In this newsletter:
- A New Adventure
- Review of worship
- From our curate
- Dates for your diary
- PMC Report from the Parish What’s God up to here? Day
A New Adventure
It has been just over a month since my licensing service – and what a cracking service that was! It was a joy to be among so many people worshipping God wholeheartedly together and seeking his strength and equipping me for my time here. Huge thanks to all those involved in organising it, and for the refreshments afterwards, and to everyone who has been part of the warm welcome we have received as a family.
Since then I have been enjoying getting to know the St John’s congregation, and some of you from St Peter’s and St Margaret’s churches. I have met with some local community leaders, and am beginning to get a sense of what goes on around here, much of which is very positive. The 3Cs café has been buzzing the past couple of weeks, and it was great to see some of the mums bringing tables outside and enjoying the sunshine. That sends a message to our community that things are happening here, things to which they are welcome.
I was encouraged by the numbers at my first All Age Worship at St John’s church in June as we celebrated the Queen’s Birthday, and by the sense of joy in the service. I am aware that things haven’t been easy at St John’s of late, and that a lot of people have been working very hard to keep things going. Some are tired and anxious about finances, and wondering what the future holds. It’s easy in such times for our focus to become survival. But I sense God has more for us: his desire is not that we simply survive, but that we thrive and flourish and become a vibrant worshipping community that brings life and hope to the wider community in which he has placed us.
What do we need to do for that vision to become a reality? What needs to change? Do we need to adapt what we are doing now, stop things, start things? How do we connect better with our community? Partnership for Missional Church encourages us to be realistic about where we are now, but also to trust in God and notice where he is already at work, and where he might be calling us to get involved. This year we will do some experimenting. We might try some new things. We will doubtless make some mistakes. What matters most is that we seek God’s heart and kingdom before all other things. We can trust that as we do that he will show us the way ahead.
Do come and talk to me if you have things on your heart that you would like to share – hopes, dreams, concerns or ideas. We are on this adventure together, and I am looking forward to getting to know many of you better as we work together for God’s kingdom here.
Penny Cuthbert, Transition Minister
Review of worship
Last July, following the announcement of the departure of Jeremy Tear, the PCC agreed to make some changes to our pattern of worship and meetings to sustain the life of our parish. In April this year the PCC invited us to take part in a survey to comment on the changes made.
At the PCC meeting on 29 June I presented the results of the review. We had a good response rate of 56%, but unsurprisingly there were mixed responses to each question with more people wanting to maintain the 9.30am and 11.15am non-Eucharistic worship in some form or another than those who wanted to abandon it. Likewise there were more people wanting to keep lay-led services of Matins and Evensong at St Peter than wanted to abandon the pattern.
So the PCC digested the review information and made the following decisions:
- To maintain the monthly non-Eucharistic service in all three churches at either 9.30am or 11.15am
- To reduce the evensongs led by laity to twice per month
- To delegate to me the decision about the pattern of 8am worship – after agreement with the 8am congregation, this will now see three Holy Communions a month and one service of Matins
- To retain the 5th Sunday parish wide service.
Alongside these decisions I have been giving thought to whether it is more helpful to tie together our baptisms during the 9.30am and 11.15am services with the non-Eucharistic services. Holy Communion is not the most welcoming of services for people who do not regularly attend church. This would mean that our non-Eucharistic services in St Peter and St Margaret move to a different Sunday each month. My Clergy colleagues and the CLTs are supportive of this. The new pattern is: St Peter: first Sunday, St John: second Sunday, St Margaret: third Sunday.
I will now get on and turn those decisions into reality, and from 1 September the new pattern of worship will start and it is:
|Service of the Word & Baptism
|All age & Baptism
|Service of the Word & Baptism
Mike Smith, Rector
From our curate
Thank you to all of you for welcoming us so warmly to the parish, in so many different ways. We feel we are really being looked after. We may have only been here a matter of weeks, but it feels like a lot longer – and definitely in a good way! I sense that this is going to be a really good place for me to learn and develop as a curate, and hope that in turn I will be able to make a good contribution to how parish life develops over the next few years.
At one of our final training weekends for the Oxford Ministry Course, we had a number of last year’s ordinands return to do a session on ‘What I wish I had known before I was ordained’. One of them said: ‘make sure you really enjoy your year as a deacon’. Often, being a deacon is thought of as ‘not-quite-a-priest’, and in terms of what a deacon can’t yet do. We were advised strongly not to think like that, but to see the opportunities a deacon has and what they can offer. The main emphasis for a deacon is on service – service to the church, but also to the wider community and its needs, finding out what those needs are and bringing them to the attention of the church. Because deacons don’t yet have the full range of parish responsibilities, and can’t yet be called on to take on sacramental ministry, they have freedom to explore what this means.
This may all sound rather grand, and rather unspecific, but what it boils down to, I think, is that if a deacon is new to a parish it’s their job to really get stuck in and get to know the area, the people, what’s happening, what people’s concerns and needs are, to get involved. That is exactly what I want to do, whenever Mike, and the diocese, don’t have me busy elsewhere learning particular tricks of the trade. So please do help me with that! I would really welcome any invitations to visit, to see different parts of the parish, to meet people. Do speak to me, or contact me (0118 947 3783). I look forward to getting to know you, and the parish, better, and to learning how best to serve you as curate and deacon.
Dates for your diary
Some forthcoming dates for you diary:
|Wed 20 July 6.30pm
|St Margaret’s patronal service
|Sun 31 July
|A 5th Sunday, but the normal pattern of worship
in all three churches
|Sun 7 August 11.15am
|Parish-wide service at St Margaret
|Sun 25 September 9.30am
|Harvest St Peter
|Sun 2 October 11.15am
|Harvest St Margaret
|Sun 9 October 9.30am
|Harvest St John
|Sun 30 October 9.30am
|All Saints parish wide service, St John
|Sun 30 October 4pm
|Remembering a Love One service, St John
|Sun 6 November 6.30pm
|All Souls service, St Peter
PMC Report from the Parish What’s God up to here? Day
On Saturday 30th April, as part of the Partnership for Missional Church (PMC) initiative, people gathered in St John’s for a half-day of discernment looking at What’s God Up To Here?
There were around 50 attendees from the three CTM congregations who gathered in small groups around tables to hear reports from the earlier phases of PMC and to discern together where and how God is currently at work within this parish.
This discernment was structured around a brainstorm, entitled ‘What Might God Be Calling Our Church To Be And To Do In God’s Mission In Our Parish?’ followed by a ‘floated conversation’. Outputs from both were gathered for each table, collated and summarised.
Across the groups there were a number of themes which stood out, along with a number of ideas which could usefully be actioned. Some of these action ideas will feed into subsequent phases of the PMC process, but there are others which could be taken up by the congregations themselves, and by congregations’ leadership teams, to follow through on what God appears to be telling us.
This report is very much a summary of what was said; we recommend also looking at the detailed output which is available as a PDF download.
Four main themes came out of the various tables’ discussions.
The first was the perception that God is already at work in this parish – change is already happening. It’s not up to us to get things moving: God has already started that, our part is to keep our eyes on what He is doing and to work with Him.
The second was that small groups of various kinds are a great strength: for individual faith and knowledge of the Bible, for building the body as people get to know one another, for pastoral care and support. From that follows the question: how do we get more people involved?
Thirdly, we need to move outside our buildings to bring good news to all parts of our community, through words and actions. This is challenging as our buildings are our ‘comfort zone’, especially on Sundays, but we need to engage with people on their ground, not just on ours.
The final theme was finding ways to deal positively with difference and disagreement. Part of that was celebrating the way that the three congregations in the parish are starting to work together. Whilst diversity is a strength to be encouraged it brings challenges: within congregations there are different tastes and styles of worship, along with different attitudes to change, as well as more personal disagreements and offences taken; within our broader community there are painful divisions, fears and prejudices. We have a message of peace and reconciliation to proclaim, and that proclamation starts as we model it within our church fellowships.
There was a range of ideas for changes which would improve the ways we do things within our church to encourage growth and participation. These ideas, although important, do not obviously fit into the PMC process, but are things which could be picked up by CLTs and the PCC.
Hold a “Freshers’ Fayre” event, involving all the small groups, in order to introduce the congregation to the range of groups and activities available within the church, to inform and encourage involvement. Follow up with personal invitations, but also seek ways to accommodate those who have difficulties attending existing groups and activities. Consider ways to encourage people to get together to start new groups and activities of their own; possibly in conjunction with initiatives to follow-up on baptisms, weddings, etc (see below).
- Hold more parish-wide activities, such as this discernment day itself. Similarly, consider putting seemingly administrative events, such as church forums, into an explicit context of worship in order to focus better on God. Consider what else could be done to enable people to talk together about their own experiences of God and spirituality.
- Make more use of modern communications to spread the message, especially to young people; also to make worship services more meaningful. This could involve the use of social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. It could also involve more contemporary musical worship, different approaches to speaking and preaching the word, and broadening our experiences of prayer.
- A couple of tables made a specifically St Peter’s comment about a need to change the layout of the back of their church building to allow a social time over coffee at the end of services, which the current layout doesn’t really support. Is this also relevant to St Margaret’s?
A Bit Of Both
There were also ideas which are internal initially but should develop externally over time. For example, getting used to talking about our faith begins amongst ourselves, probably, but is fairly meaningless unless it continues with those who don’t yet know about Jesus.
- Implement different styles, types and times (and days) of worship. All three churches currently run services which are inclined to be ‘insiders only’. There is some room for flexibility in lay-led services and in the ‘all-age’ service at St John’s, but this is constrained by both existing congregations (who – unsurprisingly – like things as they are) and by CofE rules about ‘main Sunday services’. This could be avoided by starting additional services: possibly at different times on Sunday (although St Peter’s Sundays are already fairly packed), possibly midweek or Saturday; maybe even services in venues outside the church building.
- Activities to get us used to talking about our faith, including ways of clarifying (for ourselves and others) key aspects, such as the hope we hold.
- Finding ways of bringing ‘good news’ to those around us. This begins internally, by building understanding of the wonder of what God, through Jesus, has done for us. Small initiatives aimed beyond the congregation can build confidence and focus: even something as simple as posters/banners telling passers-by that they are loved (to steal an idea from The Big Issue).
There were also ideas more directly related to missional activity.
- Connect more with local schools and other children’s groups. At a rough count there are seven schools in the parish, mostly primary (but also Queen Anne’s and half of Hemdean House for older girls), plus several nurseries, playgroups and a children’s centre. Churches Together in Caversham has already started the initiative REInspired; could this be expanded and built upon? Similarly there are already people from Caversham churches who give short talks during school assemblies, and schools have boards of governors and PTAs. A big challenge would be to make such school involvement a whole-church activity, rather than just the preserve of a keen few.
- Follow-up on special ministries, such as baptisms, weddings/banns, and funerals. Provide and invite people to special services, whether sad – such as an annual service to remember and celebrate those lost that year – or happy – such as a gathering of all those baptised in a year. Less formal options include tea parties, and sending birthday cards with an invitation to all-age worship, say. Slightly broadening the scope, large numbers come to Christingles, which provide a fun context for Christmas but not much discipleship – what would be a next step for them?
- One feature of our local communities highlighted by the demographics reports and picked up by some tables was the surprisingly high proportion of households which are single occupancy, where that occupant is of working age. How could our congregations work with people to identify and address needs arising out of that? Do we know whether some, most or all of such householders have supportive friendship groups, are engaged with their neighbourhoods, and/or feel fulfilled in their place within this community? Note that, from a PMC point of view, this is not about a centralised ‘visitors’ model, where we go and help them (a job Caversham Good Neighbours already does well), but about an ‘enabling’ model where we can support initiatives through which people help and support one another, where God is already at work but where we can provide a final ‘missing ingredient’.
A look around our Parish communities easily identifies other possible groups to consider: those living with ‘hidden’ addiction, particularly to alcohol; single parents struggling with the fallout from difficult relationship breakup; young parents in general who could use one another’s support and encouragement; middle-aged children whose parent’s health is failing; elderly spouses whose loved one’s ditto; and so on.
- Could we put on interesting and relevant lunchtime concerts and/or talks, eg during Lent, to which people could be invited?
- Are there things we could do to build bridges to the groups who use Church House?
Thank you to all those who attended the What’s God Up To Here? Event and provided so many good and constructive thoughts and ideas.