Rev. Matthew Penny’s charge to new St. Thomas council – Dec. 6, 2010


Your worship mayor Jackson-Chapman, members of city council, special guests, ladies and gentlemen: it is both an honour and privilege for me to be here tonight to speak with you and witness a new day, a new beginning, in the life of the city of St. Thomas.

Thank you Heather, for inviting me to be here tonight. As I look around at the members of council there are some faces I am not totally familiar with, but some I do know well. In fact looking around there are at least two of you whose weddings I have performed. Perhaps the way to look at what we do tonight is use the analogy of a wedding. You’re all wed, stuck with (?) each other for the next 4 years.

No, that is not a good analogy to use. However, it seems like a good time tonight to try and give advice. That I cannot do as I see around me here a group of men and women who are smart, who have a calling to serve, who have ideas and dreams. You don’t really need my advice. No, I’m not going to try and tell you what to do or how to behave. You know what matters and how things should go. So far I have faith in you. Unlike the minister who was asked one time to do this address and the media person asked him if he prayed for the council. To which he replied, No, I look at the council and pray for the city! Instead, tonight, I want to play the role of prophet.

Now, a prophet is not a person who goes around telling people, ‘Listen, you’re doing it all wrong!’ No, a prophet looks at the situation and points out the possibilities, both bad and good. Tonight we celebrate possibilities. Your possibilities. Tonight, as a council you begin to build. The voters of this city chose you because they want a solid house, a solid city. They chose you to lead, to listen and to create something new. All that is the past, the history of this city, is only the foundation of the house you have chosen to build. Members of council, you joined a team.

And while it needs to be said that each person comes with an agenda, whether they know it or not, that person also comes to work in a group. However, you will find there are people who get under your skin, bother and annoy. Yet, will you be strong enough to accept that person’s good idea even if you don’t like the person? If you can then you know that, that is the mark of good leadership. If you go out simply to knock another person’s ideas down, just because of where that idea comes from, then you are not a leader. And the people of this city expect you to lead.

You see, the past is the foundation of the house you set about to build in the next few years. St. Thomas has a wonderful past, but it is past, it is only the foundation, even if solid in many ways. Tonight, you start framing the walls. As time goes on you will install the utilities, shingle the roof, put on the siding and so on. It’s an analogy meant to tell the story. It is unlikely we’ll get you physically out on the job, unless we can get a Habitat for humanity house started in your tenure. You can choose to be part of the building, or you can choose to be as some, and stay in the foundation. That is the prophet talking. Giving choice. You can stay behind and talk about how things used to be and how we should get back to the old days and ways. You waste your breath. We won’t go back to the days when some people were less valued than others. The foundation is the solid past. It’s over.

There is an old saying, comes from psalm 127, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labour in vain.’ People put their faith in you my friends. They put their trust in you to make St. Thomas a good place to live, invest, work, live and die. You have accepted a huge responsibility. There will be temptations to turn aside from the calling you have and do things for your own agenda. Temptation is a reality and is not always bad. Temptation builds your strength through challenge and testing. Yet, it has to be taken into account carefully. I’m going to pray that over your time in office, each one of you will give the others on council a hand. No one person can build a house. No one person is good at all things. The framer knows his or her job. The plumber does wonders with pipe and soldier. The electrician gives light. You each are a blessing in that you have an ability, a talent, an agenda.

If you honour that amongst each other, then this will be a productive, helpful, cooperative city council. If tonight you sit here already plotting and planning how to thwart someone else’s agenda, then you will break the trust which the city of St. Thomas has put in you. Don’t do that. I live in this city too and I’m going to pray that God gives each one of you a big heart, a happy expression on your faces, some joy in your lives and makes this city council a wonderful example of how great things can happen when people work together around a table. Just as an aside, it is true that some things around here work. Today, amid the snow and the blowing we observed three city trucks, plowing, and sanding our street all in a 6 hour period. I said to my wife, ‘They’ve reached their quota and we’ll never see them again!’

I invite you to join tonight in being open. The prophet does not say you can do things wrong, the prophet actually says, listen, you can do things right. You are very ambitious, you will attempt and achieve great things. Do them, and do so with the blessing of God.

Thank you very much.

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