A lot in our world has changed in unpredictable ways since the beginning of 2016. Events which seemed unthinkable in 2015 seemed to come true. Perhaps 2016 was the year of the unprecedented and unexpected. If I had said in October 2015 that Christ Church would be the main feature of Songs of Praise, it would have sounded completely absurd. Yet in May that is just what happened. Perhaps this set the tone for the rest of the year. A year of the unexpected and unprecedented.
Just one week later the CAP Job Club opened in church. Here many of our community come to find hope and training in finding work. In 2016 we had an unprecedented number of funerals in church, some of young men in despair. One of the major issues in our community is joblessness and the despair that comes with it. As a group of churches in town we have responded by bringing hope and practical help.
In July I was preparing for a pilgrimage across the Peak District to raise money for the Job Club. It was all set up and ready to go, hostels were booked the route planned and all the equipment bought. I had even set up a session on Radio Shropshire to talk about it. Then about 3:00 on a rainy Saturday afternoon I was cycling past Raven House in town, fell off my bike and broke both my elbows. Then gave the surgeons a good laugh by saying, you can’t put my arms in plaster, I’ve got work in the morning.
How people respond to the unexpected shows the resilience of that community. It has to be said that how we all responded as a community showed our care for each other and our ability to work together. Not just in this church but across the churches in the town too.
Our ability to work together was shown in an amazing way where we held our Messy Morning in September. Just a few weeks after I came back to work we were able to put on a brand new event welcoming many people and creating a great event. The welcoming of new people has been a central theme this year as we have had many new people join our church family. It has been fantastic to see how people have been welcomed and made to feel part of our community.
The theme of welcome and care were central in the responses to our Vision Project in the autumn. Each person in the church had an opportunity to let us know where we do well and what we could improve in the future. The responses have formed the basis of the action plan moving forward.
People commented these were the best things about our church: Community Groups, welcoming strangers, a well maintained churchyard and church, involvement with CAP and Foodbank, website and Facebook, Messy Church, pastoral care and spiritual care and teaching.
From the Vision Project we received many ideas to improve our church community. Many of which have already been put in place. Harry is helping the choir practice, the church is quieter before the service. Music for All is meeting on Saturdays, toilet twinning, becoming a Fairtrade church, our new flagpole, bibles in the pews, and the re-arrangement of the noticeboards.
One of the central ideas that came through in the Vision Project was to reach out to younger families. One of the most popular ideas was to hold a monthly family service at 10am. A team was set up to consider how we could do this most effectively and they reported to the PCC in March. The first family service will begin on May 14th and will be trialled for three months.
In December we undertook one of the most critical changes to our parish life, I think it’s the best thing we have ever done in church. Back in 2009 church was open for just 2 hours a week, if you walked up the path you were greeted by a locked door. Our aim over the last years has been to open that door more and more. In December with the installation of the CCTV we are now open all day. We are now a quiet sanctuary in the busyness and stress of life. This led up to a great Christmas Tree and Crib festival and an unprecedented Christmas attendance. In the new year two of the clergy in the Deanery left for pastures new. I was then for lack of other options made Rural Dean. Since then we have continued to work closely with other churches and have forged greater friendships with other churches.
A few weeks ago we started our own internet chat show called Christchurch Chats. It’s similar to the main TGI Monday show, but perhaps the panellists aren’t as glamorous. In conclusion I would say what I said on our internet chat show last week. When we were talking about where we can see the resurrection in our world, I said I see God in my parishioners, in the way they love each other and the joy they have in being together. God is with us day by day and we can see it in the kindness, joy, and enthusiasm we have day by day. So thank you to all those in our family who reveal the joy of our community, thank you for your kindness and for your commitment. In a world that seems to be ever more divided, we stand like many other islands of unity, joy and love.
Fr Hywel Snook, Parish Priest