by Jenny Collier: The News (Central Otago)
While she may be the new vicar of the Dunstan Anglican parish in Central Otago, the Rev Penny Sinnamon is not new to the area or its people.
Mrs Sinnamon has spent many years farming in the Omakau› Poolburn district with husband Lionel, but she now has a different flock to tend.
Installed as the new part›time vicar at St Aidan’s Anglican church in June, Mrs Sinnamon replaces the Rev Ross Falconer who returned to Whangamata after 16 months in Alexandra.
With no need to settle in and get to know the congregation, her immediate goal is to spend the next two or three years before retiring focusing on the teaching side of her role.
She plans to run a ‘‘Living the Questions’’ course soon to help people explore the future of Christianity and what a meaningful faith can look like in today’s world.
The DVD›based course allows participants to ‘‘think outside what they were taught at Sunday school’’ and ask the questions they were never allowed to ask for fear of being thought a heretic.
It has proved popular in nearly 5000 churches throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and North America.
Not being able to question some religious beliefs taught at Bible class when she was younger prompted her to walk away from the church in her teens, she said.
Ordained in 1997, her path to the Anglican ministry was not typical.
From a ‘‘normal Sunday school background’’, she went to ‘‘a good Presbyterian school’’ in Dunedin
— Columba College — but left the church after questioning what kind of God she was worshipping.
Some religious teachings of the day, including the belief that dying babies must be baptised to save them from hell, did not sit well with her.
After marrying, Mrs Sinnamon was confirmed in her husband’s Anglican church not because of any belief, but because it was convenient for attending services with her family.
‘‘In my early 30s, I read a book which said we don’t need a God and that worried me for some reason because we all need a higher power to call upon in times of need for help.’’
Her search for answers began and led to her undertaking a four› year Education for Ministry course in the Maniototo, which she said ‘‘brought the story of the Bible alive’’ for her.
With the Dunstan parish exploring a new concept of mutual ministry in the 1990s, Mrs Sinnamon and fellow parishioner Valborg Agar were called to be priests and were ordained.
‘‘It’s been a learning curve ever since.’’
With little practical training, it was a case of working out what worked or did not when it came to writing sermons or taking services such as funerals.
Mrs Sinnamon said the biggest plus of her ministry was that she was a local, was well known and knew her congregation well.
She counted it a privilege to be invited to people’s celebrations or to help them in times of grief.
Support from her husband was invaluable, and allowed her to do all she did in her work, including taking services in Alexandra, Omakau, Roxburgh and Ranfurly.
Mrs Sinnamon also spends one day a week at Omakau School as chaplain, building relationships with the children there.
Away from church, she was not a fan of wearing the minister’s collar as she felt it could sometimes create a divide.
Since becoming ordained, she had noticed fewer people swearing in front of her when she indulged in her favourite pastime of playing golf.
‘‘People’s perceptions change when you’re ordained, but I’m still me.’’
As parish vicar there were two things she was not interested in — ‘‘counting numbers attending church or how much money is in the plate’’.
‘‘That’s not what is important. What’s important is that people come to know God, as I do now, as a loving God who is part of our lives and loves us profoundly.’’
Reference Code: GHWJ
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