It is now nearly 8 months since I was inducted as Vicar of the parish, eight exciting and fascinating months. It has been a steep learning curve. I have got to know a lot of people, but still have a lot more to get to know. I have watched and listened, but have also been very busy. I have made mistakes – as I promised I would. I have changed some things (a few of them on purpose, some not); I have made lots of mental notes for the year ahead. Many times I have felt like I was being carried along by the Holy Spirit, other times I have felt like a rabbit in the headlights.
As I report on the part of the year that we have shared together, I would like to begin by saying thank you!
Thank you to Roy and Andreas for leaving the parish in such good shape.
Thank you to those who worked so hard during the interregnum to keep the parish in such good shape.
Thank you to you all for making my family and I feel so welcome.
Thank you to my colleagues in the ministry team, for all that they bring to us.
Thank you to the wardens for their wise council and steady hands upon the tiller.
Thank you to all who share in the leadership and ministry of the parish, on PCC, committees, and synods, as officers, administrators, people who serve the Lord on our behalf in a huge variety of very sacrificial ways.
Thank you all for the encouragement and support you have given us.
I’ll tell you know some of the things have noticed.
There are lots of blessings to be thankful for, good things going on in the parish. The worship, the fellowship, the service to the community and to one another, are all something to celebrate.
Our buildings, as we know because we have had a quinquennial inspection this year, are by and large in good order. We have two flexible, well equipped worship spaces that serve us very well. We have halls that accommodate our own activities, allow us to accommodate a wide range of community activities, and provide significant revenue to support our mission and ministry. Thank you to those who look after our buildings, and care for our hirers – especially Linda for the extraordinary work she has been doing.
Our finances, likewise, are relatively healthy. We are able to meet our commitments, without too much worry, and to meet unexpected challenges when they come. A lot of this is down to the hard work of Mike, Richard, the wardens and the finance committee.
If you look at our newssheet, magazine or website (all of which are excellent by the way), you will see that there are all sorts of things going on in the life of our parish. Activities for all age groups, outreach, Bible study, pastoral care, fellowship – and the special hospitality we are able to offer to the public – especially through our coffee bars and monthly lunches.
All this is backed up by with great administration and communication – thanks to Chantelle and Elly in the office. Both of them a great blessing to us.
So there is much to be thankful for. However, we clearly do face some significant challenges.
When I was appointed it was with a particular brief that you put together yourselves. This covered four areas of our life together – Spirituality, children and young people, volunteers, and worship/ learning . Each of these areas presents us with a challenge.
Spirituality does not yet feel like it is central to the life of the parish, though there is a dedicated and supportive network of prayer going on which enriches us all.
We are blessed with a varied programme of youth and children’s activities – Junior church, praise and play, youth clubs, toddlers etc – but these groups are often small in number and desperately in need of more leaders and helpers. Which brings me to…
Volunteers – we have lots of them, giving sacrificially of their time and energy, in all sorts of ways – but we do not have enough of them, and those we have need and deserve a lot of support. There are lots of vacancies and roles that we cannot fill – especially in areas such as youth and children’s work, healing ministry, baptism support, leading intercessions, music, – I’m sure many of you could add to the list. It is getting to the point where we may have to stop doing some of the things we currently do, if we do not find more people to help us do them.
Our worship is of a consistently high standard, and both gives glory to god and draws people to him. However, it is clearly not for everyone, and we face the ongoing challenge of letting of making our worship accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and experience. We also need to grow in knowledge and understanding of our faith so that we might both live it out in our daily lives and share it with others in our community and beyond.
As well as these challenges, we also need ensure that our financial resources will continue to support our ministry and mission into the future, without running our reserves down to zero.
We also face the challenge of caring for the considerable heritage we have been entrusted with, particularly in All Saints.
With the rest of the church of England, we face the challenge of ensuring that new life and new blood continues to flow into our church community, and that new generations come to know Jesus Christ for themselves.
In facing these challenges together, we are presented with a whole range of opportunities.
Our contacts with a large group of people through the use of our buildings and activities gives us a great opportunity for outreach and nurture. Particularly our coffee bars and meals offer the option of introducing people to worship and spirituality in a gentle and imaginative way. Already a significant number of our baptisms come through contacts made at praise and play, toddlers, fun days etc. The next logical step is to move into areas such as messy church, café church, even sweaty church, as means of reaching a wider range of people with the Gospel in a non – threatening way.
We are also blessed in our relationship with All Saints school, which has itself had considerable challenges this year, but now has new facilities and buildings and under Alison’s fantastic leadership an exciting future ahead of it. We hope to build on this relationship, deepen it, and work together in offering an encounter with God to people who currently are in contact with the school but not the church. To this end we intend to hold our Harvest service this year, not in either of our churches but in All Saints, as a collaborative work of mission to the school community and those who live around it. We also hope to run a pilgrim nurture course in the school, and to
explore other ways that we can work together and serve one another – church and school – in God’s service.
We will also be running pilgrim for the church communities and those around them. We will be working to develop our spiritual life by offering a parish retreat in the autumn, opportunities to explore poetry and spirituality, special services of prayer for wholeness, regular services of silence and meditation, and opportunities to discuss and explore the connections between faith and daily life.
Later in the year we will be holding a stewardship campaign, inviting everyone to review their financial commitment to the support of God’s work here, but at the same time, inviting people to learn more about the different areas of our church life and to consider offering their time and talents to serve him in some new way.
Finally, you will be glad to hear that we will in a week or so, be interviewing for a new Associate Priest to come and join us, and to hold particular responsibility in P&J. Please pray for the right outcome to this process, as a good appointment would be a great blessing to us all. Whatever happens, I want you to know that I have very much valued my involvement with P&J these past months, and will be continuing my close involvement there whatever the outcome of the appointment process.
We delight in being one parish, one Christian community, one family in the service of Christ, who enjoy two places of worship to serve him in, and it is one of my particular goals that we should grow closer together, and feel more that we belong together, as time goes by.
In November the PCC spent a day together dreaming drams for the future. When asked what they wanted our parish to be like in 5 years time their answer was…
‘Younger, Bigger, More enthusiastic, More accessible to all, More people involved in the life of the church, More diversity and versatility in what we do and what we offer. DIFFERENT!’
I was thrilled by that vision, because I believe that it is what God wants for us, and when what we want coincides with what god wants, amazing things happen!
God is doing remarkable things in our church and our community, and it is our great privilege that he has invited us to share with him in that work. We enjoy many blessings, and if we go on turning all our challenges into opportunities, then we will continue to be blest and to bless others, for many years to come.
Thank you all for all you are and all you do – and may God continue to bless you all.