Opening doors with a big heart

He has changed his church: it has developed from a closed group to an open community in the middle of society. Sunday next week marks the end of an era with the retirement of District Apostle Noel. E. Barnes (Cape).

They have joined forces on several levels: the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and the New Apostolic Church Cape. The orchestra has been training instrumentalists of the Church, and the Church has been supplying choirs. There are regular joint performances. And just recently, the orchestra appointed a new resident conductor, whose musical career started in his New Apostolic congregation—and it started with the recorder, typically the first instrument played by children.

Going out and letting in

This is typical of how Noel Edward Barnes ran the district. Like elsewhere, until the mid 1990s, there was a strong sense of keeping to oneself, in other words, members only. But then, at the end of 1996, the new District Apostle came in. His motto was: “Opening the church doors”.

And the doors were thrown open in both directions. Getting involved is no longer restricted to members only. You do not have to be a regular church-goer in order to sing in one of the Cape choirs. At the same time, the church opened itself widely to the public—and even launched its own television channel, NACTV.

Church as a haven

The church is right at the centre of society, also there where it hurts. For example in Delft, a township notorious for its drugs, gangs, and violence. The township is home to the congregation of Leiden Central. This is where they have their church. Throughout the week, the building serves as a multi-purpose hall that converts into a space that can be used for sports and other activities. The idea is to provide a safe haven especially for the neighbourhood’s youth.

Also this is a typical example of how the retiring District Apostle understands church: as a joyful community in which God is active and in which all people feel at home; but also as a haven that makes people feel safe and gives comfort, and one which helps people build self-esteem.

Intuitive leadership

How did this man, who seems rather businesslike when you first meet him, manage all of this?

With foresight, tenacity, and gentleness: “You have come half way, if nothing goes wrong from here on in,” he once told a frustrated colleague. “Things will come out all right before long.”

In his pastoral care responsibilities he is known for his generosity, and as a manager for his almost legendary thriftiness. More than one of his staff members was told: “This isn’t quite right yet. You must negotiate again.” Or: “This was not good service. You must demand a discount.”

But above all, there is his big heart, a sympathetic ear for anyone, and the ability to intuitively grasp the emotional state of the person he is speaking to. And, finally, there is his skill and good gut instinct to make the right decisions. Sometimes all of this came together in one statement: “That was a good thought, but a bad idea.”

Coming full circle

At his retirement next Sunday, 18 December 2016, by the Chief Apostle in the Silvertown church, things will come full circle for District Apostle Barnes. Exactly twenty years and three days to the day he assumed responsibility for the district in this very church. His successor will have big shoes to fill.

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