[This is my speech to the 2020 NSW Assembly as the Immediate Past Moderator]
It is normal for the past moderator in giving an account of his term in office to offer an assessment of the state of the Presbyterian Church in NSW and ACT. To take the temperature as it were of the church and to give the Assembly some insight that might guide its deliberations.
I confess that I have no idea. I have not completed my scheduled visits to either Presbytery as I expected. I did visit some schools about four months ago and I vaguely recall attending the opening of a new wing of an aged care facility. In fact I’m sure that Jeof Falls was there too. But these days I count myself lucky if I get up before midday and get to bed before midnight. I have no idea of what you are going through or what you need unless like me you are just grateful to get through Sunday alive and are looking forward to a 12 month holiday.
I confess that I am disappointed, to say the least. But I refuse to use the language of failure. I have not failed. I did not choose this. Nothing in my training or experience prepared me for this. There was no great old soul that I could lean on, that I could turn to for wisdom who could tell me what to do from what he went through in his youth. No one in living memory has had to do what I have done. I have simply done my best and for the rest of my life I will have to be content with that.
So I have no wise words for you. I have no idea of your responsibilities or of the challenges you face. For all I know you are the General Manager of a statewide denomination with millions of dollars invested in shares and property wondering how long the recession will last. Or you could be the Principal of a Theological College with scores of students relying on you to prepare them for a ministry in the middle of this. Or you could be a pastor with a member dying alone in a nursing home, unable to give them the comfort of the gospel without dressing up like you work in a nuclear reactor during a meltdown.
So I have no wise words for you, unless it is this: in Ephesians chapter 6 the apostle Paul talks about the armour of God. You know, with the shield of faith and the belt of righteousness and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And you are possibly wondering what you are meant to do with them. If you, as the apostle Paul implies you are, a soldier in the Lord’s army equipped with these things, what does he expect you to do with them. Are you expected to advance? Are you meant to charge the enemy? Are you meant to defeat the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms single-handedly? No. What is expected of you is that you stand. Stand your ground. Stand your ground. Or if you need a chair, then sit your ground. Or if you need a nap in the afternoon then take it. And you know, if you need four weeks off, it wouldn’t kill you to take them. And if you’ve got some long service leave, I hear they’ve got some lovely beaches in Queensland and there are a lot of lovely golf courses along the Murray River as long as you stay on the right side of it. And if you need to join a renewal retreat, please consider it. And if you need counselling, or your spouse does, or your assistant’s spouse does, then call the Presbyterian Counselling Service, because without those wonderful people I wouldn’t be where I am today. Now, where was I? Oh, that’s right. I was talking about the armour of God. You see with the armour of God you don’t have to win. You only have to stand. You, yes I’m looking at you, you only have to play for a draw against the powers and principalities because the victory belongs to the Lord Jesus.
In conclusion, a few years ago we stopped making our state moderators wear Batman costumes with capes. And that’s because we realised that they weren’t super heroes. Believe me, if I can do this job, anyone can. If I can, you can. Just remember that you aren’t a super hero either. COVID 19 isn’t going to go away because of the power of your faith, and your puny prayers alone aren’t going to hold the church together. Those things are way above your pay grade.
We’ve been given the armour of God and we don’t have to win. We only have to stand our ground and play for a draw. Because the victory belongs to Jesus.