Parents taking their children out of school during term time for holidays have been in the news recently, not least because of a court case. There are times when this is necessary, but every school I have been involved with has emphasized the importance of 100% attendance: just as every child matters, so does every day. Whenever a child misses a day, time has to be taken later to catch up and that uses energy that could be targeted elsewhere, in moving the teaching and learning on.
There is a national trend in church life, which has been growing over recent years, for congregational attendance patterns to become less regular and we are no different. On one level it makes counting numbers more complex – the average attendance patterns in the Annual Report are significantly below the total number of people who worship regularly. We have 164 people we would count as regularly worshipping as part of this church community, across the two churches, and yet on a given Sunday we only see around 78 of them, less than half. On some Sundays, like last week, considerably less. So we have a pool of people, which on the surface makes us a very strong community, but we very rarely, if ever, see everyone at the same time.
I know there are other ties that take people away – other commitments which can’t be avoided, family living a distance away, friends’ celebrations, even holidays – but regular attendance when we are here matters. It matters to us because the regularity shapes us and forms us as Christians. It matters to the church community who miss us when we are not present and, to miss quote the poet John Donne, it is diminished by our absence. It matters to the witness that we give to those who call in or pass by and the vibrancy of the worshipping life that they see.
At the beginning of the year I came across a card from 1954 and it is signed by the then Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It was entitled ‘A short guide to the duties of Church Membership’. It is worthy of an update, but still has relevance and validity.
All baptized and confirmed members of the Church must play their full part in its life and witness. That you may fulfill this duty, we call upon you:
- To follow the example of Christ in home and daily life, and to bear personal witness to him.
- To be regular in private prayer day by day
- To read the Bible carefully.
- To come to Church every Sunday.
- To receive the Holy Communion faithfully and regularly.
- To give personal service to Church, neighbours, and community.
- To give money for the work of parish and diocese and for the work of the Church at home and overseas.
- To uphold the standard of marriage entrusted by Christ to His Church.
- To care that children are brought up to love and serve the Lord.
Some of those we may choose to word differently and the nature of marriage and the complexities of sexuality are a live issue for us. But fidelity and honouring, faithfulness and commitment are not in dispute, whatever the nature of the relationship. The rest I’m not sure I’d change much at all.
All of this is grounded in growing as disciples of Jesus Christ and this is where a shameless plug comes in. It has taken far longer to get to this point than I had wanted, but a new book is about to be launched in the next few weeks. We have finally agreed the cover, thanks to our son Michael for the artwork. ‘Follow me’ is an exploration of what it means to put the sayings of Jesus into practice in the complexity and messiness of daily living. It takes key saying from the gospel where Jesus says ‘if you want to be a follower of mine, then you need to do this’ and applies them to contemporary living. It will, of course, be available to buy in the church with a proportion of the proceeds of these sales going to church funds, as with my other books. My aim is to lay on some sessions based on this book during the autumn so that we can use it as a study course. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for either personal reflection or to come together with others and discuss. There is then a prayer that can be used to bring that time to a close. There are eight chapters, so the commitment is not too onerous and it can be spaced out.
The Chapters follow the ‘do this’ sayings, through which we live what it means to ‘follow me’, to follow Jesus, to follow the example of Christ in home and daily life and to bear personal witness to him, as that 1954 card put it.
The eight areas are:
- The Eucharist, where we break bread to do this in remembrance of Christ.
- Acts of loving service, where we work out what washing feet today means, following Jesus taking a towel and washing his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper.
- The commandment to love, so that we may be identifiable as his disciples.
- Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer as the words given to us by Christ, to use when we pray.
- Money and the challenge to the rich man to sell all he had to give to the poor. It looks at what money is for and the greater purpose it serves.
- Forgiveness as the injunction to forgive not 7x but 70×7 times; that is, indefinitely.
- Self-sacrifice and the call to take up own own cross and follow him.
- And Mission, the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel to go and make disciples. We are called not to be a club but a missionary people, who live the risen life of Jesus and draw others into doing the same.
In the book, as in that list from ‘A short guide to the duties of church membership’, money is one of the areas singled out. We give Money as a thanksgiving to God to sustain the life and witness of the church, to be generous in supporting mission and aid projects. This parish has been very successful in converting to regular giving through bank standing orders. A high proportion of the giving comes through the bank and doesn’t touch the collection plate. The advantage of that is that irregular attendance doesn’t impact as much as it might. But the giving needs to be worked out prayerfully and carefully so that it reflects the whole-life commitment as disciples of Jesus Christ, for whom this church is our spiritual home. And it is time for another renewal so that we can all take stock of what our realistic offering should be and draw others who have recently joined us to join in.
But we need to look further than giving. We need to look at income generation. We are sitting here with a wonderful asset and it can work for us. And the money and mission can sit happily together. The more people who come into this place, the more we can connect with them and the more we can connect with them the more we can draw them into its life, its worship and its warm embrace.
I would like to draw together a group who will think imaginatively and commercially about how we can generate income. I want to tap your expertise and others who may have gifts to offer. This group will need to think about what is appropriate to be held in here – and there will be differences of opinion on that, and we are grown up enough to have that conversation. For some becoming licenced premises will be a step too far, for others if properly controlled it will be an extension of hospitality, which is at the core of much welcoming. It’s a debate we have had to have in the Cathedral because income generation has become a serious concern there and this has been a difficult year over there. If you are interested in being part of this income generation group, please let me know. A few suggestions to spark off some thinking:
- Banquets and dining – hence the question about licencing.
- Trade events/exhibitions
- Meetings and conferencing
- You may have other ideas; indeed that is my hope!
Whatever we come up with, we need to generate some serious income to close the gap in the accounts. There will be implications for high quality marketing, pricing and equipment to enable this to function.
The accounts show that we are not breaking even at the moment; we don’t have enough money coming in to sustain the life and ministry of this church. So we need new income. Expenditure is pretty much controlled to the level we can function. There are only two sources for this income: giving and events/activities.
This past year has seen a number of key projects and we can see the plastic coverings. The organ works have taken much longer than envisaged, partly because the job proved bigger and a significant amount of woodworm was discovered inside, which couldn’t be seen until pipes were removed. That extra work has somehow been absorbed within the budget, but it has extended the work, and the dust from the roof work hasn’t helped speed things up.
Interestingly the removal of the pipework revealed the memorial to Matthew Wyldbore’s parents, on the opposite wall inside the organ to his own memorial on the other side of the church in the Lady Chapel. It is now covered up again, so it was a rare opportunity to see it.
The roof works are nearing completion and again more work was needed than first expected, in leveling the roof for a smoother run. When it is completed the church should be watertight for decades to come. We are handing on this wonderful legacy to the future in good shape. The work was enabled by the Listed Places of Worship Roof Fund and it was too good a grant to let go, so the PCC agreed to using reserves to enable it to happen – literally spending the rainy day fund.
We have had another change of administrator last year. Stephen left to concentrate on other projects and work, and we were very fortunate to be able to appoint Jonathan, who has taken to the work with great efficiency and good humour.
The PCC spent some time at the beginning of the year, just outside the scope of the annual reports, to look at how we can put our vision into practice. Clearly growing the church in reaching out to draw more people into the embrace of the church is a crucial part of our life and mission. And that will feed into agendas over the coming period.
Rob Deans left at the beginning of January to move into prison ministry. He had been exploring this for a while and it didn’t surprise me when he felt he wanted to move into it. I am grateful to colleagues in the Cathedral and from the Deanery who have assisted with cover when I need to be elsewhere. No doubt there are gaps, which are not covered, and I’m afraid that is life.
I am grateful to everyone who works so hard in so many ways to give this church the vibrancy that it has. From concerts to café, worship to giving a warm welcome, care for building and care for people – everything that shows there is community that values, loves and cares (which I wrote about in the February newsletter). I am grateful to the churchwardens for all the seen and unseen work they do. The community, which seeks to live the sayings of Jesus Christ, is the heart of this place and what gives it life as it lives the life of Christ in the Spirit.
Address to the Peterborough Parish Church Annual Parochial Church Meeting, 30th April 2017