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Five things to think about as we enter a brand new decade...


I like to listen to podcasts.


I just did a quick count and - believe it or not - I’ve got 39 in my Podcast feed. ‘When does he ever get time to do anything in the parish’, I hear you thinking...


I don’t listen to them all every week. A lot of them are ‘bite sized’ – a quick 10 minutes that you can listen to in the car, or in bed, or in the bath. And they are on all sorts of topics. Progressive rock. Board games. Church leadership and ministry. And, increasingly, personal development and self-care, most of which aren’t done from a particularly Christian standpoint


As we come to end of year – a lot of those podcasts are talking about moving forward from 2019, and setting goals or making plans for 2020.


I sense that a lot of Christians get sniffy about New Year Resolutions. I’ve never quite understood why! Perhaps it’s because our experience is that resolutions are quickly discarded once we get into the New Year?


But it seems to me that Christians – of all people – ought to be looking at a new year with a sense of excitement, optimism. It’s a time of fresh opportunities to grow in our relationship with God, to rethink our spiritual lives and to move forward on our Christian journey.

Quite a few of the podcasts I mentioned have offered tools and resources for entering into a new year


I downloaded one such yesterday and spent some time filling it in – I found it really helpful. One question was about what I want to be better at in 2020 than in 2019. And also the challenges that need to be overcome if those goals are to be achieved. It got me thinking...


So here are 5 things that I felt I need to move forward in during 2020. They are – if you like – five lessons from 2019 that I need to learn from to move the needle in 2020.


1. That the role of vicar needs to be clarified

This may seem a strange one. But, honestly, there are times when I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing! Now, I could go back to the Parish Profile, which in theory should be the template for what you wanted your new vicar to do – every time mention it, a negative reaction for even reminding people that it exists! It’s like – heaven forbid – you wrote it in the hope of attracting a new vicar, without any notion that he or she would ever read it again once they were in post!


It doesn’t make it easier that I am the vicar of a benefice made up of two churches that are VERY different. I knew that before I came, of course. But I’m not sure I quite appreciated how different...


People say ‘Oh, the two churches have a slightly different way of worship, but once you get past that, they are basically the same’. It’s a bit more complicated than that! The churches completely different – not just worship but in everything, right down to language used to talk about all things to do with faith and God...


Now I don’t mean this as a negative. It’s a real blessing. But at the same time it is both one of the most wonderful things, but also one of the most complex things.


What do you want from your vicar? It’s a fair question. And one that both PCCs are going to be looking over the next few weeks. Because, right now, I think I’m less clear about the answer to that question than I (thought I) was when I came.



2. That we need a better way of providing pastoral care

This follows on from the previous point. I’ve been hearing more and more rumblings about how people (apparently) ‘aren’t happy’. I’m not exactly sure why, because one rarely hears about these things from the horse’s mouth. Some of it – at least - is around the area of pastoral care, being supported, being cared for, and so on.


Now I’ve never claimed that pastoral care is my greatest gift – but I’ve always believed in offering it, and worked hard to provide the best pastoral care I can. On numerous occasions I’ve repeated the mantra that I’m always available for home visits or pastoral meetings – either at your home, or at the vicarage or somewhere else (your choice!). And there is now Vicars Hour – where I sit, sometimes all of my lonesome, like 'billy no mates' waiting for people to come and chat.


Yet it seems that people still mumble about ‘the vicar doesn’t visit’ or ‘the vicar doesn’t care’. Perhaps those people could propose what I could do more than what I am doing? I’d love to do more pastorally – but how?


3. That we all need to learn to speak in a kinder way (including me...)

Again, this springs from the previous bullet points.


I’m going to be honest – I’ve been shocked by the way I’ve been spoken to at times in 2019. Even more shocked to hear about people speak about me to other people (yes, it does eventually get back to me... it always does).


And it’s not just me - equally shocking is to hear how some (and it is only some) people speak about other people in the church.


Aren’t Christians supposed to love another?


I keep hearing about how, apparently, ‘we are a loving church’. Well, how about we actually do that, not just sloganize it?


4. That we need to prioritise growth

Not only is 2020 a new year, it is a new decade. I’ve ‘crunched the numbers’ - and the results are in. Here we go:


Adult Sunday Attendance at St Pauls 2010: 61 2019: 46

Adult Sunday Attendance at St Peters 2010: 119 2019: 88


So, with a bit of rounding up and down, we can say that we’ve both lost a quarter of our attendance in a decade

.

Now there’s a lot of reasons for this – some of which we can’t control. We don’t have any control over societal changes about the nature of Sundays, as an example.


But the point is this: if we continue to lose 25% of members in this decade, we are gonna have a big, big problem....


I’ve banged on a lot about growth since I got here, it’s not really made much impact.. YET. But it needs to. We need to prioritise growth and reverse that downward trend. It CAN be done. But growth will means ‘growing pains’ – just like a person has growing pains.


Growing a church inevitably means – and I’m going to say the ‘C’ word – change. Because if what we are doing now was leading to growth, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation would we?



5. That nothing worthwhile happens without prayer

Something else that was in the 12-month plan was a renewed emphasis on prayer. Hence, giving over Lent to the theme of prayer.


If you study growing churches (and I do) persistent, faithful prayer is ever-present. Rarely, if ever, does a church grow in any sustainable, healthy way without a bedrock of faithful prayer.

Interestingly it’s not tied to any one ‘style’ of prayer – each church will have its own style. It’s got nothing to do with churchmanship. What must be held in common though is persistence and faithfulness.


Here’s an idea to finish with. 2020 is not only the first year of a new decade, it’s also a leap year. And February 29th is a Saturday. So how about a Prayer Day on February 29th? In both churches. (It’s in Lent, to boot, which is a happy coincidence). And nobody can really have an excuse for not getting involved – because February 29th is an extra day, a free gift – a day that we never usually have!


See you there....


NOTE This is a written version of a sermon preached at St Pauls on December 29th, for the Benefice Service. If you would like to listen to an audio version then follow this link to be taken to the sound player.

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