He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.Colossians 1.28
LOOKING BACK – LIVING THROUGH WINTER
Right back at the start of the pandemic, in early 2020, even though there was blossom on the trees, it felt as if we were entering an extended winter. As we emerge from the relative isolation of these hard few years, I am encouraged by the emerging signs of movement, growth and renewal appearing all around us. Signs of the thaw are all around us, and it feels like we are entering a new springtime as a church family.
I am told that IKEA rigorously test every single product that they sell for wear and tear, putting it through a repeated stress test in order to see how it performs over time. These two years have been such a testing time for us all – both individually as well as a church. Tests reveal where we are strong and where we are weak, and over this time we have learned much.
Because churches are social organisations, and we exist on relationships, these two years of restrictions have had the biggest impact on our levels of connection, our attendance, and involvement. In old money we would have called this a loss of fellowship.
I am writing this (final checking really) on Easter Saturday, and I’ve not only enjoyed the amazing sunshine today, but been struck once again, just how good it is to gather freely, to see people up close and to join with others in prayer and worship over the week.
The pandemic took so much from us primarily because it stopped us gathering and connecting.
And we are not yet back to normal by any means. At the moment, our weekly Sunday attendance is perhaps around 60% of where we were two years ago. The question we don’t know the answer to, is whether this is a temporary hit, or a more permanent one.
The scale of this drop in attendance is not caused by people leaving, although some have left us or moved away. I worry a more serious change has taken place through the pandemic – changing the way we think about weekly worship – diluting our commitment or shifting our patterns. I pray that this is not the case, but I fear it has. Perhaps for some, when Sunday worship lost its place in our lives that it once held, other things have crept in.
This saddens me, not because church attendance is the only criteria I measure things, but simply because gathering for worship, learning and community, are not only core practices for followers of King Jesus but also because being physically present in the room with others changes everything, (even when there are only two or three). It increases our connection with God, encourages the heart. But when our brothers and sisters are missing, all of us miss out on the gifts God’s Spirit gives his people that can only be expressed in community. Catching up online after the event is not the same thing and it turns Christianity into something that is consumed, rather than lived out in community.
With this in mind, I think it’s time for a worship reset.
So, can I encourage you, at this time of annual review, to encourage each other not give up the habit of meeting together. Attending is infectious. The more we do it, the more others do too. As far as we are able, we need to make Sunday special every week – a day to place worship at the centre of our lives. Just as satellites gravitate around the earth, so weekly worship is our way of making sure our lives are centred on King Jesus above all else.
While we may have lost out on certain forms of fellowship, but there are many aspects of our life together that we can celebrate that have helped us grow as resilient disciples.
I am delighted that in 2021 we were able to:
- Provide a rhythm of weekly worship throughout the last year, both online and in person services across different settings, enabling as much engagement as possible, despite the fluctuating restrictions
- Install new technical equipment to enable us to livestream gatherings to an good quality (a big shout out to the team and to Alex Coveney for setting it up)
- See new people becoming disciples and welcoming them to baptism and re-affirmation of faith
- Welcome new members into our church family (our Electoral Roll has grown by over 40)
- Increase the number of small groups meeting mid-week – in person and online
- Steadily open up of the centre while managing risk appropriately
- Start a new midweek communion and lunch on Wednesdays
- Launch a new Toddler café on Friday mornings
- Maintain, and develop, our youth and children’s work both on Sundays and right across the week (with thanks to the teams who give themselves to this each week!)
- Complete the renewal and updating of the Heath Church
Leadership in times of uncertainty is not easy, but while these last few years have been challenging, I am particularly glad that we have been able to:
- Refine and develop a strategy for our future as a PCC and as a senior leadership
- Maintain staff morale and resilience as we have responded creatively to changes due to absence, maternity leave, illness, and restrictions
- Appoint new members of staff in our administration and operations teams and see them settle in really well.
- Express and develop our approach to pastoral care, such as for those in need, those grieving, those living with dementia, and the giving away thousands of meals to people in our community and church family
- Relaunch a new vision for ‘St Mary’s Global’ as we partner with others across the world to fulfil our wider mission and begin a journey of exploring what local mission and social outreach looks like post-pandemic here in Reigate
- Send two members of our church off to be trained for ministry (Ian Nott and Philippa Parry), welcome a new Reader to our team (Brenda Juntunen), and provide our Curate (Erin Gilmour) with a wide range of training opportunities in preparation for future ministry and also support a neighbouring parish
- Successfully meet our financial obligations, continuing to manage our finances well, and further strengthening our reserves despite a drop in income
- Achieve a silver ECO church award
These are not small things, and they were not inevitable. We have much to give thanks for. We all know that our church life, in all its complexity, could not operate without the generosity of so many people, volunteers, and staff. We are indebted to all who contribute in so many ways to the life and health of St Mary’s Parish Church with the Heath Church.
I am so thankful to God and to you, for all the thousands of ways that you have made a difference in our church life. Thank you! It really is amazing!
LOOKING AHEAD – A NEW SPRINGTIME
While I am mindful that it may yet take time to fully regain our momentum as a community, I am determined that we set our minds to making sure that our church is re-envisioned for a new chapter of life together post-pandemic. I am excited for the future.
Our primary focus at this time needs to be rebuilding community and deepening our spiritual life so that we have renewed energy for mission and sharing our faith to all ages. We need to draw together newer and more established members, deepening our sense of a shared life in Christ and reconnecting with our common mission.
This is one reason that from April to August the themes and passages we will be reading together when we gather for worship on Sundays, will all be the same across all four congregation settings, as we will be following the lectionary readings. We are also inviting life groups to share in the same journey too using these passages as the basis of our small group gatherings. Now is a time for unity and connection.
Building on the emphasis on discipleship over the past few years it is also important to me that we continue to seek deeper change and transformation especially as we face a new set of challenges in our daily post-pandemic lives.
Colossians 1.28, quoted at the start of this report, reminds us that the goal is to present Christ to people in order to present people to God as fully mature in him. We have been saved to live missional, transformed lives, growing in Christlikeness, year on year.
Underpinning the emphasis on community and spiritual depth it is also vital that we strengthen the underlying foundations of our church life – our prayer life, our worship and teaching, our finances (and our financial systems and finance team), our staffing team, our operational systems and safeguarding structures, and our use of technology. These are the pillars of our church life and as we are only as strong as our weakest part; we must work together to strengthen our core.
The purpose of all this is not simply so that we are stronger in ourselves but rather that as we build ourselves up in the Lord together again, we will stretch ourselves further in reaching out to our neighbours in new ways.
A VISION WITHOUT A STRATEGY IS JUST A PIPEDREAM
All good ideas, and good intentions, need to be turned into reality if they are to find their fulfilment. We need VIM – vision, intention, and the right means. Over the next year I hope that we will be able to further embed the strategy we have developed, to help us move forward with greater clarity and energy, remembering that our core goal is to present Christ to people, and to present people back to God as mature in Christ.
So, in line with our five priorities, here are some of the ways we will be focusing our work together over the next year:
Reaching out to a world in need
- Encouraging one another as whole-life disciples on our various frontlines and re-energising each other in evangelism – proclaiming him (Col 1.28)
- Developing a renewed strategy for life-changing social engagement in our community and engaging the church in this together
- Building up our connection with families and strengthen our relationships with our local schools as places of service and mission
- Deepening our outreach to those in the 3rd age and later life
- Continuing to develop our online and digital presence
Drawing people into a new identity in Christ
- Welcoming and inducting new believers into church life through intentional relationships, small groups, and resources
Developing a culture of discipleship
- Developing our discipleship pathway and leadership pipeline, strengthening the process for how we help each other to mature in Christ (Col 1.28)
- Deepening our reliance on Word and Spirit as the foundation of our shared church life, across the whole church, as we navigate cultural and social change in the world around us.
- Strengthening and encouraging our small groups – increasing leadership, engagement, transformation, and participation, in new ways
- Appointing new staff to further develop our family, children, and youth discipleship, and to develop our worship culture
Loving one another as family
- Deepening our relationships with each other through social events and activities.
- Strengthening our later life ministries giving them higher profile in our church life
- Further developing our conversation about sexuality and gender and learn more about how to live in love and faithfulness together in our changing context
- Continuing to build up our pastoral care through our small groups and weekly activities together, going deeper not just wider
- Growing as an emotionally healthy church together
- Developing our inclusion and work supporting those with additional needs of all ages
Giving ourselves away for the sake of others
- Further embedding and develop our partnerships with others in mission overseas
- Creating momentum for church planting and pioneering in the coming years
- Developing our relationships with other Churches and networks as we seek to grow resilient disciples in our secular age
- Seeking out possible partnership with a church in an area of social need
In a few years’ time, when we will all look back at these last few years and the ones just ahead of us, I wonder what we will find ourselves saying?
My prayer is that we will be able to tell a story of how much we learned through this time of refining and reordering. I pray that we will be able to see how God changed us through this time and brought many back home to himself. I pray that we will be able to see the significance of this time as a foundational time of realignment, renewal, and redeployment. I pray that we will see growth and maturity in our lives and in our community life together. Every one of us matters in the kingdom of God.
I have much faith for all these things, and I look forward to seeing how God works out his plans for us.
As I conclude, I want to thank all of you for your involvement and partnership in the gospel and in the life of this community. Every act matters. Every phone call. Every hour of listening or prayer. Thank you. Church life is always a communal thing.
Shortly before I arrived, the whole church came together to reorder the main church and to build a new church centre. This was an amazing feat, and this development has laid a superb foundation for our ministry and mission in the years ahead. I am so grateful for all that you have made possible. I don’t ever take it for granted.
I also want to thank the team close to me – my dear staff friends. Working with you all is a great pleasure and I am so grateful for all you are and all you bring. Charles and Ali have both given so much to our church family and we will miss your presence and your gifts so much. May you both know God’s deep grace and peace as you leave the team. We pray for Erin too, with thanks, as she seeks God’s new calling for her in the coming year.
Tom, Leslie, and Nick and Katie, have been a fantastic warden team alongside. You are all very valuable to me and I am thankful for the way you have given yourselves to your new roles this year. Thank you!
One person deserves a particular mention as he has given himself tireless and humbly year after year in serving as our treasurer. Alastair Rubie is a man of deep integrity, sincerity, humility, and faithfulness. He has been an amazing treasurer and we are all indebted to his hidden service behind the scenes over so many years. We are all so blessed to have had him in this role. Thank you, Alastair, (and Suzanne) so much.
And lastly, I want to thank Tory. You are my love and my rock. You hold me up and you keep me going. You pray with me and for me. You are so kind to me. Your wisdom, encouragement, humour, guidance, laughter, and compassion mean everything to me. I love you.
Richard Wilson | Vicar