Joint Parish Letter, December 2004
The future of the parishes of St Mary the Virgin
and St Peter and All Saints, Nottingham
I am writing on behalf of the PCCs of both parishes, following the joint meetings that have taken place over the past three weeks.
We met together in order that we might begin to discuss the possibilities of a much closer relationship between the two parishes in the future. I know that there has been much speculation about what might be proposed, and the members of the PCCs thought that it would be helpful for everyone to be brought up to date, so that as we all try to talk to one another, we are, as it were, singing from the same hymn sheet.
You will all be aware that in April, I was licensed by the Bishop as Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s for a period of three years, whilst continuing as Rector of St Peter’s and All Saints’. The primary objective of this arrangement was to facilitate a radical examination of how we are operating, and how our mission and ministry in and for the city might be enhanced. It seemed as though there might be three significant areas on which that examination could be focussed:
- The needs and expectations laid on both churches by their different but related roles in the civic context; but especially how the traditional role of ‘Civic Church’ that has historically been part of St Mary’s brief might be reviewed and enhanced.
- The widely recognised need for there to be a leading Anglican figure in the city, and whether, were the diocese able to appoint such a figure, he or she should in some way be integrated into the City Centre church life.
- Also recognising the potential for duplication of roles and activities within our two parishes that are both geographically close, and grow from a similar church tradition, the possibility of a much closer, even structural relationship between us.
Over the past few months I have had a range of conversations with people inside and outside the church, in Nottingham and beyond which have been very helpful in developing my understanding of the role that city centre churches might play, and I have been reassured that both churches are widely respected – although not perfect!! And we have now begun in earnest within our two PCCs to discuss the way forward.
Last month, we held a joint meeting of the PCCs which was a very positive experience, with a unanimous agreement that we should work these things out together, and that we were not going to get into ‘defending our patch’ just for the sake of it. We recognised that our own assessment of our congregational lives does not necessarily match others, and that we need to hear what others are saying about us; and we need to assess, with imagination and humility, what potential there is for us to develop our lives together, in service to the people of our city. We did not get into detailed discussion about what the future shape of our ministry might be, but, apart from affirming that we believed that both churches had an important role to play in the city, we ruled nothing out. We also recognised the need to work explicitly and humbly with other churches – especially St Nicholas’, but also ecumenically.
This week, we have had a further meeting with the Bishop, the Archdeacon, the Diocesan Chief Executive and a representative of the See of Sherwood Working Party, the Revd Ruth Worsley. The Revd Simon Mason was also present from St Nics. This had been planned for many months as an opportunity for all concerned to share progress. The main themes to come out of the meeting were:
- The need for ‘joined-up thinking’. With so many changes happening not just in our parishes and the deanery, but across the diocese, we need to be sure that we are working with others, not in our own little cocoon.
- For that happen effectively there has to be good communication. It was readily recognised that there had been problems in this area, but some of the problems had been unavoidable.
So what now? Well, we are planning three half day meetings for the joint PCCs, in January, February and March. The aim will be to really get to grips with our understanding of what the priorities for our two parishes/three church buildings should be in the context of the city, the deanery and the diocese, to assess what the strengths and weaknesses of our parallel lives are, who is doing what well, and what might be done better if we worked together much more closely.
We have set ourselves the target of producing some proposals in principle by the time the Annual Parish Meetings happen in April, so that there can be a full discussion then.
This will also then tie up with the final report from the See of Sherwood Working Party. This is very important, because I think everybody recognises the case for placing a recognisable Anglican leader in the city to lead the strategic thinking for church life across the conurbation and to facilitate our relationship with the civic/secular life of the city. The question that remains is how that position can best be introduced at the same time as ensuring that the needs of the whole diocese are met. There is no foregone conclusion about that, and we need to be in a position to make our case effectively and strongly at that point when both sets of proposals go to Bishop’s Council and to the Diocesan Synod.
So there is a great deal to think about and to talk about. In this process, your thoughts and feelings are an absolutely vital ingredient. We are neither working secretly, nor to any preconceived plan. What we do have to take as a basic principle however is that our two church buildings and communities do not exist for themselves. We are here to be of service to our city as a whole, and we have to be responsive not just to our own desires and needs, but to the needs we see around us, and to the Gospel that challenges the Body of Christ to live that Gospel in all its relationships.
I therefore invite you all to engage in the discussions. Make your insights and reflections known to any of the clergy, or to members of either PCC. There is nothing that we are holding back or wanting to talk privately about. We want the mission of the Anglican Church in the city centre to develop and we need everyone to work together to find the right way forward. Rumour, gossip and misinformation are really damaging to community life and will certainly make it much more difficult to come to a consensus about the many things we need to think about so I hope very much that we can all resist the temptation to indulge in such popular pursuits!
So, as we enter these last days before our Christmas celebrations, I invite everyone to unite in prayer that we may together discern the working of the Holy Spirit among us, and that we may be led towards wise and imaginative proposals that will see us all better equipped to serve God, to serve our city and to serve one another as we seek to live and proclaim the love and hope of Jesus Christ, Word of God Incarnate.
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