What does St Paul tell us? That athletes have discipline and self control; that they put aside anything that might distract them from their purpose of winning the race and achieving their goal. Discipline and a common, well defined goal sound like good things for church wardens to have! Certainly to be striving for the same things that your PCC and clergy are working towards. But what about this? St Paul says, 'Though I am free, I make myself a slave to all.' That sounds like a church warden's lot to me! Instead of being free to dip in and out of church life, to decide when you worship, to choose how to use your free time, you have taken on the task of serving this community which is Christ's body. St Paul (who has done the same) finds himself having to be 'all things to all people'. I'm sure there will be times when you will feel that to be true for you! You need the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and the tact of all the saints put together to be all the things your community and church ask of you. Yet St Paul had one firm principle that kept him going through thick and thin. He does not just drift around agreeing with the last person he speaks to. Christ is at the heart of all that he does. His relationship with Christ comes first and last. He serves Christ in all his efforts and he does everything so that he may share Christ with others and persuade others to join the same race he himself is engaged in. St Paul's discipline and self sacrifice, his perseverance and determination not to quit until he has won all flow from a desire to show Christ's love, Christ's saving power in the world.
Perhaps the metaphor of a race is especially helpful in this time of change. We may feel we stand on shifting sands. Many of us, and our people, face economic uncertainty and uncertain employment propsects. The hard financial facts are fluctuating around us, creating insecurity. And then, in this dioscese, the Dioceses Commission is generating uncertainty about our future together as church. Will we be in a diocese on our own or part of a bigger diocese with Bradford and Wakefield by 2015? Our Diocesan Synod and Bradford's have voted largely in favour of the changes; Wakefield's synod has not. We won't know what the future holds until the Commission's Final Scheme is published in the autumn. then there there will be a further period of uncertainty while the synods vote.
Shoule PCCs or other groups want more information about these propsals I am happy to come and explain them more fully.
In situations of great uncertainty, St Paul kept his focus on the race he had committed himself to run, eyes firmly on the prize - which was relationship with Christ. And that, I would suggest, is what you and I need to do over the next few years. Focus on the race that is before us, 'Christ is that path and Christ the prize.'
So what can we do? Well, I've got three M's for you!
- Ensure that morale remains high; encourage others with whom we share the race in their devotion to Christ so that, together, we can withstand the challenges and difficultes without losing faith.
- Ensure mutuality; see that we support and encourage one another across benefices and deaneries. We must share time and resources and work together.
- Safeguard ministry by working to promote vocations. Do you know that if each parish produced one person with a vocation every 5 years, we would have more ministry than we could support or train? We'd find a way - it would change the whole future of the church! Have you ever spotted and encouraged someone to think of giving themselves to ministry? A discreet 'have you ever thought of offering yourself for ministry?' from the Church Warden or Vicar is often the start of a journey into ministry. God calls, but the church also plays its part in that calling. Or, here's a question, have you thought about it for yourself?
To do all this, then, we need to eqip ourselves, just as the athlete would have his running shoes and shorts, his linament for his muscles and his water bottle. I want, now, to say something about the resources that are available to you all.
Firstly, Ambition for Mission
During the last year, 3 groups from across the diocese have been working to develop a better understanding of what growth can mean in our parishes and how we can work to support growth. The three task groups have looked at mission, financial sustainability and the deployment of clergy and lay people. One of the key recommendations that they have made is that churches should work on Mission Action Plans. The idea is that every parish should seek a clearer vision of who and what God is calling them to be and, following on from that, should draw up a simple plan that says, 'these are the things we are going to be concentrating on over the next year..or three years..or five years.' Some parishes already have something like this.
When I became Vicar of my last parish, they didn't have anything like a Mission Action Plan. 'Oh, we all know what we're doing!' they said. But they also said 'The trouble is, we don't have enough people to do it all..there are so few of us!' (How many times a week do I hear that?!) Eventually, I persuaded them to have a day when the PCC prayed and discussed our common vision as a church. What was God really asking of us? What was most important? Could we resource and finance it? Then we drew up a plan for how we would do the things that were priorities. The great thing was that, because there was a coherent plan and because it was published in the magazine and leaflets were distributed in church and in public places round the parish, people knew what we were doing. More and more people began to catch the vision, from the teenager who went home and made 12 toys bags because one of our aims was to welcome children, to the business man who came to me and said, 'I'm retiring and I'll give you a year to oversee the renovation of the church hall,' to the artist who designed and distributed prayer cards to local businesses.
During 2012 and 13, we are encouraging every parish or benefice to do some in-depth planning and thinking about resources. Begin by listening to God, thinking and discussing. There's more about this in my letter in Archdeacon's News. The bishops. archdeacons and Mission resourcing Team will be happy to assist with ideas or evenings or awaydays to help. We all need to listen to God, to clarify our vision, to communicate our plans. (Plans aren't much good if they are exclusively in the Church Warden or the Vicar's head. Often, if that's the only place there are, that's where they stay!)
Secondly, there is a group of lay people who, following the lay conference last year, are working on a multi-media resource for parishes called Agents for Change. As its title suggests, it's aimed to help churches and communities that are facing a lot of change. We all know how difficult that can be in churches, whether it's altering the times of services or closing a church or getting used to new ways of working with a new vicar or in a bigger benefice. This is what you need to help!
Thirdly, there is a team of people who can assist you - our Mission Resourcing Team, headed up by Adrain Alker.
Buildings Officer - Alice Ullathorne - advice on buildings projects, funding, community use of buildings and heritage matters. Keep abreast of useful information about issues like VAT for buildings projects and courses about buildings maintenance on Alice's blog http://church-community-building.blogspot.co.uk
Environmental Officer - Jemima Parker - advice on sustainable living and energy sources. Measures that every member of the congegration can get involved with to make a difference. (If you look at the Diocesan website, there's also a news article on St Marks' Harrogate's newly installed solar panels. If your church is thinking about solar panels, do contact them for advice or go and see the panels at St Mark's.)
Youth and Children's Team - St Mary's Richmond has just started a new service for families and children. They had 40 adults, 42 children and 4 sheep at the second one. If you need help to get a project going contact Graham Richards or Nic Sheppard.
Rural Officer - Andy Rylands. Advice on rural support networks and rural issues and he's just started a blog. http://ruralriponandleeds.blogspot.co.uk
Ministry with deaf people and people with learning difficulties - Rachel Wilson and Sue Pearce.
Stewardship Adviser - Paul Winstanley. We have, in 2011, maintained our 94% share collection rate and that is a remarkable achievement. Well done to you all - and a big thank you for all your persistance, hard work and generosity.
IT - please do use my blog to advertise events (just e mail the information to me). If you need help to think about a church website or facebook page, there is plenty of expertise around. Do contact me or one of the communications team - John Carter, David Brighton.
Fourthly, about Security and, in particular, lead roofs. Ecclesiastical have generously paid for two churches in the diocese to have roof alarms installed. They are very discreet and not visible from the ground. Only those two chuches PCCs and I know who they are. The idea is that we do not publish the location. However, all churches will shortly be sent notices saying, 'Thieves Beware! Churches in this Area have Roof Alarms.' Thieves will not know which churches have them and which don't and this will hopefully be a deterrent. If your church really needs to consider its own alarm, contact me and I will put you in touch with one of the alarmed churches so you can see how it works for yourselves.
The Diamond Jubilee - I'm sure that we will all want to celebrate Her Majesty's inspirational example of service and devotion to duty. Do have parties and services, bell peals and concerts. However, some of you will have heard about the idea of having beacons on church towers. The Chancellor and I are not keen on this idea due to the possible significant dangers. Beacons are usually on high pieces of ground, not on buildings. There is an article in Archdeacon's News. You'll see there that you must apply for a faculty if you are thinking of having a church tower beacon.
And finally, please do watch my blog for training opportunities for church wardens, on finance and for treasurers over the summer and autumn. If you need help with anything, ask and we will try to find it!