A Health Check on “Healthy Congregations” – Tom Mepham

Tom Mepham is a first-year ministry intern with KCML and a co-leader of Student Soul, a young adult congregation in Dunedin.

Since 1995’s General Assembly we have used a model for assessing the well-being of our Church called “Healthy Congregations” (see Appendix 1 in Strategic Directions). This provides us with a way to measure the health of each parish in the PCANZ. Putting this model to work would be the equivalent of sending a congregation to the doctor’s office for a full-scale health check up; and by extension, measuring the overall health of the whole PCANZ.

I wonder how healthy we are!

This model uses a qualitative assessment process (as is appropriate for measuring the most important things in church life) and focuses on four relationships: a congregation’s relationship with God; with the wider environment; with the wider church, and within it’s own life. (These are similar to the four relationships used in UK church circles: UP, OUT, OF, IN).

If I can read our most recent stats correctly (which is not a given, I assure you!), it appears that we have 273 parishes around the country. I don’t see the statistic about the number of congregations within these parishes, but the Mission Clarity document says 400. So I would like to know… how many congregations out of 400 would pass their “Healthy Congregation” check up?

Now, I fully appreciate that measuring health is an ongoing process, like sanctification, and it doesn’t just stop when a focus-group delivers a report. Even getting to the stage of having an accurate diagnosis of a congregation is a lot of work. So why bother going through with this measurement?

We bother, according to Strategic Directions, because “the local church is the agent of mission” and the whole point of being a national Church/denomination/network is that together we are more effective at “developing and sustaining healthy congregations for mission” than we would be alone.

I have some questions:

  1. How many of 400 congregations have undertaken a formal process to assess their health?
  2. How many are currently doing this process?
  3. What do we do with persistently unhealthy congregations?
  4. How many unhealthy congregations do we have?
  5. What percentage of our congregations need to be “healthy” to give the PCANZ as a whole a pass mark?
  6. Is there any way to measure the health of a denomination other than through a system-wide assessment of its congregations?

I’m not emotionally invested in the Healthy Congregations model. I was 9 years old when General Assembly approved it, and I haven’t read the minutes. Still, I can appreciate its value. Is it still a useful measure of our effectiveness in mission? If so, how do we ensure we’re putting it fully to work?

As it is a General Assembly gathering this year, maybe it’s a good time to ask for PCANZ to go for a check-up. We have a working measurement (and have had for 23 years). What’s the doctor going to say: are we headed for surgery? Going on a diet? Starting an exercise regime? Might we be talking hospice care? Or are the vital signs looking good?

Let’s find out!

 

 

Open Letter to the Church – response by Kevin Finlay

Kevin Finlay is a minister in the Howick Presbyterian Church

Aware of stresses that are occurring in my own region, it was really interesting to read the recent feed-back posted in an open letter to the Church, giving an over-all view that there may be stresses occurring in each Presbytery.  I don’t know how it is in reality. I can only comment on my observations within my own experience.  I can’t project those wider afield.  In fact my perception was that other Presbyteries were further down the track and making a better fist of the changes. so I was surprised at the strength of the letter! Continue reading

Open letter to the church – response by Rose Luxford

In September 2006 I was travelling around Germany on holiday while General Assembly was being held in Auckland. While in Wittenberg I received an email to ask if I would be on the Presbytery Reform Task Group which had just been agreed to at Assembly. Well, I had always been a fan of Presbytery and was a somewhat reluctant starter. But Assembly had for many years been talking of such a move and so our work began.

The idea of reforming Presbyteries did not just get plucked out of the air in order to give a task group something to do! For quite some time many Presbyteries had been struggling to do all the tasks and requirements expected of them.  Many ministers and lay people were getting discouraged and frustrated sitting through business meetings dealing with complex issues, and also the mundane,  and with always the same old voices speaking into the debates. There were many who felt disengaged and many had the view that we needed to be spending our time more creatively – being resourced and encouraged in ministry.  As one of my colleagues said the fact that many of the Presbyteries weren’t working well was an ‘inconvenient truth’.

It is true to say that the work of the Task Group got a lot of flak and elicited much feedback, so it was something of a surprise when the proposal to reform our Presbyteries was agreed to unanimously at the 2008 General Assembly. Obviously there was a mood for change and a feeling that God was leading us in a new direction.

Our new format of Presbyteries may not be perfect but there are many things that are working well.  Each geographical  area has had the opportunity to form itself in a way they feel will work for their context. It is very helpful to have a wider pool of people to draw from when there are difficulties experienced in a parish.  One such parish told its Presbytery that they would never have been able to deal with their difficulty within their previous Presbytery structure. It did not have the capacity or the expertise, and they were ‘too close’ to be objective.

Decision-making through email works very well in many situations. There are other times that Presbytery Council will form groups to go and speak to parishes, or individuals and that is effective and appreciated. There are opportunities for different groups to come and speak with Council.  There is the discretion to work out the best way of dealing with different situations.

Some ministers lament not getting together more regularly for business meetings. They feel that it was on the floor of Presbytery that they found collegiality; that it was in the cut and thrust of debate they learnt to live alongside others with divergent views. However others are very pleased that they do not have to sit through such meetings as they found them abrasive and depressing.  The resource groups instead gather for inspiration and resourcing. Some of these resource groups work better than others, but they are opportunities to gather, to learn, to encourage each other. And there are many informal groups around as well where people meet from time to time to support each other, share resources and so on. We need to be creative in forming such networks.

Was it cost effective to have large groups of people sitting around for hours doing complex as well as mundane business? Yes we have paid people to be executive officers for the Presbyteries, and thank goodness for that – getting ministers and lay people in parishes to do a lot of extra work on top of what they already do is not so cost effective.

I do think ministers and elders need to take responsibility to be involved in their Presbytery. Go to the resource group meetings. Attend ordination and induction services. Get involved on committees/work groups. Help grow the collegiality. Be pro-active. We live in a changing world and we can’t just lament the fact that ‘things aren’t the way they used to be’.  It is up to us all to contribute to having effective and visionary Presbyteries. It is up to us to help make this new thing work.

Open Letter To The Church

 

The following open letter has been circulated in the church over the last few week. In an effort to provoke discussion, Candour is publishing the letter and has solicited several responses from people around the country which will be offered as separate responses.  Any other comments are very welcome and can easily be offered by clicking ‘leave a comment’ immediately under the title of the article and the responses. Ed.

E te whanau Ihu Karaiti tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

Greetings, Kia Orana, Ta Lofa…

At the reunion of ministers celebrating the 50th anniversary of their entry into the Theological Hall, at Knox College, Dunedin, it was agreed that we should raise with the whole church our concern that the current structure of five Regional Presbyteries is failing the church.

We urge that a review of that structure be undertaken that addresses at least the following concerns:

  1. The size of the new Presbyteries and the distances to travel limits the opportunities to meet and discuss the issues facing parishes, the Presbytery itself, and the church as a whole.
  1. There is a loss of knowledge of the local parishes and their appreciation of the role of Presbyteries and the contribution the Presbyteries might make to the encouragement and development of the mission of the church at the local and national levels.
  1. The infrequency of meetings has led to a loss of collegiality and sense of involvement of all commissioners and the acceptance of the diversity and equality of all commissioners.
  1. An over reliance on the use of email and the internet to inform, discuss and make decisions is neither efficient nor inclusive of all those who should be involved and can reduce the ability of clergy and laypeople (especially those with limited computer access, skills or time) to participate fully.
  1. Face to face encounter is a prerequisite for the development of real understanding and leads to more informed decision-making.
  1. The expected cost efficiencies have not been realised as the Regional Presbyteries have had, for example, to employ administrators and pay larger travel allowances to those who serve on councils or coordinating committees.
  1. While it is appreciated that annual gatherings of what were called ‘Regional Conferences’ can provide encouragement, stimulation and inspiration for those seeking to improve the mission of the local church, their use as annual meetings of the Presbytery do nothing to improve the quality of the methods by which business is conducted, fellowship is deepened and trust built.
  1. When meetings of ministers are added as a compulsory beginning to the annual (or biannual) meeting of the Presbytery, the character of Presbyterianism is destroyed because lay people are not present.

Yours faithfully

The Rev Merv Aitken, The Rev. Des Botting, The Rev. Laurie Chisholm, The Rev. Dr. Allan Davidson ONZM, The Rev. Glenn Duncan, The Rev. Ian Haszard, The Rev. Neil Lambie, The Rev. Dr. John McKean, The Rev. John Niven, The Rev. Lester Simpson, The Rev. Reg Weeks, The Rev. Roger Wiig, The Very Rev. Peter Willsman