Letter to parishioners, 13 August 2021

Friday, 13 August 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are currently living through a time of great unease. As it seeks to find a path through the financial demands of these days, the Church of England seems to have got itself into something of a tangle. As the 620 parish churches in the Diocese of Lincoln are asked to consider, not what they want to return to after the pandemic, but rather what they aspire to be for future generations, there is an increasing sense of anger, disappointment and despair. Throughout the  diocese, the ‘vocational conversations’ that are taking place are causing much upset as people struggle with the notion of church life having to change if the Church of Christ is to have a future.

But … all is not doom and gloom! Over the last year the Church has had to embrace new ways of serving in the Lord’s name. Our benefice has been no different in this respect. When we were allowed to re-open churches for public worship we adopted a new pattern of services. The numbers attending those services has proved how popular that pattern of worship has been. We are now in a position to re-open the four smaller churches in our benefice that have been closed for so long. The success of this move is also demonstrated in the numbers attending and the conversations I am having with parishioners. The number of requests for home communions and pastoral visits has increased significantly, which means that many who find themselves physically challenged by church attendance can still receive the sacrament of Holy Communion as well as being able to stay in touch with the life of their local church. We have also created an on-line presence which sees the recordings of our daily reflections on scripture rated No.10 in the Apple podcasts GB Religion category. This sits alongside our ‘Worship with Reflection’ maintaining a daily position of between 30 & 40 in the Apple podcasts Religion chart: our congregation is now world-wide. And, of course, our wedding and baptism ministry is flourishing.

In this week’s Church Times there is an article that bears the headline: Fall in church weddings by a tenth in 2018. That is certainly not the case in our benefice. We continue to enjoy the benefits of a flourishing ministry to those who wish to have their marriage blessed in church. I am often asked about this ministry in such terms as: Isn’t this just a way of making money for the church? Sadly, this question demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the work that is done with our wedding couples. From the day they book their wedding they become members of our worshipping communities. In private pastoral meetings with me they explore the nature of marriage and what those over-familiar words, for better or worse, etc., etc., actually mean. As our pastoral relationship develops they also share their aspirations and their uncertainties, their questions about faith, and the ways in which they can learn to set ‘self’ aside and truly become one, as it says in the marriage service. And then, after the ‘big day’, they come back. Perhaps only at Christmas, Easter and Harvest, but they do come back. At the moment I have quite a queue of couples I have married over the last five years who want me to baptize their children.

All of this is different. All of this has taken, and will continue to take, a flexible and imaginative approach to ministry. But, whether we like it or not, all of this does need to be embraced if we are to see a living and vibrant Christian community in future generations. Let us pray for our Church, and let us put aside personal wishes in order that Christ’s voice may be heard in the days, months and years to come.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen