This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Itchen Valley News
As I keep saying to any of my friends and colleagues who are prepared to listen, there is something very special about the Valley. This has been particularly true during the last year after we sadly said goodbye to our former Rector Andrew Micklefield and before our new Rector Amanda Denniss arrived.
One of the challenges (and opportunities) for an Anglican church in a village is that it is often the only church in that village. Of course, on a Sunday morning, we could choose to shake ourselves awake, stop the children fighting, get them dressed, down some breakfast quickly, get into our cars, drive (in a screaming rush not to be late), so that we just arrive in time at a church somewhere miles away, but which absolutely reflects the way that we prefer to worship God…
Alternatively…we can choose just fall out of bed and walk the short distance down the lane (or through our beautiful countryside) to worship God in our own parish church, even though we might find it a bit too formal (or too informal), a bit lively (or not lively enough). The parish church is, after all, the place that we can worship God with our neighbours, in the wonderful place in which He has brought us to live.
But, if we choose to worship with our neighbours, it is fairly clear that we will not always have the same view on how we should worship God. And let’s face it, this is God we are worshipping, the creator of the Universe, of you and me – so it is a pretty important subject! People have strong views on all sides. But that does not mean we should not remain friends. I always appreciate what I once heard the Bishop of Winchester Tim Dakin say when pressed on an issue by someone with a particular hobby horse ‘I think we disagree, but that’s OK isn’t it?’ So much of the media, so much of the political debate in our country, particularly during the election campaign, seems to suggest that ‘it isn’t OK’ to disagree.
But in the Anglican church, we hope to model constructive disagreement….now don’t choke on your cornflakes – I recognise that we have not been particularly good at this in the national church over the years and a lot of dirty linen has been washed rather publicly in the press. However, I believe that we are called to differ well. As Archbishop Justin Welby said a year or so ago: “if we are to live out a commitment to the flourishing of every tradition of the church there is going to have to be a massive cultural change that accepts that people with whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by Christ and therefore must be deeply loved by me and love means seeking their flourishing”. It’s about unity, but not uniformity.
And this is where we come back to the Valley. Over the last 12 months, I believe that we have seen how the cultural change that Archbishop Justin calls for can be played out at the local level. It’s not that we have not differed. But on the whole I think that we have differed well. We have all remained friends. And you have all been a fantastic help to the Ministry Team!
So many of you have contributed so much to the Parish continuing its important work during the Vacancy! I am always struck by how many volunteers we have for so many different events. Whether it be to do the catering for our many social events; the unglamorous work of waiting at tables and washing up for the Parenting, Marriage and Alpha Courses; or the incredibly time consuming work of PCC and DCC members and church wardens; looking after our beautiful buildings or managing the increasing administrative work of a vibrant parish; or keeping Bible study groups, CAMEO and the Ark and Little Rainbows going; doing the flower arranging and cleaning the church buildings; keeping the musical side to our worship alive and flourishing; bringing us back into financial strength by fund raising and managing our finances, building our relationship with the two schools in our parish; and of course helping us to run our many services – Jan, Tony and Gerry – we are so grateful for your invaluable help. Thank you all so much! So many volunteers throughout the parish have been willing to help. I know that Rebecca feels the same way as well – we are both incredibly grateful to you all! As Tony Gaster has often said “it’s been business as usual” and that is a reflection on a very remarkable place and some very remarkable people.
Unity does not have to mean uniformity. We are all part of the same body – we are family members. Rebecca quotes the following Psalm in the Ministry Team report for the Annual Parochial Church Meeting: Psalm 133.1 ‘How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”.
I couldn’t agree more….
Revd Alex Pease