Yesterday I was formerly installed as the incoming president of the Rotary Club of Chelmsford Rivermead for the year July 2016 – June 2017. Unlike the other four Rotary Clubs in Chelmsford, we are a breakfast club and have a good proportion of younger members at work. When I first joined the club some 12 years ago, the time of the meeting was significant. As a pastor I was too busy to attend a weekly lunch-time meeting – and I could most certainly not attend an evening meeting. Whereas meeting just for an hour first thing in the morning was another matter – my diary was almost always empty at 7.30 a.m. Then when I realised that there was a great cooked English breakfast, the deal was sealed! I wonder whether there is something here for churches to learn. Breakfast meetings can be attractive to busy people. True, for commuters an earlier time than 7.30 might have to be set: but an hour including breakfast is an attractive prospect.
A further attraction was the opportunity to meet regularly with a group of people outside the church. True, a number belonged to other churches, but the majority were ‘happy pagans’. As a pastor I used to be constantly telling my people that they should be building bridges of friendship with non-Christians – here was an opportunity for me to practise what I preached. Furthermore, I was keen to meet some of the ‘movers and shakers’ in our community, and Rotary tends to be one of those places. If a church is to have any influence beyond its own walls, then it needs to develop contacts with local politicians and other opinion-formers.
Then there is the opportunity for service that Rotary provides, for Rotary first and foremost does not exist for itself, but for others. In the words of my club’s strap-line, ‘Rivermead is an outward-looking, fun-loving and welcoming ‘early-bird’ breakfast club with a passion to serve’. But that’s a topic for another blog.
Sadly Rotary clubs – like churches – can have people problems. Last year there was a major bust-up in our club and half the members left. My role has been to pour oil on troubled waters. I said to the members that if they had belonged to my church, I would have told them to be more gracious and more forgiving! The very survival of the club has been in the balance. Now it is up to me to turn around the club. As one who throughout his ministry has had to turn around churches or institutions, I guess I have been prepared for the role.
In a ‘vision’ paper for the club, I listed four aims for ‘a year of growth’:
- To grow together as a club, by strengthening our relationships and by ensuring that all we do and say is governed by the Rotary four-way test [is it true? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?]
- To grow more, by doubling the club membership over the coming year as a result of members personally inviting friends and acquaintances
- To grow in service, both by engaging in adventurous fund-raising which will catch the attention and support of our city, and by encouraging the concept of service in the lives of individual Rotarians
- To grow in influence, by connecting with leaders in the city and in the county and encouraging them to see Rotary as an opportunity for service.
But it is not enough to dream of growth. As we know from church life, a strategy has to be developed and plans have to be made. In such a situation leadership is vital– and this has to involve giving excitement, new hope, real interest, and fresh purpose.
- As part of the bonding exercise there will be the exciting prospect of a champagne breakfast at Christmas, a dinner in the House of Commons in March, and perhaps a day trip to France to mark the 225th anniversary of the Marseillaise (if that doesn’t work out at least we will have had fun in exploring possibilities)
- I have brought new hope by using my contacts to attract new members, which in turn has encouraged others to bring along new friends. I have little doubt that within a year we will have doubled in size.
- To interest new members I have called in favours from family and friends and put together a great programme of speakers
- To give a new sense of purpose I have challenged the club to raise £10,000 for a local hospice for young adults. Just for starters I have arranged a series of fund-raising events: a strawberry tea, a three mile walk, a champagne dinner, and five simple suppers with five well-known speakers. A friend has already kindly given £1,000 to encourage the process.
I dare to believe that Rotary has become a new aspect of my ministry. I see myself serving both God and the local community through Rotary. Although Rotary is not a Christian organisation per se, I believe that it offers great opportunities for ‘ministry’.