Bishop Justin began his address by reflecting on his five years as Bishop of Wellington, and expressing thanks for all the people, both in the room and without, that have been an integral part of the journey. In his five years, Bishop Justin feels that the diocese has expressed a desire to change, and that this is indeed happening. “Things feel different,” he said, “we are going somewhere and we have direction.”
Five years ago, there was terror as the thought of discussing the state of our parishes was raised – naming and identifying the reality of decline was something that nobody dared to approach, yet now, Bishop Justin feels we are more able and equipped to have such a difficult conversation.
At Ministry Leaders’ Family Camp, Bishop Justin continued his discussion on change by offering leaders some advice on how to change, and by suggesting that the natural outcome of God’s church is growth. He invited leaders to consider whether at Synod they would be prepared to commit to grow, and in his address, he continued this theme.
“We have some great stuff going on,” Bishop Justin said, but he acknowledged that talking about growth is a challenge for various reasons. Understandably, he acknowledged, there might be some feelings of shame or failure amongst leaders of churches that are not growing, and that is completely natural. Yet he reflected that growth means the ability to reproduce, and we’re not doing that much.
Bishop Justin noted some good news: more parishes than in the past are now growing, and there is no demographic commonality between them, proving that we know how to grow parishes, regardless of size, type, location or worship style.
So in this vein, Bishop Justin offered an invitation: “do you want your parish to grow? And will you do what it takes to change, so that it can happen?” He acknowledged the challenges, including the need to change culture, long-held traditions or “sacred cows” that effectively amounted to idolatry, people within parishes who are resistant to change, and in some cases, the complete lack of resource that would require preparing the soil for replanting, rather than focusing on growth.
He also acknowledged that not many leaders had ever asked him for help to grow – so he challenged leaders to consider whether their shame was greater than their desire to see God flourish their parish. He encouraged all that everyone in the room held a piece of the puzzle – and that there are many people who can offer wisdom or advice.
Before asking people to form groups to have an honest conversation about growth, Bishop Justin read from Philippians 4:4-9.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
He then invited members to watch a video which had previously been played during worship, on the theme of being sent – but this time he asked members to consider their parish as they watched.