Tidying up the toolshed: reshaping our parish whānau in Whanganui

Our Whanganui parish whānau is in good heart, says the Vicar, Archdeacon Stuart Goodin, despite the challenges that come with long periods of change and uncertainty.

The parish, originally consisting of four independently-operating parishes and more than ten different congregations, was facing declining attendance and finances as well as numerous buildings with potentially earthquake-prone status.  It was clear that change was needed, but rather than solving each problem in isolation, Stuart tells us that the parishes took a view of the overarching situation.

“In the beginning, we had to confront the brutal facts,” he said, despite not having a clear picture of the solution.  They began by committing to joint vestry activity, which led to the prayerful decision to consolidate parishes, and set the foundation for moving ahead as one local Anglican whānau.

As they faithfully journeyed together in prayer, God showed them a way forward.  “One of our leaders received a vision of a toolshed.  It was in disarray – the tools were strewn everywhere, they couldn’t be put to use,” Stuart tells us.  “Our task was to tidy up the toolshed – not knowing how the tools might be deployed.”

Walking ahead with just enough light to guide their steps, Stuart tells us that the new combined parish had a way forward – if only an interim one.  “It was full of challenges, but we started to be able to deploy our tools.”

Developing a foundation for healthy leadership was a key move, Stuart said.  The parish leaders used The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, part of our leadership curriculum, to have honest discussions, and this led to the parish culture shifting from a focus on the individual to more of a focus on God, the parish whānau, and on the needs of others; indicating more of a leaning in to the diocesan culture.

The emerging culture meant that new initiatives could take root, and new leaders could be released to flourish in their areas of gifting.  One such initiative is the AYM missional community house, established and led by Rev Caleb and Rev Billy Rowe, and supported by a parish decision to provide an appropriate house.  The leaders who form part of this community sow into the life of the parish, and have added “vigour to our youth work,” Stuart says, as well as developing relationships with a local intermediate school.  This new relationship has led the parish to employ two youth work leaders midway through last year in the hope that as part of their work they might establish 24-7 YouthWork in a local school.  At the beginning of 2019 24-7 began at Whanganui Intermediate School, a new outreach opportunity for the parish.

The change has been difficult at times, but Stuart believes the parish is enjoying a greater sense of happiness and energy, and is getting behind the new initiatives.  “It’s been messy, but it has definitely been worth it!”