Vicar’s Report to the Annual Meeting, 27th March 2019
My abiding memory is of the endless days of cold, last winter – a cold church, struggling to be heated. Potentially a metaphor. 2018 has seen extraordinary changes and challenging times.
It has dominated our life, our prayers, our mission, our struggles, our finances, our community and our warmth. The redevelopment of our church halls has been a massive undertaking AND ...
... we are finally there. The building work has been done, the ministry of the church has returned, grown and developed.
We received the halls from the builders on 7th September, with key hirers starting the following week. We opened them to our community two weeks later on the Sunday 23rd September, with a joyful Service of Thanksgiving led by Bishop Alan, and an indoor BBQ of some 700 burgers and sausages. The day bubbled over with happiness and community.
It has been a long journey of 7 years – that’s the length of time Joseph warned pharaoh that Egypt would suffer harvest failure. It has been a long journey, not least because it seemed as if it would never happen – and then of course it seemed it would never finish! Let’s not forget though that on 1st February 2019 the architect signed off the new building with the Practical Completion Certificate.
And there’s much to be thankful. In January 2018, we still needed to find £270,000 – you can just buy a nice house for that in the parish – and yet 12 months later, through people’s generosity and undershooting our budget meant that we have only £95,000 to raise.
And there’s more to be thankful for. Outside of our control, we have been shortlisted as a finalist for the 2018 Local Authority Building Control regional awards for Best Commercial Building – a fantastic recognition of the work of our architects and builders, and also of you the congregation for holding firm in faith to bring about our vision to transform our complex and bless our community. The awards dinner is on Friday 5th April in Milton Keynes.
And we can be most thankful for the wonderful way the new halls are being used, serving children, families, the elderly, the struggling, the poor, the lonely, and the learning. If you haven’t been to visit during the week, you are missing out on the vibrant buzz of serving our church and our community.
But … and I have to say this … it has not been an easy year. In the dark, cold days of last winter, in the endless days of delay, in the cramped conditions of working, serving and ministering, it has been hard. To keep going faithfully, holding our nerve financially, and staying calm fruitfully for God’s Kingdom, has all taken its toll, if I’m honest.
It’s not been easy moving in to a new set of halls and rooms. Coping with defects and snagging, whilst trying to settle, has been particularly tough for a number of our hirers – I name especially Christ Church Pre-School and acknowledge it hasn’t been easy for them; I’m truly grateful for the sterling work that Helen, Jude and the Pre-School leadership have done to find ways through.
And in all that lack of facilities and then moving in, we have lost a small number of church members, friends for whom all this has been too much. Our new ER reflects those losses: we miss them,; we long for them to return and be part of the family; we are lessened by their absence. It’s been hard to concentrate on mission and evangelism, the making known of Christ, when there are so many competing distractions and needs, seemingly all in the immediate.
And yet, despite all that, which I don’t belittle, we have continued to see signs of God’s favour, evidence of His presence, and testimony to His mission.
Lunch Club, just an example of how we bless those older members of our church and community, is regularly serving 60 people each fortnight. The kitchen and serving team are fully stretched. No one wants to turn anyone away and the opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus with this older generation is seeing a growing interest in knowing whom we worship and why we do so.
I see this in the Lunch Club Thought for the Day, unexpected heads nodding in agreement and a clearly interested face perceiving of the God who actually loves them and invites them to respond in lives of love, now lived, even in their twilight years, within His ways and His values.
Honestly, Holiday at Home and our coach holiday to Llandudno were both wonderful times of being and sharing the love of God with this older community.
And yet also, at the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing glimpses of a return to the positive community and Gospel impact on local families: the buzzing and ever popular Christ Church Pre-School, Morning Out rebuilding in size, those new initiatives – we’re the first in the country – offering Open The Book holiday clubs, bringing the stories of God in the Bible to a new unchurched generation. Remember: God’s word does not go forth without effect. God alone knows the saved lives that will result from this ministry.
And yet also, I cannot forget the community engagement we are increasingly seeing. It comes in the form of new hirers – long term and birthday parties - delighting in the new halls, and it comes in the form of new ministries – teaching English to refugees, hosting Castle Counselling – just examples of those taking root in the heart of our community.
And of course, our presence in our community has grown enormously. We are no longer “Which Church and where?” but “The church with the new buildings”. It all helps our presence to be seen, known and looked to.
And all this would not have been possible without your support, your prayers and your dedication. It is you, the congregation of Christ Church, whom I honour this evening. Your unstinting generosity, your unending patience and your untiring service are the fruit of God’s work of grace and hope in your lives.
I and the staff team ever remain deeply thankful to you. Yes, we miss Paul and Katharine, and all the boys – what a great time we had in Caton with Littledale and Over Kellet. We miss them, I miss them, and we also look forward to John and Rebecca Bell joining us this July.
As I remember Paul and Katharine, I also record my grateful thanks to the rest of the staff team. In administration, we give thanks for Pauline – the true and living hub of our church’s life – and Kathryn – whose maternity leave was always wonderful but forced much to slip down my to do list. Pauline, thank you. Kathryn, thank you.
In the Children’s and Youth ministries, we give thanks for Becky, AJ and since September our student volunteer, Jess. All have a boundless love for the children and young people, and a deep desire to make Christ known. Thank you, Becky. Thanks you, AJ. Thank you, Jess.
In the new halls, we welcomed Dawn, who worships at All Nations Church Brickhill. Dawn joined us in the autumn, less on a learning curve and more on a precipice. She has steadily orientated herself, learning the life of Christ Church and welcoming new hirers time and again. Thank you, Dawn.
And so to the future. What does 2019 hold for us? That is in God’s hands. However, there is mission and discipleship we need to attend to in three key areas:
1) The next generation – we are more fortunate than many other churches. God has given us children, young people and young families. But we don’t have great numbers. The missional imperative for us in 2019 is build the number of young people and young families who worship with us, who see Christ Church as their home from which to know God, to serve God and to demonstrate God in their day to day lives.
This missional imperative affects all of us. What we do and what we prefer must be conditioned to how we welcome and involve young people and families as both the present and next generation of this church we love. It may be, and I felt deeply drawn, that the work of Beth and COACH (Creating Opportunities And Casting Hope) in Nottingham might transfer helpfully to Bedford. Their website www.coachnetwork.org describes their work as:
… a community strengthening program that aims to empower disadvantaged children, young people and families and build resilience in individuals through one-to-one mentoring, … bringing about transformation and [aiming] to break the cycle of generational poverty and family breakdown.
– imagine how in our communities that might transform lives, bringing hope and seeing God change lives by his grace and love.
2) Sustainable ministry – this is part of our common discipleship. Our Accounts showed that by God’s grace, minimising expenditure and the generosity of quite a number of church members in the final weeks of the year, we achieved only a tiny deficit. That is a matter of rejoicing.
My concern is to find a more sustainable financial settlement of our income to cover all our expenditure. A vital challenge in 2019 is broaden our base of donors. I do not know names or numbers, only our treasurer and Chair of Resourcing know such private details. There is a vital need to draw in those church members who do not financially give to the life and witness of this church, to develop our understanding of generosity and God’s blessing that is received by those who give cheerfully to His work.
3) Sustainable meetings – this is our common service. I am ever amazed at the time given by so many in so many ways in serving God’s mission and ministry at Christ Church, regardless of thanks, honour or distinction. Thank you for every time you do even the smallest act of service in God’s name, whether that’s here at Christ Church or out there in your daily lives.
My concern is find a more sustainable meetings model, where we all feel there are less meetings and more opportunities to make Christ known to our families, friends and neighbours. This will be about restructuring our common life for the good of all.
And finally, all that has happened, all that is happening, and all that will happen must be undergirded by prayer – we all know we never pray enough. In January, I suggested the idea of a monthly Prayer Emphasis Day, a day when each of us would make space to pray, for the world, for our church, for our families and friends, for our lives to be ready to serve God where He is at work before us.
The 28th day of each month will be that day. We start tomorrow! We can start mindful of our meeting tonight, rejoicing in God’s blessing and seeking His favour for our future. As I said in my Epiphany letter:
No movement of the church has been without intercessory prayer. There is no shortcut, though we long for such with our western love of quick solutions and easy answers. Watchman Nee, the 20th century Chinese church leader, knew this too: “Our prayers lay the track down which the power of God can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.”