On a cool and sunny morning, Saturday, February 21st, 2015, the faithful of St. Michael, Surrey, gathered for a distinct occasion in the life and work of their community. The morning was filled with much anticipation and excitement since it would be the first time, after many years that the parish would engage in a conversation focused on Congregational Growth and Parish Development.
Everyone present would have an opportunity to immerse themselves in the call of ministry and respond to God’s love through obedience, ready for every good work. The presence of the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, the Right Reverend Melissa Skelton would be the driving force for the unity of this assembly.
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 Reverend Marnie Peterson and rector of the parish, the Reverend Louie Engnan, it was appropriate that the day should start with worship.
After the reading of the Gospel, the Bishop and Rev. Peterson were welcomed to the parish by Joseph and Gilda Giorgis, accompanied by their children Naomi and Adam. Bishop Skelton and Marnie were each presented with a bouquet of flowers. St. Michael’s Sunday School children sang one of their favourite songs, “O Be Careful Little Eyes” to honour the presence of Bishop Skelton and Marnie. The congregation joined in for the last verse.
The official welcome of new members to the parish was included in this liturgy. The secretary of the parish called out the new member’s names and presented them to the Bishop for welcome. The secretary made special mention that these families went through “St. Michael’s 101” orientation program prior to this event. With the affirmation to support the life and work of the parish, the three new families, with the encouragement of those members present, were formally welcomed to the parish by the Bishop.
The next facet of the agenda involved the teaching and nurturing of God’s people - a workshop on Congregational Growth and Parish Development. The Rev. Peterson provided some information about 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 has recently been adapted by five 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 presentation, Bishop Skelton shared a brief conversation she’d had with an immigration judge about the preparation of new immigrants for the oath-taking component of the citizenship ceremony. There are seven to eight judges in the Metro Vancouver Area who preside over the Canadian Citizenship ceremony. On almost all occasions, there are at least eighty families being granted Canadian citizenship every day from Monday to Friday. This raises the question, “how does the influx of immigrants reshape the Anglican community and what will our church look like in the next few years?”
Within this context, Bishop Skelton and Marnie introduced the Gather, Transform and Send Model to the participants. The unique purpose and work of a congregation, is to gather those called by God into Christ’s body, the Church, a community of transformed minds and hearts and to send them into the world to actively be God’s loving and transforming presence. We are sent out to renew and in some cases to create God’s realm on Earth, a realm of forgiveness, reconciliation, courage, justice, peace and hope.
Participants were divided into three groups and were asked to have conversations around:
They then went back to the plenary session and presented reported on their discussions.
Concrete evidence of the diversity at St. Michael, Surrey was made evident by the wide variety of international dishes brought in by parishioners for the potluck lunch. At the conclusion of the meal, everyone had been nourished and there were plenty of leftovers to share. It was a continuing reminder to us that God’s grace is more than enough as is outlined in Mark 6:30-44, Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.
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: Altar Guild, Greeters, Counters, Choir, etc., were commended for a year of continuing effort to expand the core of Mature Practitioners (Mature Practitioners is a term used in the language of the School for Parish Development referring to members of a church who do more than occupy a pew on Sunday mornings). There was a strong desire to focus on youth ministry and also to make an intentional effort to encourage inactive parishioners to return to church.
A Vestry Meeting is not just about receiving the reports of the various ministries and approving the parish budget, it is also about celebrating the life and ministry of the Church. It is about praying together, learning together, eating together as one big family. The desire of the St. Michael’s, Surrey is to work toward the building up of God’s Kingdom, not for the glory of any individual but for the greater glory of God’s name - “To be obedient, to be ready for every good work”.
Photos Andy Whitmore and Dannah Engnan
Article written by By Louie Engnan, Rector, St. Michael’s, Surrey and Val Hampton, St. Michael’s, Surrey