Rector's Annual Report to PCCs


We have had a good year overall in our churches which is all thanks to so many people who undertake their responsibilities with a dedication which should, quite rightly, be recognised. This year I am not going to name everybody in my report but, suffice it to say, I am deeply grateful and so very proud of all our Church Wardens, PCC members, treasurers, electoral roll officers, PCC Secretaries, sides persons, cleaners, flower teams and those who work quietly in the background. There are also our Readers Tony Carswell and Hugh McCormick and the Reverend Caroline Luff who give so much of their time to enhance our worship and encourage us all in our faith. Of course, also to anyone I have forgotten to mention – as there is always someone! I am also very proud of the events and new initiatives that have taken place over the last year.

However, I would like to concentrate my report this year on looking forward – to the future for our churches and our communities. Bishop Robert’s vision for us all is to GROW IN PRAYER, MAKE NEW DISCIPLES AND TO SERVE WITH JOY.

‘We have to change to meet the needs of the 21st century’, Bishop Robert has told the Diocese of Exeter’s governing body, its diocesan synod.

Quoting Cardinal Newman, he said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” He said the Church must use its reducing resources wisely to serve the whole of the county, spending less time on the Church’s internal affairs and more time re-connecting with the generations with whom it has lost contact.

He said: “We either rise to this challenge or we run from it. I’m inviting you to rise to it and journey with me in faith and love as we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let me give you a few statistics to illustrate what I mean about the way things have already changed and the changes that are further down the pipeline.

“How many beneficed and licensed clergy are there serving in this Diocese? Answer: 197. How many were there twenty years ago in Bishop Hewlett’s time? Answer: 408. (In the next ten years the current number will be further reduced to only 130 licensed clergy to cover around 600 churches). We have to change the way we imagine ministry, particularly in our rural areas. Rather than just keeping things going, we need to create a model of Church fit for this century. Staying the same is not an option.”

I recently came across another opinion which said ‘an unwritten rule in too many churches is – instead of risking anything new or doing something that might cause US to have to change, let’s play it safe and continue our slow decline.’

It is obvious from the statistics that the number of stipendiary clergy is falling even further, putting more pressure on those of us who are left. You will all know that I was off sick for two months at the beginning of the year but some of you may not know that I was off due to stress - with my GP telling me that I need help or I may well be facing the same ill health as my predecessor. How many of you realise what pressure the Church Wardens are under? And yet I can’t do my job without them and their sterling support. We need to become a true Mission Community and we need to start with ourselves and really work together. I am not asking for huge commitments here, simply an offer to go on a rota once a month or to offer an hour of your time to help occasionally – it will mean a lot to the few! In time it may be that services will have to change and there may not be as many Eucharistic services – we are relying heavily on retired priests to keep as many Eucharists as we do and their numbers will also diminish with age. There will have to be more lay participation in services and it would be nice to see some of that starting now, perhaps with some of you coming forward to lead our intercessions.

How do we step up to Bishop Robert’s vision? Let’s begin with growing in prayer – could anyone host or lead a prayer group? What about Bible Study or simply a conversation group – perhaps based on the readings from the previous Sunday? Do you have any other ideas?

How about making new disciples – do you realise that we have probably already lost at least two generations from the future of the church? Remember when most of us were children? We would go to Sunday School or at least be taken to church. We had assembly in school every day and learnt the Lord’s Prayer and sang hymns, which gave us a grounding in faith that, even when we drifted, gave us something to come back to. Many congregations of today are made up of those who came, back but what of the future? The children of today – and their parents- don’t even have that grounding, they don’t know the old stories and often haven’t had an experience of God in their lives.

Who is going to be sitting in our pews when we have all gone? How do we address that? We need to reach out to the younger generations, not only inside church. We need to include them and not merely expect them to come to church and enjoy the services that we enjoy – that’s not how it works. Society has changed radically in the last 50 years and continues to do so. The younger generation of today is very different to ours and we need to address that. How? By the Rector doing separate services which may appeal to them and hence giving me more work to do and less time to do everything else I need to do? Could we begin by making connections? By offering to go into school to help with reading – or whatever your expertise is – building relationships. By attending Family Services so that our young people feel supported and welcomed in church. For the best part of the last 18 months I have wanted to start a new initiative for school children ‘Experience Church’ but have failed to pull it together on my own. I am thankful that Reverend Caroline luff has taken on the organisation of the project on my behalf but we still need people to help on the day and also to help with providing / making resources. Guidance is available and the rewards are amazing – help us to bring these children into a greater understanding of faith and church.

What about our communities? How many elderly people live alone and don’t see a friendly face from day to day or even on a weekly basis? Can you give an hour once a week to visit someone for a cup of tea and a chat? I am happy to announce that by this time next year we will have a specifically appointed Pastoral Assistant who will be able to help us to organise these initiatives and reach out in the name of God and with his love to people. In the meantime let’s get thinking about how we can help and what we can do now as the church of God. A simple part of this is to compile a list of people who are alone and who would welcome some regular company – could you do that in your community? What about letting me know when you hear of someone who is ill or in hospital so that I can visit if they would like that. You are the people on the ground who I have to rely on for such things – you have the local knowledge.

The third vision of Bishop Robert is to serve the people of Devon with joy. Do we do this already? Do we need to work on it? Absolutely! One aspect of this we really do need to think about is Stewardship. We are stewards of the churches we have and it is our duty to care for them and grow them so that they are here for generations to come, in good condition and providing warm, comfortable and welcoming places for people to be with God. The main reason we are losing so many stipendiary clergy is that we cannot afford to pay them! Will the next problem be that we cannot afford to care for our buildings and start to lose them too? We have a financial responsibility to give generously with a glad heart week by week, whether we actually attend church or not, to ensure that the church continues into the future. Three of our churches are managing to keep their heads above water but two are really struggling – how can we help each other? Firstly we need to grow together as a Benefice or Mission Community – we need to support when events are put on to involve us all – we need to get to know each other and work together.

The third vision of Bishop Robert is to serve the people of Devon with joy. Do we do this already? Do we need to work on it? Absolutely! One aspect of this we really do need to think about is Stewardship. We are stewards of the churches we have and it is our duty to care for them and grow them so that they are here for generations to come, in good condition and providing warm, comfortable and welcoming places for people to be with God. The main reason we are losing so many stipendiary clergy is that we cannot afford to pay them! Will the next problem be that we cannot afford to care for our buildings and start to lose them too? We have a financial responsibility to give generously with a glad heart week by week, whether we actually attend church or not, to ensure that the church continues into the future. Three of our churches are managing to keep their heads above water but two are really struggling – how can we help each other? Firstly we need to grow together as a Benefice or Mission Community – we need to support when events are put on to involve us all – we need to get to know each other and work together.

As Bishop Robert has said ‘the Church of England stands or falls on the life of our churches and whether or not we are living out the gospels with joy. The gospel is good news but we have to find new ways of telling the story and explaining our Christian faith and giving a reason for the hope that is within us. My job is to animate and encourage you to take risks for God and to release the mission energies in our churches. We are a pilgrim church, learning as we go, and mistakes will be made along the way but with Jesus Christ as our companion and guide we can travel through life differently – why not share in the adventure?’

There have been times that I am aware of when some people do not like what I do or how I run this Mission Community and there has been much muttering behind the scenes’. I would like to address this by having a Parish Day once a month whereby you can make an appointment to come and see me and we can have an open conversation in order to get our facts straight before there is any judgement or criticising, so come and have your input and let’s think of ways forward between us – please do come – even if you just want to have a cup of tea and a chat – about anything! The first of these will be Monday 7th May between 10am and 4pm and I will put future dates in the Grapevine. Please do take the Grapevine each week – it is our way of communicating what is happening in our churches and gives you the opportunity to support each other. We waste so much paper, printer ink and time producing these if they are not used!

To finish this I would like us all to think about who or what is important in all of this. Is it us – those of us who are regular attenders, thinking of what it is we like and wanting to keep it that way? Is it those who will follow us and how we can welcome them into our churches now so that there will be continuation? Or is it God and how we build His Kingdom now so that it continues – after over 2000 years won’t it be sad if we are part of the end of true discipleship as he intended? I leave these thoughts with you.



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