"Without vision the people perish" (Proverbs 29.18) - so how do you go about sustaining your vision as a church?
In our country village the vision/scenery is just great which is why so many folk move here from London - but what about the vision at St Giles?
We're a small church with average Sunday attendance of 60 including a handful of children and we’re growing gently. Like most churches in Chichester Diocese we’ve got a MAP (Mission Action Plan) and it aims to 'renew worship, engage with youth and families and enhance buildings for better use'.
Last Sunday 8th July we held an extended eucharist so we could look afresh at our vision and mission strategy. After receiving communion together we moved down the road for a convivial bring and share lunch in the hall. Through the kindness of friends from a neighbouring church we’d children's activities so young parents could participate.
Over two hour-long sessions on either side of lunch our facilitator Fr Keith McRae drew in ideas and helped shape up thinking on outreach. Our sense of God's being alongside us was enhanced by my being able to announce a £50,000 grant from a local charity coupled to £10,000 from a generous parishioner leaving us another £10,000 to raise in the village to renew toilets and kitchen and create a large window in the hall.
Through that window villagers will be able to enjoy the view across the valley to Ashdown Forest which will inspire the many groups that use the hall.
With the ‘feel good’ of the hall project came sober consideration of our need for church growth and the challenge of better engagement with village youth. "We are fundamentally uncool" someone said!
Fr Keith summarised with a play on the phrase ‘critical mass’. We’ve got to build that with the youth and we also need to recognise more fully the mass (eucharist) as critical to our mission.
I am grateful to God for the 50 who joined in on Sunday to build ownership of our Christian vision. During the morning I was offered another pledge of £1,000 towards the hall refurbishment. Next week’s parochial church council (PCC) will be taking up our thinking on the vision day and helping St Giles refocus our MAP.
As parish priest one of my concerns is that the money that has come our way ends up serving and not distorting our mission and ministry. Church life has three Ms to balance – mission, ministry and money – and as we move forward it’s my prayer that mission and its human resourcing will be kept to the fore as we spend the money God has provided.
Meanwhile our village should have fresh vision in both church, through the renewed MAP, and hall, through the new window, as a consequence of Sunday's deliberations.
13th July 2012
Welcome to tales of a parish priest in deepest Sussex!
The glories of the Church of England! Sometimes you feel like the Mayor as the only resident professional with, in my case, a Horsted Keynes tag. Other times you feel like a prophet on the side lines as you play to Christian identity in a post Christian scene.
Nevertheless this month saw 500, a quarter of our population, singing Shine Jesus Shine as we held our Jubilee Beacon service on the village green. Earlier in the weekend church was packed for a coronation re-enactment by the school and the Sunday all age eucharist was well supported.
There are few places in Britain with the cohesion of this village. The Horsted Keynes Jubilee Committee worked for a year for our village day which included a fun run, treasure hunt, scrap heap challenge, beer race, tug-of-war, tea party, procession from church, beacon service, hog roast and barn dance finale. As parish priest I served on the committee which is receiving loads of credit after the event for a day that must have involved most resident villagers.
As parish priest I need discernment about which of the forty or so village organisations I involve myself with so that my time is best used given the necessary pastoral, liturgical, teaching and administrative work of a priest.
Many things press urgently upon a parish priest and his people. Time is needed to discern from among the things that are merely urgent the things that are important before God in our particular situation. As we attend to them we find a way of peace and a way of blessing.
The secret of a fulfilled life, or a fulfilled church, is to find and to hold on to the life-line of God’s agenda, rather than drown in a sea of endless expectations that are put upon you from outside your situations.
Out of 2000 villagers I have a flock of 60 every Sunday at two eucharists, swelling to 100 on Feasts, 200 at Easter and 400 at Christmas. As former diocesan mission and renewal adviser I was placed in a place where I can have a little time to serve Christian apologetics for Chichester Diocese, work with Premier and do some writing when commissioned as in Meet Jesus (BRF 2011).
As a leader I am aware of the need to affirm and draw out volunteers to lead in church and community, as in the Jubilee Committee. This will be one background concern I’ll have at our church vision day next month – more on that to come!
Father John Twisleton
18th June 2012
Check John's recently published Meet Jesus book with group discussion material as serialised on Premier. You can also follow Father John on Twitter or find out more on his website.