Rector’s Report to the 175th Annual General Meeting (Vestry) on October 22, 2017


By Barry Parker, Rector (Senior Minister)

Posted on November 1, 2017

Dear Friends,

We gather in humility, after our sermon from James a few minutes ago, to thank the Living God as we consider and receive an incredible legacy of St. Paul’s Bloor Street. I am convinced that one of the reasons we are who we are, is the constant focus and re-focusing on our identity—who God is calling us to be—even after 175 years.

As I have mentioned in the Annual Report, one of the realities of getting older is the change in our eyesight. Very few of us will escape diminished sight as we age, even to the point where with St. Paul, we are capable “…of only seeing but a poor reflection, as in a mirror,” (1 Cor. 13:12).

So, we need to intentionally look to see what God is doing. For one of the dangers for a church like ours, especially in this 175th Anniversary year, is that the remarkable legacy that we have received can become a brittle aging process. This includes a diminished vision, to the point of only seeing what is right in front of us, what we have now, and missing God’s plan for St. Paul’s as we lean into the future. The loss of Godly vision for our church will have only one consequence: our demise as a church, for “where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Prov. 29:18)

As I have mentioned recently, the assumptions that planted and formed St. Paul’s for generations has radically changed.

A quick recap: The Christian Church is shifting and profoundly changing throughout the world. To be clear, the central mission of the Christian Church has not changed. It has always been an outward mission focused on sharing the love that Jesus has for the world, with the world.

One of the momentous changes we are experiencing is the shift out of Christendom. Since the fourth century, Christendom has placed Christianity as the established religion. Christianity was seen as synonymous with the Western world, the ‘official’ religion if you will. This had practical application. Christianity was the singular, dominant religion, meaning “everyone” either attended a local church or considered themselves attached to one. For example, the Anglican church growth strategy in the 1940’s after WWII, as well as during the 50’s and 60’s; was simply to build churches. Open the doors and the churches would be full.

Times have changed. 

We now live in what is called post-Christendom. Post-Christendom is the cultural loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in favour of many alternative worldviews, especially in the Global North where Christianity had previously flourished. When we speak of post-Christendom, we are making the point that the church no longer occupies this central place of social and cultural domination. Western civilization no longer considers itself to be formally, officially, or even nominally Christian.

We have one of two choices. We can be depressed at the demise of cultural Christianity, evidenced by the decline of so many churches in numbers and influence. Or, we can see this as a God given opportunity to share the good news of Jesus in new, fresh and creative ways.

At St. Paul’s Bloor Street, we believe that God is Sovereign and that Jesus is the Head of His Church. We believe the world still needs the hope, meaning and purpose that is found only in Jesus Christ. To that end, I believe we share a deep optimism and hope that infuses all of what we are and what we do St. Paul’s. Yes, we have challenges and issues to engage. But we also believe that God intends his Church to grow in health and spiritual depth. We long to invite as many as possible on this journey of faith. 

Yet, even as we give God the credit, praise and thanks for his marvellous activity in our midst, there are storm clouds on the horizon for the Canadian Christian Church. Archbishop George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, was constant in his refrain that the Anglican Church is “one generation from extinction.” This is more than a truism—it is our reality today. St. Paul’s Bloor Street is not immune to this reality.
 
What is the bottom line? At St. Paul’s Bloor Street, we are seeking to follow Jesus as his disciples with passion and vision. Full stop.
 
The business we will consider today is but a brief picture, frozen in time—of today, the past 175 years, and looking with vision to the future. Today’s gathering is more than reporting on activity, quantifiable metrics, and the busy-ness of well-intentioned people. This annual meeting is a picture in time of God’s marvellous activity as evidenced in the lives and witness of the people who call St. Paul’s Bloor Street their spiritual home. 
 
A reminder for us all: a Christian disciple is one who is learning to follow Jesus in every aspect of life. At St. Paul’s, a disciple’s journey includes: active involvement, worship, financial contribution to ministry, prayer and study as well as sharing the Good News. At St. Paul’s we see discipleship as being the core, both individually and as a faith community. It is not optional as much as aspirational. A disciple is who we believe we are called to be. 
 
Based on the fundamental of discipleship, we can then see our Vision at St. Paul’s is that “by the power and grace of Jesus Christ, we seek to be a transformative community for the city.” We long to make a positive, gospel difference in our world. We believe that God longs to restore a broken world and God has invited us to participate in this reconciling, renovating work. At. St. Paul’s, we have the opportunity, by the Grace of God, to engage in profound and vast ministry needs. 
 
This vision is expressed in our Mission of St. Paul’s, which is “equipping disciples to make disciples.” These are more than words for they inform all that we seek to be and do.
 
The following Annual Report will highlight that we are moving forward in seeking to glorify God through His Vision and Mission for us. Our three primary ministry goals of the past year -discipleship, leadership and stewardship - as you will read, are expressed in so many ways by so many people. As we moved through 2016 and 2017, we can see the continuing unfolding of these goals. Our year culminated with the great 175th Anniversary worship service where we gathered to thank God for the remarkable witness of St. Paul’s over so many years. 
 
As I said at the beginning, I am convinced that one of the reasons we are who we are, is the constant focus and re-focusing on our identity—who God is calling us to be—even after 175 years. I believe God is re-focusing our identity to play to our strengths. That has occurred in our history when we look outside of ourselves—when we serve the world outside the confines of our church. Whether that be for example, the building of an orphanage in Turkey, a hospital in China, or providing hundreds of bicycles to young girls in India so they could safely ride to school to continue their education.
 
In the coming year, we will build upon what we have received. There will be three major areas of focus. 
 
First, we will hone our focus on evangelism—proclaiming the good news of Jesus in word and deed. The primary vehicle will be our continued participation in the Alpha experience. In the past year, approximately 150 people have participated in the Alpha experience here at St. Paul’s. This year, we have participated in the massive social media campaign in the GTA to raise awareness of the opportunity to explore questions of life and faith through Alpha. Another aspect will be to highlight serving opportunities where we can physically witness to God’s good news in reaching out to bless others in need.
 
Second, we will enhance our discipleship process—from community building, Christian basics, a reinvigorated small group ministry, to learning opportunities. All of these opportunities are formative elements that comprise a more streamlined and organic goal of glorifying God by serving and living as formed disciples of Jesus. 
 
Part of our discipleship process will be the formation of a new generation of leaders, what we called in the Above and Beyond Capital campaign—MAP or Ministry Apprenticeship Program. We will seek to resource, teach and form Christian leaders to serve God and the Church in our City. St. Paul’s has always been an incubator for ministry, allowing ministries to grow, fail, succeed and flourish for the Kingdom of God. We see such a need for this with respect to raising up young leaders for the world of today and tomorrow.
 
Third, we will continue to focus on our worship life together. Worship and prayer are at the heart of discipleship, but also our Anglican tradition. We will seek to offer a range of worship expressions as well as a deeper emphasis on prayer. I am convinced that if our ministry is not undergirded by serious and intentional prayer—St. Paul’s will languish.
 
Evangelism, discipleship and worship are the general emphases on the next season of ministry. 
 
There are some specific things in the coming months I want to highlight.
 
First: I mentioned the Above & Beyond capital campaign. It is not done as pledges are still coming in. Yes, we have paid off our massive renovation debt and we thank God for that. Yet, we are still looking to fund the Ministry Apprenticeship Program. I am hoping that we will have a concrete plan to implement this important program soon.
 
Second: Improvements to our worship space. The physical issues that we were not able to address during our massive Nehemiah Renovation Project a decade ago, or the Above & Beyond capital campaign, are still very present. Our current investigations are providing a much better picture as to where we stand. There are major areas of concern in the church:
 
The electrical system is 105 years old and needs to be upgraded to meet current building codes.
With the towering buildings surrounding us causing increasing shadowing, substandard lighting needs to be improved for better visibility as well as energy efficiency.
Ineffective sound is an ongoing issue that needs to be resolved.
Finally, seating in the church is a growing issue. The pews are getting towards their ‘past due’ date and repairing them is more and more challenging.
 
The proceeds from Above & Beyond will help towards this but once we have investigated the costs of these projects we will need to consider other funding options. 
 
Third: We are undertaking a reorganization of our entire staff team so that we can be more effective in our ministry. Due to our size and complexity we need to operate differently if we are to respond to the new challenges we face. In the coming months, we will internally shift roles and emphases, so we can serve our communities more effectively. We believe that any impact these changes may have on you will be positive, and I ask for your prayers for all our staff as we move through this reorganization.
 
Fourth: let me tell you about St. George the Martyr. 
 
St. Paul’s Bloor Street has a long history of seeing needs and striving to meet those ministry needs. When the Diocese of Toronto via Bishop Jenny Andison, recently asked us to collaborate with them in rebuilding a strategic congregation located reasonably close to SPBS, we saw this as an opportunity to re-energize another historic, faithful church in the heart of the City. 
 
St. George the Martyr, located at 197 John Street, is nestled on the south end of Grange Park between the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Ontario College of Art and Design. At the end of 2016, this congregation requested the Diocese take over administration of the church, and take charge of rebuilding the congregation in numerous ways. Our own Executive Pastor, Joyce Badley, has been the SGTM Diocesan Administrator since early spring to make this rejuvenation possible. Along with Nadia Smid, a member of SPBS, they have been stabilizing and assisting SGTM to begin the transition to renewing a robust and vital ministry. This was the first step.
 
As SPBS is considered one of the best examples of a dynamic congregation with incredible resources, the second step came this past summer when we were asked to make St. George’s a mission of St. Paul’s. We accepted this exciting opportunity as we long to see effective and transformative ministry flourishing in our City. That means that St. George’s is now run by a Board of Management with myself as the Chair and the Incumbent. The Board is a competencies-based Board comprised of members from St. Paul’s and St. George’s.
 
You will rightly wonder about the impact on our ministry of St. Paul’s. We do not anticipate any changes to our ministry, only collaborations and synergies that will enhance the ministry of both parishes. The Diocesan leadership is enthusiastically supporting this initiative, particularly the Archbishop and Chancellor. Our student intern, Orvin Lao, is the Lay Pastoral Associate of St. George’s, and the Clergy of St. Paul’s will serve as Priest at their Communion services once per month. It is our vision to rebuild St. George’s into a sustainable, thriving congregation that will be self-supporting in all facets. Hence, we see this as an opportunity to contribute to broader Kingdom ministry in downtown Toronto, until St. George’s is back on its feet.
 
Finally, I thank God for each of you. From our exceptional Ministry Team and Support Ministries, to the Board of Trustees, to the many parishioners and members who serve in so many capacities to honour God in some manner—THANK YOU! May we continue to seek after God’s heart, to listen for His voice, to respond in obedience as we follow Jesus together.