In today’s reading from Acts we see Peter as a completely changed man.
The disciple who so often seemed to misunderstand Jesus and who denied him three times and who had been hiding with the other disciples after Jesus’ death, is now transformed by the Holy Spirit. He has become a witness to the saving power of the risen Christ, a true Apostle.
After celebrating the resurrection at Easter, we now look forward to Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. Perhaps this mirrors where we are in the lives of our churches. We returned to church on Easter Sunday to proclaim the resurrection, and after a two week break, we return to weekly services this Sunday. It feels as if we too have been holding our breath, waiting for the joy of Easter, and now waiting for the Spirit to fill us again with the joy of fellowship in being together in person.
However, as we return to church, we must be mindful that there are those who will not be coming back so soon, or perhaps not at all. We will continue to provide these letters and sheets for them as well as live-streaming services from Chard and Combe.
We also need to look to the future. We will have decisions to make about the sustainability of our churches, both the congregations and the buildings.
We need to find a way of both honouring our current traditions and all that sustains us now and also making the changes that are needed for the future. I am convinced that one way this will happen is us, as the body of Christ, reaching out to our communities and working for them and alongside them.
We can’t really afford to do nothing. Just as Peter was transformed by the Holy Spirit and became a great witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, so we must pray for that same Spirit to fill us and lead us into the future, as fellow witnesses.
Below is my Rector’s Report presented for St Mary’s APCM this Sunday. It follows the same theme:
“When I wrote my last report in September last year, we did not know that we would soon be back in lockdown for November, and then again from January. We had no idea that our next APCM would be held under lockdown conditions, again.
However, here we are and the last year has been difficult, challenging, but also remarkable at the same time.
Usually a Rector’s report for the APCM would be looking back over the past year, but things are not ‘usual’ and we need to look to the future as well as back at the past.
During the past year both Georgina and I have travelled a steep learning curve in developing our technical skills(!), many of us have become Zoom regulars and we have kept in touch by phone and email. Thanks go to all of you who have kept in touch with others by phone or email and also provided practical help through shopping, collecting prescriptions and other forms of support.
We have also, kept in touch with some of you through paper deliveries to your door. I calculated that in the past year we have put 1756 envelopes through your doors. Many thanks go to those who have week by week, delivered these. Ken, John Rollings, Chris and Robin Williams, Sue Milne, Ruth and Georgina, thanks to you all.
However, happily we are now coming out of lockdown and able to be together to worship. It is wonderful to be in fellowship with you again and we hope to be back to a full rota of services by the end of June.
Last year saw the cancellation of all weddings at St Mary’s, all of which have now been re booked for the coming year.
We conducted only one adult and one child baptism over the past year, and we pray that as we come out of lockdown we will begin to hold others.
We have held a number of funerals, with restricted numbers, including those of Diane Packham, Pamela Dix and Harry Govier. It has been a difficult time for bereaved families, who have been dealing with their grief as well as organising funerals under Covid restrictions. Some families were unable to be with their loved one at the time of death and this was a cause of further grief.
Many of you will be pleased to return to ‘normal’ and to be back in the familiar surroundings of our lovely buildings and our services. But things will have changed, one thing that lockdown has reminded us of is the importance of fellowship and community, but what kind of community or fellowship will that be?
We want to be back together, but we must now also be mindful of the future and how we are going to maintain our current communities of faith while looking at how we can make them sustainable for the next five, ten, fifteen years and beyond.
We have now installed a live-streaming camera in the church. We realised that over last year, the number of people watching our online services grew and often surpassed 100. There are those who have faith, or who are seekers after faith, who will not come to church, but are happy to connect online. It is really important, therefore, that we continue to provide something for them.
Over the Christmas period, although physical attendance at our services was down, the number of people watching our livestreams grew and was often over 50. Let us rejoice that we now have the means to reach out to people in this way even though they won’t or can’t be with us in church.
Lockdown has also made us more aware of how we need connection and fellowship, and we hope to meet up as soon as we can to share and enjoy one another’s company. When circumstances allow we will be going back to our monthly Saturday breakfast, we will begin a weekly coffee morning after the 9.45 service and find other ways to get together socially.
We propose to have more Benefice services in the future and also have a Benefice social event on fifth Sundays.
We have recently been successful in applying for a Heritage Lottery Grant, thanks to the patience and huge efforts of Robin Bailey, with support from Anne Perez.
Part of that money will pay for the installation of a screen and projector in the church which will enable us to provide clear and accessible materials for our services, but also make the church more attractive and usable for community groups. We need to make our building capable of generating some income for us and inviting for our community.
Our church building has changed and changed again over the centuries as it has been made fit for purpose for each age. What we are doing now is continuing that tradition.
As with churches up and down the country, St Mary’s is at a crucial point. We can choose to do nothing, change nothing, and decline financially and in numbers, or we can be bold and have faith that God has a plan for our future, and take some risks.
Tom Tame, our Youth Pioneer is doing just that. He has been in post since last August, and despite all the restrictions of two lockdowns he has been making excellent progress in making connections in the town, meeting our young people and planning for the next year.
He has been working with other youth workers in outreach in Henson Park, working at Chard Youth Centre and in Holyrood school. He has set up a group who will be doing prayer walking around the town and begin working as Street Pastors, focusing on young people.
We live in confusing and fast moving times. Most of our young people have grown up with no connection or experience of church and consider it to be irrelevant to their lives. Because of social media, technology, social, economic, and educational pressures their lives are completely different to our own lives when we were younger, or even our own children’s lives.
We cannot expect young people to simply walk through our doors. What Tom is doing is meeting them where they are, getting to know what matters to them and bringing them the good news of Christ’s love for them in new and relevant ways. Let us continue to pray for him and the work he is doing.
Our calling as Christians is to be the light of Christ in our community. We need, therefore, to care for one another and also to care for others. We need to recognise that if we are to keep that light shining for the future, that some change is required. Standing still is not an option. Let us trust in our calling and move forward with confidence and hope.
Reminder of our services:
At St Mary’s, Chard we will be back in church for a service this Sunday, followed by our APCM. From then on we will be holding a weekly 10.00 am service in church.
At Combe St Nicholas, weekly 10.30 am services will also commence again this Sunday. The APCM will follow the service on Sunday 16th May.
Services at St Mary’s, Wambrook will recommence with 9.15 am BCP Holy Communion on Sunday 2nd May.
Services at St Andrew’s, Whitestaunton will recommence with 6.00 pm Evensong on Sunday 9th May. The APCM will be held at 7.00 pm on Wednesday 12th May.