45 members of the Itchen Valley Parish community of worshippers met together on zoom on Wednesday 30th September 2020 for our APCM. I was leading with the Treasurer (Rolls Coleman) and the Secretary (Verity Coleman) and the Parish Administrator (Beccy Clark) suitably distanced from our kitchen. I can honestly say that the cloud filled the temple…(1 Kings 8:11) or rather smoke filled the kitchen…during the APCM as unfortunately some of our supper turned to ash in the oven. Despite that excitement we completed all our business.
There was a talk at the end of the evening about the prospects for the future with the parish and this follows the video:
Last year, in my speech at the APCM, I mentioned the challenges which we face as a church nationally. I mentioned that I thought that if we took four steps in particular we stood a chance of weathering the storm:
Firstly, by being good at what is regulated
Secondly, by paying our contribution to the Common Mission Fund in full and on time
Thirdly, by good public relations
and Fourthly, by the church growing and growing significantly
I have to report that we have had a good year so far as the first three of these objectives are concerned.
I really appreciate the work that you have done in the area of regulation which is hard work and unsung: In particular: Safeguarding – Sarah Hunt and team; Health and Safety – David Parker and his team and Data Protection – Gerry Stacey and Beccy Clark and now of course Covid 19: Sara Mason and her committee. Just fantastic!
We have paid our contribution to the Common Mission Fund on time and in full. Thank you for all who have donated and to Rolls Coleman and his team for keeping the ship afloat so successfully.
You have restrained yourselves from writing stroppy emails to the Bishops and we have maintained good public relations through the use of our website and in the communications we have had with the Diocese. Thank you.
Indeed in the plans for deployment which the Diocese is making for our Deanery there is currently no suggestion that the Diocese want to make any changes to what has been agreed here.Which is good news.
But nevertheless, we cannot stand still we now need come onto the question of the growing of the church.
Every year we put in figures both to the Diocese and to the Church nationally for our ‘Worshiping Community Members’. These are people who attend at least once a month regularly.
Robin Greenwood with the Churchwardens has led this process and I would like to thank him for the hard work he has done on this. These are important figures because they also set our Common Mission Fund contribution.
It is so important however that we have a detailed view of who is within the calculations for regular attenders. This year for the first time Beccy is running a spreadsheet to provide the basis for these calculations. By this I can tell who may once have been a regular worshipper and who is not any longer. If I know that then I can follow up and find out why they are no longer attending and we can tweak what we do accordingly, within our limited resources.
Unfortunately, this year our overall numbers were down 122 rather than 123 in the two previous years (although we are still ahead of our rolling average numbers over 4 years).
The numbers are small and are heavily affected by deaths or people moving away. If, for example, 6 people who are regular worshippers die or move away, then we only grow year on year when we have encouraged over 6 to join us and worship with us once a month. This is quite a challenge. So its always on a knife edge if we are growing or not.
The effect of Covid has been severe. We have been comparing our list of our worshiping community with those who actually attend our regular zoom and other services and we may have lost 35 people all of whom of course I will be following up in due course to see what we can do. I know that zoom services are unsatisfactory. I know it is a bore to wear a mask and not to sing in church. But it is important to keep attending. Without food you eventually perish. Without spiritual food there will be effects on your spiritual life also. Our souls need us to attend worship on a regular basis if we are to be spiritually healthy and able to address challenges to our sense meaning and purpose which will regularly afflict us over this difficult time.
So we need to look again at what makes churches grow.
The general principle is ‘A church which intends to grow tends to grow’
The CofE data tells us that growing churches are those:
- with a clear sense of mission and purpose
- which actively engage with local context
- which are willing to change and adapt
- which have a welcoming culture
- which are innovating, envisioning and motivating
- which have lay people (as well as clergy) in leadership
- which engage with children and young people;
- and which nurture disciples
We do all of these things. But I wanted particularly to emphasise this year the role of lay people in leadership and the nuturing of disciples which are related issues, I think.
I would have said in April, if we had had the APCM then, that 2020 is going to be the year of:
Thinking back to my own journey from lawyer to priest….it was a pretty unlikely journey! Quite apart from the obvious defects of my character (of which you will all now be quite aware), when at our Stewards Trust Christian family house party I used to weep whenever I was asked to speak and this convinced me ‘I could never be a vicar’.
But the thing which enabled me as a Christian disciple a follower of Christ to grow has been being given responsibility.
Firstly, we must all take responsibility for our own faith journey, like our responsibility for our health, which is not the NHS’s responsibility. They are there to help and guide but ultimately we have to live healthily and take the tablets!
Equally we are also responsible for our own journey of faith, what Bunyan would have called our pilgrimage…its my job to encourage you on that, but you are responsible before God for your own journey.
Just attending church was never enough in itself but now, even more so, you are responsible as Covid has made coming together as a church so awkward. It really is up to you personally to travel the Way.
One of the most challenging things that we are asked to do in our church life is to give our testimony in front of the church congregation, but it is an incredibly important thing to do as it makes us focus on our journey as a follower of Christ and take responsibility for it. This in itself develops our discipleship. It is part of our journey, it gives us confidence.
At Valley Worship once a month one brave person has stood up to say something to us about their faith journey.
When Revd. Amanda Denniss started this idea back in 2017 we had no idea that we would still be doing this month by month at Valley Worship, without any repeats, in 2020.
Again, thank you for the bravery of all who have stepped forward to do so. And if you have not yet done so please do let me know so that we can hear from you at a Valley Worship in the future.
For some, the journey of discipleship involves taking responsibility in certain areas for leading our corporate worship and mission initiatives and being allowed to exercise it; being gently guided but not micromanaged: this is SO important for volunteers and clergy so easily forget it!
Once I have discerned, with the Holy Spirit’s help, where people are on their journey of faith, and when is the right time for particular individuals, we need to let them get on with it with only gentle guidance.
And so Lucy and I found that being given responsibility for leading the Marriage Course for 5 years in Kilmeston under the clergy there was a natural precursor to going further in our journey of discipleship on our pilgrimage in my case this involved getting ordained.
So we need to provide opportunities here in Itchen Valley for parishioners who I discern are at the right stage to help lead and encourage our corporate discipleship journey.
The BCM course (Bishops Commission for Mission) enables those who are already followers of Christ to grow in discipleship as they take increasing responsibility for what the church does: the services and courses that we lead and our impact in the community.
We started off with our pioneer Lavinia Owen doing the BCM for Pastoral Care and now we have four additional BCMs Tim Clapp, James Greig, Julia Wright (all who have completed the BCM in leading worship) and Lucy Pease (having completed the BCM in Discipleship). They now form with our LLM Gerry Stacey and I, the Parish Ministry Team.
By the end of 2020 we will (I hope) have four additional BCMs: Nicky and John Barber, Dan Day Robinson and Simon Ffennell, who will then also all join the Parish Ministry Team (which is like the executive branch of the Parish the PCC being the legislature).
In addition to their responsibilities for leading services, I am authorised to let people that I select preach. This, like becoming a BCM, is something that you are invited to do not something you ask for). They can do so once a quarter, under my authority.
So far we have had: John Barber, Nicky Barber, James Greig, Tim Clapp, Julia Wright and James Wright all preaching and the quality of their preaching to date has been really excellent. They have joined Gerry and I in our Itchen Valley Parish College of Preachers.
I am sure that there will be more BCMs in the future and more preachers also. As they grow in their discipleship through taking this responsibility, so will we all…
One long term resident of Itchen Valley Parish says that the Parish is unrecognisable from what it was even 20 years ago.
We are a dynamic church which is alive and which is growing, I believe, in discipleship.
Despite all the challenges that 2020 has presented to us: the pandemic, the lockdown, the economic challenges, I believe that we are a strong church which will continue to worship God in this place and care for the people of Itchen Valley for the foreseeable future.
I believe that the Lord has his hand on this place, on our lives and he intends to do great things here.
It has been a privilege to lead this church during this year and Lucy and I thank you so much for the immense support which so many people have given us over the year, which has enabled Itchen Valley Parish to continue to be at the Spiritual heart of our community.