Ken Russell in All Sorts

reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of the Parish and the opportunities for future expressions of faith

THE PARISH - a reflection
We are in a rare and maybe unprecedented space, having said bon voyage to Siosifa P last weekend it is bon jour to David P this weekend. Unlike the time-honoured Methodist process providing at least a month to effect all manner of readjustments between presbyters, we have had scarcely time to catch our breath. But no worries. Nothing has been "per usual" in the Parish since Siosifa put his name in for stationing about half way through last year, and since then the unexpected has happened at every turn of a convoluted process - which as Sifa will tell you, with feeling, does not always reflect well on the process and those who administer it.
Yet, here we are. Sifa is going to an important administrative position in Pacifica, Naomi and the family will be with us for who knows how long, and as of today David with this multiplicity of gifts is installed as our Superintendent, with his partner, Darren not far away. Not wanting to be too melodramatic about it, could Charles Wesley (1707-88) have been in future mode with Dunedin Parish in mind when he wrote that marvellous Conference hymn
But out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford and hides our life above.
Having said all that, however, it cannot be stated too strongly that we are not a church that depends on the charisma of our leading minister to hold us together and make us grow. The future health or otherwise of the Parish will not depend on the "success' of newcomer David Poultney. For him, to carry such an expectation from us, or of his own making, is surely a burden too heavy to bear. Thank God, we have long since abandoned the personality cult approach to presbyteral ministry, and David's first instinct will be to absorb the culture of the Parish to which he is appointed, get to know the people, and get a grip on how best he can exercise ministry in this place. He will not be looking to be a stellar leader, but a team player with a specialised role within the team.
Of course, David has one big advantage. His journey in ministry sprang out of this Parish and I can well remember the enthusiasm with which a group of us embraced his candidature and sent him forward for national assessment. He and Darren lived in a smallish house in Pinehill and alternated their church going between Glenaven and Broad Bay. Both communities left their mark on David and he took something of their ethos into the wider ministry, first to Hamilton and then to Nelson.
So now what has changed? Nothing and Everything. For the most part we are the same people, but every component of the parish except St Kilda is less numerous and that much weaker. The recent death of Neil Thompson highlights that even the most dedicated and able of the traditional leaders of the Parish are aging and some will likewise die during David's term of office. Factors like that must be reckoned with. Some of the vigour that David will remember well is less evident now. But the signs are not all negative. Far from it. St Kilda especially shows signs of flexing its muscle and in a characteristically Tongan way. One suspects that even the loss of Siosifa's wise leadership will not hold them back from further building their community, and taking the initiative to expand their amentities. They deserve encouragement, and David can lend his authority to their efforts as they continue to train their young Tongan leadership. The signs are good.
Numerically Mornington is now number two in the Parish, but despite some wear and tear the distinctive ethos of that commuity is as much to the fore as ever. David will be encouraged by many things, among them the happy unity in the congregation; the pastoral care headed by Beryl Neutze; the ever-fresh and amazingly relevant music brought to every service; a leaders meeting with an agenda of hope and purpose and a womens group that boxes well above its weight in terms of vision and
service; and not forgetting an Open Education programme and Explorers Group, both of which continue to throw open some of the most testing issues of our day.
About Mosgiel and Glenaven I will not comment. Both are residual groups from once flourishing congregations. In David's time they may be expected to further diminish, even die, but who is to say what spark can yet rejuventate flagging efforts with new life and vigour?
Uppermost among strategic questions is what to do about the aging Sunday School building at Mornington. To strengthen and upgrade it, or pull it down and build anew? It's a pressing question and the answer cannot be delayed much longer. Both alternatives are expensive. A member of the congregation recently did some rough sums and concluded there is not too much difference in overall cost of what would be required. But a deeper and much more profound question involves the profile of Methodism in Dunedin city. Given that the Galloway St site is far from ideal, the notion of leaving a beloved Church and seeking a central city site from which to pitch our denomination's claims in the City attracts no enthusiasm among our leaders, and besides the cost would be prohibitive. 25 years ago I would have advocated an ecumenical future for Mornington, whatever the cost, but that fire is now all but extinguished. The simple reality is that we are what we are, warts and all, and we must work with what we have. Looking around the Church scene in Dunedin, and nationally, this writer is all the more convinced that among the people called Methodist there is the wit and the potential to hone this entity we call the Parish to bear witness to a faith that is viable, intelligible, and inclusive, embodied in a Jesus-led community that is warm and inviting to all. Welcome David Poultney to that community.
Ken Russell