Thinking back over previous addresses to this meeting, I have reflected on the core values that shape us as a community and as we plan for what we aim to be. Today I want to celebrate these values through looking at what has happened over the last year. Much of this is captured in the reports from different groups. So I am going to show a number of pictures taken this year which capture this.
The bedrock of every thing we aim to be and do is our worship. Each week we gather to celebrate in word and sacrament the love of God in Jesus Christ and aim to draw others to follow him. That gathering together is central in who we are and who we aim to be. We do not just profess a faith in isolation, but being together is a crucial expression of being a follower of Jesus Christ who prayed that we be one and do not lose sight of our need of one another. We are communal and it is hard to have a banquet on our own, so we need to be together. It is a fallacy that we can be a Christian on our own. When Christ calls us to follow him, he calls us to join with others and we find ourselves in surprising company as we look at the rich mix that he calls to share his hospitality, to gather round his table. That may bring challenges at times, but we are called to struggle with it and be who we are in Christ together, in community.
Each week I see a small group ensuring that there are flowers in the church. Key festivals are marked, and all through the year, there are fresh flowers here. They bring life and a reminder of community and communal life. A number of years ago a young girl brought some daffodils to my then church and said flowers are a sign that love lives here and so she had brought flowers for the church as a sign that love lives here. Out of the mouths of babes – she hit the nail on the head. This is the house where love dwells and where love calls, embraces and gives us hope.
We find ways to proclaim this love to those around the church – to use our city centre location and presence. At Christmas we have made it clear that Christmas Starts with Christ – this is a church of a living faith, not just a pretty backdrop of built heritage in the heart of the city. It is the heart of the city, because it is a sign that love dwells here. And we make that clear in so many ways. Whenever we open our doors people come in to pray, to enjoy the peace – there are very few places where you can find peace in the city centre. People light candles when they can and it matters to them. We have the cross with the resurrection banner over it in the west doors at the moment as a witness to those who approach from St John’s Square. At Christmas we have put a crib there too.
One of the ways we are particularly good at showing love dwelling here is through hospitality and providing a place for people to come and spend time together, for strangers to find welcome and acceptance. Here community is made and it matters enormously. It happens in the café, when concerts and other events are being held on Tuesdays and at other times, at special celebrations as well as each week after the main services in both churches.
All of this has to be sustained. And the weekly and monthly pledges enable the churches’ mission to continue. Without it we would not be able to function. Each time we have invited one another to review their giving there has been a positive response. It has taken a while for some pledges to work through, but they have. It always takes a while for those who are new to join in, but one of the advances of so many giving by standing order is that even if attendance patterns are less frequent than they used to be because of people’s lives being much more mobile, we still have the background support we need. We are looking at how we can increase income through other means, but still the backbone is the planned giving each week. We have already looked at the accounts and seen that there continues to be a challenge.
We have promoted faith and celebrated faith. As well as the Holy Week services we kept the church open for reflection on Good Friday and this year Chris Duffett brought some of his art and painted a picture while he was here, opened conversations and provided a different way of reflecting. It brought a point of engagement, for conversations to take place.
Two groups explored a locally produced book in the autumn and those times of discussion were appreciated. It was a privilege to see faith being explored and shared so deeply. What was interesting for me was how the same text can prompt such different conversations but also the depth of faith being shared and reflected on.
Schools work continues to be important. We have welcomed young musicians from King’s School and The Peterborough School for concerts, visits from schools to explore faith and for us to explain how the church reflects our faith, assemblies led in King’s and the Peterborough School and there are a number of people involved as governors and trustees of a number of schools.
Faith has also been promoted for those prepared for confirmation at the Easter Vigil in the Cathedral. Some of them are easier to spot than others in the photo after the service.
The built heritage, which speaks so profoundly to so many, has been cared for in regular maintenance and in significant repairs. The leaking roofs have finally all been recovered with the North side completed last year. Added to that some stone repairs and rainwater goods being kept in good order. Talking with the contractors they take great pride in their work. We have a new Architect, Stephen Oliver, who has taken over from Julian Limentani after he retired and Stephen is helping us take care of the buildings.
A sad part of where we are is that there is damage from time to time to the building from those who pass by. On Christmas Day in the early hours someone threw a traffic cone through one of the Stained Glass windows and this will be repaired shortly – adding to another repaired last year. At times we become the target or perhaps the recipient of untargeted aggression. It is a sad part of city centre life.
The organ repairs continue. Because generous donations to complete the 1917 specification came in when the repairs were almost completed, the work is still ongoing. They have been going on for two years now! We are waiting the final addition to bring the organ up to the specification originally planned but never actually completed. The new target date is the patronal festival on 24th June. One of the embellishments is 200 programmable memories for the piston settings.
The church is accessible and we almost take this for granted now. But it is important that people can make their own way, unaided, into the church and this makes us more inclusive.
We support democracy in action, providing a polling station in West Town at St Luke’s. Talking with the returning officers last year they valued being in there and found it an extremely good venue to be able to use. Opening the doors and welcoming people in shows there is a living community there. It increases visibility and presence. While we don’t take sides in party politics, indeed our congregations represent the spread of parties, we show that the work of our city council and national parliament are in our prayers by this, and they are regularly. Fiona Onasanya told me at a meeting with the Police Chief held in St John’s last year that she knows we pray for her and how much she appreciates this. We prayed for Stuart before her and also pray for Shailesh Vara, MP for the south of the city. It is an onerous responsibility that we give to them, and to our city councillors, and it is important that we pray for them and the officers who carry the burden of so much of the work.
We have partnerships with other churches, through Churches Together, but also developing with the Mar Thoma Church in working to lease them St John’s Hall. The Mar Thoma Church is an ancient church, in communion with the Church of England, tradition being that the Apostle Thomas went to India and founded the church.
So many events have taken place in the church this year – a growing number and far ranging. I now expect to find good reviews and stories in the Peterborough Telegraph each week of something that has taken place here and have to remind myself that this is a success story. It is a tribute to the work of Alun Williams in his programming work and also of Jonathan Hanley, our administrator, in coordinating and promoting St John’s as a good place to come to. Again this increases footfall and helps make connections with people who come through. These are important moments of and for mission.
We have hosted community events, like the ‘One Day with Us’ event, held to celebrate the diversity of our city and the contribution which this brings to enrich. It was held for the first time last year to counter the hostility many were feeling. It was wonderful to welcome local poets who explored the theme of belonging together and I am talking with the Poet Laureate about how we can bring some of these together in a collection.
Each year we host the Holocaust Memorial ceremony and and this is a moving moment when we confront the darkness of hatred and division, when fear and anxiety turns toxic and is projected onto particular groups. It is for that reason that I asked Alun to represent us at the Peterborough Pride plans so that we can stand alongside another group who so often experience hatred, not least from churches. We need to make it clear that we do not condone or support the prejudices and hatred.
We have seen extreme violence and there is a tense atmosphere in the country. It has been an honour to speak into the public square on these, after terrorist attacks and speak words of peace and lead a prayer. I found myself holding these events and the city was grateful that I did this.
I find myself being invited to lead prayers at a number of remembrance commemorations through the year, not least on Remembrance Sunday. And this year, being the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 will be a particularly poignant and important one.
The list of events is a long one, from talks as part of Tuesday till Two, Piccolo – music for the very young, which has proved extremely popular, classical concerts of voice and choral works – including local choirs, talented musicians delighting us by using the city Steinway piano, some young musicians beginning their careers, to new audiences with the acoustic set from local new band Austin Gold and opening the church to a new group of people who don’t usually come here. We have held tea dances, with Henry’s band – or the Peterborough Concert Band as other’s know them. We are a popular location for exhibitions, such at the Burma Star photograph project we hosted last year, the regular photographic and art exhibitions. It is a large number and no one person can be present for all of them, but together we can cover them, and need to because this is how we connect with people.
A particularly special event was Sponge, which was a touring show for those aged 4 months to 4 years. This took place over 3 days and we were able to welcome several hundred people in for the various shows. The organisers commented on how easy it had been to work with us, which is a tribute to Jonathan and those who helped host the event, and they are keen to use us again. They said that this is not their experience everywhere so that will encourage them to come back and as they spread the word of their positive experience this will be far more effective marketing than anything else we could do. Reputation matters enormously.
That is a snap shot of some of the events that have taken place inside, we are also the backdrop to so many events outside not least the extremely popular Heritage Festival, events aiming to promote community celebrations and cohesion, markets and so much more. We welcome young cadets who come here for the RAF’s Battle of Britain service. In the summer two performances of a mystery play took place on St John’s Square, Mary and the Midwives, and they were very pleased that I welcomed people before each performance and began it with a prayer. May Day is often marked with Morris Dancers and there are other occasions when they entertain in the square. At Christmas and New Year, the church is prominent as the city gathers for the lights switch on and for the fireworks to mark New Year. Our bells also announced New Year, ringing out the old year and celebrating the new. They provided presence to what would otherwise be an empty moment.
This year we have also said goodbye to a number of people who have been part of this community for many years – Beryl Albon, Deborah Crawford, Betty Baxter, Keith Nelson and others from the city too. We remember and give thanks for them as we commend them to God.
Socially we are acutely aware of the challenge of homelessness and this is reflected in the charities we have supported from the Café profits. We support the Light Project, who run the Winter Night Shelter, through me being a trustee, hosting their trustee meetings in the church, and working with the city on this difficult and complex issue. Indeed homelessness is much more an umbrella term for a highly complex collection of interrelated issues.
This is a vibrant and exciting place to be. There is so much to celebrate here. It is easy to over look it all and not notice it, especially if you are not around outside of the main service times. Our reach into the city and and around it is far greater than might be realized. And today, being our annual meeting, is an opportunity to pay tribute to so many people who make this possible and make the witness here a living one. At its heart is the praying and worshipping. We are a church first and foremost and exist to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ and to draw others to follow him. Everything else flows from this. This is the house where love dwells and where love calls, embraces and gives us hope.
Address to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting for Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 29th April 2018