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PCANZ moderator looks to renew parish ministry

Ironically, the new moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Rt Rev Garry Marquand says his heart is local ministry rather than issues related to the national church.

Garry characterises himself as a practitioner rather than a theologian. As moderator he would like to encourage congregations to rethink their mission and focus on renewal.

Garry has spent his 27 years in ministry at a single Presbyterian parish in the Hamilton suburb of Fairfield. Long term ministry has enabled him to develop a number of enduring programmes.

“In my lighter moments I say I am still trying to pass my apprenticeship but I have remained in Fairfield with a sense of call. Though I have been in the same place geographically, the people in the congregation have changed, programmes have changed, and our approach to ministry has changed,” he says.

“And long term ministry has enabled us to develop our parish-based charitable trust Desert Spring Ministries. Through it we do social work in our immediate community which includes a food bank, advocacy in the courts, and training programmes for life skills and family skills.”

Overseas ministry is another concern of Garry’s parish. It raises funds for overseas charitable work, sends parish teams on short-term projects such as a recent work trip to East Timor, and supports career missionaries. It also has a sister church in Cambodia as a result of its sponsorship of Cambodian refugees.

Garry says his congregation is outward looking and has a sense of being connected with one another. He believes other, struggling congregations could build morale and gain a greater sense of commitment.

“I am not suggesting what we are doing can be copied. Rather the point is to dig around for the principles of enduring congregational life and mission.

“Like other mainline churches, the Presbyterian Church is declining. While we can tell lots of positive stories about what is happening in congregations, in some places numbers are dropping below critical mass and we need to encourage people to think again about how to use their time, gifts, and energy for mission.”

When Garry spoke to Touchstone just prior to Assembly 2004, he expected gays and lesbians in church leadership and financial shortfalls to be two major issues Assembly would address.

Council of Assembly has recommended finding a way people with differing views on homosexuality can co-exist within the Church. Garry says although there are strongly held and divergent views on the issue, Assembly should discuss the matter with respect and a sense of good will.

In regards to finances, he says with less money coming into the national church it is less able to employ staff to carry out specialist tasks. People now want to see with their own eyes how their money is being spent. While this may reflect less support for national initiatives, it also reflects stronger connectedness among churches and communities at the local level.