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General Assembly - Pastor's Pen for 8th October 2023

Tamaki River looking West from Farm Cove, Pakuranga

It's difficult to summarise a General Assembly of the PCANZ due to the intensity of meeting over five days from Wednesday evening to Sunday morning. I will leave that for the PCANZ to report the full happenings and decisions of GA2023 in due course. I have to say, the singing of the full Assembly in the chapel at St. Kentigern College was a powerful thing.

I wrote last week of a sense of reconnection with friends from all over the country. I realised how important it is for me to meet colleagues in ministry who experience a variety of ministry challenges in diverse contexts. Ministers don't generally work in large teams so it is a wonderful blessing to meet colleagues, classmates and those who 'get it', in some cases after a gap of several years. All my class of 2010 were there bar one, and all still in ministry and looking relatively sane, we were a good bunch with some stick-ability. No one has heard from our mate in Invercargill but we think he is still going strong.

Listening to the reports from each presbytery, from Northern, Kaimai, Central, Alpine and Southern was very informative. There are themes which give us all cause for concern, that many congregations are without a minister and cannot realistically afford one. Presbyteries, Sessions and Church Councils are finding it difficult to fill critical roles. Compliance and ballooning costs are afflicting congregations.

Conversations with colleagues indicate that the bounce-back of numbers and attendance post-Covid is coming, but all to slowly. Anecdotally, programmes for children have taken a big hit during that time. Where are the kids? Everyone is feeling it.

There were no really controversial issues at this Assembly, and business was managed with decorum. Let me say there were some very good things. Throughout our denomination there are people who lead with much wisdom and humour, sharp intellect, creativity and endurance. The large presbyteries are able to employ mission catalysts and ministry specialists that can resource innovation. In pockets around Aotearoa, there are examples of reallocation of ministry resource for new ventures and great ideas. There are signs of hope.

When I signed up for Presbyterian ministry, I knew we had some robust structures and people led by God's Spirit. We still do. I urge you to always be in prayer for our own congregation but also the wider denomination. There is a tendency at the local level to resent the moderation of Presbytery and Assembly over church life, and a lack of understanding of how that functions. However, my observation of our conciliar system of government over more than three decades is that it is superior to many of the alternatives. Prayer for the Church and our role as salt and light in this generation and those to come.

"Keep on praying for all the Lord's people." (Eph 6:18)

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