Looking outwards to new parish partnerships

Assistant Rector's House, July 2001

The Revd Eileen McLeanFrom the top of St Peterís tower in safer times (I do not propose you climb up the scaffolding to check!) can be seen many many church spires, most of them Anglican. Once upon a time, and not very long ago, most Church of England parishes were very self-sufficient units. Those surrounding churches were anonymous and pretty irrelevant. Apart from sending a few representatives to Deanery and Diocesan Synod meetings, parishes on the whole could carry on their own business, with little reference to the Anglican churches around them. And on the whole they did just that!

Of very recent years we have all been forced to rethink this insular attitude as we have become aware that the church is facing two urgent challenges. Fewer clergy are in training than are retiring. And as the costs of clergy pensions rise there is less Ďcentralí money available to pay for parish ministry. Common sense tells us that in these circumstances, resources of people and finance must be shared more fairly and efficiently in future.

I am acutely aware that this all sounds very utilitarian and makes the church seem like any other organisation, where policies are dictated by finance and available personnel. The good news is that as the church has come up against these unpalatable facts, some deep Christian thinking has emerged in response, and more and more basic questions are being asked about just what the church is for.

The essential answer must surely be that Christís people have been set in Godís world to serve his children in love, to work for his justice, and to do these things in the context of loving, supportive, welcoming, prayerful, worshipping communities. And if this is so, then we must go on to ask ĎHow can we best go about this task, where should the ministry of the church be placed, given the changing circumstances in which we now live?í

Deaneries are the next Ďlevel upí from parishes and the obvious place to start with all this. In Central Nottingham Deanery this means accepting the reality of who we are. We are mainly composed of inner-city parishes, many with very small congregations, all with little money, most with inappropriately large and crumbling church buildings. All of these are trying their best to serve those living around them, in some of the most vulnerable communities in the country.

We also have three churches in the City Centre - St Peter, St Mary and St Nicholas - all with rich resources of people (lay and ordained) buildings and administrative capability. We are trying to serve the huge variety of people who come into the centre daily, for work, shopping, leisure, or because they have nowhere else to go; to serve, work with and inspire the city institutions. Of recent times these three churches have been trying to work together more closely. A much more relaxed and accepting attitude has developed, we are communicating better and beginning to share some joint activities.

In all the talking we have been very clear, that desirable though a City Centre partnership is, we must not allow this process to make us more inward looking - this time as a group instead of individually. On the contrary, as we recognise the breadth of our own joint resources, gifts and strengths, this must spur us on to share with those who have so much less. And as we recognise our weaknesses too, we must open ourselves to learning from places in very different situations from our own, who have so much to teach us in the way of faith and commitment.

The next step has an inevitability about it. If we really believe we are all Ďone body in Christí, it follows that as St Maryís, St Peters and St Nicholas continue to build up our own partnership, at the same time we must find ways in which we can connect with those inner city parishes around us, sharing ministry, strengthening relationships and fostering mutual support.

An obvious way forward is to key in to the Deanery Plan which suggests that clusters of churches, in Sneinton, Radford, and the Meadows, might begin to work more together. It would seem sensible to link each of the three City churches with one of these areas - St Maryís with Sneinton, St Peterís with Radford and Hyson Green, St Nicholas with The Meadows.

In Ďourí area we have tentatively begun to implement this process. Andrew (Deuchar) and I have held conversations with the clergy of All Souls, All Saints, St Peterís Radford (now vacant) and St Stephenís Hyson Green. All Souls congregation have joined us for a Quiet Evening and we have returned the visit. We have held a PCC Away-Day at The Vine, St Stephenís Community Centre in Hyson Green, members of All Saints joined us at that meeting, as did Revd Graham Burton, Director of the Hyson Green Rainbow Project. Individual members of St Peterís have offered to contribute a particular expertise to supply a particular need elsewhere, or are considering doing so.

Speaking for myself, these meetings and experiences have been eye-opening and humbling. They have made evident that we are surrounded by small groups of Christians who, with real self-sacrifice, are struggling to maintain the very lives of their churches and are deeply concerned for the needs of their neighbourhoods.

In the months ahead we shall continue to explore ways in which we and the parishes of Radford and Hyson Green may work towards greater friendship and cooperation. For the most part this increasing collaboration will be at an informal level; a lot of it is about building awareness, encouraging each other and a preparedness to share very practical things.

All Saints' Church, Nottingham

However, with one church it seems that all this general talk of partnership has been leading us into a more formal and structured relationship. That church is All Saints' in Raleigh Street near the Arboretum, a church with which St Peterís have had warm associations over many years.

For two of the last three years All Saints' has not had a Vicar, partly because of real uncertainty as to what kind of appointment to make. The parish of All Saints' has recently seen much population movement and changes in use of buildings; terraced housing, manufacturing industry and shops have given way to student accommodation, hostels, some more affluent new housing, and the tramway down the middle! The congregation is small, mainly elderly and few live within the parish. It is difficult to see how it may be sustained as a completely independent benefice.

Last November Gilly Myers was licensed as part-time priest-in-charge for a period of two years to care for the All Saints' congregation, while a way forward was decided. Realistically that way forward will mean some kind of joining together with another parish. At a meeting of All Saints PCC which I attended with Bishop Alan and Archdeacon Gordon, it was agreed that All Saints should explore with St Peterís Nottingham as to how our two parishes might enter into a more formal partnership - nature as yet unspecified, but probably looking towards a united parish. All Saints' and St Peterís have been asked to propose a definite scheme to the Bishopís Staff as soon as possible.

All of this was presented to St Peterís PCC at our Away-Day in June and will be discussed at the next PCC meeting in July. If parish structures and boundaries are to be changed this will involve a long legal process. In the meantime whatever the final outcome is to be, it seems a very sensible thing for members of both parishes to start now to get to know each other better. (And we would want to do that anyway, even if no official scheme was in prospect.)

We have some very simple ideas in mind. Between now and the end of the year the two churches will swop preachers and celebrants occasionally, i.e. Andrew and I and Andrew Wallis and Laurie Crawforth will visit All Saints; and Gilly Myers and Clarence Rickards will come to St Peterís. At Harvest time we may have a Social together. All Saints' intend to suspend their Sunday evening worship from September to Christmas and come and investigate what we do. Members of both congregations may like to quietly Ďvisití. We will join in their patronal festival celebrations as we have always done.

Elsewhere in the magazine Diane Mason, a long-time member and Reader-in-Training at All Saints', has written introducing their congregation. There is also a page describing their programme for July, to give a flavour of what sort of church community they are.

This is a one step-at-a-time process. For years we have enjoyed a gentle and happy relationship with the people of All Saints'; we look forward to a growing and deepening one.

This is a very long article. It was very important to fill in the whole background as to how all this has emerged. At heart I suppose what underlies it is those words from another much more famous Epistle, which we paraphrase in the Eucharist:

We are the Body of Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.

Eileen McLean

All Saints' Church website

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 15th July 2001