The Pastor writes
Since my arrival at this Church, I have the opportunity to speak at the Church Camp and the Leaders Retreat last year where I laid out my vision for the Parish. A retired clergy, in his first sermon of this year here, has spoken in a similar line when he emphasized on our need to get back the pioneers spirit. It was that enthusiasm that had led the St. Faiths Church Extension Centre to become a full-fledge Parish.
I have also pointed out that spiritual growth is not moving in a straight line into holiness. A lot of times we are moving in a spiral, with ups and downs sometimes we do the right things and other times, the wrong things. Often times we seem smart and there are times when we are just downright stupid. But all along we are growing.
As we seek spiritual revival or a revival of the pioneers spirit, it is important to remember that it is not about the church deciding to do something better or different. Rather, it is seeking Gods intervention and allowing Him to do something to His church, i.e. to send a fresh movement of His Spirit among His people. And the gracious move of the Holy Spirit brings renewal to the church.
For that to happen, I have spoken on our need to be humble (quoting 2 Chronicles 7: 14 & 15 to support my point). To be humble is to admit to the Lord that we have forgotten our purpose, lost our sense of calling and failed to fulfil many of our promises to the Lord. Many of us even have forgotten to pray regularly.
I have also pointed out that normal human process of growing involved change. Based on some recent studies, it was discovered the emotional, physical and mental changes seem to occur in approximate seven-year interval.Organization that involves humans is also like a human body and is affected by change. That may partly explain why nothing much seemed to be happening at the church last year: we could be at our weakest point and even got stuck at complacent mode. If there is any truth in this, then we have no excuse this year for not doing anything and not moving forward because the eighth year is the beginning of a new cycle
In spite of the apparent stagnancy, many of you were still doing your best and working hard and not allowing yourselves to be frustrated by the slow growth. Obviously you recognize that, if spiritual growth moves in a spiral, with ups and downs, going right and left, then these things are bound to happen. The reality of spiritual life is that we cannot be on the mountaintop all the time. Most of the time, it is at the foot of the mountain and in the valley that we are called to be, where most of the works are done.
Here are some of the things I have suggested that we should all acknowledge and try to remedy. First, Church becomes stagnant when it stops looking out of itself. That is why we need to listen to the call to bring back the pioneers spirit. Pioneers recognize the reality of the present but look forward into the future. Pioneers look outside of themselves they see jungles as harvest fields; they regard the non-believers as potential members and they look at children as future leaders.
Second, we must have less complaining and more actions in church. The problem with complainers is that they tend look for mistakes and errors and only grumble about them. They dont contribute anything to help the church.
Complainers do not look outside to see what they can do; they only look inside to see what is wrong. So I hope that we use this AGM properly not just to highlight the short-comings and failures of certain people but to offer suggestions together with our promise to help.
Third, we need to address our problem of self-centredness. We live in a very self-centered society and we are very much affected by it. Selfishness hinders church growth and all spiritual growth. But the Christian is supposed to care more and more about others. This church, I hope, must be prepared to become a multi-racial and multi-cultural Church and a Church that welcomes people of whatever class and status. Paul reminds us with his words in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Therefore, as a church, we must think about how to bless and benefit one another and not just to please ourselves. When we decide and plan programs and activities, we must not only think about what good they will bring to our own group or ministry. We need to take into consideration the parish as a whole including our neighbouring parishes and Diocese.
Third, we may have to admit that there are many things we dont know or understand about the church. Many Christians do not even know the history and tradition of their own Church, and so they keep repeating the mistakes of the past. Otherwise they create their own tradition. In order to grow and mature spiritually, we must have a desire to learn. We must also learn from each other.
Pride is one problem we do not see in ourselves but only in others. Jesus describes it as a man who sees a speck in his brothers eye but cannot see a plank in his own eye (Matthew 7: 3-5). It is a great stumbling block to spiritual growth because it causes us to become un-teachable people. We become unwilling to learn from our circumstances or experiences or listen to other peoples advice. We resist change because we see our way of doing things as always being the best, even though we are going nowhere. Pride blocks us from experiencing new ideas because they do not fit into our belief system and assumption. It causes us to live in the past rather than the present.
All of us have at least one of these shortcomings and are encumbered with spiritual burdens. Many of the things that can become problems and burdens are not necessarily bad in the first place. A healthy body needs certain amount of sugar, salt, cholesterol, and uric acid. But eating good and delicious food every day without physical work and exercise will cause our bodies to accumulate too much these cholesterol, uric acid, and sugar in our bodies. They can eventually harm our bodies: causing diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart problems, gouts etc. So we need to exercise some of them out before they do the damage.
Likewise, as Christians we are fed with good spiritual food every Sunday and through other good spiritual activities every day of the week. The Word of God we receive is like the good food we eat. If we have received far too much good spiritual food but failed to utilise and share them out, they can cause us problems. The spiritual food we are fed with can lead us to spiritual pride; to become judgemental of others; to get puffed up with our knowledge or to become very comfortable with ourselves. Those are the things that produce Pharisees and hypocrites among religious people.
So what do we do about them? We need an outlet. We need to exercise them out. That is why the benediction (blessing) from the priest at the end of each Holy Communion Service is always followed by a command to go out to love and serve the Lord. We cannot just receive the love and blessing from God every Sunday, without releasing that love and blessing out to others. Otherwise, they become piles of incomplete tasks, ignored responsibilities and unnecessary burden to us in Church.
As we step into 2017, let us ask ourselves and find out where we have done well and where we have failed as a Church. I want to pose a few questions, which I hope we can answer honestly:
- In our recent Home Cell leaders meeting, I pointed out that even though we like to call ourselves a Cell Church, we have not been a Cell Church in a true sense. Two of the many requirements of a Cell Church which we have not fulfilled are:
(a) home cells must multiply when they have reached certain number and
(b) nobody can be registered as church member until he or she has joined a Home Cell. Hence we can only call ourselves A Church with Home Cells. But how effective have we been in exercising our ministry and outreach?
- The setting up of ministries in Church is meant to help the Church to carry out its evangelistic outreach to non-believers and exercise pastoral care of members. What improvement or change have you brought to the Church since you took up the leadership post or join the ministry? Are you prepared to accept and make changes should the need arise in the future?
- Some of the programs and activities that we carry out in Church every year have been there since the birth of the Parish or even when it was just an Extension Centre. Have we made any effort to evaluate their relevancy and effectiveness? Are we brave enough to change them, and even get rid of them if they are proven to be redundant, ineffective and a waste of money and resources?
- The Churches in the Anglican Communion have varieties of traditions and they are roughly divided into three (i) High Churches (Anglo-Catholic/traditional), (ii) Low Churches (evangelical/contemporary /Charismatic), and (iii) Broad Churches (combination of two or more traditions). How do we like ourselves to be known? Are we prepared to be upset by the changes that we need to make as we develop a proper identity for ourselves?
- What did our pioneers envisage our Church to be like when they started the Centre and planted the Church here? Are we prepared to re-capture the visions that are lost? Can we clarify and enlarge those that are unclear and muddled? Are we willing to rectify and change those that have ceased to be relevant in this growing multi-cultural and multi-racial community?
You may notice in my address that I talk a lot about the past. I do so because I personally believe that we need to re-evaluate the past if we want to do well in the present and have a good plan for the future. 2017 is the beginning of the 7-year cycle and I want to make sure that we all start on the right footing. As a leader, I also have to unburden myself of unnecessary load and to spiritually-refresh myself, as I prepare for the task ahead. I thank God for being patient with me and for giving me, the time to reflect on the past as I tread on the present while looking forward to the future.
To conclude, I want to thank you for accepting me into this worshipping community. I thank you all for the support and assistance that you have given me, especially a retired clergy and the other priests, our two Sub-Deacons, Lay Readers and PCC members and the Parish Office staff. I must admit that they have made my work easier and enjoyable. The four parishes that I have served prior to this Church, namely St. Thomas Cathedral; St. Thomas, Bintulu; St. Margarets, Seria; and St. Augustines, Betong, were all different in spite of their many similarities. I have learned a lot from them. But when I arrive here, I find that there are still some more new things to learn. I look forward to serve this parish together with the new PCC, the new set of Pastoral Team and the Parish Administrative Staff. May God bless us all.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Canon James Juhari
(The Address to the AGM in March 2017)