Rector's Report 2005
From the booklet of Annual Reports
presented to the Annual Parish Meeting on 20th April 2005
Context is everything. The interlocking features of everyday life seem to become more and more complicated year by year. We sometimes try to fool ourselves (often sub-consciously) into believing that we are unaffected by things that go on elsewhere and at different times, but it cannot be so. If the phrase 'we belong to One World' has become a bit of a cliché, it is nonetheless a very obvious truth. There are few if any hidden places any more, and although occasionally we hear of previously unknown tribes being discovered, or people appearing apparently from nowhere after fifty years of isolation in a jungle somewhere, the basic reality with which we live is that the world is a tiny, and rapidly changing entity of which we are all an integral part. And we are, whether we choose to be or not, formed by what is happening around us, whether locally or internationally. If that is so socially and politically, it is certainly so in our Christian life as well. We are not protected from the world nor, I hope, do we stand apart from the world. If we think we do, we are fooling ourselves. How we are affected it would be difficult to generalise about, because we gather our information, distil it and respond to it in many different ways. I guess in all our lives the media has a disproportionate influence. Whether following the depressing story of the American elections, or the continuing political disaster stories of Iraq or Sudan or Zimbabwe, or forming images of terrible suffering after the Boxing Day tsunami, we are bombarded with images and words - snapshots of a particular moment in time. We will never know whether the crying child broke into a wide smile a second later, as so often they do. (Why do camera operators feel they have the right to invade every centimetre of space to show the heart-wrenching cries of bereaved or starving people for our supposed benefit?)
Over the past year, our own city has been undergoing a similar barrage and we, as local residents, have to live in the midst of this uninviting battle between the media view that we are 'Assassination City' and the PR people, who say that Nottingham is the best place since sliced bread. Actually I think we know that its a pretty good place to live, and that it faces lots of challenges - like most places in fact. The city centre has certainly been undergoing a lot of change which should, if the City Council have pitched it right, make it a more pleasant place for pedestrians. The problem is that it is becoming so unattractive to car drivers, and to shop-keepers for whom access is increasingly difficult, that more people are choosing to go elsewhere to shop. It seems too that having for some years encouraged license after license to be granted for the sale of alcohol, so that the city centre seems at times to be literally awash - and not just with alcohol - the authorities have, rather a long time after some others of us - realised that other forms of nightlife apart from clubbing and drinking were in danger of becoming unsustainable. The challenge now though is how we manage to begin to balance things a bit better.
Now, it would be easy to believe that all this had little bearing on the life of the Church, but of course it actually affects us very profoundly. If we think simply at the most practical level about the amount of litter that has to be cleared up, and other less savoury forms of pollution that we have struggled with; the petty vandalism - graffiti, trampling over the carefully planted garden at St Peter's; the difficulties facing rough sleepers following the aggressive 'Respect for Nottingham' campaign; the increasing isolation of St Peter's with new traffic and parking regulations; the difficulties in organising evening events of all sorts because of the increasingly unpleasant atmosphere in the Market Square from quite early in the evening; all these things and others affect the life of the our churches. And they affect our spirit, sometimes quite imperceptibly.
I am not dishonest enough to claim that these are the only things that made 2004 quite a difficult year for us, but I suspect they have a more significant effect than we realise. And the way that we respond to the challenges that are being put in our way is in itself a real challenge to our faith and our Christian witness.
Anxiety about change
I guess that for many involved in St Peter's and All Saints' - and certainly for me - the over-riding sensation of 2004 was anxiety for the future, and of course as events have unfolded into 2005 it has become clear that we are in the midst of a very significant 'moment', in which we are being prompted towards major change in the way that we live and exercise our Christian ministry as part of God's church in this city. We have been challenged to look at ourselves and our relationships with other parts (principally St Mary's) and to ask some fundamental questions about what we are about here in the city centre. For a church community that has happily lived its own life for 800 years with friendly and not so friendly contacts with others, that is a challenge! But there have been such huge changes in our context that I believe (and have been saying so really since I arrived five years ago) that this moment is God-given and must be grasped. We have to be confident that if this is God's prompting, that God will lead us. (And if you want biblical evidence of this, go back to the early days of Israel, and remind yourself of the journey on which Abraham embarked (Genesis 12) or the story of the Exodus and the journey through the wilderness. Travelling light and having faith - these are the fundamentals of the Christian journey. But also travelling together.
Importance of partnership
The Church of England has grown up with a strange confusion over its role - a national church with local independence; an episcopally-led church with clerical freehold. Is it catholic or is it congregational? Big questions of the past, but anachronistic for today. In order to engage with today's mission in today's context - and for some churches, simply to survive - we have to move on (and in rural areas especially this has been happening over the past fifty years) to a new understanding of our partnership in the Gospel. We have to be working together, utilising our resources together, sharing the gifts and skills and experience that reside within the whole Christian community in any area. Parish boundaries have no meaning today. People do not live like that any more. They pick and choose. Anyone who moves (as I now do) between different churches, including churches of other traditions, will quickly realise that we share many members of our congregations. A city centre church has to understand that it has a seven day a week ministry, and that the 'two or three' who gather early on Wednesday morning for a Eucharist are as central to the life of the church as the hundred who gather at 10.45 on a Sunday morning; that the work of the coffee room, five days a week with quite extraordinary success and hard graft, is a significant feature of the mission of the whole church in our city, and stands alongside not in rivalry with, for instance, the Malt Cross Project, now a very significant feature both of city centre life and of ecumenical mission, or the café in the Methodist Central Mission.
Partnership - it is not simply a question of survival. Indeed emergency measures are never the best foundation for new initiative. Partnership, joint pilgrimage, is the shape of the Mission Shaped Church today. The story continues to unfold, but the year has seen unprecedented moves to encourage our Central Deanery to reshape its mission, and we have been at the heart of it. We will continue to be challenged, but as the Bible, Old Testament and New, so often repeats: 'Do not be afraid.'
Changes in staffing
Many things have happened though, which have been enormously encouraging in the midst of all this. Chrissie Little's arrival as Associate Rector at the beginning of the year was wonderful, and her infectious warmth and laughter have been a really important addition to our life, and the support and friendship that she brings to our ministry team is wonderful. She was invited to the post with the express wish to develop shared leadership in the parish, and her title reflects that; and with the development of the team in the Parish Office and amalgamation with St Mary's, and the addition of Sanja Moore, this has been happening, not without hiccups, but generally very smoothly, with Wendy Pearce taking a significant role as leader of the administration team for both parishes. I would like to thank Wendy, Angela and Sanja, together with all who contribute to the administrative task, both for their hard work generally, but specifically for making the new arrangements work so successfully in such a short time. It has taken patience and good humour!
Service to the City
Our service to the city takes many forms, but a small group of volunteers worked hard for most of the year to continue the drop-in facility for female asylum seekers but in the end had to give up because clients were few and far between. We lost Bilfer Ecin, who worked for Refugee Action, and referrals seemed to dry up after that; but we live in hope that the real reason was that the city got its act together rather better in its care for them. They stand ready to open up again should the need be there. We have also hosted a weekly drop-in, run by the Rough Sleepers Outreach team, which has been much used, and the team is looking to expand to an extra morning. Framework Housing, the All Saints Community Care Project, Prostitute Outreach team, World AIDS Day, and others have been partners with us in various ways; the Commercial Chaplaincy under David McCoulough's outstanding leadership has advanced and developed; and as well as the 'everyday' work of the coffee room, it has been used at other times too both by the Overseas Group and by outside agencies as a resource that is of great value to us all.
Life in the Churches
And still the ordinary worshipping life of both congregations continues. Thank you to all those who contribute in so many different ways. The music at St Peter's of course continues to be exceptional, and the growth in the choir reflects its growing reputation, a reputation that was significantly enhanced during the summer tour to France and Belgium, in a fitting climax to the Petertide Festival, which focussed on the 90th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1. The choir singing at the simple, brief ceremony of the Last Post at the Menin Gate in Ypres, will live on in all our memories. There have been more opportunities for both congregations to worship together, and it is always good and encouraging to boost the life of All Saints' with the extra numbers and the extra music when the services have been held there. However, percentage-wise the All Saints' congregation is rather more faithful in its attendance at St Peter's than vice-versa!! Margi Shaw stood down as co-ordinator of the flower arranging at St Peter's, and we were able in a small way to express our deep gratitude to her for her inspiration at a party at the Rectory. She would be the first to say, however, that it is the whole team who makes it work; and Rosemary Bennett and her little team at All Saints' work wonders too.
New window commissioned
One of the offshoots of the Commercial Chaplaincy has been our link with Workers' Memorial Day, when those who have died in the course of their work are remembered, and in partnership with UNISON, we are now commissioning a new engraved window for St Peter's (to be placed in the west wall on the north side) that will be a permanent memorial. We expect this to be installed in April 2006, and it could become a national monument. Julian Cole, and outstanding artist is doing the work, and an appeal will be launched in April 2005 for a fund of £25000 to cover the cost. It is expected that most of this money will be raised from trades unions, but private donations are very welcome. Details will be available in our churches.
There is much more that I could report on. At a personal level, I was honoured to be invited to become an honorary Chaplain to The Queen in February, and Fran had an extraordinary (and very challenging) three weeks in Nepal with David Nunns, assisting with a gynaecological clinic in the far west of the country. I also went to lead a retreat for the clergy of the Diocese of Natal outside Durban, and was delighted that Esther Elliott (who chairs our Diocesan Link Committee) came too and preached the homilies at the daily eucharists.
As always, there are so many people whom I could and should thank, but to name some and not all would be disingenuous, and to try to name all would be a risky business. But the fact is that everyone who touches the life of St Peter's and All Saints' is important, and integral to our lives. Everyone contributes to our common life. Everyone's response is significant. Amidst the uncertainty and anxiety, we are all seeking to grow in faith, and I am sure in service too. I am totally committed to working out the future together, so please do not be afraid to talk to me about your thoughts and feelings. There are no plots. There is a vision but for it to be a common vision, we need you to participate in its building.
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