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The Rector's Report to the APCM

The Rector's Report  to the APCM

20 April 2016


There’s an old saying amongst parish clergy:

The first year in post, you can do no wrong,

The second year you can do no right,

The third year you can do nothing at all!!

Well you know as well as I do that I have done plenty of things wrong in my first year, but you have been very gracious and forgiving.  But as time passes and the first year has come and gone, inevitably things have changed.  I had said that during the first 12 months I would listen and observe.  This I did, the only trouble was that everyone was saying something different – there was no common thread.  Had there been one could say, ‘Maybe this is God trying to tell me what needs to be done here!’

And so, since my twelve months in post has come and gone I have struggled, there was no clarity of vision, just a lot of well meant advice!  What I am seeking is God’s will for this parish.  I firmly do believe that God has a vision for us here and that he will let us know what it is; but he is not at our beck and call, and sometimes we must wait patiently for the Lord.  So what I will do this evening is share with you some of the key themes that have come to me so far, and then we can move on from there in the coming months.

The first thing will seem quite obvious, but it is fundamental to all that we do, but is something that can easily get pushed to the side.

When I was at theological college the chapel pulpit had a plaque inlaid into it that simply read, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus’.  It is a quote from the authorised Bible, John 12:21, when some Greeks approach Philip and Andrew.  ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus’.  Seeing Jesus is the first step to salvation; ultimately salvation is gained by knowing Jesus in your heart.  Everything else is subject to this.

How do we get to know someone?  We spend time with them, asking them questions; getting to know their likes and dislikes; getting to know their family and friends; getting to know their past, their history; and probably above all simply being with them.  And it is the same with getting to know Jesus.

However, it very easy for Jesus to get squeezed out of our lives by worries, by mammon, by relationships, by duty, by a whole raft of other distractions, including religion.  Sometimes, with the best of intentions, people let religion take over: “I don’t like this type of service”, or “you will only attract youngsters if you do this.”  “You must do this…, you mustn’t do that…”  This religion speaking, it is a formulaic approach to God that dictates to God what he can and can’t do.  First and foremost the Christian faith is about Jesus: knowing Jesus, being faithful to Jesus, Loving Jesus, letting Jesus rule in our hearts – praying that in turn we will become more like him.

Being a Christian is not so much about what we do, but who we are.  I am sure like me your heart went out to our Archbishop Justin, when it was publicly revealed that the father who brought him up was not his biological father.  However, I thought he managed the situation incredibly well, especially when he talked affectionately of his parents, then adding that his true identity was found in who he was before Jesus Christ.  How right he is.

If you read the Acts of the Apostles, you will read how the early Christians were known simply as ‘the way’.  Primarily it was not what they did that registered with the people around, rather it was the way that they were.  These were people whose lives had been transformed by the power of the cross and resurrection, which is the power of God’s love.  This is what I believe needs to happen in our parish.  I want people to look at each one of us and see humanity transformed, to see human beings displaying what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Christ Jesus.  I believe this is how the early church grew so rapidly.  Yes, the Apostles taught with great authority and ministered with power, but ultimately the church came into being by men, women and children coming to know Jesus and his redeeming and reconciling love.  Knowing it personally.

The vision that God has given me is only partly for the Church of this parish, it is also for the wider parish, as I have shared with some of you in my Lenten sermons.  Before I came here I had a vision of divine light, coming into this town up South Street, to North, East and West Streets, radiating out to the whole of the parish, including Sandford, Holton Heath, Arne and East Holme.  I cannot achieve this on my own, it is a vision for all of us, with each of us having a part to play.  I believe mission is for all and not just the enthusiasts.  Let us all pray that the glory of God will come to our parish, to our neighbourhood.  Let us be ‘the way’ for those around who at present wander in darkness.  Let us be a blessing.

It all comes back to seeing Jesus and ultimately knowing Jesus.

Now you may say, ‘this all sounds a little simplistic’, and maybe it is.  I am not naïve enough to think that there won’t be challenges and differences of opinion and heartfelt disagreements; of course there will be.  (And I am sure that these will come thick and fast when we earnestly set our hearts on following Jesus – because this is when the devil will want to disrupt and cause division.)

So is what I am proposing simplistic?  No, but it is simple.  I do not think that the Christian Gospel would have spread like wildfire in the way that it did if a PhD in theology was required by those enquiring as to what it was about!  The majority of the Apostles were ordinary down to earth people with very little formal education, nevertheless God used them, and used them mightily in his service.  He used them because they knew and loved Jesus, and they were prepared to give their all for him; and the simple formula for their outreach, given to us in the Acts of the Apostles, is this: ‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:46-47)

There will be challenges, and I suspect a lot of these will come when we talk about change, because change we must.  Let us face it, change is part of life.  No one here is the same as they were 20 years ago.  No one here thinks the same;

no one dresses as they did 20 years ago and, unless you’ve recently moved house, your house will not be the same as it was 10, 15, 20 years ago.  You will have redecorated, modernised, even re-ordered your house, flat or bungalow.  Sometimes it’s because we have to, sometimes because we want to.

The church building is exactly the same, and there will be a sub-committee from Lady St Mary’s Church Committee meeting to discuss changes and improvements to the church building to make it better suited to 21st century life and worship.  But don’t worry, everyone will be kept informed and there will be opportunities for parishioners to have their say.  For the other church buildings I want their congregation committees to explore how they can make the most of their particular settings and attributes.  For instance the obvious thing would be for Arne to have displays that speak of the glory and wonder of God’s creation;  St Martin on the Walls to make more of its wall-paintings and links with Lawrence of Arabia;  perhaps East Holme to create a link with the Christian Arts movement, showing off its glorious wall paintings.  Sandford Worship centre is already forging its way with different ways of serving the local community.

Other ideas for this coming year and beyond, include:

Always looking to keep our worship fresh.  By this I mean that we can think about the hymns and music that we have, and explore both old and new pieces so that we can offer God the very best that there is.  Certainly if we are to attract younger people we will probably need to include a few more modern worship songs than we have at present.

I want us to continue to think about what it means to be a team ministry.  This is something that the PCC grappled with on a Thinking Day last Autumn.  If we are to be the body of Christ here in this parish, then we need to work more together than we do at present.  The Thinking Day highlighted the fact that there is a difficult dynamic with one large church and four smaller ones, and with seven different congregations, all with different expectations.  However, we must learn to pull together more than we do at present and overcome a critical spirit that is present in some.  There are some in our congregations who always look for the negative, or who are too ready to criticise or complain.  This must stop if we are to move forward and not see our image tarnished.  Let us be positive and encouraging , criticising only when absolutely necessary.  Let us bless rather than curse, as St Paul urges in Romans 12:14.

We need to build on the outreach to young families that is happening through Breakfast@9 and the first Sunday of the month Family Communion Service.

We need to continue to reach out and build up the faith of those who are new to the Church, or those who feel in need of a refresher.  And so Alpha and Christianity Explored Courses will continue to run, and I hope that these groups can then become House Groups that will provide further outreach, growth, fellowship and support.

These are all germs of ideas, but by working together I hope that they can become projects that will help us grow as the body of Christ.  And to help us further in this objective I plan to have get-togethers approximately every quarter to update those who are interested and also to listen to the thoughts and reflections of parishioners so that there is a good dialogue between us all and so that everyone has an opportunity to be heard.  Also I should flag up that we have a parish weekend booked at Sidholme, Sidmouth, 12th-14th May next year, which will be another opportunity to consolidate and explore the way ahead together.  Please note this date in your diary.

Finally, I cannot finish without mentioning one other issue, and that is finance. (Not one of my favourite subjects in this context.)  At present an awful lot of PCC and committee time is spent on finances and how we can raise more funds simply to meet our running costs.  I would much rather that that time was spent on talking about mission and evangelism.  For the past few years the PCC has agreed budgets that have had a large deficit (in the region of £15,000+); and it is only through the heroic efforts of Pat and Clive’s fundraising projects that we have been able to get anywhere near breaking even.  But this all takes a lot of time and effort.  How wonderful it would be if we could run these events to raise money for other projects.

I am asking everyone here tonight, and will be asking those not here, to consider increasing their giving.  I know that this is not a popular thing to do, but if we are to be able to reach out effectively and grow as a church we need to be able to meet our costs.  This will enable us to focus more fully on reaching out to the young and those the Lord is calling.  I have written a short booklet that I want each of you to take home at the end of this meeting.  (It is an update of a booklet I originally wrote in my previous parish; some of you have seen the original booklet, but this has been adapted for the situation in Wareham.)  It is a brief theology and practical guide to giving as a spiritual discipline.  Please read it prayerfully, spend a couple of days praying about your response, then read it again, then make your decision as to whether or not you can increase your giving.  At our last Finance meeting we worked out that if the planned giving could increase by 15% then we would just about be able to break even on our budget figure.  It would be wonderful if we could meet this.

I want to close with a quote from Bishop Karen’s sermon that she preached in Lady St Mary Church on 3rd April:

The church we have always known no longer exists … but the church God has always wanted us

to become awaits us. No matter what shifts and changes we face, of one thing we can be certain:

the risen Christ will always go with us! 

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