An extraordinary meeting was held on 14 June 2016 to give members of St Mary’s congregation the opportunity to
• To celebrate the contributions of Peter and Alison Wintgens and Asi Munisi to the life of the church, and to take stock of what we are losing as they leave.
• To hear from the Staff who remain and the Church Wardens about their priorities.
• To think about how we will tend God’s people (ie one another and members of the wider community) and the roles we can play ourselves.
Sixty-four church members attended: the atmosphere was positive and the contributions, though concerned, were thoughtful and constructive.
Everyone was given post it notes, and the first quarter of an hour was spent contributing appreciations of the work done by Peter, Alison and Asi, and also posting comments and concerns about the future. I have summed up the appreciations in a separate report – while the comments and concerns are included in this report.
Simon identified his pastoral priorities as
• Welcoming newcomers
• Discipleship and carrying out ‘Life Journey’ conversations
• Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals
• Crisis pastoral care
• Maintaining our commitment to inclusion
• Building local relationships in places where the clergy is best-placed to contribute
His roles as Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury and within the wider church include
• General Synod – up to 9 days a year
• Archbishops’ Council – 7 days a year
• Ceremonial duties – 4 days a year
• Other Committee Word – 5 days per year
• House of Clergy – 2 days per year
• Invitations to events, receptions etc.
Simon gave a brief description of his responsibilities. It had become clear that in a relatively short time not everything could be addressed, and it was agreed that problems associated with catering for Children and Families after Asi leaves should be discussed on another occasion. This meeting would concentrate on the holes left by Peter’s and Alison’s retirement. Simon emphasised the pressure on the ministry team in particular, and began by inviting Colin and Debbie to describe the current roles of the Spas and the Church Wardens.
COLIN’S PASTORAL AND SPA DUTIES
• Small group coordination and growth
• Pastoral responsibilities at the Katherine Low Settlement (two areas)
• Intercession book (responsibility taken over from Alison)
Colin described his current role, drawing attention to the fact that until now the Ministry Team has consisted of at least five people (Simon, Peter, Alison, Asi and Colin) and up to October last year, six (Philip). It is now technically down to two, and he confirmed that this must be one of our biggest challenges. He has been particularly engaged with establishing a Sunday Discussion Group, and emphasised the role of small groups in providing pastoral care and their usefulness in extending our reach with fewer resources. He emphasised the importance of being spiritually as well as practically involved – the spiritual dimension can easily get lost when people are overstretched and overanxious.
CHURCH WARDENS: RESPONSIBILITIES
It was not so easy to identify a clear role for the church wardens, as essentially it is their job to provide a safe pair of hands for any aspect of care for the church and its congregation not otherwise covered. These may be practical and managerial, as well as spiritual. It is the church wardens’ responsibility to fulfil the requirements of the diocese (eg: the annual inspection) and to ensure that the needs of the church itself are adequately covered. Debbbie has been involved recently in problems arising from the letting of Pritchard Court, and the potential sale of Kerrison Road, and both Wardens were challenged by the upheavals at the end of last year that left us without a vicar and a curate. In the case of an interregnum or indeed any situation in which the clergy is not able to take the helm, it is the church wardens’ responsibility to ensure the smooth every day running of the church. Debbie pointed out that currently both church wardens are also members of the Congregational Life Group (‘Lifers’), whose responsibilities are as long as a piece of string, but who take responsibility, among other things, for events (eg The Summer Fair) and the catering for special services such as Remembrance Sunday and the Christmas Carol Service. They are also responsible for identifying ‘times and talents’ within the congregation.
Before forming into small groups to discuss the issues raised, Simon reminded us of the pastoral work undertaken by Peter and Alison over many years – work which we as a church have probably taken for granted.
PETER AND ALISON’S PASTORAL WORK
• House Communions (Individual & Group)
• Joan Bartlett/Mary Court Monthly Service/Room Visits
• Meadbank: Coordinating Team, Fortnightly Services
• Care of Specific People
• Parish Lunches
• The Alpha Course
• Hospital Visiting (Peter has been a weekly chaplain at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital)
• Sunday’s ‘Eyes and ears’
• Long-standing relationships with many local people.
• This is an opportunity – we have the chance to broaden St Mary’s understanding of what it means to tend God’s people, through a wider sharing of the work.
• An idea to talk over: should we establish a lay pastoral team made up of volunteers for specific areas of care, supported by Simon and Colin.
• Given the current commitments of Simon, Colin and the Wardens, what needs to be done by others – and what role might you be able to play.
RESULTS OF THE GROUP DISCUSSIONS
Tasked with recording the many ideas and suggestions that came out of this very fruitful twenty minutes, I have tried to group them together. I have deliberately not identified individuals, but in order to ensure the widest possible range, we tried to encourage church members who are not already members of the PCC or otherwise heavily involved to speak up.
• Should be helped to do what he does best. His responsibilities need to be prioritised – for example the giving of Holy Communion cannot be delegated, and there are other responsibilities which are reserved to the clergy.
• Pastoral care: sometimes a pair of ordained hands is essential – but not always. We need to make sure we get the balance right.
• Review all the current church services, identify what non-ordained church members can do and to relieve pressure and provide training if necessary.
• Review all outreach care offered, and identify those things to which non-ordained church members might be able to contribute.
• This should be carefully chosen and not too big. A lot of praying should go into resolving this. There’s a chance for re-evaluation.
• Encourage people to become Lay Readers
• Push for a new non-stipendiary priest
• Simon and Colin to make a list of tasks that can be allocated elsewhere.
• The idea of a pastoral ministry a bit vague – ensure that members of the eventual team have specific job descriptions and enablers to give them confidence. The clergy have spiritual advisors – it’s important that volunteers also have people to whom they can turn.
• We need to define ‘pastoral’: ‘caring’? ‘being aware of’? a ‘one-to-one’ thing? ‘communication’?
• Be prepared to consider ‘a new model’ rather than trying to replicate the old. What are the ‘essential requirements’ rather than the ‘nice to haves’?
• Spend the first three months working out what is absolutely essential and what can wait.
• Encourage people to become Spas and make use of the Spa skills we already have.
• Conduct a skills audit
• Train a group of people as servers (Leslie has offered to do this)
• Encourage volunteers by making time and talents as important as financial support.
• Find ways of reaching out to local people who love the church but are not really involved.
• Make sure people know what is already being done – the Meadbank connection was new to a lot of people at the meeting. Perhaps allow different members of the congregation to describe what St Mary’s does at services?
• Identify all the outside responsibilities – Mary Court, Alpha Course and so on – and canvas willing helpers. BUT essential that people know exactly what they have signed up to and how to do it. Some things may have to wait.
• There is a willingness among people to contribute more, but they are unsure how to ‘break in’.
• Ensure new visitors are always welcomed – perhaps have a special group whose job is to do this and follow up on visitors. Rethink ‘welcoming’?
• Don’t make people feel inadequate before they start.
• ‘Bring and Share’ lunches for specific reasons – ie: to learn from Sven about the history and archives of the church, from Ty about the choir and concerts, from Colin about Alpha and becoming a Spa.
• Encourage more ‘home groups’ and advertise them better.
• Invite people – the Mardi Gras concert attracted a lot of local people who are not church-goers and who had a lovely time. One suggestion was that we should have a monthly History Tour…
• Why do people stop coming to St Mary’s? How can we keep in touch gently, and find out a bit more about what we might be doing to put them off?
• Good listeners are vital. Give people the time to express themselves.
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
• Pray for guidance in this area
• Ensure children and families are made to feel welcome
• Spend serious time working on a plan to get families and children in and keep them. This essential now we haven’t got Asi.
• Ensure there is always someone to undertake the ‘care of souls’ on a regular basis
• Introduce a healing ministry
• Introduce a pastoral hour during the week – a kind of surgery offering succour to people who may be in crisis
• Ensure that people who are not God-fearing know it’s for them too.
• Review timing of services – several people mentioned that the 11 pm Sunday service is too long: if it is going habitually to be more than an hour, we should make that clear.
• Bell-ringing: have an open tower event for recruitment
• Children’s choir for Christingle service – Ruth has offered to take this on
• Meadbank, Mary Court, Randall Close etc
• Install a bike rack
• Get a dog bowl and keep it filled
• LIST TASKS AND OPPORTUNITIES
• BE REALISTIC
• KEEP IT SIMPLE
APPENDIX: COMMENTS AND CONCERNS
This is a list of the various concerns included on the Post-It notes at the beginning of the session. The actual discussions produced some very optimistic and realistic suggestions, but while we are planning the way forward we should be aware of the real difficulties that face us.
• Danger of losing the links already fostered with the wider community
• Difficulty of replacing the work Asi has done with children and families: the church needs the young (mentioned many times). One of the questions asked was ‘what do we teach them?’
• Worry about Simon’s workload (this mentioned many times), and filling the gaps
• Concern that, in Alison and Peter, we are losing people to whom many (both in the congregation and out) turn to automatically in times of need
• Concern about lack of pastoral care in general
• Achieving a more ‘Open Church’ beyond regular attendees
• Danger of stretching existing resources too thin: that in trying to do too much we fail to prioritise what really matters.
• That we will lose community cohesion
• That the congregation may shrink further if we can’t maintain the welcoming atmosphere
• Maintain difference styles of preaching
• Ref Children, it is a big ask to expect volunteers to handle all the legal requirements, safeguarding and risk assessments
• Several comments on what is perceived to be a shrinking congregation and how to turn that tide
• With only two in the ministry team, who will do the ‘one-on-one’ pastoral care – pastoral care perceived by several to be essential to keeping the congregation together
• Too much on the shoulders of volunteers.
• Loss of continuity in both pastoral care and children’s ministry – several people worried about continuity of care
• St Mary’s is a community and people feel valued if they are involved, as long as they’re not taken for granted
• Concern about how a diverse and geographically dispersed congregation can be helped to feel they belong.
• Need greater communication between clergy and congregation
• Worries about who will make the links that Alison made so well. Peter and Alison as a couple difficult to replace, their kindness, their experience and their teamwork. We can’t replace them, but we must address what they have contributed and how to make up for they’re not being around.
• Practical matters – Meadbank cover, Junior Church, Church helpers
• Workload on remaining ministry team
• We need to have a much clearer idea of what needs to be done – so much happening below the radar.
• A significant concern is that we may be tempted to fill the gaps left by adopting a ‘task’ rather than a ‘people’ centred approach
• Too much done by too few people
• Asi was splendid: we need another professional to work with our children
• Loss of momentum
• Is change happening too fast for some people?
• Parish visiting – already identified as a potential problem
There was also optimism – one member of the congregation wrote: ‘St Mary’s will live on forever – both my parents had funerals in the church. There could have been nowhere better.’