Annual Address 2016

For the second time in 8 years it feels, to me, that we are undergoing something of a sea-change in personnel. Some of those who, 18 months ago, were pretty key in getting things done are either no longer here OR are needing now to step back.
At the same time, within the past few months, we’ve seen a number of new faces here – some frequently, some trying us out more gently.

That sense of change is often unsettling and sometimes alarming – not least if we don’t really feel that we understand the way things are going or why. But while change may be inevitable, that unease about is not: things DO sometimes change for the better!
It’s against that shifting backdrop that I asked many of you, a few weeks ago, to prepare for this meeting by asking yourself, “what would help you to feel confident about who YOU are as a Christian, and what you are about?” – and to consider “how we can encourage and support each other throughout the year – so that we all feel that we know what is going on, what we’re trying to achieve, and so that we can communicate that to other people”.

With that thought in mind, a small group from the PCC met recently to review the various means we have of communicating information – the Weekly Sheet, Parish News, our Parish Website (and others), our Facebook page and various email contacts – as well as the “Valley News”. Each of those strands reaches a subtly different target group – and we are learning to shape the content appropriately.
The group’s major concern was the Parish News. Firstly, we need it to stop losing money – our advertising revenue needs at least to cover the cost of printing. More fundamentally we have currently no editor.
There IS a willing support group – able to help with anything from advertising to proof-reading – but no one has come forward with the time and computer skills to put it all together. As it stands, then, there will be no magazine next month.
If any of you sitting here is thinking that you might be able to take this on, or that you know just the person, please do act on that impulse sooner rather than later!
Of course it IS possible that we won’t find anyone to take this on – in which case, we can adapt to life without a magazine, and go on to find another way to reach those who would miss it. There is always more than one possible solution!

In any case feeling that we know what’s going on is about far more than just passing on information. It’s also about confidence in our own place within the congregation, and it’s about developing ways to encourage and to challenge each other.
It’s in that exchange of ideas and mutual support that we can begin to assess the way in which things are changing, to grow through that change and not to fear it, and to shape our future direction with a greater clarity and sense of purpose.
And, of course that takes time – and it really needs us deliberately to MAKE time to meet – beyond the controlled environment of our Sunday worship.
So what I hope we might explore, now, is whether we can reinvigorate some of the smaller groups we have – or have had – and whether there are other groups we might form. Ideally these need to be “low maintenance” – in terms of planning and running them – and inexpensive for those taking part. Ideally we need a richer menu of activities that will enable groups of us to spend time together – and that will “feed” us – will energise us to deal with the other things we do.
So, hold onto your seats, and I’ll rattle through my list for starters!

Those of you who like to feed your faith through study – or reflection, might like to spend some time simply reading the Bible together – without any particular theme or expectation – just for the experience of hearing Scripture read aloud and having time to really take it in and perhaps to share your reactions to it.
We might develop further some form of “Reading Group” – picking up on the Life Stories group that met in Lent – reflecting on particular authors or books.
Or how about a “Prayer school” – meeting perhaps once a month to explore different traditions of prayer – allowing individuals to discover what “works” well for them, and conversely allowing the group to hold others in prayer.
I’m already planning to find time for a 10 week course – designed for those who lead worship, – involving a little history, a look at how other people do things, and what are we ALL trying to in our worship. That could easily be turned into a Study course for anyone else interested, without creating much extra work.
We’ve been through a couple of cycles of the Aldhelm Course now – and perhaps that has now reached the end of its shelf-life – but we could look again at short modules from the Emmaus Course or something similar.
There is certainly room for a more informal discussion group – where we can simply grapple with live issues in relation to our Faith – what I’d call “Life Matters”. We could do that over supper, as Salon used to – or perhaps in the pub as the Harnham churches do!

For those who already have enough of “words” in their ordinary lives, but might enjoy something more physical – we might spend time Walking together – somethings we have tried, and enjoyed – whether as formal pilgrimage or just enjoying God’s creation and each other’s company.
Something we haven’t tried, but which has been mentioned by a few of you, is the idea of a Men’s Breakfast Club – whether self-catered or not! Again, that could be the trigger for more discussion, something more active, or just “time out”!
(And if the women here are feeling left out, you could have one too!)

We already have Coffee Corner that serves well in nurturing young mums and tots, but perhaps we might explore a tea time slot – quite possibly for a different age range. Several of the Chalke churches do just that – with Tea at 3, Tea in the church and even “Knit and natter” – all good ways of getting to know each other better AND of gently encouraging in newcomers.
I’ve been toying with the idea of a Film Club – either for our young people or more generally. That’s a bit more complicated, but certainly not impossible.
I’m now running the School Choir as an after-school club – and we previosuly had an after school singing group which successfully brought together a mix of young people and adults for a time – perhaps you might like to help or get involved in something like that?

We’re gradually getting to know a bit more about what our Deanery projects in Sudan are achieving – is there any mileage in a Cueibet group – who might keep up with those things and pray for them?

Or, if your heart is really in just bringing people together, could you plot occasionally as part of a Social group – nudging us into arranging the odd quiz evening or invited tea, or whatever seems fruitful?

Of course we already have other groups – and a whole list of roles – by which you can contribute to the life of our churches and hopefully feel affirmed by them. None of what I’ve just said is meant to detract from those things.
But I’m very much aware that our congregations include artists and musicians, scientists and health professionals, keen gardeners and sporty people – people from a variety of backgrounds and with a wealth of experience – some of which remains hidden from the rest of us.
And the reason I’m dwelling on this subject is NOT because I want to heap yet more expectations on any of you – but that I want to be sure that our churches provide each of us with something in which we WANT to be involved – something that inspires us, which makes us feel that we belong – and that we are recognised and appreciated for the things that matter to us, AND for the gifts we bring into the mix.
There are almost certainly many other and better ideas than those that I’ve just come up with – let’s think about the possibilities and see what we can develop in the coming months.

We are going to need both the vision, to see what we COULD do, in ideal circumstances, and also the realism to know what we actually CAN do, now, with the resources we have.

On that note, I need to bounce on to our Summer Festival and to reflect that it has become something of a chore over the past few years – and positively stressful at times for those pulling it all together. Clearly that’s not quite the fulfilling involvement that I just described!
What was intended as a chance to engage the community and to showcase the life of our church – can easily backfire – if those running it are demoralised and our visitors on the day see only a pale shadow of what actually goes on here normally!
As a general rule, our aim should be to do things really well – or not at all. And I think we have reached another point of decision.
Do we still think that a major summer event on the second Saturday of June IS something we want to do – and so pull together and make it a success – OR we find other ways of engaging our neighbours and raising money. It may in fact be easier to arrange a few smaller events across the year, perhaps with the Christmas Market as the major event. Something for honest reflection and discussion.
We are committed this year to Royal weekend on 11th and 12th June – which provides a significant opportunity for our parish Church to figure prominently in more general community celebrations.
The organisers do still need help – we need volunteers for the refreshment stalls, we need muscle power to set up on the Friday evening and to tidy away on the Sunday evening – and various other tasks along the way. Please do check what’s needed and do whatever you can manage to help. Again, I’m certainly not trying to bounce the pressure onto a different set of people – just to spread the load a bit!
We have another planning meeting on Thursday 28th – if you are able to be there, or can let us know before then something of any way in which you can help with – that would ease the burden considerably on the current organisers.
On my right, then, against the wall are two boards – one with details of St. Peter’s and also the Summer Festival, the other with the various small groups I’ve outlined.
Please do have a look at all of them TODAY – before you leave – and if there IS something there that you think might help you to feel confident about who YOU are as a Christian, and what you are about – sign up. That won’t commit you to anything – it’s just to give an indication of what light be viable and to get things started.
And if there are other things that you know you’d like, but which aren’t there – or if you can think of other ways we COULD encourage and support each other throughout the year – please do add them to the suggestions sheet.

By this time next year, things will have changed again – in our churches and in the communities we serve. If we are ready to accept that fact, and to work together to embrace it, we can make that change a positive experience for us all.