Managing Life's Transitions in a Faith Community

'Lost in Transition'

Kia Kaha! "Be strong and courageous ... for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" Joshua 1:9


I am delighted to be here in Wellington with you for your annual conference. Each time I have attended conference I have returned home feeling excited that Faith Community Nursing is alive and well. I know our numbers are still on the low side but we must persevere and get the message out that this is a ministry whose time has come.

Naturally I feel a little bereft that Elaine cannot be with me this year. As many of you may know, Elaine is working hard to complete the thesis for her Master of Health Studies degree from Otago. However it needs to be said that Elaine is as convinced as ever that Faith Community Nursing is a vital component of the Church's pastoral ministry and like me, indeed all of us, aches to see more and more nurses responding to the call to be a part of our pioneering venture. Congratulations to you if you are practising as a Faith Community Nurse and well done if you have put aside time this weekend to find out more about it.

As our Cathedral Parish Nurse, Jane Wulff will testify, last Friday we had an opportunity to talk to a motion at our Diocesan Synod in Nelson. The motion came at the suggestion of Bishop Richard and was:

THAT this Synod endorses and encourages the Parish Nurse ministry within the Nelson Diocese and that all parishes and mission districts consider the possible role that a Parish Nurse may have in meeting their pastoral needs and contributing to their missional focus.

The motion was proposed by Russell Smith a lay representative from the Cathedral and seconded by Yvonne, the Priest Assistant. Elaine was then invited to speak and gave a moving and challenging address which was received by acclamation. I addressed synod as Patron of Parish Nursing – to no acclamation, I might add! After a brief but positive debate the motion was passed without any dissent whatsoever. Now the hard work begins in following up this positive initiative and working for the wider implementation of the ministry in our diocese.

The overall theme of this conference is 'Managing Life's Transitions in a Faith Community' and is very intriguing. From cradle to grave we are all in a state of transition, are we not? The one constant about humanity is that we never stay the same. Some of us may think we do but I would beg to differ. Through all the stages of life: birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and older age, we are all on a journey, the journey of life. As our bodies change so mentally and spiritually we respond and often change with them. For some, life's changes are painful but for other's they sail through them without a care.

Alongside physical, mental and spiritual changes, our situations can change also. We may change job or even be made redundant but we have to come to terms with such times, don't we? Added to that we see changes in our families, we sometimes move house (as Elaine and I have done this year), we change cars and clothes and appearance and ... and so many more changes which have an impact upon our lives.

This year has been one of monumental change for Elaine and me. On Easter Day I concluded 16 years as Dean of Nelson Cathedral, a ministry for which I was truly privileged. Last year Elaine and I began to feel that it was time to think about leaving the Cathedral and it was time for the people at the Cathedral to have a new leader. O yes, I could have soldiered on until retirement but it isn't in my nature to do that. The big question, however, was where should we go and what ought I to do?

Now, I have always been a believer in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and knew intuitively that the Spirit would lead me when the time was right. As I look back on my life, as a junior clerk, a student nurse, a (State) Registered Nurse, a theological student, a Curate, a Vicar, a Canon, a Dean, and now Advisor for the Care of Older People, I can recognize the hand of God at work in guiding and encouraging me at each step.

I came to the decision that our future was outside of Nelson. I pursued different vacancies but didn't feel confident enough to make even one application. And then Bishop Richard and I began to talk and pray about the future. It became apparent that he didn't want me to leave Nelson Diocese and he started to outline to me the making of a new job, a new ministry. When Richard first shared his thoughts I was underwhelmed, to say the least. I thought that he was trying to ease me out of the cathedral so that he could put his own appointee in my place. Inside I resisted and resented the idea. Until I spoke to Elaine, that is. My dear Elaine saw the possibilities and the challenges in the new job and I began to calm down and allow God's Spirit the opportunity to guide me. Added to this, I realised that to do this job would mean less of an upheaval for Elaine as she was on the brink of beginning her thesis. Also, I thought, for 33 years Elaine has followed me whenever I moved to a new job. Now it was time to think about her and her professional life. I was beginning to warm to the idea.

Then Bishop Richard and I met again and we began to put more flesh on the bones of the idea. This would be a pioneering ministry, the first in New Zealand (although just after it was announced that I would take up this ministry, it was announced that Alison Jephson would be doing something similar in the Christchurch diocese). It suddenly dawned on me that the new post would dovetail perfectly with my first profession, that of a nurse. Richard said that I would be given time to promote Parish Nursing as part of my overall ministry and this really pleased me. Also, I was invited to become Chaplain to the retired clergy of our diocese, a role I am delighted to fulfil as I get to care for those who have offered years of caring themselves. Bishop Richard let me know that in honour of my term of office as dean of the Cathedral, he would make me Dean Emeritus for life. So, adding it all up, ideas became a call to ministry and I recognized the hand of God in it all. I said yes, the press release came out before Christmas and soon I was saying my farewells to the Cathedral family at Eastertide.

So yes, life has changed a lot for me. On a personal note, one of the plusses in changing work is that Elaine and I now live in our own house. After 33 years of living in clergy accommodation, including the deanery at Nelson, we gave notice to our tenants and moved into the house in late April. And we love it! It is smaller and cosier and we can decide about what needs doing and when. (Mind you, I cannot send the bills for maintenance to the Church treasurer anymore!) To add to our enjoyment of the house we have even acquired another dog – Buster is his name! – a King Charles spaniel who is aged about 6. Making changes has many ramifications, not only to the employee but to family, friends, house and home and Church. As Dean John Donne said in the 17th century, 'No man is an island entire of itself ...' and he was spot on. When change comes then it affects many people and we need to be aware of that.

I mentioned that our church-going had undergone change as well. I have been blessed to have worshipped in Nelson Cathedral and must admit to having become very comfortable there. Under my leadership traditional Anglican worship has been consolidated and yet we were open to new ideas as the Spirit moved our hearts and minds. I knew there was nowhere else like the cathedral in Nelson Diocese and so Elaine and I began a weekly church visiting programme to see if we would like to commit ourselves to one parish or another. We have experienced a variety of worship, some of it good, some of it marginal to say the least but we have been blessed wherever we have been.

Let me tell you about my new job. I have already outlined the core of the job but I want to share with you what has happened since I began on April 6th. In order to give you an overview, let me just share the bare bones of the job description.

The ministry will involve:

  1. Coordinating and encouraging eldercare programmes that currently exist within parishes.
  2. Developing new opportunities of 'eldercare' (drawing from parish nurse models or chaplaincy models etc.) at the parish level and within regions.
  3. Being an advocate for the elderly.
  4. Developing and promoting worship initiatives for the elderly.
  5. Encouraging parishes to draw on the gifts and time that older folk have when they enter retirement.
  6. Supporting ministries in rest homes in the Nelson Region and ensuring that this is happening in other regions.
  7. Ministering to retired clergy within the Nelson Diocese.
  8. Promoting relevant material to all ministry units regarding ageing and spirituality.

I hope that you can see from that job description that my new role is not a pre-retirement one. It is incredible to me (and Elaine) how many people have asked me how I am enjoying retirement! The care of older people is not a retirement hobby but a professional response to rapidly changing demographics. I don't know if any of you attended the Ageing and Spirituality conference in Auckland last year because I didn't. I have read the notes from the conference and am indebted to the Reverend Charles Waldegrave for the following statistics.

The post-War baby boomers start moving into the 65+ age group in 2011, and they move through in large numbers.

Statistics New Zealand projections indicate that they will add 100,000 people every 5 years from 2011 to 2036.

The largest increase is expected to take place in the decade 2021-2031 when an extra 276,000 are projected to move into this age group.

The median age of New Zealanders will move from 35 in 2004 to 46 in 2051.

Those 65 and over will move from 12% of the population in 2004 to 26% in 2051.

Over the same period that population will increase from 486,000 to 1,325,000.

I shared those statistics at our Diocesan Synod last week and then asked them this question. 'Do we have a mission or do we have a mission?' The answer is 'We do' and I believe Parish Nurses will be and in some places are in the vanguard of the mission to God's older people. Granted, the ministry of a Parish Nurse isn't exclusively with and for older people but by the very nature of the Church, it is likely that older people will be the prime users of this service and ministry.

Earlier on I outlined the jobs I have held. In terms of my ministries they include organist and choir director, lay preacher and ordained clergyman. Each time I needed to move on and engage in another ministry, I needed to engage in a lot of learning and upskilling. I left school with only 4 school certificates and so I was determined to do my learning as I progressed. To become an ordained person in the Church of England I needed to pass thirteen Ordination examinations, including New Testament Greek! With hard work and sacrifice I gained my BA and then a Master of Theology degree from Oxford University. Now, in order to be better equipped to fulfil my present call, I am engaging in training courses through the Selwyn Foundation in Auckland. Next year I am hoping to begin a post graduate Diploma in Ageing and Spirituality through Charles Sturt University in Canberra.

What I am saying is this. As professionals it is incumbent upon us to keep our education up to date in whatever field we are working. I seem to remember that part of the definition of being a professional is subscribing to a body of knowledge and this we can't achieve unless we are prepared to develop our minds and have them stretched. I could have taken the opinion that my nursing professional qualifications and experience PLUS my years as a lay preacher PLUS my 33 years as an Anglican Priest were enough to enable me to take on this role. However, I was determined that in order to work to the best of my ability, I needed to be stretched academically.

If God has called you to be a Parish Nurse, congratulations! You are at the spearhead of a new and exciting ministry, a mission which cares for God's people and is an incisive element of our mission to the community. What have you done, or indeed are doing, to give you the necessary resources to fulfil this call? Please remember, parish nursing is different from district nursing or practice nursing or any other form of nursing for that matter, and has its own needs and challenges for which we must be equipped. I hope you are making use of the training modules and reading the many books now available on the subject. (If you can't afford to buy books, then the Kinder Library at St John's College in Auckland has a good selection and you can borrow these as a postal borrower for no cost.)

When I finished theological college in 1977 I thought I knew everything I needed to know to be a successful minister. After almost 34 years as an ordained minister I know that another lifetime still wouldn't give me everything I needed to know to do this work, once described to me as the best job in the world! Thankfully we have our wonderful God with us who sends his Holy Spirit, the Teacher, the Counsellor, to lead us forward, equip us and challenge us to grow in the faith and knowledge of ministry.

Now, lest you thought this was going to be a sermon, I have put my text at the end, and it is this.

From now on we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:16-end

Your ministry as part of God's mission is nothing less than that. Now go to it. Kia Kaha! "Be strong and courageous ... for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go"

The Very Reverend Charles Tyrrell QSO