It’s always a delight to have this meeting at Avington Park. How fortunate we are to have such a beautiful place in the parish! Thank you Charlie and Sarah for letting us have our annual meeting in your library.
There was an excellent set of drinks and nibbles, thank you Verity Coleman the PCC Secretary and all those who put this evening together. Thank you to Sarah Hunt and Sarah Shirley for organising all the delicious eats (including copious amounts of gluten free food which was very well received by the Rector) and to Andrew Impey and Robin Greenwood for organising the drinks. Wonderful.
After running through the business meetings, I gave a few thoughts on the future of the Parish as follows:
Or written as follows:
Its a delight to be addressing you at this APCM as your new Rector….after such a long interview process!
Its been five years, since I first started visiting Itchen Valley as a curate. During that time, I have got to know you and you have got to know me, the good bits and the bad bits! I hope that my appointment will be able to give a sense of stability to the parish, after a lot of changes over the last five years and it has been very encouraging that the consensus seems to be that you want me to be your Rector which is totally brilliant…..even if, as Geoff Dee put it its a question of ‘better the devil you know’.
So, firstly, can I say a big thank you from Lucy and I to all of you for being so encouraging and understanding in accompanying this international banking lawyer on his journey to a more pastoral profession in encountering things which were way out of his comfort zone: like dancing with toddlers, leading assemblies at primary schools and praying with the dying….
But before we start the meetings, I just want to say a few more thank you. I have already thanked our marvellous Churchwardens. Now a thank you to all those involved in putting together the Licensing Service on Sunday which Lucy and I thought was so encouraging and warm. Thanks also to Gerry and Jan, both of whom have led services during the year and to the clergy of the Clerical Register.
I particularly want to thank Gerry for his patience with me as I work out what a ministry team of two parts of one full time person looks like…or a team of one half time and one quarter time….
And I would like to re-emphasise my thanks which I put in the annual report to all those amazing people who give so much time to our church community there are too many to name each individual: PCC members, DCC members, health and safety, safeguarding leaders of the different activities, and ministries of the church, band members and singers organists and organist organiser, readers, intercessors, sidesmen, vergers, key holders, flower arrangers, gardeners, coffee makers, cleaners, the list goes on and on.
And thanks to all of you who contribute financially to the church. Thank you
Lucy and I are very excited about this new phase in our lives it is nothing short of thrilling…a huge privilege to be able to see God working in this community and lives changing as a result. Seeing the Creator at work as people change is a joy of which we never get tired.
But its probably the right time, just to mention a couple of things, a few foundational understandings, if you like, which needs to be the basis for everything going forward.
I think the first point I want to make is that I am for the whole community and not just those who attend the church or who would call themselves Christians but I would also like to say that, although I am for you, we do church together its something that I do with you rather than something I lay on for you.
Many of you know that the colossal pressure on clergy numbers and diocesan finances have meant that the clergy appointment in this parish is now a half time appointment, not a full time appointment, as it has been in the past. This reduction in the clergy appointment is part of an on going discussion with the other parishes about what a deanery reorganisation might look like over the next 10 years, which I don’t want to go into in detail now, but we are at a very sensitive stage of things and if we want to retain our independence as a parish we do need to act with restraint.
Please could I possibly ask you to restrain your exuberance in correspondence to the bishops and archdeacons on any subject. Stroppy letters and emails just undermines our situation. Let us in the PCC know what you are thinking and we will address it.
We need to keep our powder dry for when we really need to use it and then we can correspond with the Diocese as a PCC and we will be taken seriously and not just seen as trouble makers. Also you should know that, I will be working as a volunteer, unpaid like all of you, except for a contribution towards the cost of my rent.
I will be working on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and taking one Sunday off a month, during which you will have visiting clergy leading the services which I will arrange with the clerical register. Sometimes I will be on holiday as you are….or on retreat. Its not that I am skiving, but that I absolutely need to be away for these times to make the rest of what I do sustainable.
It’s going to be really hard to maintain the boundaries that I must maintain if I am to do this job, but I would ask you to be understanding when I say that I cannot do something.
A very experienced leader of a church in Scotland which has grown from 100 to a 1000 attending on Sundays under his leadership advised me recently ‘defend your ‘yes’ with a thousand ‘noes’. I need you to trust me that when I say I can’t do something, its not that I don’t want to, I really cannot do it, if this job is to be sustainable on a long term basis, and that I am refusing so that the job is sustainable. I am not just being bolshie…well not all the time anyway…..
We also need to recognise that although I am here to serve, and we are required to show our love for God in loving our neighbours, the church is not a service industry, like a hotel or a restaurant, which if it doesn’t perform on time or perfectly that you are justified in complaining to the manager….church is what we do together…serving each other like a well functioning family.
Sometimes things will be a bit chaotic, life is messy, church is part of that life and so sometimes church is messy. But we will, of course, be aiming to do things really well and we need your help to do what we do in our various activities, for example looking after our neighbours in the community such as the Valley Visitors led by Lavinia Owen whom we will commission in our parish communion service on Sunday 27th May in helping cook for and serve at CAMEO or in running courses such as parenting courses marriage courses etc using videos and already prepared materials which I can provide. These courses are desperately needed in this community. You don’t have to have a perfect family to do this we don’t and did it for about 10 years but we do need Christian believers for this role!
Or indeed in leading parts of our services, we are hoping to become much less clergy-reliant at least for our non eucharistic services, going forward and I will be seeking to identify people whom I discern might be the right people to help in this sort of way over the next few months.
And also we need your help in keeping the show on the road financially our regular giving is down a lot, particularly going forward, and we have additional expenses.
Please do consider very carefully and prayerfully, particularly those of you who are still earning, if you might be able to up your regular giving or start to do this for the first time and please do use the Parish Giving Scheme to do so – Beccy has some forms this evening if you have not done so already.
David has said something about this already.
One of our parishioners told me this morning that he put off giving to the church for years But eventually he took the risk and signed up to a regular donation. Within weeks he received an unexpected pay rise!
Its only if we do all these things together: giving our time, giving our money, that the church can flourish at the centre of our community
Please explain this to your friends, relations and neighbours, who aren’t here today.
While we are on the subject of finances, can I say a particular thank you to David Anderson for everything he has done as treasurer for so many years as he will be retiring from this job in the Autumn we will be saying thank you to him formally at the APCM next year having someone with his wisdom and judgment as treasurer has been a fantastic blessing to all the clergy who have worked with him.
Thank you David. The job is a much better one than when he started. The finances are up together and regularly and efficiently put together by our wonderful bookkeeper Madeline.
We need someone very special to take over from David as Treasurer if we do approach you for this role. Please do see it not as a chore but as a mark of our respect, my respect for your considerable abilities and as a way in which you can really make a colossal difference to the community in which we live together.
This year we have appointed Beccy Clark as Parish Administrator. She is acting as a paid professional and will be available five days a week from 9 till 1. This has already taken an enormous burden off me because she is efficient, fast and frankly a joy to work with.
She has access to my diary and she should always be able to let you know, if I am free on one of my work days or not.
Although the cost of a professional parish administrator is not insignificant, as I am not paid, the Diocese is exceptionally making a considerable contribution to the cost of her salary….A great thank you to our Bishops Tim and David and Archdeacon Richard who have made this rather unconventional arrangement work in record time.
We don’t often imagine the Church of England hierarchy as being particularly flexible and innovative but they have been in this case very flexible and innovative…and we should recognise this. With gratitude.
As you know, in addition to our wonderful lay reader Gerry, we have moved from one full time rector, and one full time curate and one part time curate to one part time rector. There is bound to be an impact on what can be done in terms of services with just Gerry Stacey covering one Sunday a month and me covering the other three.
So I have proposed to the Church Wardens (and we will be shortly presenting to the PCC)a plan to reduce the number of services to a sustainable level which is to reduce them to two per Sunday. It has been very difficult to work out how to do this fairly. Every church will, I am afraid, lose something but will generally lose a service which is not very well attended historically but the basic principal of our proposal is that the 10am services each month remain pretty well as they are at the moment (although they may be on different days of the month). So there will continue to be two parish communions and two non communion (more modern) services but then there will only be one further service each Sunday: either a BCP communion or an Evensong in addition.
So evening services will be no more than two per month and early morning communions will be no more than two per month. Except obviously when there is a fifth Sunday
In due course we will also need to grasp the nettle of what we do at Christmas and Easter.
In putting these proposals together, I have had to take into account a fact which is at the centre of where we are as a community: we have half our community under 50 and half our community over 50. But our church community does not reflect that demographic split.
If we are to flourish as a church community, we do need to do whatever we can to attract families and younger adults to the church and on the whole (not entirely) the younger families are more easily attracted to a more informal modern approach to worshipping God than we have taken perhaps in the medium and more distant past.
But, equally, we need to provide and cherish the traditional worship which has sustained generations of worshippers over the centuries.
We need to do both really well, I am absolutely committed to this. And we can hope to encourage those who prefer the modern worship to learn to appreciate the traditional and vice versa the divide between those who prefer one to the other is often one of experience and I am aware that the church nationwide has changed hugely from what many of us were brought up with. It may feel like there is a big divide between the traditional and the modern with practices in the modern church which a few years ago would have had me lifting a supercilious eyebrow!
So I do understand how many of you may feel about these things!
But I would say to you ‘take a risk’ try something that you are not familiar with and make an effort to engage with it. You may find that you encounter God in an entirely new way.
To help me to try and do both sorts of worship well. I have established two focus groups to meet termly and to make suggestions and to come up with good ideas a Senior Worship Focus Group, to discuss our traditional worship and a Junior Worship Focus Group, to discuss our modern worship suggestions in these groups are made on the basis ‘if you want to suggest be prepared to invest’ investment in time rather than money!
These groups are for people who are willing to do things rather than just tell us what they want done for them these are not decision making bodies decisions will continue to be taken by me working with the PCC and the Church Wardens the focus groups are just there to make suggestions if you would like to take part in either of these groups please do let me know.
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 an emotional framework, and Jesus (through the Holy Spirit) provides a presence, which can heal or, at the very least, soften, the effect of these hurts, can give freedom from the many slaveries of modern life can give a purpose to our lives can help us to flourish and can provide a sustainable and deep joy, even in dark circumstances, as we discover what we were made for…indeed I plan that freedom joy and flourishing will be a recurring theme in our preaching this year. We will keep on coming back to this. If you want to discuss this further do come and talk to me….
Theologian Miroslav Wolf writes in his new book Flourishing Flourishing by Miroslav Volf
‘Flourishing stands for the life that is lived well, the life that goes well, and the life that feels good – all three together, inextricably intertwined….It evokes an image of a living thing, thriving in its proper environment: a tree “planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season” and whose leaves “do not wither” (Psalms 1.3), a sheep lying “down in green pastures” and walking “beside still waters” (psalms 23.2), an “eagle, with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colours” (Ezekiel 17.3). the good life consists not merely in succeeding in one or another endeavour we undertake, whether small or large, but in living into our human and personal fullness – that, in a word, is a flourishing life.”
But the path to finding this freedom and joy, in finding how we can flourish, can be a long one as to find it we need to set aside many of the shallow truths society speaks over us and that we may have absorbed going through life.
A good starting point for starting this journey towards freedom and joy, towards flourishing is attending the Alpha Course which I hope we will be running in the Parishin the Autumn. Please do let me know if you want to take part we may not open it up to everyone…..
I am optimistic that our church can change lives making a real difference in this community with your support and encouragement but we do need the talents, experience and resources that only you have to achieve this
Please help us….