Address to Annual Parochial Church Meeting Bosham 2016
Last year I showed us a power point presentation “From Anecdote to Evidence.”
The statistics were quite startling. One of the statistics was that a 5th of churches in the Church of England have no under 16’s at all. We are very blessed in this church that about a quarter of our congregation are children, some 30-40 regular members. This provides us with an immense opportunity to say and do something wonderful: namely to encourage our young to grow in faith – and to provide a strong foundation – we pray – which will be with them throughout their lives.
I am aware, nonetheless, that we also have an ageing, and indeed loyal congregation whose on-going spiritual needs must also be met. I can remember Bishop Lindsay saying to me 15 years ago when I was a team vicar and talking to him about mission: “Ask your congregation how many of them expect to be sitting there in 10 years time…” I must confess that I didn’t have the nerve to do so – a sobering thought – especially now that I am 15 years older! But he had a point.
Once you have a diverse congregation the opportunity for mission increases but so does the opportunity for increased tension, disagreement and conflict. Where there is a diversity of age, there will inevitably be a diversity of opinions, worship styles, understanding of God, life experience to name but a few… yet this need not be a negative thing but something to be grasped and celebrated.
If I asked you what conflict meant to you perhaps you would consider it as a failure or something negative? Well conflict exists where a decision has to be made. Do we want tea or coffee? Chablis or Beaujolais? Some decisions are such that conflict does not arise. Conflict is something we all have to live with in some form or another, and the anxiety of doing so varies within each of at any given time; depending upon the tension we experience when a difference is opinion is discovered.
The same is true of any church – ask an Archdeacon, Rural Dean or vicar and he or she will tell you, that dealing with conflict is a frequent occupation. So are we surprised?
When we look at the Bible we see that it is littered with narrative, dealing with this very issue. Take a read of Acts 15 to see how the early church approached conflict, or Matthew 18 to find out what Jesus has to say about it. We see that the church rather than being a conflict-free-zone is a place to engage with, and transform the inevitable conflicts that we face in our human community. This happens at a local, national and international level. One only has to consider Northern Ireland. Reconciliation is of course is the desirable outcome – but it does not always come easily, especially when there is hurt, misinformation and distrust.
As we ponder the scriptures we are reminded that as we grow as a church community we must seek to listen to each other and to God. Mission, growth and change go hand-in-hand. Faced with such we must work towards dialogue rather than debate. For example I can remember in a previous parish being asked after an eight o’clock service one Sunday if we could have the readings in the King James Version rather than the modern translation, I saw no reason to disagree – as there was a consensus of opinion.
When I arrived in Bosham the same question arose. However it was approached in a rather different and somewhat surprising way – rather than a conversion – dialogue – I was handed an envelope with a petition containing, several signatories on it. The outcome was the same, although the process was somewhat different to say the least.
As a church we have much to give thanks for as we look ahead to another year. The diocesan strategy expects us to grow both spiritually and numerically. The PCC’s desire to seek to improve our communication, for example work has been undertaken to improve our website, to consider how our building will serve this community for the next generation, to empower leaders and thus re-imagining ministry are at the heart of what we are trying to do.
We have some 340 – yes 340 volunteer roles – that are carried out by a wonderful group of people, some of whom do not even worship with us. Admittedly some people doing more than one task – but how incredible that people wish to serve the church in so many and varied ways. There are too many to single out, but you know who you are. For that we must thank God.
Let us Listen, to God and one another as we seek to grow.
‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ [Eph 3:20]
be the Glory. Amen.
The Reverend Martin Lane