Myrle Bunn and Grant Harris write about the unique collaboration between two Auckland churches, for ministry and mission on Waiheke Island.
Journeying to partnership
It is with joyful praise to the Lord that our story begins amongst a small bruised remnant of the unremarkable and unlikely.
In 2009 Waiheke Island Baptist Church (WIBC) was offered an Auckland Council initiative to form and manage an op shop that also diverted waste from landfill. Our mandate was to return profits to the Waiheke community. There was profound recognition that God was at work. With necessary speed and huge enthusiasm, four trustees and an advisory accountant cobbled together the structure that would enable the formation of New Hope Op Shop and Timber (NH). Employing a few, with numerous volunteers supporting, community enthusiasm and support grew at pace.
Three times a year, NH injected many thousands of dollars of community grants into various worthy initiatives. Streamlined access to funds for the needy in the form of hardship grants formed a lifeline for front-line workers such as social workers and district nurses.
Despite this stunning success, a menacing ‘however’ began to emerge early on. The rapid formation of NH and the complete absence of governance left us with profound struggles. NH faced imminent catastrophic failure. A desperate questioning prayer echoed: “Where do we go to get help?”
A tentative phone call put one of the trustees in touch with the Northern Baptist Association and by God’s grace we were introduced to Senior Pastor Grant Harris at Windsor Park Baptist Church (WPBC). Located in our region and having the shiny credentials of community‑facing ministries experience, perhaps they could help?
There was an unmistakable glint in the banker’s eye when first reviewing pie graphs showing just how well NH was performing. However, it would be misleading to infer that it’s been a simple and uncomplicated process with everyone involved understanding perfectly the others’ point of view. The spectre of NH’s ‘no governance’ history presented a deeply complex situation, shot through with misunderstandings and profound power struggles. They were refining times!
In hindsight, Grant’s ‘hands-off’ approach, which he applied many times, was wise. It allowed the smoke to clear, high emotions to settle, and the necessary mutual trust to take root. We were then able to recover enough to grapple with the way forward. It also allowed time for WIBC’s congregation to be pruned and added to.
We’re so grateful that mutual grit and determination in keeping to the ultimate goal of building the Kingdom of God ‘together’ is leading to an outcome ‘far more than we could think or imagine’.
“She’s the one for us!”
Beyond the op shop governance now in place, a ministry link has been forged. While WIBC is the hands and feet in our community and maintains our identity, WPBC elders are our elders. WPBC resources are available to us. A very generous ‘open hand’ was offered to WIBC in crafting a memorandum of understanding that outlines preferred options and clarifies responsibilities.
God’s goodness didn’t stop there. Nurturing an undertaking from Grant to provide a pastor for WIBC, we welcomed Roi Nu Maran as pastor in early 2018. Her sunny and engaging personality, deep faith tempered through hard times, her servant heart and of course her theological training at Carey Baptist College, galvanised the congregation to recognise and communicate loudly, “She’s the one for us and our community.”
Roi Nu immediately made a profound impact on us as the body of Christ, knitting us together, injecting enthusiasm, and exhorting us with creative opportunities and ideas. Her inner compass planted her at the church in Ostend where there is now an open door to welcome the wider community with friendship, discussion, prayer and refreshments. Many lives are being touched.
In November 2018 a ‘daughter’ op shop, Timeless Treasures, was opened on the church property. Jointly funded by WPBC and WIBC, it showcases quality donated, sometimes refurbished, eye-catching items to maximise returns. It has been well received.
We are learning the divine imperative of identifying and securing Kingdom opportunities in and for our community, the call to prayer and perseverance, the richness of the resources in the shared body of Christ… and to expect miracles!
Story: Myrle Bunn
Myrle’s life has revolved around family, nursing and church. She and her family moved to Waiheke Island for the second time in 2003, where her husband Richard reoccupied the position of WIBC’s secretary. Her particular passion in the New Hope venture was developing a rapid, simplified, accessible source of grants for those in difficult situations. She says “administering joy has to be the best job in the world!”
Waiheke Island… a missional opportunity
I’m a glass half-full kind of person, which is just as well when you’re trying to do something a little different, something out‑of‑the-square.
When Waiheke Island Baptist Church (WIBC) approached us in 2015 with the request to come and chat about some of their challenges, I would never have imagined how interesting, and difficult, an offer of support would become. The glass half‑full needed to be slightly over half-full for us to be there still in 2019.
Windsor Park Baptist Church is reasonably large, and Waiheke Island Baptist is reasonably small. In fact, the staff team in Windsor Park’s stable of ministries is about 170, which is at least four times the size of WIBC’s congregation.
So why did we get involved? We sometimes ask that ourselves! Let’s face it, we’d already tried this ‘campus’ idea once before with a neighbouring church, and it ended in tears and a sense of personal failure in my mind. That situation hurt and I had to ask myself whether I wanted to risk that again. Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment, or maybe that glass just stays slightly above half.
Looking to the future
Waiheke Island is a fast‑changing and growing community; its 8,000 population swells to over 30,000 in summer. With no significant church on Waiheke Island, an increasingly affluent population as a suburb of Auckland, and the thought of calm sailings to a subtropical island destination on our minds, we took the first steps of involvement in assuming the governance of WIBC’s social enterprise, New Hope, in 2015.
However, our involvement always came with the hope of being able to resurrect a small and dysfunctional congregation, looking to the future at what a healthy church might look like in 10 years’ time. Of course, being from ‘Auckland’ was always problematic for islanders so I knew this wasn’t Easy Street.
Has it been easy? No. At almost every turn the politics of people and power have created constant challenges that are not yet totally resolved. My hope at the start was that we would close the church and replant it from scratch. However, this wasn’t the preferred option of the remnant so, for better or worse, letting them take the local lead has always been my strategy.
A perfect match
And then, out-of-the-blue and out‑of‑the-box, I came across Roi Nu Maran, a Carey Baptist College graduate at the end of 2017 with no calling to a church. She was available for the summer of 2017/18. She’s delightful, so I thought it would be a good experience for her to spend a sunny summer on Waiheke Island.
At the end of that summer the Waiheke congregation asked if they could keep her. And to cut a long story short, with the support of Windsor Park, the Northern Baptist Association and a private donor, we’ve been able to plant a full-time pastor on Waiheke Island and watch her bloom. WIBC became a ministry of Windsor Park Baptist Church.
Roi Nu’s appointment is initially for two years. However, I know there is a bigger story; as a single woman, initially a refugee from Myanmar to New Zealand, with English not being her strong point, this was always going to be out-of‑the‑square. But an out‑of‑the-square pastor in an out‑of‑the-square island congregation—you couldn’t have found a better match.
Roi Nu is part of the pastoral team of Windsor Park and receives all the joys of being part of a team. She is not a sole pastor; she’s just located in an office on an island. It couldn’t be better! Her pastoral approach, her love and grace, her integrity, her wisdom and her desire to stand up for the values of the Kingdom, have won her many friends. The fruit is ripening quickly.
All for God’s glory
Merging two churches in our New Zealand Baptist ecclesiology is almost unheard of. The challenges seem to be bold print, even though the benefits should be headlines. I’ve long had a deep sense of regret at the pride we hold in autonomy, which I still consider a hindrance to fruitful ministry in our time, and in particular as each year rolls by.
I am grateful for the WIBC congregation; they have had courage to try something different. It’s still a work‑in-progress; it’s still not easy. But at least we’re still going! That slightly more than half-full glass is still on the island and long may we drink from it for the glory of God.
Story: Grant Harris
Grant has been the senior pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Mairangi Bay, Auckland, for the past 10 years. He enjoys the diversity of the multi‑disciplinary approach Windsor Park takes to mission. With Windsor Park’s empowering congregation, he’s able to try all sorts of crazy missional ideas and, so far, most of them seem to work out. But, says Grant, there’s still plenty of time for things to go haywire!