Rector’s Report Easter Vestry 2018

Written by admin on Apr 13, 2018 in - No Comments
The year on which I am commenting started at last Easter Vestry with the Area Dean (John Auchmuty) in the chair. So this is the first Easter Vestry with a Rector other than Tom in the chair for over thirty years. There have been farewells and “thank you”s and tributes to Tom and Meta, and whatever was said and done will always feel insufficient in capturing the heart and the depth of their ministry here over those decades. I deliver the Keightley mail to most Fridays late afternoon and have a cup of tea with Tom and Meta. I am usually trying to put off going to Tesco to buy the ingredients for a slimming world meal which I cook every Friday night – my dubious weekly thank you to Janice. So, I enjoy regularly keeping Tom up to date and extracting wisdom and stories that help me understand the madness that can be Belvoir Parish. Tom is still a dear god-uncle and friend to me and to all of us. The best tribute to the Keightley era is what happens next. Could I also extend my thanks and yours to the group of Parochial Nominators who steered their way through an arduous process of nomination and then selection of the new Rector. It would be fair to say that this is a process fraught with tension and anxiety for everyone involved, perhaps even more so for those not involved, but watching and waiting. Thank you to Peter, Hilary, Carson and John.

Before we go on let’s record some statistics, which is part of an annual report.

2016 2017 2018 (3 Months)
Funerals 14 11 8
Baptisms 11 10 3
Weddings 4 2 2+ 4 more in the diary

As a minister there are two sets of circumstances that are challenging – the management of decline and the management of growth, both of which require much more skill and effort than no change demands. My greatest fear last October was that there would be immediate decline in numbers on Sundays and associated decline in giving. I believe firmly that growth is the normal and natural direction of the church of Jesus Christ, but there will always be hiccups and bumps in the graphs. Any downward slide can create pessimism (loss of faith) and the turnaround can be painful and demanding on everyone.

So here is what has happened so far (at least in figures, so it can only ever be part of the picture).

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
165 196 240 223 197 182 145 160 216 189 184 198
197 182 203 186 160 187 145 150 188 220 195 216
177 211 203

The two words that frame this report are “whence” and “whither”. To make sure we are all on the same process, let’s define the words: whence means where from and whither means where to. I have used the following illustration many times. When setting out to cross an unknown landscape it is useful to fix one’s eyes on some mark on the horizon and walk towards it. If there is no obvious point to walk towards a straight line can be achieved by looking back at one’s own footsteps to see whence one came. Whither can then be checked as progress is made.

In the context of Belvoir Parish this process of discerning whence and whither is particularly relevant as we move from over three decades of Tom Keightley as Rector, through the vacancy and into the new incumbency. There is much to reflect upon as we look back. There is much that should be continuous and contiguous with what has gone before. Tom’s legacy continues in at least five ways –
1. The generosity of spirit with which Belvoir Parish welcomes and involves people of all sorts and conditions of human life. This has always been rooted in the life and heart of Jesus Christ, as evidenced in the gospel stories.
2. Parish life is centred around and flows from the event of worship and preaching, primarily the Sunday morning gathering.
3. Belvoir Parish values people above processes and programmes. We perhaps ned to recognise in a fresh way that processes and programmes may actually be how we value people.
4. Belvoir Parish has always been an adventurous community of faith, adventurous both in its thinking and practice.
5. Belvoir Parish has a prophetic role to play in the wider church, both within our own denomination and within the inter-denominational context. By prophetic I mean that some churches need to step forward first and take the risk so that others may take the same step later. Only certain congregations and leaders are equipped for this risk-taking; when you get them in the same place at the same time anything can happen.

As we look at our whence we need to be listening carefully to God and to the community around us so that our whither is carefully imagined and planned.

As we look back on the last year, there is much to give thanks for.

Our children are nurtured both on Sundays and during the week. We owe our thanks to Julie and Jeremy and the teams they lead on Sundays and at other times. Plus, the volunteers who lead various programmes and organisations during the week in our halls. Part of our whither, our future, is something that I would like to call “Discipleship pathways”. When we baptise a child, we promise to partner with the family in the discipleship process. This will mean developing an intentional programme that at provides opportunities for all children and young people from zero to adulthood (actually, not just to adulthood, it is a zero to death process). A bit like a hedge round a field there is always strong growth and life at various stages but inevitably gaps at certain places.

Our Sunday services have continued to be places of worship and teaching and encounter with God. Involvement from many people is part of the magic. Helen and Eric, our church wardens, the coffee makers, the tidy-uppers, the service sheets, the money counters, the sound technicians, Geoffrey, keyboard and choir, John on guitar and admin, Michelle (our other keyboard player), our singers, our instrumentalists, pray-ers and readers have all done wonderful work and with such generous spirit and holiness (in its original meaning) – holiness originally meant consecrated or set apart for God, rather than a personal lifestyle that avoided all things pleasurable. We are much blessed. I personally love the breadth of our worship experiences here, the openness to creativity, and the engagement in what is offered. Part of the whither may be developing the creative arts and music as part of our “whole life” offering of worship, here in Belvoir but also part of our prophetic role within the wider Diocese and church. I should say also that the outgoing select vestry has been investigating the development of an audio-visual dimension to our life here in Belvoir by putting TV screens on the two walls at the front. This will open up a whole new church department for creativity and gifting that must be among us already.

If discipleship and worship are two legs on the three-legged stool they must be balanced by mission, which flows from and into our worship and discipleship. Mission is a multi-dimensional idea. Referring to a mathematical model called Cartesian coordinates, ranges of activities can be located by their relationship to a set of three axes. On one axis is the missional activity of our lives. Our daily witness at home, in work and in society in general is crucial and should be treated as something to explore, investigate and deliver with commitment and enthusiasm. The false division of our lives into secular and spiritual is to be resisted. How we are in work as representatives of Christ is as spiritually important as ministry among our children right the way down to being on Diocesan Synod. The second axis is geographical, ranging (in the Belvoir world) from The Indian Christian Mission Centre to our city through things like Storehouse/SOS Bus and to the geographical area called our parish, with ministry to people in all sorts of need caused by illness, age, social exclusion, economic deprivation and the pressure on relationships of all kinds. Part of our whither must be to assess the local, city, national and overseas demands and claims on us. We want to be agreed, intentional and sacrificially generous along this geographical axis of mission. A third axis is the building of a missional community of faith (the church). There is nothing so appealing to the isolated, the lonely, the broken, the anxious, the seeker, the doubter, the one who has lost faith or never really found it, the fearful, the one who wants to hope, the one who wants to make a contribution, nothing more appealing than a vibrant community of faith with open edges and opportunities for all to give as well as to receive. As a community of faith that is both local and gathered we need to be regularly examining how accessible we are to new people, how easy it is to become a contributor (not just financial), how to break into existing friendship networks, how to become safe and accepted with all their flaws and secrets. This is a lifelong struggle for all churches and its individual members.

Our administrative processes demand a wee word or two. Downstairs is a busy office Monday to Friday. Everything goes through there – finance, use of facilities, supply of everything from toilet rolls to coffee, insurance, data legislation, child protection, archives, weddings, funerals, baptisms, diocesan information, salaries. Jennifer is at the heart of the office and its workings. The demands will only increase as the legal charity procedures become ever more complex, as business software exerts its gravity on skills and competence. Compliance and competence are not options. Huge thank you to Jennifer and huge expectation for the future. We need to provide our office with the technical support and the training support required. Flowing from our office is cleaning materials – Chris, Kay and David. Chris needs to be mentioned for his exacting work and his exact work on all things financial. His care over the detail is a tribute to his character and we owe him a lot. It will also only become more complex as legislation squeezes in around us. The presence of an auditor tonight for the first time is witness to this. Richard and Ken keep a watchful eye over buildings owned by the parish. During a vacancy this requires a fair bit more work than usual – especially at the rectory. Janice and I are still both overwhelmed by what you have provided for us. This year has also required significant work on the church buildings, and particularly the family centre. This has had its difficulties both at buildings level and administration behind that. Thankfully we are through and out the other side and have survived and learned lots. Part of the whither will demand that we take a long-term attitude with a plan to revitalise our buildings as part of creating that sense of growing a community of faith that serves its immediate and wider community.

During the remaining months of this season I will go on looking at who we are and what we have got. It would be my intention to begin to share the direction and some dreams for the future at the beginning of new season in September.

I don’t know how to end this other than to ask us to give thanks for whence we came and turn and face whither we go with courage and a ridiculous hope that we will find God together as we walk in that direction.

Could I then finish with a thank you to my two clerical colleagues – Jacqueline and Jeremy.
Personally, I owe Jeremy and Jacqueline more than you would know. My first six months here would have been very difficult without them. To you Belvoir is a slick running machine. To a joiner like me it is a complex piece of machinery that is both finely tuned and hanging together very delicately (that is a good thing for a faith-based organisation). These two have many times been the glue that holds it together and they have helped me begin to understand its uniqueness and complexities. It truly is something that only a Tom Keightley could have grown, and that only a Jeremy and a Jacqueline could have held it together when he couldn’t.

J and J both manage certain areas of parish life with creativity, competence and care. I also appreciate their partnership with me in the worship and [reaching ministry of the church. We have a regular Tuesday morning Bible study in the office (with Jennifer) on the texts for the following Sunday and it is the best time of reflection, learning and prayer.

They are good friends and colleagues who are willing to face the challenges as part of the team. Thank you.

Rev Adrian McCartney