Then there was one! From one full time Rector, two curates and two licensed lay ministers to just one part time Rector and one licensed lay minister in the space of a couple of years; there have been a lot of changes.
What a complete privilege and delight it is to be appointed as your new Rector! You have all be so welcoming and encouraging during the last five years, since I started my curacy in the Itchen Valley under Andrew Micklefield’s encouraging supervision. Lucy and I can honestly say that it has been a continuous pleasure to be engaging with you all, getting to know you and seeing God work in this community.
I know there’s been a lot of change. But don’t worry. After one or two initial tweaks to service schedules to make things work practically for the reduced clergy provision, I expect that we will be able to settle down to a period of stability, after so much coming and going in the last few years.
Leading a church in the countryside is a very different thing to leading a church in a town or suburb. For one thing, in my role as Rector of Itchen Valley Parish, I am for all of you, whether you are regular church goers, occasional attenders at major festivals, would consider yourself Christians (but do not attend church), attend another church (or another denomination), follow a different religion entirely, or do not want to have anything to do with the church or God or deny His existence. I am here for you all – at the good times – the celebrations, like baptisms and weddings, but also at the bad times. I am also here to try to help you address the big questions of life: what is my purpose and where am I going? I will always try to make time for such questions.
But church, whether it is in the town or the country, is something that we do together. Although I am ‘for’ you, I do what I do ‘with’ you. This is particularly the case given that (like you) I remain a volunteer in my new appointment (only receiving a contribution to the cost of our rent). It’s important to bear this in mind when having expectations about us. Like you, Lucy and I are going to be away from the Valley from time to time. When I am away you should be able (during office hours) to get hold of Beccy Clark our parish administrator on email@example.com will know my availability to meet up.
Although I try to do what I do to the best of my abilities, sometimes I get things wrong. Please do tell me when you think this has happened. I can’t promise that I will always agree with your point of view, but I can assure you that you will always be listened to and taken seriously.
And we need your help, whether you would see yourselves as churchgoers or not. We need you to help us look after our neighbours; and the excellent Valley Visitors led by Lavinia Owen is the group through which we do this. Please do contact her or me if you would like to be involved. We have many other projects in prospect which we would like to start: parenting courses, marriage courses, amongst other things, for the benefit of our community and we need volunteers to help put these together. There are roles in which you could be involved which do not necessarily involve attending church, for example, leading the crèche for the babies on Sundays.
But also the parish is also almost entirely self supporting financially, receiving no financial support from the government or anyone else outside the Parish. If you want us to thrive at the centre of our community, please do consider whether you might make some regular contribution as part of your annual charitable giving, whether or not you would consider yourself a church goer. It is an uphill struggle to keep the show on the road. Only those who live in the Itchen Valley are likely to be willing to carry this burden. Collections at services do not get remotely close to what we need to raise in a year. The more of us who make a contribution to regular giving, the less of a burden for the rest of us. Please contact Beccy Clark, our new Parish Administrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org you would like to help.
In the Who Cares survey last Summer, we discovered that for over 40% of our community what hurts the most in our lives is broken relationships, both in families and with neighbours. A further 16% struggle with negative emotions. I am absolutely confident that Christianity provides a framework, and Jesus provides a presence, which can heal or, at the very least, soften, the effect of these hurts. If you are reading this and thinking ‘nothing can help my problems’ then please do give me an opportunity to talk to you about this and to explain how.
I am optimistic that the church can make a real difference in this community with your support and encouragement and we need the talents and experiences that only you have to achieve this.
Most of all though, I expect that our journey together over the next few years will be fun. Do join us in it.