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50 years on Jack Penman reflects on community-facing ministry

Jack Penman was one of a small group of presbyters who marked the 50th anniversary of their ordination at Methodist Conference 2004. Jack was a key player in pivotal developments the church undertook in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

In an interview with Touchstone he recounts some of the highlights of a career that included Connexional, parish, and Methodist Mission appointments.

T: What was your first appointment?

JP: I was in Dunedin with the Methodist Mission as a probationer and then I spent four years in parish ministry in Christchurch. I was with the Cashmere-Somerfield parish. One of the things I did there was set up one of the church’s first stewardship programmes visioning a new Somerfield Street church.

T: How did church finances work at that time?

JP: Every circuit raised its own finances as did every board and committee. They all held their own appeals. For example, the Trinity College board not only ran the college, it was responsible for raising money. It was not an effective system because those who could make the best emotional appeals got the best support. In 1958 I was sent I travelled on deputation as the first executive officer of the Church Finance and Stewardship Committee, which was setting up a Connexional budget.

T: Was there opposition to the move?

JP: There was a lot of opposition to it. People didn’t want to give up the right of circuits to make their own appeals but the Church wanted to relieve them of that responsibility so they could focus on their mission.

We were very fortunate that we had people like GG Slater who were heads of public service sectors and insurance companies who led the Finance and Stewardship Committee. Cliff Flyger took over my role on the committee around 1962, which was about the time the Connexional budget was set up.

T: What did you do at that point?

JP: I returned to parish ministry in Takapuna, which enabled me to accept a WCC post-graduate scholarship at Bossey in Switzerland. At that time there was considerable emphasis on lay people. We worked on the basis that the church was the lay people and the function of the church was to be oriented to the community and work towards social transformation.

T: That sound very much like the language of today.

JP: It was. While I was at Takapuna I also chaired the committee that combined the different women’s organisations in the Church into the Methodist Women’s Fellowship. They were the Women’s Guild, the Fireside Club and the Mission Auxiliary.

At that time we launched the Auckland Methodist newspaper. It had a bit more bite than the Methodist Times and tried to influence things. We got it into every home in the Auckland district. It went for four years until it was replaced by the New Zealand Methodist, which went free to every Methodist home in the country funded by the Connexional budget.

T: How long were you at Takapuna?

JP: Five years. I thought I would stay there forever because it was so stimulating and the people were so marvellous but I got an invitation to go to Wesley Wellington. I accepted because it was in the capitol and the central city. Even though I am from Ashburton and always thought I would return to a provincial town, my first love has been the challenge of working in the city.

At that time the churches were heading toward union and we came together with the Anglican and Presbyterian churches in the central city to create an inner city team ministry. We were ecumenical and flexible. Our director Bob Scott acted as political broker between the government and the community, and we appointed community workers who helped people establish healthy neighbourhoods. Our approach was to help people meet their own needs, and we did not try to keep control of projects. That was the time of the dawn raids and we helped people cope with that.

T: How long did you stay at Wesley Wellington?

JP: For 13 years, until 1980. I then went to Pitt Street Church in Auckland and undertook an exchange ministry in the USA and retired in 1986. A bonus in retirement was serving for two years as acting principal of Trinity College.

T: What are your thoughts as you look back on your life in the Church?

JP: I have no regrets. Ministry was rewarding, challenging, and frustrating. I couldn’t have done it without my wife Daphne and the people in the congregations who gave us support, tolerance and love.

I am a bit sad the Church has become so conservative. We saw our place in the community but now the church seems overlaid with an introspection that isn’t healthy.