Sunday Night Live Sermons
WESLEY MISSION AND 65 YEARS OF THE NEWCASTLE CITY MISSION
Rev Robert Smith, a member of our Wesley Mission Board for forty years, and a great leader of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and before that of the NSW Methodist Church was once the dynamic minister of Hamilton Wesley Methodist Church. Following his influence, this church has been responsible over the years for developing, in true Wesley tradition, a strong base for preaching the Gospel, and fulfilling the ministry of care for people in need. Newcastle Youth Service, established in 1965 as an activity of the Hamilton Wesley Church, evolved from the church’s desire to respond to a range of youth related concerns in the local community.
It is today one of the Hunter’s long standing and successful youth programs. However, times have changed, and the church today is unable to continue to sponsor this work. A few years ago, I was invited to help the Newcastle City Mission survive when it was close to closing with deep financial needs. I took a team of Wesley Mission senior staff and together we turned it round. Our General Managers Wayne Koivu and Richard Menteith deserve the credit for saving this organization and it eventually voted to become part of Wesley Mission. Now the Newcastle Youth Service has merged with Newcastle City Mission in a move that is set to provide an even more responsive and comprehensive service to the city’s young people.
Gary Izzard, Wesley Mission’s Regional Manager for Newcastle City Mission says, “Newcastle Youth Service is and always has been a service of high reputation within the local community. It has helped almost 1000 young people to change their lives in the past year alone. Young people need a service that is available, confidential, non-judgmental, non-directive and providing opportunities for change. Lives are changed every day and every week through staff just being there and by giving relevant care and support.” Newcastle City Mission has been supporting those in need within the local community through a vast range of community service activities since 1940. Newcastle Youth Service will continue to operate through its office at 150 Beaumont Street Hamilton and through its various outreach activities. Young people will not experience any interruption in accessing support services. This is a great story of co-operation and successful partnership as the influence of Wesley Mission continues to expand in the Hunter.
As part of a Ph.D., I made an intensive study into the ethos of Wesley Mission. I have compared it to other Central Methodist Missions in Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Comparisons have been made with other Parish Missions of the Methodist Church, most of which no longer survive. I compared the histories and the modus operandi of non-denominational city missions in major cities. I have contrasted our work with the inter-denominational works such as the YMCA’s and YWCA’s, and the other major denominational social welfare works such as the Salvation Army, Anglicare (The Anglican Home Mission Departments) and Centacare (The Roman Catholic welfare program) St Vincent de Paul, and a number of well known down-town missions in USA.
The research into the histories and ethos is far from complete. Much valuable material is now almost impossible to find. But archival and written histories do abound. A considered benchmarking exercise is possible. I have more than a dozen archival boxes filled with material in my study. From these studies I have been comparing and contrasting the work of Wesley Mission Sydney with each of these other Christian ministries of the last century. While much of our work over-laps, there are some unique features about Wesley Mission Sydney which may explain our continuous growth where almost without exception the others have died or are only a weakened version of what did exist, or have shifted widely from their Christian moorings to becoming little more than a extension of the welfare policies of the governments of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. My preliminary findings reveal from this bench-marking comparison the following unique features.
1. SOLID CORE VALUES DETERMINE ALL ASPECTS OF OUR LIFE.
Our core values belong to the New Testament not to our denomination or current church fads. Passing theological fashion does not interest us, except to counter-point the lasting New Testament values. Conservative evangelical theology has marked every Superintendnent and the mind-set of the Elders and church leaders. Conservative evangelical staff have been attracted to work with the Mission.
Wesley Mission operates by faith, undergirded by prayer. Prayer meetings attended by over 200 each Sunday night used to mark our work. Today we are grateful for our prayer warriors that meet in many prayer groups each week.
Many prayer groups meet in the parish, and our staff come to meet with chaplains and lay-visitors who conduct devotional and prayer sessions in our centres, among head office staff, and in our two Friday prayer meetings, our mid-week cell groups, our quarterly half nights of prayer and our Sunday prayer meetings where every week our work, our clients, our staff and our ministries are all the subject of fervent prayer from our people. We cannot over estimate the value of this solid prayer support for all our activities. That emphasis upon prayer is rarely found today.
Conservative evangelical theology has been matched with radical and pragmatic social action, often far more radical than denominational boards will allow, as in our proposal to run a privatised jail on enlightened methodology. Our evangelical faith insists we employ Christian staff. That insistence maintains our core values.
2. CONSISTENT PRACTISE OF THOSE CORE VALUES.
In a world of change, consistency counts. Wesley Mission reminds staff, donors, our members and people in the community of our fundamental values constantly. A full exposition of them is found in my 1996 document “WESLEY MISSION’S MILLENNIUM MEGATRENDS.”
3. PEOPLE ARE HIRED WHO FIT THE CORE VALUES.
One Synod Board criticised us stating that the principle of hiring Christian people who fit our core values is an anachronism. Their policy is to hire humanitarians instead of Christians. That is the policy of all non-denominational missions which are in decline. One employs people from a range of belief systems from Mormons to Moslems. Not everyone will find Wesley Mission Sydney a great place to work. Those who fit our core values and demanding standards will find it the best place to work. They stay and are extremely happy. When you work for Wesley Mission you fit and flourish or you leave. We stand for something and people who do not fit the core values and high standards leave. That is why the appointment by managers of a non-Christian who does not fit our core values, ultimately creates an unhappy staff member who eventually leaves and a manager who limits his or her own advancement.
The choice of leaders at Wesley Mission is an extensive process. This includes the Officers of the Mission, the General Managers, Managers, Elders and the Superintendent. The current Officers of the Mission have served for a combined total of over fifty years. One General Manager has served 25 years each and another for 12 years. . Most of our Elders have served for many years. Each of the last three Superintendents served for twenty years each, and in my casse, for twenty-seven years. Each Superintendent was appointed after long, and sometimes very controversial deliberations. My successor, Rev Keith Garner, from England was appointed after a two and a half year search. This has ensured our amazing continuous growth.
4. LEADERS ARE CHOSEN WHO LIVE THE CORE VALUES.
Personal behaviour and life-syle among leaders is absolutely paramount. If I should lapse in personal morality or indiscreet behaviour I would neither want nor be allowed to remain in office for another five minutes. Leadership lapses mean immediate termination. Wesley Mission leaders do not do their own thing. They live under the authority of the Scriptures and the discipline of the church. Leaders live the core values. They develop Wesley Mission as an enduring institution according to the core values rather than a monument to their own vision. Leaders of many Christian activities impose their own spiritual and political values upon their work. The work becomes the shadow of themselves and their own imperfections. Our leaders have been concerned to develop Wesley Mission as an on-going entity far greater than our own characteristics.
5. THE LEADERS ARE VISIONARIES WHO WORK PRAGMATICALLY.
We spend a great deal of money training staff. We have an excellent team of trainers and also employ outside firms and encourage people to attended courses within various industry groups. Over 3,100 staff were trained in some area of activity last year. I also attend training and learning courses. We place emphasis upon visioning the future, such as our planning conferences at Vision Valley and Mangrove Mountain when 100 managers and senior elders of the church together plan what we want to see happen between now and the year 2020 AD.
Yet we are pragmatic in our planning. We try, experiment, trial, and pragmatically chose what is best. This could be seen in the development of StreetSmart where working with homeless youth and developing early intervention programs and family restitution concepts has become a model for other centres throughout Australia. Our mental health services have grown enormously based upon developing programs that work. In the work of Dalmar Child and Family Care our staff have developed parenting programs based upon good information but built upon what we find works.
For 90 years Wesley Mission used a theatre to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ every Sunday night. Its congregations have been from the widest variety of social, economic, educational, ethnic and vocational backgrounds, joined together to worship God and proclaim the gospel. We use lighting, sound and the screen every week to effect. Videos are well used. We use the Theatre because it works.
Vision and pragmatism go hand in hand. In contrast, many other centres of Christian social welfare have no continuous visioning, and tend to continue what worked for them in a past era, instead of being pragmatic and dropping those programs that did not produce agreed outcomes. Vision and pragmatism go hand in hand.
6. EXCELLENCE IS UNDERSTOOD AS BEATING OURSELVES.
Benchmarking is important. We compare ourselves with the best in each area of business. But ultimately excellence is found by exceeding the best we do ourselves. I am often asked “To whom do you compare Wesley Mission?” I reply: “There is no one church or organisation with which we compare ourselves. Excellence lies in comparing the improvement in what we do today with what we did yesterday.”
We do not set out to beat any competition. Although in my earliest days, our first research showed we ranked about twentieth in charities in Sydney. The Sydney City Mission was three times our size and had ten times the visibility. Today we rank No 1 in New South Wales and fourth in the nation. Today Mission Australia is about a third of our size. In the top 500 com0panies in the nation, Wesley Mission ranks No 275th. But we have never had a philosophy of comparing ourselves to any other. We set out to beat ourselves at our best. We constantly ask, “How can we do this better?” On the other hand, we have people coming to us all the time asking how we do things, and saying they are comparing themselves to us. While our standard of excellence must be benched marked against the best there is anywhere in the world, ultimately it is against our own record we strive. That is a most unusual attitude for a work like ours. Most similar organisations have a role model they seek to follow or perhaps even surpass. We strive to beat our own standards.
7. LONG TERM PLANNING FOR GROWTH IS NORMAL.
One of the great marks of our work during the late 1970s was our ability to think through the issues that we would face for the next decade. We planned and developed over a period of twenty-five years our retirement villages, planned and developed the demolition, relocation, construction and reinhabiting of our new Wesley Centre which took twelve years and which was opened at a cost of $320 million debt free. We developed new areas of ministry over a decade in the fields of disability services and child and family care.
We make a habit of setting BHAG goals: an acronym for big, hairy, audacious goals! I remember a night when key Elders and staff planned three retirement villages in my lounge room. Ian Wilson said, “Which order will we build them? Which one first?” My response, “We will build all three simultaneously!” That was a $100 million commitment over fifteen years at a time when we were a million dollars in debt! That was a big, hairy, audacious goal we have achieved. In the last two months we have broken the soil on another $90 million of new building which will be completed over the next two years.
When I announced we would set up Wesley Film Productions Ltd, and film overseas, I announced “Discovering Jesus” as both book and film. But I said it would be part of a trilogy that would cover the entire New Testament. It would also include “Discovering Paul” and “Discovering the Young Church”. We needed to find $1.5 million in film investment from the community to make an audacious program of 36 episodes on a scope never undertaken in Australian Christian television or film history before or since.
When I wrote to the Synod in 1979 suggesting we demolish the relatively new Wesley Centre on which we still owed $1.25 Million, Wesley Arcade, Wesley Chapel, The Lyceum Theatre and the Mission Settlement building in a grand property re-development we were talking about the biggest church development ever undertaken in Australian history. It was a big, hairy, audacious goal. Today it is complete and we finished a $40 million church facility within a much greater total building development, and we opened it debt free!
When we announced Wesley Institute For Ministry and the Arts, we were talking about a multi-million dollar investment that would change Australian theological education. It would bring us into conflict with the Uniting Church ministry training authorities and challenge the system and the concept of Christians trained in ministry and the arts. I still have people who ask “When will that Wesley Institute pay for itself?” This is a sea-change impacting on the life of the church for decades. This is a long term commitment to long term permanent change. It does not slide off our books in six or eight years.
When I talked about building up a land-bank which eventually reached 970 hectares I said this would be a legacy for our successors to use or sell to fund major new developments past 2020 AD. I am not talking about my successor and his or her team, but about several successors in the middle of the next century. Do you know anywhere else in the world that is building up reserves to enable people fifty years from now to fund their activities? Most denominations and Synods are downsizing and selling off property to survive. Wesley Mission is different in that we practise long term planning and our commitment to the future is regarded as normal.
8. THERE IS A CONSISTENT FAITH APPROACH TO FUNDING.
We operate by faith. The major difference between Synod Boards and a Mission, is the domination places levies, charges, commissions and taxes upon parishes to support it. A Mission raises the money. Wesley Mission operates more centres of care for the Uniting Church than any parish, receives no financial support from any Assembly or Synod Board, but are charged for every transaction, every lease and every development by the Synod Boards. Our fees for Uniting Ministry On The Aging, part of the Board For Social Responsibility, for example, are in excess of $135,000 each year. We do not receive value for our money. All of our transactions fees to the Board of Finance and Property are enough to pay for several staff in their office. Both Boards snow us with paper, play bureaucratic games and place high demands on the people who have the raise the money to fund their salaries. With many parishes unable to afford these overheads, the whole system of charges upon parishes is in desperate need of an overhaul before the inevitable collapse comes.
Yet we are seeing no original thinking to the matter of funding denominational charges from the people who just keep expecting parishes to pay their bills as well are do the work of caring. Wesley Mission’s contribution to the Synod and Assembly agencies over the past twenty years amounts to several million dollars. What could that have done to help desperately needy people in the community?
The Mission approach to money is one of seeking it by faith. We research needs, and if there is a need we should meet, we ask if we can we find a way to meet it. If so, when can we get the work started? What resources do we need to head the program? How will we fund it? The lack of funds does not stop a program, but starts a process of seeking how we will raise the money. Wesley Mission has shown innovative thinking in the task of raising money to help those in need.
Our “Homes For Hope” in the Hunter and other places are a classic case of innovative thought that has brought us in several million dollars. Too many organisations stop with the question: “How we we pay for it?” I frequently ask, “Will it get cheaper, if we wait until we have the money in hand?”
Our direct involvement with Government agencies has resulted in several million dollars of contracts and opportunities coming to us in the past couple of years, and the Government’s positive and openly proclaimed admiration for our work, places us in line for winning more contracts. Governments have been very generous to Wesley Mission over this past year and State and Federal Governments have provided more money than ever before for some of our programs.
Deferred Giving & Estate Planning has resulted in underwriting the expansion of future caring services with major donations. Over forty six million dollars has been promised for Wesley Mission. But more than this, many experts have supported us in the development of new initiatives and concepts. Wesley Mission believes the partnership of provider of resources and committed grass-roots carers is a good one and we look forward to continuing relationships.
9. NETWORKING GOES BEYOND DENOMINATIONAL BOUNDARIES.
Many church organisations are afraid to commit themselves to joint programs. We are constantly hounded by denominational officials who want to make sure no-one else is getting a benefit from Wesley Mission’s enterprise. One member of the Board of Finance and Property declared that in helping others by setting up networking arrangements we are robbing the Uniting Church of funds and property. Obsession with property leads to denominational death.
We bring in flexible approaches to leases, to networking with other denominations beyond our own and in developing strategic alliances with the best people who can work with us to accomplish our aims. Denominational boundaries are the hindrance to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Most other Christian service organisations are dying because their denomination is dying, and those who do act inter-denominationally are still obsessed with property. Wesley Mission is networking beyond our denomination and developing more flexible attitudes to the ownership of property. The way of the future is to engage with other providers of services and to jointly help the community. If that means our resources may help others, then we take the attitude that so long as people are helped then the Kingdom of God prospers.
10. WE TAKE PRIDE IN OUR HERITAGE, ARE OPEN TO THE FUTURE.
We celebrate Wesley Day annually, celebrate founders day, hold each year the Covenant Service, gather staff in thanksgiving and dedication services, have a focus in the 7pm service on each aspect of our work during the year, tell and re-tell our history, induct every new staff members in an orientation program that screens our video of our history and we make a presentation of our core values to everyone. A knowledge of our heritage is essential if we are to understand where we are going.
Yet we are open to the future. We are moving far beyond limiting denominational bounds. In so doing we are escaping the cause of death of many parish missions and other parts of the Church. Most of the 40,000 denominations in the world will not exist by 2020AD.
Misologists tell us there will only be three large grouping of the middle of the 21st century. They will be the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical/Pentecostal churches.
The liberal, mainline denominations of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries will have all died out. Many are already in terminal decline. The survivors will be those who obeyed the Spirit in the twentyfirst century.
When you compare and contrast the work of Wesley Mission with denominational agencies and boards, others parish missions, other inter-denominational missions and other charitable bodies, there are these principles that differentiate Wesley Mission Sydney. Viewed from another perspective, these are the principles that have caused Wesley Mission Sydney to become the largest parish in the nation, the most successful mission in the world, and to cause it to have decades of continuous growth and development in serving the needs of people and proclaiming the Gospel of grace.