I’ve mentioned before that St Thomas’ is not a big or small church – but even in Sydney it’s a medium sized church.
For those of you who have been around only in the last ten years you may be interested to know we’ve had some comings and goings – almost all joyful.
In 1990 the 8am was the biggest service and since I had promised the Archbishop and people not to remove the Book of Common Prayer from St Thomas’ it has remained a Communion service with BCP once or twice a month. We have also kept the ministerial robes but – so clear-headed are the members – some have urged me to ditch them on hot days. You should know too that Len (and Barbara) Saville have cared for the 8am people so lovingly and wisely that all old tensions about secondary things have disappeared and only primary gospel things really matter. Over the 30 years many have gone to their reward but the Lord has kept and blessed us at 8am with 80-90 people.
The 10am service has stayed reasonably full for the past 27 years but in the early years we had very few aged between 35 and 50 – it was like a Body with some young and some older members but few in that middle stage. Then the Lord brought into our midst an injection of twenty to thirty such people – mature in faith and a huge gift to us. Two nearby churches had been through some doctrinal changes and some of them looked around for a place to come and bring their children. If I tell you that we gained families like Webster and Russell and Schultheiss and Macleod you will see how blessed we were. Obviously we don’t go stealing other sheep but sometimes they move for the food.
It was the evening service (7pm then 6pm then 5pm) that grew very quickly. From 8-10 people it suddenly became over 400 people with extra chairs at the back and under the organ pipes. There was no natural explanation for this although critics said that St Thomas’ “was the last station on the line to singledom” – in other words “go to St Thomas for a partner”. And some did come for the wrong reason. One very pretty girl told me “I’m here for six weeks – if I don’t find someone I’m off”. [Obviously making her mind up on looks and charm]!
The staff at the time said it was time to split the evening congregation into two. I felt uneasy about this but the thinking was we should create space for people to come. So we started a 5pm and 7pm and the congregation immediately fell into 150 people at 5pm (mostly 35-45 year olds) and 250 at 7pm (mostly 20-34 year olds). Interesting that the older group wanted an early night and the younger wanted a late night. The place looked much emptier, neither congregation grew to fill the building and we gained no extra people. Lesson??
In about 2001 the faithful minister at Naremburn/Cammeray (Brian Wynn) came to see me. He (very humbly) said he was retiring soon, the church was struggling, he thought I knew what I was doing (little did he know) and would I like to take over with him as my assistant? (Such grace). I said no but we could send some who were ready for a challenge to meet in his building at 5pm on Sundays. About 35 went and we assigned a student minister to lead the service then allocated a minister part time and then Rick Smith took the position (moving from St Thomas’ to Naremburn) full time. Under Rick the church grew to about 750 and both Naremburn and Cammeray are thriving.
The same opportunity came at Kirribilli and Paul Dale took some great people in about 2007 and under his faithful leadership St John’s Kirribilli (30-40 people) now has hundreds of people too. In 2011 Simon Flinders took the whole 5pm congregation to Northbridge to meet at 5pm there. Soon Simon was inducted as Rector and Northbridge too is in fine shape.
So we have farewelled some people – at cost in dollars and servants – but the Lord has blessed the opportunities, provided for us every step of the way and I am so grateful to the wardens and parish councillors who continued to think “kingdom” not “St Thomas’!” (Matt 6:33).
Yours in partnership,