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Better together

St Giles, Horsted Keynes is a country parish that’s one of the 389 parishes across Sussex in Chichester diocese served by 553 priests and employed lay workers.

As in any Church of England diocese we’ve got a lower level of belonging – the deanery – and, even lower, the deanery cluster. Our diocese has 21 deaneries. St Giles is in the eastern cluster of Cuckfield deanery, which covers Haywards Heath and its surrounds, engaging closely with 5 other parishes and 4 or 5 other denominations.

As village priest I try to bring in priests and lay preachers from outside Horsted Keynes to bring more variety and inspiration to our ministry as a church, beyond what I can offer as the ‘default’ preacher. Since I’ve served previously as a diocesan officer I’m fortunate to know some folk who can come alongside us to benefit our mission and ministry at St Giles.

It’s good to have other priests in. I’m intrigued by my reaction to their ministry. Am I pleased when they’re well received? Or when people complain to me about their sermons! Every minister has the sin of pride! Every human being finds it hard at times to rejoice in the acclaim granted other people.

Humility is a key virtue of leadership – wanting to serve before wanting to make your own mark. It’s essential to the effective collaboration that vitalises Christian ministry overall - between laity and clergy, between parish clergy and, in an episcopal church, between priests and the bishop.

Horsted Keynes is blessed with the Bluebell steam railway line. When I arrived in 2009 we set up a Bluebell Railway Songs of Praise on a Sunday evening in July. It’s gathered momentum so that around 300 attend this short evangelistic service at which deanery clergy preach and the music group of a larger church now plays. Folk from deanery parishes join Bluebell fans on a free journey from Horsted Keynes to the service at Kingscote station and back. They help swell the singing of favourite hymns and provide testimonies of God at work.

This annual rail journey together is a parable of collaboration in a broader sense. No one village church is up to the evangelistic challenge of these days, for apathy and unbelief are hard to tackle on your own. Where churches build trust and collaboration they get better schooled in the skills essential to dialogue with the local community. For this to happen it needs priests and church leaders to have confident, humble engagement with one another that becomes an example to their churches.

The evangelistic task is urgent but it’s too important for churches to rush in at it alone without the knowledge and support of neighbouring Christian communities.

Better together is the rule. Just as a steam train goes slow but with grace and beauty, churches working together work more slowly - but folk can be the more impressed!

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