Ministry and leadership close to Jane’s heart
The Rev. Jane Fry is glad — and terrified — to be in the role of the Synod’s Associate Secretary (Ministry).
In her new job she will relate to ministers and presbyteries across the Synod in respect to ministry matters such as placements, reception of ministers from other churches and misconduct and discipline.
Speaking at her induction at the Centre for Ministry on February 8, Ms Fry said she was glad because it put her in a position to contribute to and participate in the conversation about ministry and leadership in the Synod — an area of ministry that was very close to her heart.
She said she was terrified because she had become aware of the extent of hope and expectation around the role.
She described ministry as the work or service done by lay and ordained people for the sake of the gospel and the vision of the kingdom.
Ministers were God’s gift to the church — people who spent themselves, with great generosity for the church, often at the cost of their own wellbeing.
She said, “We need to match that investment with the support, care and resourcing we offer to people in ministry — and make the most of them.”
Ms Fry said it bothered her slightly that often talk about her new role provoked reference to the “underbelly” of the church.
“I hate that language; not because I’m naïve about some of the destructive and dangerous behaviour that can lead people to fall into the complaints process — and I recognise that some ministers are very interesting — but because 20 years of ministry has given me some insight into what dedicated ministry feels like and does and ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I’.”
She said, “We’re all in this ministry gig one way or another and my hope is that we can strengthen the ways in which we support and resource ministry.”
Referring to her fears in the role, Ms Fry said she was aware that much memory and experience had retired with previous incumbent Meg Herbert and it would take a long time to catch up.
“I’m not Meg and I’m not the Messiah — I’m not a grand, universal solution to ministry problems — but I will do my best.”
‘Our task is to deal with people’
During the induction service Synod General Secretary the Rev. Dr Andrew Williams preached on Luke 9:28-43a, saying he hoped the Transfiguration story “could help inform us about how we are to live as disciples of Jesus”.
He said the story described a significant moment for mission and he quoted David Bosch: “mission is quite simply the participation in the liberating mission of Jesus wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie. It is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of community, for the sake of the world.”
Dr Williams noted the disciple’s request to make three dwellings, observing that building had always been a good program for mission. “It certainly keeps us busy and makes us think we are achieving something.”
But he asked, “Is it a missionary gift or millstone?” He said he suspected the church could be suffering missiological autism, like the disciple, not knowing what he was saying. Autism, he said, was defined as “characterised by some degree of inability to comprehend or communicate, failure to relate effectively and inappropriate or obsessive behaviour”.
He said, “There is not enough awareness of the environment in which we are placed in mission. It’s not simply about saying the wrong thing — it’s ‘not knowing what you are talking about’.”
Dr Williams also thought the church spent too much time worrying and “fiddling while Rome burns”.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you say it, we are consumed by an astonishing amount of trivia. It really is time to make the easy decisions and get to the big issues.”
The disciples, he said, were listening anew, hearing God in a new way, with an unexpected message.
“Filtering out the white noise; discernment is our task.”
There were some situations, he said, that needed transforming or transfiguring — that needed to be charged with the presence of God.
Dr Williams also said, “The story reminds us that the whole of the religious experience did not happen for the disciples up the mountain … They didn’t stay up the mountain, perpetuating spiritual bliss. They went back down again, and the really important thing is what they did when they got back down.
“Jesus immediately gets involved in healing an epileptic boy. After all that serenity on the mountaintop, all that sense of God’s presence, all of a sudden we’re dealing with a boy who needs medical help.
“Ecstasy and epilepsy do belong together in the story. The vision and the valley cannot be separated any more than spirituality and justice can be separated. “And we, like the disciples, find it hard to handle. But Jesus, fresh from the mountaintop tackles the first thing at hand, which is a child of God and, even more explicitly, a child of God in need.”
Dr Williams said in the Philippines the Tagalog word for holy was spelled “banal”. He said, “Perhaps the holy is found in the midst of the banal. Our task is to connect the wonder of the spiritual experience to the very down-to-earth realities of our daily life.
“Our task is to deal with people! People who can describe the wonder of their religious experience by speaking of their call to ministry. People who make mistakes. People who are both banal and holy. People who are loved by God and for whom Christ died. In short, the Church.
“Our task is to live by that divine command: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Dr Williams concluded with prayer:
O God, we always seem to want to carve out a bit of impregnable space where we can go and be ‘religious’ and get away from all the evil and compromise and the deceit.
Deny us that distortion and show us where the signs of your presence truly are, in the banal as well as the beautiful, in the midst of engagement and concern, and help us to pull it all together so that there is no time when we are really separated from you or from any of your children. In Jesus’ name. Amen
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