27 Mar 2018 • From the Clergy
Late in 2013, just after I joined the West Worcester Group, I wrote an introduction to myself on a flight back from Paris. There is a degree of symmetry, therefore, that I am once more flying between Charles de Gaulle and Birmingham Airports as I write this piece in 2018. With all the changes that have happened since 2013, it was suggested that it might be a good opportunity to revisit my introduction and set out something of my vision for the future.
It would, I hope, be superfluous at this stage to repeat too much about myself. In various ways, I have already written about my journey to ordination, and you have shared in more than half of my ordained life. At heart, I will always be an academic, and see the immense value of challenge and debate which is based in honesty, but also in Christian love. However, I will confess that I get nervous talking about ‘my’ vision for the future, because in a church the vision should be shared. The process of thinking about the future is one in which we all play a part. I think we need to acknowledge the many positive things on which we can build as we look forward. [The willingness of so many people at St John’s to get involved, to give generously of their time and resources in so many ways. The effort to engage with the community is a real strength, and it is always enormously reassuring to see an open church in the heart of that community, with so much going on. We can consolidate and build on that, but I think we are heading the right way. There are questions we need to face, especially around finance and how we engage with families and young people. We need to look at how we could make the church a more flexible space for both worship and community events.] The needs of each generation are different, and in the next year we will need to look at practical ways we can build on the positives and address some of the challenges, always remembering that our fundamental vocation is to be a Christian community and that worship is the very centre of the Christian life.
Perhaps the main challenge we will face in my time is the transition to a team, which may at last be drawing close. The goal is that I will become team rector and Sarah team vicar, but one thing which needs to be absolutely clear from the outset is that there is no clergy hierarchy. For certain legal purposes, the team rector has to be the responsible authority. Otherwise, for all practical purposes, clergy in a team are simply incumbents sharing in ministry. Although Sarah and I have designated parishes for now, we will become team clergy operating across all four churches in the Group. Our vision and our work will be shared, and our commitment will be to the flourishing of the whole team. I hope that the past four years have shown that the two of us work well together, and we want to continue working in the same way to provide worship, pastoral support and everything else required to create a successful West Worcester Team. It may seem painful, that the link to individual parish priests will be lost, and I don’t minimise that pain or deny that it has come about because of issues the hierarchy are unwilling to face. But I would like to stress that the concept of a team also has many positive aspects that we can embrace, and I hope that Sarah and I can lead the way in doing that. We are going to have to work together to shape the team, both structurally and pastorally, and the conversations around how that happens will be important ones in the next few years. It is likely that Sarah and I have a role in overseeing that transition over the next three to five years, but that the work of development will need to be assumed by our successors.
This is not meant to be a manifesto, but rather a rough guide to where I am coming from and where I think we might be going while Sarah and I are in post. You are always free to challenge us, for we journey together in the service of God, and I hope we can always engage honestly in discussions about how to do that. Above all, prayer needs to be at the heart of our life. In Morning and Evening Prayer each day, Sarah and I hold the people and life of the parish in prayer in turn, so that everyone is prayed for each month. At the ordination of priests, the bishop reminds those being ordained that, ‘You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God’. Pray, then, for us as well, that we may always seek God’s help and strength as we guide West Worcester on this next stage of the journey.