The turn of the year is always a good time to take stock of life, direction and purpose. I want to take this opportunity to set out some of the reflections I have as the new incumbent three months or so in to my time here as we look towards 2019 in this parish.
I have begun to share these thoughts at the two meetings of the Parochial Church Council (PCC) that I have chaired since my licensing in September and to explore them with the newly constituted ‘Ministry Team’, comprising a College of Priests (the clergy of the Minster and St George’s) and College of Lay Minsters (the Readers and Southwark Pastoral Assistant [SPA] from the Minster and St George’s)
There Are Gifts And Talents Here!
At the outset my first reflection is that this parish has an abundance of gifts and talents in the people who worship here and pass through the doors and that there are countless ways in which the church can serve the parish, the centre of Croydon and all who worship here. There are good and strong foundations to build on. We need to be confident in what God has already given here.
Changing Times Mean New Responses
Nevertheless as society changes in its values and thinking, the ways in which the church is called to respond change too. This does not for a minute mean diluting the essentials of the Christian faith, but often it means articulating them for people for whom a living knowledge of Jesus Christ is remote or alien. It does mean that what we have used successfully in the past may no longer serve the present. The PCC has already begun looking at how and what we communicate and with whom. This has opened up deeper questions about who we are, what we are really passionate about and how to draw others into that.
There are some steps that will give us a good footing to engage in fresh ways. We will need to review our Mission Action Plans (MAP). St George’s plan is very much up and running and focused in the community of Waddon. For the Minster there is a more thorough going to task of review that needs to be undertaken, but this is an opportunity if we see the MAP as a tool to focus our vision, values, mission and purpose here.
More widely the Minster, St George’s and St Andrew’s will be exploring the opportunities of being drawn together as a Team Ministry which means that strengths can be shared and shortcomings supported. Fr Gareth Powell is also working more widely with Bishop Jonathan on how mission is undertaken to central Croydon in partnership with St Michael’s, St Andrew’s and this parish as an application to the Church Commissioners for a Strategic Funding Bid which is about sustainable mission in a new shape for a new age.
Fostering a Culture: From Passive Recipients to Active Participants
My task as Priest-in-Charge here, shared with colleagues, is to celebrate the sacraments, preach the word of God and lead the church. All of that is about fostering a culture that opens up the mission of the church and in which everyone is enabled to become an active participant in the life of the church and not a passive recipient.
This is about unleashing and releasing gifts and hopes and being open to growth, personal and corporate. That is a threefold task: first, we open ourselves up as disciples under God in worship and learning at all ages and stages of life; secondly, we are responsive to the needs of our church in looking out for one another; thirdly, that we go out in peace each Sunday intentionally to love and serve the Lord in workplaces, homes, the wider community and with those with whom we share our lives.
This does not happen in isolation, in my head or in plans on my desk; this is a corporate task that I share with churchwardens and the PCC in the operational and strategic oversight of the church and with each one of you. I have put a challenge to the PCC: what might God be up to here; how do we take leadership and encourage the whole church to respond to that?
Challenges and Responses
We are entrusted with a stunning building at the Minster, but it is a financial burden in heating and lighting as well as ongoing repairs. And, of course, as in every church when we look at the accounts we worry and break into a cold sweat. With excellent churchwardens and treasurer we have the right people in place to work with our professional advisers, such as the church architect and auditors, to spot warning signs and respond effectively.
Croydon Borough Council values the setting of the Minster and its historic place in the community, and to that end they want to improve the environment in terms of aesthetics, safely and wellbeing. This is a process that the churchwardens and I are actively engaged in and that the PCC has fed in to. I am also acutely aware of just how many people pass our doors: the challenge to us is to help them connect with what we’re about and to serve them. I would love to see a way for us to keep the church open at regular times, and not all dependent on Denise Mead as our verger.
It is easy to focus on buildings, and our heritage within Croydon is a real asset, but prior to that are the ’living stones’ of the church, its people. That means a number of things: first, excellent pastoral care is essential, both to those who are ‘casual callers’, those who are of our number but may be housebound or in hospital, and indeed those who come to church bearing many burdens and buffeted by life; secondly, that people are fed and nourished in the faith through study and discussion opportunities; thirdly, that we offer worship in which we glimpse the beauty of God through care and attention to what we do and in music that lifts the heart; and fourthly that we care well for all those employed by the church.
To that end reviewing our stewardship is a priority for 2019. This connects directly to our discipleship. This will need to be an imaginative engagement with the priorities that the Ministry Team and PCC begin to identify – there is so much we could do, but we want to do a few things and do them well. I am not keen any more on the phrase ‘stewardship campaign’ because of associations with campaigns that are about extracting money; they are doomed to lead to disillusionment. Stewardship that is about reconnecting with our faith will be blessed by God. We don’t need ‘campaigns’ but an ongoing daily awareness of God’s presence and our joyful, generous response. We will announce a day for all members of the church, probably a Saturday in Eastertide, to come together to be enthused and engaged in where we go from here.
The Greatest Threat
The greatest threat to the church here is not material poverty, but poverty of imagination: poverty of imagination comes when we put our trust in ourselves and not in the word and works of God as our inspiration and hope. Poverty of imagination is expressed in phrases that veto of anything new or fresh such as: ‘we’ve always done…’ or ‘we tried that 10/50/100 years ago and it didn’t work…’ All our hopes, aspirations and plans will be blessed if we seriously ponder them in our hearts and pray for them to be blessed.
The Greatest Hope
I believe God is passionate about this place and its mission, and that God challenges and inspires each one of us to work out his purposes here. That’s why I came to join you in that task. We’re all in this together! We are the Body of Christ, in one Spirit we were all baptised into one Body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13