How is it that the normally tiresome Annual Parochial Church Meeting of a Parish can, in the Itchen Valley, be such a delight? Of course the venue has a lot to do with it. In the beautiful surroundings of Avington Park, by the kind invitation of Charlie and Sarah Bullen, even the most boring of activities would be an enjoyment. But when you add a reception before hand with delicious nibbles organised by our catering supremo Jill Croft and wine chosen by Andrew Impey, the evening is bound to start well.
Frankly it was just such fun – not usually an expression that one would use in connection with an APCM!
At length we got started on the meeting itself.
This was the first that our new Rector Revd. Amanda Denniss had chaired and she began the meeting with reading Psalm 100 and with prayers. Andrew Impey then gave a number of thank yous to those who had worked so hard during the Vacancy to keep things together. In particular he thanked Sara Janssen, Chris Wilson and Isobel Pinder who were the retiring church wardens. Isobel was stepping down both from being a church warden and a PCC member after 20 years a huge achievement. We were all invited to make a contribution on their behalf to one of our priority charities. Simon Ffennell on behalf of Lucinda Ffennell the electoral roll officer noted that our total electoral roll had only fallen by one during the Vacancy.
Isobel then briefly presented the Annual Report (see under Parish Documents) and thanked again those who had managed to keep things going during the Vacancy.
David Anderson then gave a more detailed statement of the financial position of the Parish which had vastly improved on the previous year thanks in part to an increase in fund raising and giving but also to greater cost control. Tony Gaster was thanked in absentia for his time consuming work of book keeping in the Parish.
After the various appointments had been made our new Rector gave a talk to set her view of the future path for the Parish as follows:
I want to begin by thanking you all for the genuinely warm and kind welcome that Oliver and I have received since arriving in the Valley.
I must admit that I was slightly daunted by the prospect of chairing this APCM so soon after arriving here. But the great thing is that it gives me an opportunity to get a snapshot of what has been happening over the last 12 months or so. It also gives us all a wonderful opportunity to look back and give thanks to God for his kindness and faithfulness during the interregnum. I know too that so many people have faithfully served over the last year in both seen and unseen ways. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know all the things you have done, but God does.
But now I would like to focus on looking forward.
I want to say that my first priority in the next few months is to get to know people. That will take time. I also want to have an opportunity to discern where God is already at work. One of my old vicar’s used to say, the key to success in ministry is to see where God is at work and then join in with what he is doing. It is going to be about discerning God’s plans for the Itchen Valley and then joining in with them.
There are things though that we already know about God’s plans. We are privileged to part of a diocese that has two bishops, Bishop Tim and Bishop David, who have passion and vision for the gospel. They have been discerning God’s plans for the diocese and believe God is calling us to encourage our churches to become Pioneering Faith Communities. I’m excited about this. That’s why as well as being your rector, I also have the role of Deanery Discipleship Advisor, which is to encourage other churches in the deanery to get behind this vision.
To be absolutely honest, the phrase ‘Pioneering Faith Communities’ can sound like jargon and for some of us, we will want to just switch off and think it is not relevant to us.
So I would like to briefly explore what this idea of Pioneering Faith Communities does mean for us here in Itchen Valley in very broad-brush terms in a way that I hope will be helpful.
Bishop Tim has taken this idea of Pioneering Faith Communities as an outworking of the apostle Paul’s phrase in his letter to the Philippian Church. Paul said, ‘I want to know Christ’ (Phil 3.10).
Let’s look briefly at each of the elements in Pioneering Faith Communities.
- Firstly I’d like to look at Faith.
Paul said, ‘I want to know Christ’ (Phil 3.10).
When someone like Paul speaks in the bible about knowing someone, it’s not just about head knowledge. To know someone is to have an intimate personal relationship. A living relationship. Paul had met Jesus, but it wasn’t a one off encounter on the Damascus Road, it was a vibrant, living, growing relationship.
My vision for us in Itchen Valley is to grow in a living relationship of love and friendship with Jesus. We can then, like Paul, speak to people of the Jesus that we know.
Practically in the life of the church this going to mean
- Investing in discipleship and pressing into and growing in spiritual disciplines like worship, bible study and different ways of praying.
As we get closer to Jesus, we will have fresh stories to tell about how he is at work in our lives. We will share more and more of Jesus’ heart for people who don’t yet know him. We will share his compassion for the poor and the broken. The Holy Spirit will be at work in us so that we will have a strong desire to see other people come to know Jesus
- Secondly I’d like to look at Communities
Paul travelled from place to place, telling people about Jesus and establishing small communities of faith who in turn reached out to the people around them to tell them about relationship with Jesus.
Faith in Jesus is not a private thing. Jesus calls us to live out our faith in Community. Our churches are communities of faith with Jesus at the centre. It’s important to keep Jesus at the centre of all our relationships. It’s important to invest in building authentic relationships with each other where our relationships are different from the world around us. Relationships that are characterised by both practical love and service, but also by forgiveness and blessing and encouragement and love for one another that flow from our relationship with Jesus.
It’s important to do the fun things like sharing meals and laughing together and I can already see that that is a wonderful part of life here in the valley. It’s also about doing practical things like caring for one another. Relationships like this are immensely attractive to people outside the church, many of whom are experiencing broken and dysfunctional relationships in every part of our society.
As part of this I would like to encourage the formation of small groups. These would be small communities where people can encourage and support one another to grow in discipleship and faith both by bible study and prayer, but also in the practical application of their faith to everyday lives.
We’ve looked at faith. We’ve looked at community. What about Pioneering.
- Thirdly I’d like to look at Pioneering
The apostle Paul was a pioneer. Pioneering in our community is going to involve:
- A willingness to try new things. New ways of doing things. Reaching out to new people who don’t yet know Jesus. It will also means giving up some of our old ways of doing things to make room for the new resurrection life.
- Our foundation of faith will give us confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us.
- We will need to look at our mission field. Our local parish and community and our networks and ask ourselves questions
- Where do we already have relationships that can be built on?
- Where can we find ways of making new relationships? Are there groups of people in the parish that the church has little or no contact with?
- We will need to build on existing initiatives like Alpha where we invite people to come to us. We will also need to discern where the Holy Spirit is guiding us to go out of the church and reach people who wouldn’t dream of coming into a church building.
- I would like to encourage small groups to have an outward mission focus.
I hope this has been helpful. The phrase Pioneering Faith Communities can sound like jargon, but actually it’s quite simple. It’s about investing in
- Growing in our relationship with Jesus
- Growing in living in communities that genuinely have Jesus at the centre of our relationships
- Growing in finding new ways of sharing our faith with people who don’t yet know Jesus.
I am very excited by this and I hope you are too. It’s going to be great fun. I am so thankful for all God has been doing amongst you before I got here. Now is the beginning of a new season and we can be absolutely sure God has good plans for us.
Everybody in our church has a part to play. We will have different gifts and different passions. We will need to work together. We will need to train and equip people to share their faith. We will all share the joy of Jesus’ as we see new people come to faith in him and join our community.