Rector's Report 2004
From the booklet of Annual Reports
presented to the Annual Parish Meeting on 22nd April 2004
I suppose if there was one word to sum up the past year for St Peter’s and All Saints’, and what I hope everyone has an abundance of, it would be patience! There has been a great deal that has profoundly affected our life, whether at world level or at the most local and internal. I think for many in the wider community there has been a degree of confusion and even fear around that has been quite disturbing. As I write, the political fall-out over the war with Iraq continues to damage the Government, and a high level of anxiety about possible terrorist attacks in this country or against British interests remains a real possibility.
The domestic political agenda has also been dominated by issues such as asylum policy, and the proposal to open a reception and holding centre on the site of RAF Newton has brought this issue alive in the Nottingham area in a particularly sharp way. As a church community in the midst of one of Britain’s key cities, we have a responsibility to tussle with these key political and ethical issues. It is not easy to apply the insights of the Gospel in the modern world, and in some ways perhaps our greatest responsibility is to ensure that debates can take place, and that care and hospitality can be shown.
I was glad that we offered St Peter’s as a place for open discussion on issues to do with the war, and that we were able to respond to the needs of women asylum seekers by setting up a drop-in centre meeting on a Friday morning, with volunteers from a variety of places, including our own congregation. Wendy, Fran and Desiree, Jan and Sister Pippa have all played a key role in supporting Bilfer Ecin from Refugee Action in her work.
Access on Sundays
The continuing development of the City of Nottingham has also affected our lives sometimes for the better certainly, but also at times having a very irritating effect on many of us and the questions of access to St Peter’s, especially on Sundays, have continued to frustrate many people, to the point where a number have decided not to come any more. This is sad, but it brings us face to face with reality! Sunday is just another day, and so far as the City Council is concerned, there is no reason why we should have special concessions that traders and business people do not get. I can only see this problem getting worse, and we continue to raise the issues with appropriate staff when we are able to.
Divisions in the church
But 2003 was also a year in which the Anglican Communion faced major difficulties that were reflected at every level from the worldwide meetings of the Primates of the Communion to ordinary parishes in every part of the world. Anglicanism has always prided itself on meeting problems head-on and relying on the sense of deep loyalty to one another to ensure that whatever the disagreement it could be met with honesty and mutual respect as together we seek the truth. It no longer seems to be the case. I was identified in one local ‘journal’ as being a modernizer, because I wrote a letter to the Guardian that sought to expose the hidden and deeply political agendas being fought out in the American church. I don’t think my own personal views are a secret – but they are irrelevant to what I was writing, and to what I have tried consistently to stand for – which is classical Anglicanism. The divisions on human sexuality are deep. They touch us all, and because they are very personal emotions, we are all very sensitive about them. But if the truth is to be pursued there has to be openness to one another, learning from one another and concern for one another. Our congregations – which have always prided themselves on their openness and welcome to all, regardless of personal situations, - have been affected by this argument. I would have been surprised had we not. But if we cannot get on with life together, respect one another, and work on the issues together, then who can? It might be easier, more comfortable to be a monochrome group, where all is clearly delineated and all are agreed, but it is not much like reality as I see it. There will continue to be opportunities to explore difficult issues together, but we must remember that, however deeply and personally we feel about them, those who differ also feel deeply and personally – and all are coming at it from a position of faith in our God who loves us – not because we are good, but just because he loves us.
One of the features of life that affects St Peter’s especially is a fairly constant change in the make-up of the congregations. That makes it quite difficult to be able to say St Peter’s and All Saints’ stand for this or that. We need to build a more effective community, a sense of identity among us – this is something that many people are saying; but it does not just happen. In the autumn I suggested in a sermon that just for one moment we swallow our pride and go up to one person whose name we didn’t know, and get to know them. The idea was well-received, but one go doesn’t solve the problem! We need consciously to set out to do it, otherwise we can never begin to be the sort of Body that is implied by the term ‘the Body of Christ’. We cannot begin to love those beyond our community, if we are fearful about loving those with whom we so obviously have common cause. New people appear regularly. I hope they feel welcome. I hope we welcome them. But I wonder how many disappear again having in some way felt excluded. Clergy and other ministers have a heavy responsibility, in this, but in a context like ours, we cannot do it alone. It is a ministry for all, and we must extend it to all, not just to the like-minded, or like-behaving. We are in a key position in our city. How many times are we reminded of that? The strange people (define!) who wander in and wander out; the opportunities to welcome the stranger are innumerable. Our women’s drop-in has been doing that most of the year – and it was good to have Alan Simpson and many others with us for an official opening in July. We have provided space too for the Rough Sleepers Outreach Team to hold a weekly drop-in. And we have continued to support the Framework staff and clients both with their sleep-out and this year with a highly successful Carol Service. And work with the Prostitute Outreach Workers’ Team has also been established – Sue Johnstone, the director, spoke movingly on Good Friday; I have joined their management team; and we held another really good little carol service, this time at All Saints, for staff and clients. We were sad that the plans to create a new base for them at John Perkins House fell through because the City Council would not grant permission for Change of Use, but their premises on Alfreton Road have now been done up.
JPH has instead become the home for Philip Collin, our new Director of Music. Philip joined us after Andrew Teague was appointed as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Bradford Cathedral. The loss of the Teague family was a major loss both to the life and to the music of St Peter’s, and Andrew’s contribution in particular was very special. But we have certainly been blessed in uncovering Philip – even from quite a small pool! There are new depths in the music that is now being offered and a sense of togetherness in every way in the choir. We have begun to try to recruit new members for the top line, but have been really delighted to see all the lower parts expand both in number and in quality over the second part of the year. But Philip has been more than ably supported by Mike Leuty and Peter Siepmann, whose skills on the organ are quite remarkable for one so young! And I would also like to mention Nigel Day’s contribution during the interregnum, which was absolutely crucial to ‘keeping the show on the road’. We really hoped that Nigel would stay on as a part of the team, but he felt it was right to move on again. I can only say how deeply grateful we were to him for his work over a number of months.
Over the latter part of the year, we have been preparing for the Funding Campaign which takes place every four years. We are very fortunate in the parish to have financial resources not available to most parishes, as a result of Canon Ingles’ careful stewardship of the proceeds of sales of land; but even more significantly because of the enormously hard work that is invested in the Coffee Room. Every year I pay tribute to June Lord, and to all who put so much effort into it; and I do so again, with real gratitude to them all. This year, we have benefited to the tune of £40,000. How good it would be if we could one day say that that money was free to be invested in developing the work of the parish in the city, and not just being eaten up by everyday expenses. Of course many of the expenses are to do with our outreach, and the salaries that we are now paying are all for staff who contribute a very great deal to that mission and ministry; but I believe in the aim that our freewill offering from our own resources should cover the day to day running, and the extra income we are fortunate to have should go to enable other things.
Changing role of the Church in the city centre
We are in a new era in church life. There is a variety of view about the future of the Church of England as the Established Church. Of course there is! But the days of independent parishes doing their own thing wherever they happen to be, regardless of anyone else, relying on a sort of general sympathy for and interest in the life of the church on the part of the majority of the population are simply finished. The processes of change in which we are all now caught up – signalled first by the unification of St Peter’s and All Saints’, now by the new and budding relationship with St Mary’s, but also being expressed by the development of relationships across the Radford/All Saints’/Hyson Green area – are part of a response to our recognition of that fact. It is not easy to face up to it. It means radical change in how we perceive our parish life, and the ministry that is available to us. A city centre church today has to justify its existence (and here we are back to the beginning of my report). We do have a geographical parish, with people who live in it – especially now that we include the All Saints’ area. But lifestyles have changed. Generally people are not ‘in’ during the day, and many of them are not ‘in’ at night or at the weekends either! Many of them are in the city centre – working, playing, causing trouble, shopping or a combination of them all! David McCoulough will tell you much about his experience of ministry in the workplace that will demonstrate that he is doing much of the work that might have been done by parish clergy thirty or forty years ago. That expanding work is certainly one of the most significant pieces of work with which we are associated, and David is doing a superb job. But the Malt Cross Project – bringing a wonderful range of church traditions together in quite a new way – has also opened its doors during the year. Energised in its early months by young people primarily from Trent Vineyard, and supported by Bruce Rankine, a retired senior executive with the Bank of England, and also a member of Vineyard, it has got off to a very good start, and is a sought after venue. Its real work will begin however when we get a night-time ministry up and running, offering support and friendship to revellers in need of shelter, safety and chill-out in the middle of an aggressive, inebriated and noisy 24 hour city; and we are well on the way towards that thanks to the financial commitment of Church Army. Individual gifts will also be very much welcomed, and if you know of local or national trusts that would be interested in this innovative project, please let us know.
There is so much more… and much in the life of our churches continues as always, thanks to the quiet and unobtrusive work of many – ACORNS continues its great work with infants, under the inspired leadership of Ruth Stephen; flowers are arranged, money cared for, churches cleaned and loved, endless food supplied for our social gatherings; City Debates still attract interested crowds and interesting people; coffee break concerts and silent films are performed….It all takes time, commitment and love. And we all need to be deeply grateful to one another for what we each bring and we each give to our common life. I certainly am. And I am more than glad that we are now joined by Chrissie Little, who has already proved herself to be just a lovely friend and lovely companion in ministry.
And I haven’t even mentioned the triptych… and the exterior lighting. Well, I have heard one or two comments from people who have found the triptych difficult and disturbing. Art cannot I think be neutral. Or should not be. But for me, and I know for many others, Tiffany Groves has produced a most extraordinary fresh vision of what we, the church in the middle of the City of Nottingham, are about. And I sit and meditate on her work as often as I can, because there is a depth of vision there that I believe could only come from someone genuinely searching for truth, and we are invited into her journey in order to enrich our own. And the lighting – so subtle and sensitive (when it is working!) – well, does it not entice us, and others too, to look, to look at the beauty of human craftsmanship, and to ‘look up’. What more is there?
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