|Our 2016 liturgical candle||
Welcome to this thought-provoking issue of our newsletter, with a rather different structure than usual.
It centres on a report about Our Mark the Evangelist Futures Project (MTEFP), which is reaching a pivotal stage. At a Congregational meeting on 20 March, we will receive for the first time a narrowed down list of three options for our consideration. This report, prepared by Alan Wilkinson on behalf of the working group, suggests a framework for thinking about the relevant issues and choosing the best option.
Craig’s letter guides our reading of this major document, and together these items form the core of the newsletter. There are two others: they appear unrelated to each other, and to the “business” of the newsletter – and yet, a theme has emerged. In describing our 2016 liturgical candle, Mary Sutherland tells of a beautiful locked church in a tiny hamlet in Umbria and the structurally and culturally important crypt belonging to the Commune (which refuses to repair it).
Finally, we cross the world and come closer to home and our time, to Treasure Island, a Fijian-owned and run resort. Even before the hurricane it had a pressing need which we at Mark the Evangelist could easily meet. It isn’t about frescoes or buildings – just books. Please read the newsletter right through to the end so I can tell you the story.
I expect by now you’ve guessed our theme for Autumn!
Some music first. With the gorgeous sound of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra still ringing in my ears from their concert this week, here’s a treat: a mix from concerts over the past few years. (They’re back in May with the Mozart Requiem).
Alternatively, read my review of this week’s concert, and imagine the sound!
Our 2016 liturgical candle
This year the cross on our liturgical candle comes from part of a crumbling former Benedictine Monastery we saw in Bardi Petoia in Umbria, on the way to Montone. Our friend Lucia came across this remnant church and its Romanesque carvings when she was cycling round Umbria in central Italy. The cloisters are ruined and full of weeds. The beautiful locked church in this tiny hamlet belongs to the Diocese but the structurally and culturally important crypt on which it rests belongs to the Commune which refuses to repair it.
Dom Vito the priest had been there 45 years and only warmed to visitors when he could see “they love my church.” He is greatly burdened by the crumbling crypt which is sealed, damp and unsafe but full of Romanesque treasures. This local impasse between church and state in the Upper Tiber Valley is deeply rooted in the history of Italy and seems nearly insoluble. It makes our problems at Mark the Evangelist seem minor!
When our candle is finished we plan to email a picture of it to Lucia in Italy to give to Dom Vito. We want him to know that even in Australia we remember the beauty of his church and we are celebrating it with this candle.
One thing needful
We have a big year ahead of us at Mark the Evangelist. In some senses, the church ought always to be having “big years”, even if some in fact end up being more mundane than others! The particular thing which will wax large to make this year bigger than – or at least very different from – others is the approaching congregational conversation and decision-making about the future shape of our shared life as the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist.
This is, in some respects, a property-related discussion but it is also very much a mission-related discussion which touches on every aspect of the life and sense of identity of the congregation. The process we are employing to make this decision is very well described in Alan’s piece in this edition of MtW. What follows here from me is something of a “thinking out loud” about the kind of decision we are going to have to make.
Our study is enquiring into two basic options for the congregation, assuming that a third option – doing nothing about the condition of Union Memorial Church (UMC) – is irresponsible. These two options are basically:
The ongoing property options study we have commissioned is focussed principally on the onsite options. It will specify in some detail just what could be financially viable onsite, and what kinds of risks would be in place for any viable options. In relation to the offsite options, our present study can really only advise on what we might yield in a full site sale, and something of the likely costs were we to attempt to purchase or rent at another location.
To some extent, our choice to stay or go will be directed by the finances and risks involved: some options will simply be too expensive or risky. Yet finances will not determine for us what to choose. For any onsite options which do look viable, we will still have to weigh up factors like the ongoing significance of the Curzon Street site for the congregation and its mission, in terms of location, church heritage, visibility and accessibility, and these factors over against considerations related to the money invested in such buildings as these and future flexibility on the site. Even if we could afford to stay onsite, we remain free to consider it better to leave.
It is also important to recognise that while we may be faced with a choice between an onsite and an offsite option, these are choices for quite different kinds of things. A decision for an onsite future will be quite specific about the future shape of Mark the Evangelist in terms of property and identity. In particular, we will know from the moment of that choice that we will remain “Mark the Evangelist”, in our “own” space, whatever specific shape that space will be. More particularly, we will remain free to do our “own” thing – liturgically, theologically, communally and in relation to Hotham Mission, among other things. It might be a long ride, but the destination would be clear.
By contrast, this is not guaranteed in the offsite option. Re-accommodation will require a suitable site to be found. One particular offsite UCA location for our accommodation has been mentioned in our congregational discussions already, which I’ll not name specifically here as that location has not yet been consulted, and we do best to not to commit the proposal to print before the location is consulted! This mysterious allusion aside, it would be an “easy” and straightforward option if we could swing it, and one we could take up almost immediately.
If, however, it could not be realised, we would then have a long process of working through other site options or congregational amalgamations. Among these other options would be some which provided us with our “own” space, while others would involve negotiating with other church communities. But we need to keep in mind that what we might not be able to do is say, “We will move offsite if we can move to [wherever], but otherwise we’ll go with an onsite options”. This is because “wherever” might not actually be available. The offsite choice may be committing ourselves to a journey of discovery of a new home.
In this journey there are two principal possible ends. We can seek to accommodate ourselves, which then raises questions about how we decide what is a good location, or whether we actually want a permanent location and would be willing to be a little less secure because of other freedoms this would entail. For example, renting a suitable worship space in a commercial building might be cheaper than building and maintaining our own property, releasing money for other ministries and freeing us to upsize or downsize our space as required. Alternatively, we might seek to amalgamate with another congregation (UCA or ecumenical), which could risk losing something of what is valued at MtE if it involves a (re)negotiation between ourselves and another of church cultures. This doesn’t have to be bad, but we should be aware that it might be part of the deal.
The point of all this is not to prejudice our thinking in one direction or another, but to state clearly at least some aspects of what we are deciding for, when it comes to decision. Deciding to stay onsite includes deciding for ongoing and relatively unchallenged identity, with commitments to the ongoing maintenance of these buildings and the limitations they might impose. Going offsite could liberate us at some levels, and could be very challenging and demanding at others.
The important thing is, however, that neither the present property options study nor the wider implications of one choice or the other can make our decision for us. What matters in making our decision is not merely the money or the location or the identity but precisely the question, “What matters?” And so, as we move into this discussion now with fuller intent, we need – first as individuals – to have a clear sense of what matters to us: what it is which most needs to be preserved and what it is which most needs to be enabled by the decision we make. This will necessarily be a “first as individuals” determination, although it will then need to be negotiated within the wider community of the congregation, employing such a peaceable wisdom as I’ve spoken about before.
This won’t be easy. It is not easy to identify what is central and indispensable to a culture or a relationship when we are already in it and there are many quite dispensable but nevertheless worthwhile things going on. What matters? What must be preserved, or enabled? As we work together on the task now at hand – balancing budgets and travel times and aesthetics and energy levels and the sheerly idiosyncratic – we need to be working towards saying what the “one thing needful” (Luke 10.42) is which is being honoured in our decision. Then we will be free to decide.
Mark the Evangelist Futures Project
Frequently Asked Questions
Our Mark the Evangelist Futures Project (MTEFP) is reaching a pivotal stage. At a Congregational meeting on 20 March, we will receive for the first time a narrowed down list of three options for our consideration. This article provides a ‘re-cap’ of what the project is all about, the key steps which are being followed, and how it is likely to unfold into the future. It is presented like a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), much of which you may have seen on the MtE website last year. Skim through the headings and find the question that is most relevant for you.
What is the Mark the Evangelist Futures Project (MTEFP)?
Is the MTEFP simply a property question?
What is the expected outcome of the MTEFP?
Why are we doing this feasibility study?
Why have we engaged external consultants?
Who is doing the work this study requires?
Who makes the final decision?
How long will it take?
What steps is the Options Study following?
When and what were the mission objectives we established?
What were the preliminary property options which were identified?
Option 0: Status Quo – stay as we are at present;
What were the broad configurations of buildings for each property option?
How did the consultant arrive at a short list of options for the consideration of the Congregation?
When is the Congregation going to have the opportunity to consider this report?
Will the 20 March Congregational meeting be required to decide its preferred option on that day?
Who will decide on the preferred option?
What is the final report for Synod and plan of action?
Is MtE involved with the Business Case?
What happens after Synod approval?
How can I find out more?
Editor’s note: Thanks to Alan for putting together this comprehensive document (and in such a way that it needed virtually no editing!)
Now to complete the picture … a trip to an exotic island! Just recently, before Hurricane Winston hit, my daughter Jess, her boyfriend and three children (between them) had a low-key holiday at the magically named Treasure Island in Fiji. As the emphasis was on local activities, they were all invited to attend the village church. The singing was rich in harmony, but the books being used (whether Bibles, prayer or hymn books) were in a dreadful state, missing covers and even pages, with many people sharing the few they had.
Jess reported this, with the query: couldn’t your church do something for them, mum?
Hold that thought.
Late last month, Fiji suffered a disaster, as reported in The Guardian. “Cyclone Winston, the worst storm recorded in the southern hemisphere, left 42 people dead, according Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office. The category-five storm also left many without water and it could be weeks before electricity is restored in some areas.”
Treasure Island resort was badly hit, but the management of the resort has its eye across the needs of the people, as evident from this letter …
“Sad news as we continue to update our list of damages to homes of Treasure and Bounty staff. So far we have received reports from 61 members of staff, with more than 50 reporting extensive damage to roofs. With the heavy rains we experienced alongside Tropical Cyclone Winston, loss of roofing means that for most of our staff, their personal belongings, electrical items, and furnishings are also damaged or destroyed. As kitchens in Fiji are often located outside the main house many staff have also lost their entire kitchen due to it being blown away!”
Treasure has a Staff Recovery Fund, and later in this newsletter there’s information about the Uniting Church’s Appeal. But I am still keen to pursue the question of books for the Church. I have made contact with a Church councillor to find out what they need, the cost etc. (It seems that it will be best to send money as the local language books will be sourced in Fiji).
Please think about helping me in this project. I’ll use the pew sheets for updates on what we need to do. In the meantime, if you prefer to give through the Uniting Church, the details are at the end of this newsletter.
I’ll sign off, with thanks to our contributors, and Rod for making a coherent whole of this newsletter. Oh, and our theme? What do we really need to worship in the way that we should?
I hope we find the answer!
Share Appeal for Fiji
From: Angela Goodwin Angela.Goodwin@victas.uca.org.au
Donations will support UnitingWorld’s partner, the Methodist Church in Fiji. The Methodist Church is the largest denomination in the country, covering an extensive network across 55 districts. Funds will be forwarded to UnitingWorld and used to support the Methodist Church’s relief efforts, including re-establishing healthcare and schools, replanting crops and livelihoods and ‘building back better’ to safeguard communities against future cyclones.
If individuals wish to give a donation they can do so online by visiting www.shareappeal.org.au. Please note that we are currently experiencing difficulties with the website and are working to have it resolved as soon as possible.
Donations can also be made by calling 1800 668 426. Cheques and money orders can be sent to Share, PO Box 24154, Melbourne, Vic, 3001.
Palm Sunday 20 March 10AM
Maundy Thursday 24 March 7:30PM (including the Eucharist and the foot-washing ritual)
Good Friday 25 March 10AM
Easter Vigil 26 March from 8PM
Easter Day 27 March 10AM (including the Eucharist and a re-affirmation of baptism)
20 March MtE Futures Project Congregational Meeting
10 April MtE 2016 AGM
17 April Tour of Hotham Mission Program Sites
24 April MtE luncheon following worship
1 May MtE Futures Project Congregational Meeting