Rectors Report Jan-March 2024
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
This will be my last Rector’s report before I move on to my new role, and I want to take the opportunity to look back at the journey we have shared together before looking forward.
This image of the vine has been a guiding light throughout my time with you. Recognising that we can only be fruitful if we are securely held by the vine, deeply rooted in Christ. And the fruit is in danger of being spoiled if there are no posts and wires to hold it up. I give thanks to GOD for the wonderful fruit held securely all around us. Even for the heavy pruning of Covid, that has allowed us to clear some space for new growth.
Personally, when I arrived, my Mum was still alive, Anna was at University, and Bethia and Daniel were still at school. Graham was running his business, and we moved into 58 Cashes Green Road in a storm.
As the Stroud Team, there was a great deal of apprehension about being a Team. We didn’t know one another very much at all. Our service pattern was so complex that on the first Sunday of the month, there were services at seven different times; we didn’t have an online presence; the previous year, we had only been asked to conduct 12 funerals, and no one had even heard of Covid!
As we began getting to know one another, we began to form our Team Council and discern what shared priorities we had. We looked at our service pattern and made it so that we, let alone anyone wanting to drop in, could make sense of it. Through all this journey, we have had the LIFE vision as a frame. What follows is, by necessity, a tiny snapshot of our journey…
As we have transformed leadership
We have invested in creating diverse, confident and creative leadership teams in each of our churches and ‘posts and wires’ to support all the wonderful growth and fruit. An online diary, ChurchSuite to enable GDPR compliance and good communication, robust safeguarding, and a suite of other policies to ensure everyone’s wellbeing.
We have established our excellent Team Council, which makes decisions on those things that are better done together, and have got to know one another and talked about those things that affect all of us in our Joint PCCs.
It has been a joy to see so many of you step into leadership, grow as a result, and be ‘midwives’ to the growth of others as well.
We have returned to being a training post with many placement students passing through, as well as Helen and Steve serving their curacies with us.
As we have reimagined
We have created a ‘family likeness’ that has been spacious enough to hold our wonderful personalities and different callings. Simon has formally become our Team Pioneer, catching up with how we already lived our different ministries. Rather than pretending any one person can be good at all a community needs, we have deployed our Core Team in ways that best reflect their gifts [as far as possible].
We have seen our buildings used in so many different ways, improving booking systems [530 bookings this year!], considering social enterprise, developing partnerships and diversifying income streams.
Alongside all that, we have thought creatively about our governance structures, from reimagining the role of Churchwarden so that different parts of the body can do what they are called to – be that overseeing worship, pastoral care, or our buildings to finding ways to relieve local congregations from the burden of filling many officer posts and trying to do everything so that they can focus on doing the thing they are called to, and not worry so much about the rest.
As we have put down deep roots to ground and sustain our faith
It has been a real joy to see so many varied life-giving small groups continue to grow and be established. I believe these are utterly vital to our life together. From contemplation to bible study, reading groups and prayer groups, local and ecumenical – long may they thrive.
Likewise, coming together to worship, pray and meet in our Team Celebrations has been wonderful, and is so important to us growing together.
It has been a joy to see how our faith has been lived out in our generous giving, allowing the vibrant mission and ministry of the churches.
It has been an honour to be alongside people who have prepared for confirmation and baptism, and a great joy to be part of the team that has established our team-wide youth ministry.
As we have engaged with our communities
The number of weddings, baptisms and especially funerals we are invited to lead demonstrates something very healthy about our relationship with our communities. Through these life events last year, we had contact with more than 500 people whom we may never otherwise meet. Our afternoons of wedding preparation for couples have been particularly great.
In opening up our buildings to many more groups, we have been able to offer hospitality and also generate income.
We are engaging with almost all of our 14 schools, and those are fruitful relationships, making strong connections with young people across our area. Alongside this, we have a pattern of intergenerational worship each week across our churches.
We are engaging digitally through our website, which has between 1 and 2000 visits each month, an active presence on social media, and email communication with more than 500 people each month. Alongside this, more than 400 people receive our monthly letter. And, of course, posters, flyers, and notices will always be part of our life together!
Some plans are in place. James will step up as acting Team Rector and Simon as Training Incumbent to Steve. Other plans are yet to be made, and our Archdeacon Hilary will be working with the leaders in all our communities through that process.
I am confident that you will continue to flourish, to find what God is calling you to be in your community, to do those things that can be done better together, to learn from one another, support one another, and love one another. I don’t know what shape your togetherness will take, but I know that the journey is as important as the destination, and in that journey, I delight in the trust, relationships and creativity that arise.
As I have been talking to various people, filling out various forms, and all the rest of what happens in these liminal spaces between one place and another, I keep saying, ‘They are amazing!’, ‘It is remarkable!’, ‘They love so much!’, ‘The hospitality they show has to be seen to be believed!’, ‘If we could clone him…her…all would be well!’ You are extraordinary. I give thanks to God for you.
As I think about those who serve as musicians and admin team, as curate and worship leads, as treasurers and coffee makers, as self-supporting ministers and buildings leads, as pastoral leads, and full-time clergy, and so many more, I know that you are in the safe hands of one another, and, so much more than that, you are held in the arms of GOD, who loves you with a no-matter-what steadfast, faithful love.
‘God will rejoice over you with gladness, God will renew you in love; God will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.’ Zephaniah 3:17
Remember, when you are tempted to believe that resources are scarce, and your hope fails, that we have an abundant God, and there is always hope, because we are the holders of hope for the world.
Grace, love and peace,