Saturday, 4 April 2009

St Paul's Church report for 2008/9

The reports for the forthcoming Annual Parochial Church Meeting on 23 April are now available in Church. Here's the text of the report for St Paul's.

St Paul's Church Report

APCM 2009

Simon Harvey

It's been a joy once again to see our church grow and to welcome Sue J, Mike, Howard, Sue B, Roger, Pat, Oli, Heidi-May, Sarah, Victoria, Raed, Phyllis and Maureen, who have joined us. So this report begins with thanksgiving to God for all that he does around, in and through us.

As the church grows, it's vital that we don't neglect our service in the wider world and the pastoral care of those in particular need. Growing bigger must not mean growing more impersonal.

In the autumn of 2008, we set out on an ambitious review of our church life. We called this time of reflection Grace, Gratitude and Growth.

The process was based on Philippians 4.8, Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

So rather than create a list of problems requiring our attention, we set out to understand more clearly the way in which God is working through St Paul's Church today and in our past.

Over seventy members of the church came to a series of meetings in the afternoons and evenings and then to a whole Saturday together. Together we shared stories of particular moments in the life of our church fellowship as it has served the wider community. We treated these memories as precious insights, which disclose the activity of God rather than our own best moments. As we attended to these stories, we made the following assumptions:

1. In every church, some things work well. There are some great things happening at St Paul's. God is already working here among us and beyond us. He's not sitting waiting to be asked to join us.

2. What we focus on becomes our reality. Where we give our time, attention, gifts and effort determines what thrives and grows. Very often, great things happen when people join their passion with God's activity. Little acorns will grow to huge oaks when given light, good soil and space.

3. Asking questions leads the church community. Leadership isn't just telling people what to do. It's often about finding the really important questions that unlock new ways of understanding and responding.

4. People have more confidence in the journey to the future when the carry forward the best parts of the past. We need to understand where God has been, and is, active in our church community and to carry that treasure that as we journey on. We remembered God's pilgrim people in the time of the Exodus and the Exile.

5. If we carry parts of the past into our future, they should be what is best about the past. Some things need to be let go. In growing, we should focus on holding on to the good.

6. It is important to value differences. We need each other. We need the differences of personality, character, perspective, gifts and skills.

7. The language we use shapes our reality. The way we express ourselves, the way we talk, laugh, relate and move all form the reality of what St Paul's is. We are more than we are on paper and the life of our community cannot be defined by structure or organisation.

8. Like sunflowers, churches are heliotropic (moving toward the life-giving). Focussing on the positive leads us forward.

9. All significant steps are collaborative. The best process is an act of community.

We re-examined our great stories. In them we found revelations of God's character and clues about the key themes that are characteristic of St Paul's in its mission. These five key themes are:

  • Learning and growing
  • Children
  • Hospitality,
  • Fun and food
  • Prayer

We dared to dream; dreams expressed in the affirmative, as if already happening to us; that point to real desired possibilities; that are faithful to our collective reflections (not our own pet subjects or hobby-horses); that create new relationships, including partnerships across boundaries (young and old, recent member and long-standing member, church and community, etc.); that bridge the best of "what is" and "what might be"; that involve us learning new things; and that challenge assumptions about our routines or our organisation of things.

We continue to see these key themes being worked out in a growing engagement with the world around us:

Open Church

A careful and considered discussion about opening our church building more often took place at the DCC. We decided that a time of focussed praying was needed and in this separate event, there was a remarkable unity in sensing God's encouragement to take a greater risk in this direction.

Engage Courses from Care for the Family

Anita Chettle, Paul Webster and Chris Burberry have led our investigation of the Engage Courses. These short courses will be offered to the local community by trained leaders at St Paul's as part of our hope for transformation in our wider community. This isn't about preaching at people or even about sharing the Christian message in explicit ways but rather by loving service and compassion. The first course, Drugproofing your kids, will be piloted in the coming months and we hope to see courses on parenting and money-management for children rolled out in 2009/2010.

Alpha 2009

Our Alpha Course has been much smaller than in 2008 but we've seen God at work in amazing ways. Paul Webster, Gill Aires, Vivien James, Dave Spence, Stella Kenyon, Colin and Anita Chettle have contributed with devotion, skill and loving service each week for three months. We've made good friends with our guests, who are now all joining us in Sunday worship as they continue to learn more of God's love and purpose for them.

Little Angels

The Little Angels mums and tots group is meeting an important need among local parents and carers for friendship and a place to take pre-school children. As young mums themselves, Keely, Lauren and Tina are doing a great job in leading the project and they gave an excellent presentation to the DCC in January. We've affirmed what Little Angels are doing and set out a proper constitution for the group, as part of St Paul's wider mission.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Our Barnabas Centre is used by a thriving AA group who offer key support on a twelve-step programme for facing up to the realities of alcohol use and a supportive environment for retaining sobriety. We are pleased to partner with AA in this vital work and we applaud the members of the local group for all that they do.

Mental Health Support Project

This new initiative is in partnership with Voluntary Action Blaby District, whose Mental Health Project offers a variety of social support groups, self help courses and a Befriending Scheme that aim to provide the skills people need to enable them to cope with their difficulties, increase their confidence and self esteem and lead an independent life. Their base at St Paul's is a significant five-year project.

Friends of Adullam

We're delighted that the generous donation of hundreds of toys and gifts at Christmas to projects around Leicester that support young parents and vulnerable families has led to a partnership with Adullam Homes. Adullam is a Housing Association, founded by a Christian and based on Christian values, which does amazing work to help people at particular moments of need. We're seeing our partnership grow and praying that God will lead us to develop this work in the coming months.

As the Annual Parochial Church Meeting gathers on 23 April, I shall be setting off on the first day of my 500-mile 'pilgrimage in reverse'. I'm Walking Home from Paris as part of a three-month renewal leave and I'm very grateful to colleagues in the parish, to the Bishop and Diocese of Leicester, to Ecclesiastical Insurance for making this possible. St Paul's Church has been wonderfully encouraging and generous to me.

I'm expecting to be bereaved of a role in the parish and church which I love, as well as to miss my family and friends in Oadby. But this kind of disconnection will also be healthy. I'm confident that St Paul's will flourish in my absence and I look forward to returning in July to find that God has led the church into new places of service and worship.

I am blogging as I go and you can follow my progress at Before I resume ministry I hope to compile the story of my adventures in a book and for the proceeds to support the valuable work of Christian Aid, so look out for details in the coming months.

Planning for being away has heightened my sense of privilege in ministry. More and more I'm away of my own limitation and lack, yet more and more I see God at work among us. Thank you for the partnership we share and thank God, to whom belongs all honour, glory, majesty and might.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

(Psalm 37.5).