‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…’
What a difference a year makes. This time last year we were about 11 days away from the end of the latest round of lockdown, Church was beginning to think about how get going again, and personally myself, Claire and the boys were getting ready to move to Cleveleys. What a difference a year makes, as we look around our church today. There, it seems to me, has been much to celebrate in our parish over the last year. When we arrived, you might remember that we had no idea what would and wouldn’t start up again, if our community would shrink or grow, how we were going to afford of our parish share or indeed dare I say, what some daft vicar from Sunderland might be like.
As I have written this report, as we have looked back on the previous year, it has been clear that as a community we have been blessed, for He who promised is faithful. We can give thanks to God, that through the wonderful dedication of so many faithful people here, the faithful God has blessed us. We have youth work, toddlers, concerts, gardening clubs, coffee mornings, baptism courses, an Alpha course starting, Saturday Coffee break, a pastoral team, daily morning prayer, Christmas tree festival and even BCP Healing services to name a few, all of which, this time last year did not exist in their current form. Of course, some of the problem was covid, but all of the solution has been the tireless dedication and faithfulness of our community through the power of the Holy Spirit. What a difference a year makes and as the advert would have it, the difference is you. All this blessing from God has come through and continues to come through the wonderful way our community offers Christian service to one another. Our church is excellent at loving each other and I have been humbled by the way so many people look out for people in our community. We have been blessed in the last 12 months and we should celebrate the way God has led and blessed our community. This, it seems to me, is cause for celebration.
Many of you, led wonderfully by Jo, David and others, have made sure our community was sustained throughout the worst pandemic to hit our world in 100 years and during an interregnum, through zoom and faithfully delivering news and sheets around our community to all who desired it. This is no small feat in a community without a vicar and our church community’s tenacity has allowed us to emerge from pandemic well. Thank you to all who helped sustain the prayers of our church, who checked on the lonely and vulnerable and who kept showing the love of Christ through the dark times we have all experienced.
As we have unlocked it has been a joy to see how our community has flourished and how that flourishing is allowing the wider community to see the light of Jesus in this place. Since arriving over the last 12 months there has been 15 baptisms, 11 funerals and 4 weddings or wedding blessings, with another 10 baptisms and a wedding planned before October. We have welcomed people during concerts, burns nights, Easter services and Christmas tree festivals and of course at the weekly Saturday Tabletop Coffee morning. On top of this we are reaching capacity with bookings to rent the hall and this sacred space is becoming a central place within the community once again. This is thanks to too many people to mention, many here, but special thanks must go to Irene and Jen who are in church more than me, preparing the worship area and welcoming guests, to George who faithful maintains our booking system and heating arrangements and to all the people who come together faithfully to help organise the big events. Yet again we are blessed it seems to me, and through that blessing we can see the love of Jesus made manifest in this place through the way so many gives of their time and resources to the church, allowing our community to thrive.
Another piece of good news is that for the first time in a number of years, we will likely be able to pay our parish share in full. As the treasurers will explain in due course, that doesn’t leave us with many pennies to rub together, but yet again we are able to faithfully offer what we have been asked for. This is down to our treasury team, Jo and Geoff, who faithfully do the hard task of keeping our churches finances in good order. Thank you, both of you for your invaluable contribution to the running of our church.
There are many other good news stories to celebrate, and I could go on for a long time, speaking about the way things have settled in the columbarium, how the parking situation has resolved itself largely and many other small and big things. I would also like to thank many more people, so many people like Viv who faithful gets the rota done or all the people who help with the teas and coffees, and many more, but the list is too long and you will want to get your lunch soon! But on behalf of the community, I would like to thank all who in their following of Jesus serve us so well in a myriad of ways. Overall, we are in a position to give thanks to God, that the road we have travelled together has been one of blessing upon blessing. What a difference a year makes, and it is a difference that in small ways is changing our community in the light of Jesus.
Of course, there are challenges we face also. There is the challenge of how to keep the windows in good repair and how to afford that repair. We have the challenge of how to sustainably pay our parish share in the future. We have questions of how our church will grow in the future. Fundamental to helping discern some of these solutions have been our wonderful wardens David and Jo. When I arrived, the Archdeacon told me, you have the best wardens in the diocese and a year on I can entirely agree with his assessment. Both of you give so much for our community, alongside all the members of the PCC, and your competent leadership has released so much ministry. Thank you both.
Looking to the future, the question that I think naturally arises, now that life in our church is beginning to feel more settled, is one of vision and this has been the task of the PCC over the last few months and will be the task of the new PCC to coalesce that vision before bringing it to the church at large probably by the autumn. I must be entirely honest with you as a church, I do not know what that vision is, and more than that I refuse to dictate a vision for the church. Our church is led by Jesus Christ, who is the head, not me. We as a PCC are praying together and studying scripture together and as we do, the will of God is being revealed. Please pray for us as we continue to faithfully discern the vision God has for our church for the future and begin to share and consult with the wider church, so that we as Jesus’ disciples in Cleveleys, in the power of the Spirit can faithfully serve God and love our neighbours in the way He wants not in our own way. As our sentence of scripture extols, we will do so considering how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.
As we go forward, as our pattern of worship and service becomes more embedded post covid, we will need to ask how we evolve what we offer to meet both the needs of Cleveleys and use best the resources we have been gifted with. It is so easy to worry about what we don’t have rather than rejoicing in what we do. Church should never be a burden but a blessing, something that builds up, not weighs down. It may require hard work and sacrifice, but it should never burden. After all we follow the one who said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Therefore, if our burden is heavy, we are probably carrying too much, and we need to discern, individually and corporately, how to serve in a way that doesn’t weigh us down. In the next 12 months, I hope that we will also ask questions of evangelism, ask questions around how to engage with scripture and prayer more deeply, and ask questions of vocation.
If you will allow me a moment for a personal note, simply to say that, speaking on behalf of the boys, Claire and myself, that coming to be part of this community has been the greatest privilege and joy. You have welcomed us so wonderfully and helped us all settle in to life in Cleveleys, a place we feel blessed to call home. Speaking as your vicar and friend, I cannot honestly think of a time I have felt more blessed, and it is my greatest joy to lead and serve this church now, and God willing for many years to come.
To conclude, we as a community here in St Andrews, find ourselves in a time of blessing, being blessed by God and each other and being a blessing to others. It is right, that after the last few years we celebrate the life in our church and give thanks to God, for He who promised is faithful. I look to the future with excitement, to see where God takes us next, how we will be blessed beyond our expectations and how, together, we will keep following Jesus, growing in wisdom, love and truth for His glory, not our own.