Six years ago we took on the challenge of becoming a Traditional, Welcoming and Caring Church. Since then and in the years before we have seen an enormous transformation within our church. It has been a sign of the resurrection within the here and now. To build the house of God or gate of heaven.
We live in a very cynical world, one where we only see despair and corruption. This cynical view of the world is untrue, it’s a lie. This makes it all the more important to show locally that there is hope, care and kindness within our local community. To expose the cynical lie and reveal the truth of hope.
These three aims, to be traditional, welcoming and caring can be split into three priorities, spiritual, community and financial. Overall over the last year we have made good progress in these three priorities.
In our Spiritual priorities we have seen many people join our GEL groups, our Soul Space meditation evenings, living faith course and our thanks go to the teams that run these activities. Church members have taken a greater role in planning our worship, our Christmas and Easter services are both good examples of this collaborative approach. Attendances have increased over both Christmas and Easter and the quality of the worship too.
It has been great to see so many lay people lead services at Soul Space so effectively. It has been a great joy to see Jill Evans begin her training as a lay minister, our first lay minister to be sponsored by the Parish within living memory.
One great theme of recent years has been an increase in working with other churches. We have seen this in the deanery pilgrimage and the many community groups also. Gone are the days where Christ Church was isolated in the corner of the town, we now play a central role with the other churches within the deanery and town. It’s better working together than struggling alone.
Our work with children has continued well over the year. Messy Church has continued to be well attended and our new Messy Cafe has had a very good start. Also, attracted two new leaders from within the Messy Church congregation. Our thanks go to the children’s work team for all they do. The spiritual life of the church is the petrol that drives the engine. Without drawing closer to God we cannot do the other two priorities of community and finance.
Our work in the community makes the love of God visible, it reflects the faith within us, out to the world. If our church building and our churchyard looks shabby, that would show what we think of God himself. The way we care for the things of God shows our attitude to the people of God. The excellent way in which we care for our building and churchyard shows our inner attitude to God himself. Our thanks go to the whole team who care for our building and especially to the Stoke Heath team. This has been recognised again this year with the winning of the Gold Award.
The churchyard was employed very effectively with our Labyrinth of Lights in the winter. Giving hope to bereaved families in a dark time. Again the building speaking the message of God.
The same is true of the Tots Group, Art for All and many other activities that go on week by week. There is more to this than just a cup of tea, the welcome we give shows who we are and the values we hold. The same is true of the Foodbank and Christians Against Poverty Centre. Helping people with debts, addictions and joblessness. Jesus often spoke of how those at the bottom of society were the most important. This is not just words, we put this into action here in our church.
In our world for a long time now, people often say that Christians are all a bunch of self righteous hypocrites who do nothing for others. We are far from perfect, but such blanket criticism is exposed as a lie day by day in the work that we do. People often say and believe things like that, even in church. But if we stop and think of the work that we do here we see that it is not true at all. Our thanks must go to all those who quietly get on with this work week by week.
Finally we turn to our other priority and the catchphrase that goes with it. Finance, all the church goes on about is money. They are always after your money. I have made many mistakes here at Christ Church and I am not a perfect person or priest. I think of myself as ok, average really.
This truism that vicars always go on about money and church is always after money, this truism has led to one of my biggest failures. Looking back over the last six years I have spoken about money three times in PCC and once or twice in passing during a sermon. Yes we have held many fundraising events, soup lunches, fetes, currys, bingo and so on. Our thanks must go to the teams that put on these events.
But I have not really mentioned money very much other than supporting these events. We have been lucky over the years that our finances have been in reasonable shape. We have had the courage to invest in our church building and community. But I haven’t mentioned money much at all, perhaps it’s because in a way I myself believe that vicars always go on about money and I don’t want to be that type of vicar.
Our thanks go to Geoff for his work as treasurer and we must listen to him when he shows us that we need to urgently address our finances. I know we all believe that the church is always after money when it has loads and is massively rich. This is what we have been told from our childhood. But that is a myth, it’s simply not true and Geoff has shown us that in black and white year on year. However we address the finances we must do it now and together as a community.
The PCC will meet soon to discuss this issue, but we all have to address it because it will not go away. In short we must have the courage to face the issue. Over the coming weeks and months we will propose a plan for our finances and I know that we as a church will rise to this latest challenge in the same way as we have risen to those in the past.
Fr Hywel Snook, Parish Priest