Rector’s Annual report for APCM 2022

Introduction

I submit this report to the APCMs of the Benefice of the Stroudwater Team of Churches.

Thank you for taking the time to read this report and to reflect on it. Questions are of course encouraged in the APCM itself but please feel free to contact me outside of these fora for clarity of comments.

The past year has of course been marked by our return to a more operationally normal environment. We have settled into a slightly different rhythm of services, welcomed some new licensed ministers into the Team, engaging with our strategic plan, continue to enjoy a healthy number of occasional services and rise to the challenge of parishes under pressure in some places.

Services

One of the pressures in emerging from lockdown was to return to a full offering of Sunday worship services as soon as possible. I, along with Revs Liz and Dave, felt that it was a good opportunity to reassess the rhythm of our services. We had also discussed as part of our 5-Year Strategic Plan the principle of seeing our Sunday morning services in a more strategic way, in how we approach our Communion services, the place of non-Communion and lay-led services and more generally the particular offering each of the worshipping communities could offer into the Cluster.

To this end we devised a rota offering two communion services per month to each parish in the Team with a mix of times depending on average attendance and the potential for growth offered in that community. The intention is that there is some discussion with PCCs and clergy around how the non-Communion spaces are used in that parish in a missional sense, and the rota is designed so that clergy can be involved in those non-Communion services, in the planning and running of them. I remain convinced that our greatest evangelistic and growth opportunities come from how we do Sunday morning worship together. Its not just about how we do Sunday morning services, but it’s the life and initiatives which flow from the philosophy underpinning those services which are crucial.

In short, I encourage us all to not simply fill the spaces with something familiar, or complain about feeling short-changed, but have those exciting conversations about who God is calling us to be, who we can attract and shape our worship to respond to these opportunities. An objective discussion with the clergy about the future of all of the existing and future worshipping communities within each Cluster would be very helpful to assess what possibilities the future holds.

Lay ministers

Over the past year it has been exciting to welcome some new lay ministers into our Team. What’s even more exciting is to see the impact they are having on the life of our worshipping communities. Let me pause for a moment and recognise the contribution being made by our present Readers. Eugene Peterson talks about ‘long obedience in one direction’ and I want to thank Val Winder, Kay Hensley and Charles Garven for their faithfulness over the years. They aren’t lay ministers, buts its appropriate to mention the contribution of our retired clergy Revs Richard Bryant and Vernon Lidstone.

To this long obedience we added Gill Martin who is a chaplain at Eastwood women’s prison and a member of the Church Army and is primarily involved around Stonehouse. In the Frampton-on-Severn area we have Vicky Southby and Mary Rainer, both Readers. They have both got stuck in and I am appreciative of their being part of Team wide events as well as the local ones. I hope and pray their ministry here will bring them joy and fulfilment. Lastly, Charles Garven has been in the Team ministering mainly around Framilode and Whitminster at times. He has added a Waterways chaplaincy to his ministry. With the extension of the canal from Saul to Stonehouse and this section of canal soon to be used by narrowboats once again there is a great need for his ministry. Maybe it’s time for a Stroudwater Team boat!

Strategic plan

At the 2021 APCMs I asked for the proposed 5-Year Strategic Plan to be discussed and voted on. This plan had been refined from an original proposal of mine and then presented in a series of meetings in preparation for the APCMs. All the PCCs in the Team voted in favour of it, some with reservations, many with a positive affirmation.

We have since then started the process of creating the Vision Centre which is offering a clear vision for a season in the life of the Team, with the Clusters meeting to plan and diarise events which would give life to the vision, and then doing it. We are emerging from the second cycle (Christmas 2021 and Easter 2022) and it seems that by and large we are seeing the benefits of the plan. As we were settling into this new way of working we haven’t been able to use it as effectively as we could, but emerging from the planning morning in January 2022 we have a much clearer and organised way forward. We have diarised Cluster dates for the next two years which will give the Vision Centre ample preparation time and the facility to provide clear guidance and resources to the Clusters.

Our mission Groups (Evangelism and Discipleship, Children and Young people and Life Events) have all started work and we will see these Team-wide initiatives start bearing fruit. At the same time our three projects (community of young people, online church and team centre) will start taking shape.

After consultation with the Churchwardens it was decided that more margin needed to be given to the PCCs to meet, thus the PCC portion of Cluster meetings has been removed and the Clusters will meet four times a year rather than six. I would urge PCCs though to not see the Cluster meetings as optional extras but to embrace them as the place where we will be inspired to collaborate for the increase of God’s Kingdom in our Cluster areas. As we wrestle with being church in this place at this time the answers will be found in our working together, rather than in isolation, as we maintain and honour the integrity of the PCC governance and oversight.

While we are on strategic plans – a quick mention that the Deanery Strategic Planning continues to move forward.

Parishes under pressure

We may well say that all our parishes are pressured in some way. This is a time for us to challenge ourselves in how we picture the role of the church, for us to interrogate the core reason of our existence as church, and to look for the opportunities which are presented to us to be church here and now.

Some parishes however are particularly challenged. We were unable to elect a PCC or Churchwarden/s at the 2021 APCM in Arlingham. This has led to some creative conversations with the local community, initially with the Arlingham Parish Council. There are members of the community who have formed teams to fund-raise, perform maintenance duties, see to worship and community engagement and to address the huge challenge of a very large bill to replace the roof. In a situation such as Arlingham’s the clergy become the de facto PCC. At the moment we are facing this situation in another of our parishes. Others may follow, but my hope is that as we embrace the 5-Year Strategic Plan, we will be able to respond positively with the challenges we face.

I have found the staff in College Green (the Diocesan office complex) to be unfailingly helpful and supportive in helping with these conversations around buildings and governance.

The future of a parish church building is a highly emotive subject, both for those who have faithfully served for many years and love those buildings, and for the community in which that building is placed and there are no easy answers. However, an objective discussion with the clergy and initiated by a PCC about the future of a church building and of the viability and presence of a worshipping community would be very helpful to assess what possibilities the future holds.

Snippets 

In the year under review Rev Liz qualified for and enjoyed her sabbatical (clergy qualify to apply for a sabbatical every seven years). She spent her time exploring rural ministry and gained some useful insights and inspiration.

Our emergence from lockdown was well managed between clergy and local leadership. At the time of writing, the threat from Covid is far from over and we will continue to exercise caution with receiving communion.

2021 saw 133 occasional services (weddings, baptisms, funerals) in the Team. The breakdown is:

  • 31 baptisms
  • 33 weddings
  • 59 funerals

Ministry into our schools is increasing as the threat of Covid reduces

Our website is now live, it can be found at:

https://www.stroudwaterchurches.org.uk/ . Many thanks to Luke Briner for the excellent website.

We continue offering Facebook Live services for Morning Prayer and Compline every weekday. On Sundays Stonehouse live-streams their Family Service at 09:30 and the Team holds a Zoom service at 18:00.

Thanks

Thanks to you, the members of the Stroudwater Team. Its lovely to minister into a situation of such variety and many passionate and motivated people. We are deeply grateful to our Churchwardens, PCC members and volunteers who keep our parishes going, and display so much commitment and enthusiasm. Our Readers and Clergy are a blessing to us and add so much vitality.

I would like to thank Revs Dave and Liz for their gifts and passion. On a personal note, it makes such a difference having colleagues who are friends walking this journey. We are grateful to our spouses for their wisdom and support.

Finally – we thank the God we worship and partner with for the opportunity to build the kingdom with Him. However we see the church, it ultimately exists for His honour and glory. What a mighty God we serve.

Rev’d Stephen Harrison