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Report to the Church


Vicar’s Report to Mini-APCM

15 January 2017

I want to give a report on various things that are going on in the church at the moment, and then to open up for questions and discussion.

First I’ll give an overview of some things that have been happening recently.

Then I want to talk about the Flourish strategy for growth that we presented at the APCM in April and the new Lay Minister post that we’re recruiting for.

Then I’ll say something about our current finances. Dave Lodge would normally do this, and is better placed that me to do so, but he can’t be here today.

*One of the most exciting things that is happening at the moment is the increase in the number of people who are sensing an area of calling, and getting something going as a result. Rather than the church leadership deciding that we need to organise something and then finding people to run it, we have a range of groups and projects now underway which have emerged from within the church community. 

So for instance, Mark Parsley has a strong sense of calling to set up and run a ministry for the men in the church, and that has begun with plans for termly events focused on fun and serving the local community, as well as a small group aimed at men.

And Claire Cooke, Ali and others have heard God inviting them to get involved in praying for healing and pastoral care, and that is turning into a major new area of our church life. The idea is to have a team of people, suitably trained and authorised, who can provide prayer and care to the church community - by praying directly for specific areas of peoples lives, which we have started to offer after every service and by offering a visit and pastoral care, which we are working on setting up at the moment. 

And the work that Val and Ana and others have been doing with local refugee and asylum seeking teenagers has become the foundation of The Mustard Seed Project, a fund that we have set up with the money raised by the King’s Singers to provide small sums that will have a big effect on that group of desperately needy people. 

And on Wednesday mornings now, if you come to church, you’ll find the opportunity to pick up pencil and paper and start drawing as part of Scribbles, a new art club run by Eddie van der Werf, a member of the Thursday morning congregation. It’s also Eddie who, together with Patrice, has put together the wonderful prayer space in the Bedgebury Chapel.

And we now have 80 people who belong to one or other of our 10 small groups - most of which have started because someone has offered to lead or host, or because a group have said that they want to get together, to pray, to study and to support one another.

This is all exciting because it shows that as a church community, we are growing in our openness to God and in the courage to respond to His call. 

Of course we need to keep a clear focus on certain priorities and on a shared vision, and more of that in a minute, and of course there will be times when someone wants to do something which we have to say no to, but it is clear in the Scriptures that God doesn’t just give leaders plans and tell them to implement them - he also calls all sorts of people to pray and to listen to his call, and then to get on and serve within and beyond their worshipping communities.  The role then of the church leadership is to encourage a culture in which everyone is seeking God’s will, and then to listen closely to God and to the community and to discern where a plan or project will further the building of God’s kingdom, within our resources and context at the moment.  

And I look forward to more people sensing God’s call, and getting involved with his work in the months to come.

There are two specific areas where the leadership team has decided to make overall changes to the life of the church - in Sunday services and Alpha - and one area where we have decided to do something all together, our Church Weekend.

We made the decision over the summer to end the Family Service and to move to a clearer pattern of Sunday worship, to make it more consistent every week. With that in mind we have revised our orders of service, are using the screen every week, have the altar at the front of church, have extended Sunday Clubs so that they run every week and have introduced the 5 o’clock service once a month.

As part of this change, we have also honed things at Christ Church, where the Sunday service remains a wonderful, holy, service, using traditional hymns and the beauty of the Anglican communion liturgy. After some years of doing things in a very similar way at both churches, we are now deliberately differentiating the feel of Sundays at the 2 churches - so that St Mary’s has a more lively, all age feel, and Christ Church a more traditional, village church pattern. I am delighted that people are starting to choose which church to attend, not simply based on where they live, but on which kind of service most helps them in their faith life and walk with God.

The 8:00 service remains exactly what it always has been; a quiet and reverent service for people who worship using the beauty and richness of the traditional language Book of Common Prayer.

With Alpha, we have decided to do it differently this year, running small groups in different settings throughout the year, rather than offering one big evening Alpha. The first group began with Kat Ogden on Thursday this week, a second begins in February and Emma Sibree is planning a third at some point this Spring, so it is early days and we can’t yet know how well this will work - the key will continue to be to encourage the whole church to invite friends and family to take part. But we know that, with the whole church inviting people to explore their big questions, Alpha has the potential to change lives. And as well as thinking about who you could invite to Alpha, please pray for Kat especially as her group gets going.

For the first time ever, in June this year, we are going to go away as a whole church for our GK Church weekend away. It will be part holiday, part retreat, part summer camp. We’re going to a beautiful Stately home, called Ashburnham, and the weekend will include time together and time to be on your own or with your family and friends; time in prayer and worship, time to have fun, time to learn. It takes place over the weekend 23-25 June, and it’s going to be wonderful. This really is meant to be a weekend for everyone - whatever your age, however long you’ve been part of the church, wherever you’re at with faith.

Another area where there is renewed energy and excitement, as well as some questions for the future, is around music. Jeffrey Gray left a year ago now, and we have been unable to replace him, despite extensive efforts. We have advertised widely twice, and we’ve interviewed for the post, but a combination of our location, a national shortage of organists and our specific needs here have left us unable to appoint. We have managed the Sundays when the music has been from the organ by using a number of local peripatetic organists, particularly Michael Tester, who is currently playing for us on a regular basis, and hope that has the potential to turn into something more permanent at the right time. We are not currently advertising the post.

In the meantime, Wendy Loy offered to take on leading the band, and with Wes joining us in September, this has gone from strength to strength. They will soon be launching a new Friday evening music session where anyone who has a passion for music, whether instrumental or sung, can meet together and grow as musicians worshipping God.

We don’t know what will emerge from this - but we trust that it will be God given and good.

My own hope for the music in church on Sunday is that we will continue to be able to sing and play music from a wide range of traditions, from the ancient to the contemporary, even if the way things are run and led is a bit different. 

There has been one other significant change since the APCM, with the handover of the Church Warden role from Angela and Tim, who had carried it for many years, and through some key times, to Ali and Simon. I want to thank Angela and Tim for the generous and graceful way that they handed the role on, and to Ali and Simon for the wonderful commitment, faith and wisdom that are now bringing to the role. We are deeply blessed as a church to have had and to have such wonderful people in these roles, and I am grateful to them all. Together with Becky and Dave, Ali, Simon and I are working well as a Leadership team, together with the PCC, who also do a wonderful job.

On that subject, I would like to make sure you all know who is on the PCC * - because they have a very significant role in guiding the vision and direction of the church - and come the APCM in April, if you would like to be considered for a place on the PCC there will be chance to put your name forward. 

This is a rapid skim through the life of a busy church, so I am very happy to come back to anything I have mentioned during the discussion time in a minute.

Before that, something about our plans going forward, including the new Lay Minister post. At the APCM in April we presented our plans for the next 24 months, which focussed on our ministry to families, children and young people - we called it Flourish, because we noted that one way in which God has been at work in the church recently has been in the significant growth in the number of families and children - something that is not happening widely across churches at present. We believe that we have a particular call to invest in this ministry, and not just to be content with how things are now, but to grow, and to flourish

And we have been working towards that over the last few months. And, as I hope you know, there is a very significant new investment we are on the cusp of making, to see this happen. We have been offered a very generous (and I mean very generous) donation, which allows us to appoint a full time Lay Minister, whose focus will be our work with families, children and young people. Applications for the post close in about 5 hours, and we will be shortlisting and interviewing for it in the next few weeks.

This post is not for a traditional children and youth worker to whom we will hand over responsibility for the kids work. One of our great strengths is the number and range of people who are passionately and generously involved with our kids work, and we want to grow and support that with someone whose job will be equipping our existing teams, bringing new people into this ministry and setting up projects and initiatives that will contribute to growth amongst children, young people and their families. We’ve got lots of ideas as to how we do that - but we also want the new person to bring their own skills and ideas.

Please pray for this process, that we would find and select the right person.

And finally, an update on our finances.

3 1/2 years ago, our finances were in very poor shape. Our reserves were dangerously low and our income was nowhere near the level it needed to be to cover our expenses. Since then, we have, through the growth and generosity of the church community, got back to a much healthier place. Last year though, we have slipped again. Our reserves are strong, but we ran a deficit of £10,000 - which meant dipping into those reserves for ordinary running costs, which is not a good way to steward our resources. 

The reason was clear - our costs are rising, but our income is not. That is for a variety of reasons - our Parish Share, which is the contribution to the running costs of the whole church in this Deanery has risen as we have grown, and that will continue, our income has not grown as the size of the church and our spending on new projects and activities has grown;

I therefore invite you all - and we will be saying this to the whole church over the next month - to consider reviewing your giving. The Church of England, based on biblical teaching, suggests that Christians should aim to give 10% of their income away, and it further suggests half of that should go to charities and half to the church. Now that may feel way beyond what you can do, but if every adult in the church - and we are about 200 people - gave an additional £50 per year, we would cover the shortfall. What we each choose to give is entirely between us and God, but Scripture is very clear that we should seek to be as generous as we can with everything we have been given - including our time, our skills, our compassion and our money. 

There is more information in the leaflet that everyone was given at the start of the service, and please do not hesitate to speak to Dave Lodge or to me if that would help.

One thing I do need to make clear. The money that we have been given for the new post is restricted for our work with children and young people and cannot be used as general income, even if we wanted to.

I want to open all this up for questions and discussion now, and do so with profound gratitude for everything that God is doing amongst and within us at the moment.

We have come back to this passage from Philippians over the last 10 months - with it’s wonderful call to us to ‘Love much and to love well’

It remains my prayer for all of us as we seek God’s will for us and for His glorious, broken, needy, wonderful world.

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Posted: 15-01-2017 at 18:33
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