Happy New Year to everyone who reads St Mary’s Newsletter. This is an important year for our church as we spend some quality time dreaming dreams for the next five years. By the time we get to our Annual Church Meeting at the end of April, we will have spent six months consulting the congregation, discussing and debating ideas and vision for the future, and setting some direction for our mission and ministry both in the life of the church and in our community. From all of that talking, praying and planning, a Mission Action Plan will emerge, giving shape to it all.
The way churches work vary from parish to parish but I thought it might be useful to write just a few articles to help Newsletter readers understand how things happen at St Mary’s.
In the Church of England, the incumbent of the parish (in our case, the Vicar) has overall responsibility for virtually everything that happens. She or he shares what is known as ‘the cure of souls’ with the bishop, making the incumbent not just the priest of the worshipping congregation but also the parish priest, answerable to the bishop (and God!) for the spiritual care of everyone who lives in the parish of Battersea, some 12,300 people. This is something most parish priests take very seriously indeed, but, needless to say, this ministry of spiritual care to a parish and the spiritual leadership of a church is a demanding, and never-ending role, equivalent to the painting of the Forth Rail Bridge. So, in many churches, including St Mary’s, there is a Ministry Team of some sort who work together with the incumbent on this task.
Ministry Teams vary from place to place. At St Mary’s it is made up of the clergy, lay ministers licenced or commissioned by the bishop (in our case two Southwark Pastoral Auxiliaries) and our full-time family and children’s minister.
The Ministry Team meets together weekly on a Wednesday morning for prayer – a vital element of any spiritual leadership ministry – and for discussion. Once a month we have a longer business meeting and, vitally, once a month we spend time in reflective practice, looking back over our ministry and trying to gain insight from one another about how we do our individual work. On a termly basis we try and spend a day together, in prayer, planning or in social activity.
A number of elements make up the work of the Ministry Team at St Mary’s. Centrally, we work together to ensure the best possible pastoral care for people. We review the prayer list and catch up on people we have visited and their ongoing needs. This necessarily involves a degree of considered sharing, and so the Ministry Team operates under a policy of ‘shared confidentiality’. This means that we do share with one another things about individuals we have heard in the course of our ministries, and that information is treated as confidential to the whole Ministry Team. The exception to this is matters that are shared in explicit confidence with one of us, which we do not share with one another without permission of the person who is confiding the information. We find that this ‘shared confidentiality’ enables us to care as a team more effectively for people, while allowing church members the freedom to keep confidences with one of us if they prefer to do so.
Alongside the pastoral ministry we share as a team, we also focus on reviewing and planning events, taking a lead role in developing and deepening faith (such as through Alpha Courses, Discipleship Conversations, special services and Quiet Days), and assisting one another in the development of our own individual ministries. We also take time to consider vocational development, trying to spot potential leaders, and those who might be gifted for specific ministries, including ordained ministry.
Finally, to bring us back to where we started, the Ministry Team is diverse enough to often have an overall vision of the direction and needs of the whole church and so, with the Parochial Church Council, we often reflect on where we are going as a church and the opportunities and challenges we face in doing so.
Next month, I’ll write about the work of our churchwardens.