Its the end of April, Easter now seems a distant memory and it is APCM season. A period of frenetic activity for the Parish Administrator and the Rector as they put together the paperwork for our annual general meeting and, I suspect, rather a sense of relief when it is all over. For the parishioners its a good opportunity to see what the parish has been up to during the previous year (from the Annual Report IVP Annual Report 2016) look at the Annual Accounts (Annual Accounts) and to hear from the Rector on her plans for the year ahead – and a chance for ‘drinks and nibbles’ – always a feature of parish activities in Itchen Valley.
Thank you so much to everyone who helped organise the evening. To Sarah and Charlie Bullen for the use of their lovely house as the venue for the meeting, to Sarah Shirley and her team (Helen Clarke, Helen Wayne, Jacqui Squire) for setting up the event and to people all over the parish for providing the food, to Andrew Impey and Robin Greenwood and their team for providing the wine and other drinks. A delightful evening and we left with a real sense of the parish being in good hands, in good shape with some exciting developments for the new year.
Here is the text of Amanda’s talk:
APCM Itchen Valley 26th April 2017 Looking Ahead
I would like to begin by saying thank you to everyone who has contributed so much to the life of our church over the last year. There are so many of you doing so many things and far too many to mention by name. Please accept my deepest thanks for all that you do. Thank you too to Sarah and Charlie Bullen for hosting us this evening and to Sarah Shirley and everybody who has worked so hard to organise this evening and provide the wine and canapés. Also a big thank you to Vanessa and all who worked so hard to make Rebecca’s leaving party such a success.
As I prayed about what to speak to you about this evening as we look forward to the coming year, I felt the Lord lead me to Jesus’ words to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew as he saw then casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee. Mark records in chapter 1 of his gospel that Jesus said this, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Jesus makes no apology for interrupting their day or indeed their whole way of life. He is calling them to make following him their top priority and invite other people to follow Jesus too. There is a sense in which Jesus speaks those words afresh to each new generation, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ This evening I am going to reflect on how Jesus’ words apply to our church and our community here in Itchen Valley over the coming year.
I’m going to use our Parish Mission Action Plan (or pMAP) for short as a framework for my talk. The pMAP doesn’t encompass all that we do as a church family but it does set out our hopes and plans to grow as disciples as we follow Jesus and obey Jesus’ call to be fishers of men and women and children. The pMAP includes four priorities and in the Annual Report I have reflected on how we are getting along in these four areas. We have much to celebrate and give thanks for. Now I would like to look at some of the next steps we are hoping to take in the coming year.
SPI We grow authentic disciples
This priority acknowledges that many of us do not feel confident in sharing our faith with others and would welcome being equipped to do this more effectively.
Jesus says to us as individuals and as a church, ‘Come, follow me…’ It is important for all of us to listen to what Jesus is saying to us. We might have all sorts of good ideas about what we would like Jesus to say, but what is he actually saying? The main way that we hear Jesus speak to us is through God’s word to us in the Bible. The bible speaks into every aspect of our lives and faith in very practical ways. This is the reason that we have bought more bibles for each of our four churches.
Our hope is that each of us will be able to follow the bible readings during services and be able to refer back to them during the sermons and talks. My hope is that we will grow in familiarity with God’s word and that through that we will each grow in our relationship with Jesus. I would like to say a particular thank you to the very generous donors in each of the four villages who have made this possible.
To follow Jesus means to listen to him. It also means to respond to him in prayer. It is during these conversations that our relationship with him can deepen and grow.
I’d like to play a short video now about prayer
The Archbishop of Canterbury has invited all churches to take part in a Prayer Novena (nine days of prayer called Thy Kingdom Come) between Ascension and Pentecost to pray for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. As part of our response to the Archbishop’s invitation, we are planning to have prayer walks around our four villages followed by lunch in a local pub. The prayer walks will start at 11.30am in the village church followed by lunch at 12.30pm. We will explain at the beginning of each prayer walk what we are going to do. The first one will be here in Avington on 8th May and the dates for the other villages will be over the next three weeks (details in Church Matters on Sunday).
We are also going to have the opportunity to sign up to commit to pray for the nine days of the Novena 25th May to 3rd June at 12 noon each day. The idea is to pray simple short prayers wherever we are whether it’s at work, at home, on holiday. There is something so powerful when Christians join together to pray. We will not only be joining with each other in prayer but with Christians all around the world.
SP2 We re-imagine the church
We want to continue to value our existing congregation and to strengthen our relationships in our community. A particular focus will be improving our connection with families and young people.
We are facing the challenge that a large part of our regular congregation is elderly and probably mostly in our late sixties, seventies or eighties. This community is the backbone of our church in many, many ways and is a great blessing to us all. Unfortunately this part of our congregation is steadily declining in numbers as people move away to housing more suited to their needs in later years or unfortunately they die.
As most of you probably know, we have made considerable progress over the last year in growing our All Age congregation on the first Sunday of the month. I have put some figures on average attendance at these services in the Annual Report. We have much to celebrate and thank God for as this congregation continues to grow in number.
However we do face challenges in encouraging the families to become fully part of our church family. Most of the younger families do not want to attend the more formal services that we have. Out of eleven regular Sunday services that we have each month, only one is informal. I will therefore be consulting with the PCC about the possibility of making one of our other 10am services more informal in nature. This will have the benefit of not only attracting younger adults but also those older members of our local community who find formal worship uncomfortable and difficult to relate to.
SP3 We are agents of social transformation
This priority is about sharing the love of Jesus in practical ways both in our local community and beyond.
Jesus says to each of us, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ He wants us to show his love and compassion to every member of our community whether they are young, or elderly or middle aged. Many, many people do not think that Christianity is relevant to them. They can’t see how the Christian faith addresses their lives and their needs. It is also very much part of our culture to put on a brave face and not be real about the challenges we are facing.
We would like to find out what people in our community are finding hard in life and to see if we can show how much God cares for their everyday lives. Encouraged by Bishop David, we are going to join in with a Hampshire initiative where local churches carry out a survey of their local community to find out what is really concerning people. It’s called Who Cares? Hampshire. It’s an anonymous survey so that we hope that people will be honest. We’re going to watch a short video which I hope will explain more of what it’s all about.
The purpose of doing the survey is to find out how we can better serve our community with the love of Jesus. The way the survey is done is to use small cards like this which has the question framed in two ways:
What hurts the most?
Or put another way, ‘What is the one thing in life you find hardest to handle?’
People can write their response on the card and then give them back. The cards will explain a little about the Who Cares? mission so that people in our church can feel confident that all the information they need is on the card. People will be asked to fill it in anonymously.
We are going to hand out the cards in our services so we can better understand our own congregations needs. We would also like to hand out the cards to our local community. This is an opportunity for lots of people in our congregation to get involved. We will explain how it’s all going to work in the coming month.
The answers we get will shape our church life.
Our talks and sermons can be based on the most popular issues that have come up and we can publicise these so anybody interested can come along from our local community.
Over the last year our wonderful team of pastoral visitors felt that it was time to step down. All of them had served for many years, I think some for decades. We are now exploring how to take this ministry forward. We would love to set up a group of people who have a heart for visiting people with all sorts of needs. Please speak to me or Alex if you would like to find out more about getting involved.
SP4 Stewardship and generous giving
This priority is about on our need as a church to increase our level of regular giving to match our running costs and to allow us to expand our outreach and mission. David has spoken about this already.
Our God is a generous God. Everything we have comes from him. Jesus calls his followers to be like him and for us too to be generous. Generosity is not only about money. It also relates to giving our time and our skills and gifts for the benefit of the mission of our church. I know that so many of you give so generously in this way. We do however have significant needs for people to take on key roles in our church.
One of these is PCC secretary. Lucy has continued to do these duties temporarily but it means she doesn’t have enough time for the resourcing and coordinating role that we have a vision for. I would strongly encourage anyone who feels the slightest prompting to help in this area, to speak to me or Lucy.
The other key role is Parish Safeguarding Officer. This role is becoming increasingly important as our work with children, youth and vulnerable adults grows. The Diocese gives training and support and again please speak to me if you feel you could help in this area.
We also need to fill the post of organist and unfortunately it seems that organists who want to play regularly in a local church are not easy to find. If you have any useful contacts and would like to help in any way, please let us know.
Jesus says to each of us as individuals and to us as a church, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ The plans that I have outlined for the coming year are some of the ways that we are seeking to respond to Jesus here in the Itchen Valley. We have much to give thanks for as we look back and we have much to look forward to as we follow Jesus in the coming year.