Story by ROD EDWARDS PAST APA CHAIR, MASSEY COMMUNITY CHURCH
Movies use flashbacks, a cinematic dip into the past to explain the context of the story. In life there is always a back story—one of God at work. However, awareness of these stories can pass us by; even age does not guarantee insight. Service, love, and generosity can become invisible in routine.
As Joshua led the nation of Israel through the dry riverbed of the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan he called them to take stones and set them up as signs, prompts for the people who experienced God’s saving power to pass the story to the next generation.
In this same way, we flashback to share the back stories of God’s faithfulness in building and sustaining our movement in the Auckland region.
A legacy of nurture and generosity
Many years ago, as young students at Bible Training Institute (BTI), our formation as leaders was supported by the pastoral care, strategic thinking, and generosity of older leaders.
On our desks were Christian magazines and missionary periodicals, sourced from both New Zealand and overseas. All free, subscriptions paid by a group whose generosity and initiative was probably never acknowledged or thanked.
This generosity earmarked their pastoral nurturing— we were the recipients of meals, invitations, grace and input from a number of leaders: Clarke, Compton, Goold, Hume, King, Laidlaw, Maskell, Massam, Tyler, Smith, Stevenson, Swallow… and a host of others who were part of a group that assisted Auckland Open Brethren churches.
This group had a city-wide vision to facilitate Christian endeavour locally and beyond. They would usually meet at Wiremu Street, for the “Quarterly Meeting of Overseers/Elders and Interested Brethren”—a forum to encourage, support, and initiate in fellowship with local church elders.
New church plants, radio outreach, Bible in Schools, visitation of all Auckland Bible class groups, surveys of church youth groups, and popular evening ‘Christian Training Classes’ were all part of encouraging local churches to thrive. The publication Noteworthy informed and updated Aucklanders, acting as a unifying inter-assembly awareness and witness.
Encouraging outreach was a significant part of their initiative. New outreaches, such as Tāmaki, Glen Innes, Birkdale, and Kelston were resourced financially and through personnel from supportive churches. Support for the New Zealand Assembly Bible School, the Lovelock Ave Missionary Home, and the Māori Girls Hostel, the establishment of Edenvale Home for the Aged, Willow Park Christian Camp, and support of the vibrant missionary endeavours in Papua New Guinea all fell within the orbit of the group.
However, the energy and momentum slowly diminished and ended in the early 90s. The gaps between churches widened and autonomy invisibly slid into isolation. The once vibrant family of churches waned relationally and cooperatively.
A new season
‘But God…’ those wonderful words showing the active care and love of God for his Church!
In November 2001 we found ourselves at our own ‘But God…’ moment, spurred on by a recent Strength and Unity Conference resolution. In recognition of past heritage and current needs, a meeting was held at Willow Park to discuss a way forward. John Massam was appointed as convenor of a steering committee— the beginning of the Auckland Partnership of Assemblies (APA).
In early 2002 a Strategic Action Plan was drafted and the first meeting held. Seven months later a widely representative group of Auckland assemblies met for a breakfast presentation, received a progress report, endorsed the formation of APA, and appointed an executive committee with Steve Hamilton as chair.
The name APA was chosen to reflect its partnership and service role (rather than authority). There were two aspirations:
• To resource and strengthen Brethren churches
• To financially assist in outreach and the planting of new churches
A working group explored the latter, concluding that cooperation with Stewards Trust was the most viable way of achieving this goal. Church assistance was to be offered through consultative help as requested, topical seminars, and by identifying resources.
In 2006 Steve Hamilton resigned, and Rod Edwards was appointed chair. Richard Hemmingsen served from 2004-2019 as APA’s administrator; managing minutes, the database, and communications. The publication Church Seen provided news and information of events, people, and ministry activities to connect our churches and expand our borders.
In 2008 Pathways College of Bible and Mission partnered with APA to offer occasional lunch meetings addressing the needs of paid ministry staff by providing scope for fellowship and connection. When Pathways later moved its base to Tauranga, APA continued regular lunch meetings around the city.
In 2005 APA appointed David Goold as Regional Representative. For a decade David visited around Auckland and Northland—preaching and encouraging churches and leaders. His insights shaped APA’s prayers, strategies, and activities.
We were challenged by a leader in a different denomination: ‘Why is it that the Brethren have no fellowship with, nor voice in, the Auckland Church Leaders’ Meetings?’ Careful not to presume authority to represent all our churches, APA requested that from 2011 David Goold also fulfil this role, but specifically as an APA representative. With David’s later move away from Auckland city, Lui Ponifasio served in this capacity.
In the remarkably sympathetic ACL meetings our voice is heard and respected. In addition to participating when the group meets with the Auckland mayor, we are also able to contribute to the content of the NZ Herald Christmas and Easter messages and to citywide Christian witness.
Occasional Saturday morning seminars were a way of bringing people together. In 2012 these became the regular Saturday Breakfast Seminars. These involved breakfast, fellowship, prayer, uplifting and challenging content from various contributors, and—importantly— rich stories and ideas profiling Christian service from within the diversity of our Auckland church family.
In 2017, more intimate Auckland gatherings for elders and ministry leaders were held in three or four locations across the city. These meetings provided opportunity for elders—many who had never met—to forge relationships, develop trust, share the joys and challenges facing their churches, and be informed of the resources and opportunities available.
When the Christian Community Churches of New Zealand Trust was established, APA’s desire to resource church administration and related needs found a way forward. Graciously, CCCNZ was also willing to accommodate APA as its Auckland Enabler, forging a partnership between the past and future.
Good things take time
A desire to encourage connection and see relationships between churches flourish has been at the heart of APA. At the very first meeting of APA in 2002, we identified the need for a coordinator. The first step towards this was David Goold, and then the one-day-per-week appointment of Lui Ponifasio as Auckland Mission Enabler for Church Planting in 2019.
Nearly two decades after that first APA meeting and there is a growing team working towards equipping, connecting and supporting the CCCNZ and Open Brethren heritage movement in Auckland.
Lui Ponifasio is joined by Regional Youth Enablers Marina Shannon (Orewa Community Church) and Scott Doddrell (Manurewa Bible Chapel), and full-time CCCNZ Auckland Enabler Richard Fountain.
APA concludes, and yet lives on through the connections, history and fellowship. Transition and continuity combine—for this is God’s work, and he manages the back story.
APA Team Past and Present
Lew and Angela Meyer
Lui and Ane Ponifasio