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Vicars Report: Maturing in Growth APCM 2024

Ephesians 4:11-16

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

As I prepared this year’s vicars report, I had a look at the previous two that I had written – which I know all of you read weekly as part of your discipleship – right?? And reading them again and thinking about the journey of the last 12 months our community has had, we can see much more clearly the direction of travel the Lord has and is taking us upon. In the first-year post covid, we rejoiced in the signs of new growth in our church life. Last year we rejoiced in that growth, although fragile, bedding in, and how we had discerned our vision. This year it seems to me we are beginning to see that trajectory of growth strengthen and mature.

It is entirely clear, both from the reports and from the evidence, that our church continues to thrive and bring life to so much of our community. Warm Welcome, Toddlers, Saturday Coffee Break, SAS and many of our occasional missional activities such as fairs and social events have increased in attendance and blessing. Think back to any event in our church year – has there been anything where, despite weary bones afterwards, we could claim to be anything less than delighted with the results? All glory to God in the way He is blessing us and let us never forget how many other churches wish for the blessings and success we see here in Cleveleys.

Our worship, similarly, has seen great growth. We have welcomed many new people of all ages to our church family, even though we had to say goodbye to many people who moved away or who died and are now with Jesus. Families who attend baptisms or warm space or SAS or Saturday mornings or whatever are finding their way here for the big events of Christmas and Easter and we should never underestimate how wonderful that is. A wonderful example is seen in how we welcomed 130+ people on Easter Day to celebrate the Risen Lord. Again, all glory to God.

Our church is becoming seen more and more as the civic centre for Cleveleys. Remembrance services both in town and here, use of our building for local events and groups, and much more, including your vicar wondering about his life choices that led to dancing with a grown man dressed up as a robin at the blessing of the Christmas Tree lights last year are evidence of being at the centre rather than the periphery of our community’s life, which is where all good parish churches should strive to be. The groups that use our building have largely also grown more comfortable working with us and being part of the wider St Andrews family. Our uniformed organisations go from strength-to-strength despite at times severe and difficult challenges this last year.

Once again, there is so much to celebrate in our church life. We have grown once again in confidence as a community, we are seeing fruits of the increase in prayer and discipleship and we are growing numerically, no mean feat compared to many other churches. It can be tempting to become complacent about that sense of growth and hope but it is worth remembering and thanking the Lord for all that has happened these last few years.

Financially, we continue to struggle to make ends meet, because not only has difficult international situations caused prices of utilities to rise sharply, so has cost associated with increased ministry and use of our building. Back in February I spoke again about giving in our church as part of our discipleship and thank God people responded. Some people either increased their giving significantly or began to give for the first time, with more people able to give our target of an average of around £10 a week per worshipper. We still are in a precarious position financially, but are projected to pay everything we hoped to, we believe, by the end of the year, although it must be stressed that may not leave us with very much for 2025. If you haven’t had a chance to prayerfully think about your giving there are packs still at the back. Most importantly, we need to say thank you to every single person who contributes financially to the life of the church, it is the single biggest income in church and it really makes a big difference to our community, helps keep the worship in our church warm and welcoming and helps us subsidise groups like the uniformed organisations and others who are so vital to the life and mission of our church. We are now in the position of generating enough income to have to get our own charity number, which will come with its own headaches, but this level of generosity is no small feat for a church. Of course, the next 12 months are almost certainly bringing the challenge of two major building projects, which won’t be cheap – so please pray.

Where we are really strong as a church community is in the giving of time and labour. As part of our discipleship, all Christians are called to love others in service and at St Andrews this focus is quite evident. There are so many people who do so much for the smooth running of our church for which there cannot be enough thanks. Our two wardens, who I am so glad are standing once again, provide hard working smooth leadership, often and persistently helping out in areas that are not necessarily their remit, so that St Andrews is not only well maintained but they also share their great wisdom as part of the leadership team. It is not an exaggeration that I rely heavily on both their service and their wisdom as the challenges that naturally come in parish life are discussed and solutions explored. Thank you both for your continual service to our church.

Our Ministry team has grown of course and continues to grow. Our two ALMs Janet and Don have shown great leadership and skill as they have settled into their licenced roles. Janet has excelled in providing pastoral care to many within our church and Don continues to preach with great skill and we are blessed by both of their ministries here. We continue to be blessed by Nick’s ministry among us as well, who continues to serve our church even when the challenges of health have reared their head. We are also delighted that both Claire and Peter have begun training and I look forward to when, we pray, they are licenced in September 2025. Ministry of course is not simply restricted to those who are in leadership positions, and what a joy it has been to see people grow in confidence to lead morning prayer, to lead bible study, to rather literally take up the cross and become crucifers under Dave’s leadership, volunteering to do the readings, volunteering to do the prayers and in a myriad of other ways. This is a sign of a growing and maturing church.

There are of course vital ministries behind the scenes that continue to bless the life of the church. It is no exaggeration that our Head Sacristan Irene has done the work of a saint in keeping everything running smoothly behind the scenes. Pray for her, as she deals with an often-disorganised vicar, who could be accused of being unable to plan the proverbial in a brewery on occasion! Helped ably by Peter, she does so much behind the scenes that we rely on but don’t see. Thanks go also to Geoff and Jo who do so much work around finances, again often unseen. It is a huge task and please, if the Lord is calling you to help them out in that vital ministry, please do say. Owen of course has done wonders with both the memorial garden and the planting of flowers around the place as St Andrews first ever Sexton. Lindy, being the middle person between vicar and hall hirer does such a wonderful job keeping everyone happy and George keeping the prehistoric boilers happy and keeping our church the warm welcoming place that it is deserve many thanks. Our church, so often full of flowers is down largely to the work of Jean, thank you. Thanks go also to Jen and Viv keeping rotas full (again, please see them if you can help). Huge thanks go of course to Rosemary who has led our Saturday morning from strength to strength. We again will have a full PCC and only avoid an election thanks to one of the nominees being willing to be co-opted on to the PCC thanks to their experience. That is a fantastic sign of a happy church. Please forgive me if I have forgotten to mention someone, but in a church of so many giving so much, I am bound to not be able to do justice to all. What is true though, is it is through the hard work of many that we can bless so many people in our community in Jesus’ name. Thank you all so much.

In the reading I chose at the beginning of this report, we hear St Paul talk about maturity within the church. We hear how Christ gives people ministries so that together, building each other up in service we in unity become mature. A mature Christian community as the body of Christ he says is ‘joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’. A mature Christian community does not rely on a few people but works together, adapting to new challenges as peoples calling changes and develops through the Spirit, to overcome trials and to be calm in the face of change. I will know that I have fulfilled my calling as vicar if, when I one day leave, and I have no intention of doing that ever by the way, if ministry continues well without me or indeed without anyone ordained for a while. One big change in our community is that Rosemary, having served and led the Saturday morning faithfully for many years, is now, quite rightly needing to step back from leading that wonderful expression of the mission of our church. Thank you, Rosemary, on behalf of the whole church community for your tireless service and dedication. There will be time to celebrate and give thanks for Rosemary’s wonderful ministry in due course before she steps down at the end of July, but I know, as a mature Christian community we will begin the process of praying for the next steps for Saturday morning to be made clear, more news on than in the coming weeks. As always, it is important that we assess our own ministries and calling through prayer. There is a time and a season for everything. When we discern through prayer that we are called to let go of something, we must give ourselves permission to do so. When we discern through prayer that we are called to take something up, we must give ourselves permission to do so. To do anything else is not a sign of a church that relies on the good provision of the Lord. We are only tasked with following the Lord who is faithful – if it is His will it will work out. Christ is the head of our church, and if there is any plan for our church it can be boiled down to simply seeking His will for ourselves and our community.

As we continue to mature as a church, continue to grow in confidence in the gifts the Lord has given us and we pray, continue to see the abundant blessing of God rest upon our community, this next year we are going to begin focusing on sharing our faith with others outside our building. Before you all go screaming from the room, let me explain. Sharing faith is rarely about standing on a soap box and preaching. But it is about getting into our community, inviting people to event, serving strangers, praying for their needs, seeking people in the forgotten corners of the world and loving all, not simply those who may grace our building with their presence for something. One of the joys for me is being part of the mission team for the diocese is I get to see parishes discovering the joy of sharing faith. Firstly, the weekends they have organised, often by struggling churches, are just so much fun but more importantly you just see again and again people wanting to know more about Jesus. The people of the parish generally realise to their shock, that going out is so full of joy. My hope is that this year we will begin committing ourselves seriously both to prayer and planning for a weekend sometime in 2025 to go out into our town in mission. Already, some people in our church are beginning that journey themselves, going out to share their faith and the work of our church, which is so exciting. Our future meetings of the PCC will be held at Cleveleys Workings Man Club, thanks to their generous offer not only because we struggle to find a good time to meet in church, but because when we meet and the bingo or the karaoke is going on in the next room, we will be praying specifically how to serve the people of Cleveleys many of whom attend that club but who would have nothing to do with us.  Watch this space over the next few months as we do the hard work of prayer and asking the Lord what it is He is calling us to do.

In conclusion, we have so much to celebrate. Led by the Spirit, following Jesus for the glory of God, our church community has matured and continues to grow. Let us the keep close to the life-giving vine, diligent first and foremost in prayer, so that we can continue to grow into the church Jesus our head is calling us to be. May God be with us this next year, blessing us and may we look to mature further, deep in prayer to go out faithfully in mission, following His lead, for His glory and the blessing of our beautiful town by the sea. I can’t wait to see what miracles of God we see in the next 12 months. Amen        

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