Rector's Report 2018
The APCM last year was only a couple of days after the death of Ron and some of us certainly felt overshadowed by that. Since then the only member of the church who has died has been Tony Smith back in October, but several others have had to move, including Dot Court and Margaret Tingley who are now living in care homes some distance away. New people continue to come to St John’s, which is encouraging, particularly new Messy Church regulars, but they haven’t been enough to balance the souls we have lost in different ways, including people who simply find that they can’t attend church as frequently as they once did, which lowers our numbers on any particular Sunday. Other people face particular circumstances: you may remember Amie and James Hope, two young Christians who were working at the University and who came here for several months and even brought friends with them, but sadly they were both on short-term contracts and had to move to Norwich!
It seems a long time ago that Donna Gibbs was ordained deacon at Bury St Edmunds but it was only in July last year. In November Bishop Andrew came to visit us and did whatever we wanted him to, and I had a meeting recently with our new Archdeacon Paul Davies who comes from an Anglo-Catholic background so at least it feels there’s at least one person in the upper reaches of the diocese who isn’t an evangelical and knows some of the things I’m talking about. As I promised I’d try to do, I put my sermon series on the Anglican Catechism into booklet form and some people have even bought one. We continue with our involvement with our local schools, especially Farncombe Infants, but Maggie also jointly leads assemblies at Godalming Junior. We’re not getting a huge number of baptisms but in January Messy Church had its biggest attendance ever. We continue to pay our way which is quite an achievement due in no small part to the increased income from rentals and lettings which is probably just about at its limit.
One of the best things that’s happened over the last year is that all of a sudden we have a pastoral team! At the same time as Sue Petty decided she would like to train as a Pastoral Assistant, Heather Bryn Thomas said she wanted to revive the PA’s license she had some twenty years ago, and that’s now happened. Lois asked to play more of a role in the pastoral work of the church, and together with Shirley Martin and Judith Smith whose work at Send Prison overlaps with Maggie’s chaplaincy there we have quite a number of people engaged in this area now. They’re already achieving things with a difficult case that I haven’t been able to do in years. I know that there’s a lot of pastoral oversight of vulnerable people that’s carried on by members of the congregation generally and that’s a vital element of the common life of the people of God, so well done.
Sorting out the next version of our Mission Action Plan (or Church Development Plan, or whatever the diocese wants to call them now) has taken longer than I hoped. In the end we decided what was needed was another Away Day and Revd Steve Cox from the diocese was able to facilitate as he did on the previous occasion, so we found ourselves at St Nicholas’s Church, Peper Harrow, on 17th February. We felt we’d managed to achieve quite a lot from the previous Plan, especially in the areas of communications and publicity. We had a wide-ranging discussion and now more work needs to be done to put flesh on those bones.
That leads us on to what might happen next year. Life for churches and other charitable groups continues to become more complex and involved, and one of the most important aspects of this will be the General Data Protection Regulation which comes into force in a little over a month’s time. By that time we’ll have to have a data-protection policy in place and begin seeking formal consent to hold people’s information: Paul Rivers is leading on this.
Last year I said that the Greensand Park estate on Furze Lane would be a focus of outreach, but this has proved difficult as people are moving onto the estate in dribs and drabs, slower than originally anticipated. I’m trying to keep an eye on what’s happening. I also mentioned more spiritual support for adults who aren’t regular congregation members and reviewing our provision for family worship, and those remain priorities for the year to come. I’ve begun trying to gather information about the Family Service, which doesn’t seem to be serving its purpose any longer in the way it was intended.
I want you to be aware of the differences between St John’s and the Christian communities around us, and therefore what we offer to people seeking God. In terms of other Anglican churches and most of the Nonconformist ones this is mainly to do with worship and spirituality, but sometimes there are more theological divides as well. When I attend Prayers for Farncombe on the second Monday each month (as I can do only rarely) I’m aware that some of our charismatic brothers and sisters probably have a very different approach to issues of salvation and belief. I recently spoke to a family who’d begun attending Binscombe church and were becoming uncomfortably aware of their official beliefs about homosexuality, sexual equality and co-operation with other churches. Now, I find it hard to draw clear lines around who is or is not saved, and some Christian communities are far more ready to do so. If we’re not willing to be dogmatic about the processes of salvation and not-being-saved, that has deep consequences for everything else that we do. And I shall leave it there!