On Sunday 23 May 2021 – Pentecost – Rev Deborah used the sermon slot to deliver her Annual Parochial Church Meeting report to the congregation. Here it is for you again:
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the last feast day before we enter ordinary time. We have heard in our first reading about the coming of the Holy Spirit and we know from the book of Acts about the impact it had and the growth of the early church. On Wednesday we had our APCM which, because of circumstances, was via Zoom. As a consequence, I was going to read the report the subsequent church services but as I was thinking about Pentecost, I thought how does the coming of the Holy Spirit relate to our APCM, looking both backwards at the year just gone and looking to the future.
The Holy Spirit Gives Courage
If we had been there with the apostles in Jerusalem waiting in an upper room, waiting for who knows what, we would have seen a scared group, uncertain of what the future would bring. In many ways, this reflected where we were as a church and as a country last year.
Our last APCM report finished with the statement ‘things came to a holt on 23rd March when Boris Johnson announced Lockdown, with the closure of places of worship, and an introduction to social distancing and shielding. Worship in church and social activities ceased as the whole country went into lockdown.’
This was only the start of a difficult and challenging year which involved another lockdown in January 2021 and being at Level 3 in terms of Covid restrictions for most of the year.
This has had dramatic impact on church services, fellowship and church life. There have been times when, as a church, we have been unable to open due to government restrictions, when we have been open only for public prayer and times when we have been allowed to open following both government and Church of England restrictions. These have included risk assessments, being socially distanced with numbers limited according to the size of the building, hygiene measures being in place, wearing masks, no singing, communion in one kind to name but a few. Similar restrictions have also affected occasional offices with number of attendees limited.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples giving the courage and strength. I think that it is the Holy Spirit that has given us as individuals and as a church the strength and courage that to cope with the difficult times that we have been through.
The work of the Holy Spirit is the breath of God, working with us, opening our hearts and wooing us to God.
The Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and the people responded by saying that they were drunk. Peter responds by saying that the words of the prophet Joel were being fulfilled. God would pour his spirit on men and women and all will be saved.
We have had to think of worship in different ways this year. When we have been unable to worship in our church buildings we have relied on technology, both pre-recorded and live streamed services, together with daily Peregrini morning prayer and Compline, our monthly services of wholeness and well-being, special services and festivals.
As our buildings began to open, we were able to worship in church, but with the restrictions put in place. We have continued to have a ‘hybrid’ mix of both worship in church and on-line. It has been good to see our congregations returning when they feel it is safe to do so. It has also been good to see the number of people who have accessed our on-line services both here and abroad showing that on-line worship is a good means of mission.
The work of the Holy Spirit is communication and companionship.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they were able to speak in many different languages. They were able to communicate with others in many different ways, to be alongside people.
Over the past year, we have had to rethink how we communicate with each other and support one another as we have not been able to meet up physically. A telephone support system was quickly established and provided a good means of support during lockdown. Pastoral care over the last year, has by necessity, been via telephone calls, texts, E-mails, letters and packages. Our ‘young at heart’ party involved a ‘delivery’ of cake and a mince pie. Our website and social media have been additional forms of communication.
The Work of the Holy Spirit is creative
Throughout the Book of Acts, we hear about the way the Holy Spirit worked through the lives of the disciples and the development of the early church.
We have had to be creative this year using new technology and different ways of doing this. Zoom has been our main source of meeting each other for conversations and discussions. The Bible course, the prayer course and our current inspiring music for worship course have been the opportunity to grow spiritually and in fellowship with each other. Zoom has also been instrumental for Maggie’s Music Makers. Rehearsals have continued throughout lockdown with many recordings that have added to our on-line worship. They have recently been able to rehearse in church and have provided an added dimension to our worship whilst there has no congregational singing in church. A highlight was our Easter Sunday service at St, Margaret’s when MMMs sang within the service and then, as a congregation, we went outside to sing ‘thine be the glory’ which was allowable within the guidelines. Another highlight on Easter Sunday was the re-opening of St. George’s Church.
Zoom has also played a role in our fellowship together. Our PCC meetings have been via Zoom. Our Sunday school have met up via Zoom for special occasions to play games, make Christingles and sing together. Thank you to Gillian and all our Sunday School teachers. Staycation activities including a quiet day were also via Zoom. Our book club has been dependent on Zoom. Of course, the disadvantage is that not everyone has access to Zoom.
We have had afternoon teas and picnics in our own gardens, with (photographs that have been posted on-line). Anniversary Sunday took the form of a garden fest, celebrating nature and the work done in our own gardens during lockdown. Maybe we should have done the same for our cupboards!
Our creativity enabled us to be one of the recipients of the diocesan ‘church for a different world’ award.
The Holy Spirit reaches out to others.
Later in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how 3000 were added to their number and the believers held everything in common, sharing all that they had.
Obviously, we have been unable to continue all our missional activities but despite the challenges that we have faced, we have continued to support porch boxes, Children’s Society, Leprosy, Tear Fund, Poppy Appeal, Macmillan nurses, Cancer Research and our Christmas charities. Recognition should go to those individuals who co-ordinate the above and those who seek to serve God by the social action work they do outside of church.
Our mission action plan this year has be to pause, pray and prepare.
A time to pause is where we are the moment. Pause doesn’t mean doing nothing. To pause is the opportunity to reflect and review on where we are as a church family in terms of COVID, to provide spiritual emotional and pastoral support and to provide worship in a variety of ways to increase accessibility and be more missional.
A time to pray is the opportunity to look backwards and forwards and to pray. Hopefully, we are beginning to enter a recovery phase. There are signs of hope as we can see through the successful roll out of the vaccines, a decrease both the number of COVID cases and the number of deaths. Prayer is the starting point for all that we do.
A time to prepare is the opportunity to reshape and think through what we might need to do for the future. To prepare for mission and ministry both in church and digitally, a hybrid mixture of worship, to re-establish fellowship and social times and explore how we can reach out to our local community.
The Holy Spirit challenges and disturbs us.
The disciples were challenged to share the good news of Christ, to step out from where they were, frightened and scared, to be bold and brave and to face new challenges. They had to step out of their comfort zone.
In thinking about the future, we know that we will face difficult times ahead. We are slowly moving our way forward out of lockdown and returning to a new ‘normality’. We still need to be cautious. There will be people who have returned to church but there are also people who have been shielding and are not ready to return to church. There will be some who will not return. We have financial challenges ahead. We have had two large legacies which has meant that we have survived throughout lockdown, but the money won’t last forever. There are roles and jobs that need to be filled if we are to function effectively. Inevitably there will be change and challenges as we move out of lockdown and we would like to grow in numbers, in children and young people and in diversity and reach out into the community. As a diocese we now have seven deaneries with area deans and are looking to develop mission communities.
So, what were the decisions made?
Laurel was elected as church warden at St .Margaret’s and David as assistant warden. Joan was appointed at St. George’s, with support from Carol.
At the APCM two people stepped down from the PCC and everyone else was re-elected.
Anne gave a summary of the treasurer’s report which is in the process of being audited. As I mentioned earlier, we have had to close our halls due to COVID which has resulted in a loss of income. The closure of church meant a loss of income. Thanks to two generous legacies and donations from the congregations once we returned, including donations in lieu of going to the hairdressers, we have managed to keep our head above the water.
We have one deanery synod rep, but we are eligible to have two more. This is an important role, not just so that we can work together as a deanery, but also to give us the power of votes in the diocesan and national issues that lie ahead. If anyone is interested in this important role, please let me know.
All the reports presented, at the APCM were accepted and the safeguarding report , amongst others, was read out. There are copies of these at the back of church. They will also go in the next magazine as will my report.
Sidespeople will be appointed when we are closer to normality.
There are so many people I would like to thank. I would particularly like to thank Laurel and David as church wardens at St. Margaret’s and Joan at St. George’s, for whom much of the responsibility for keeping our church open and COVID safe, has fallen upon.
I would also like to thank the ministry team, Sue, Christine, Carol O, Carol P and Andrew G who have done so much in terms of our worship both on-line and in our building. A special thank you Sue who has taken on additional responsibilities whilst I have been shielding. Thank you to Carol Porter for both her digital and musical skills that have enabled us to worship in a different way. Thank you to Tom for his musical ability and his work with MMMs. Thank you to the PCC who have guided us through this difficult time.
I would like to thank Anne and Dani for their work on our finances, to Angela for auditing the accounts, to Hedley and Angela for their work on gift aid and stewardship and to those who count the money. Thank you to Joan for her role as PCC secretary, to Jacqui and Andrew for their role in safeguarding. and to all those who have taken on additional roles. There are lots of people who have worked behind the scenes – posting letters, making phone calls, praying, offering support and help. Most of all I would like to thank all our church family for their continued support to St. Margaret and St. George’s and for your love of God and support for one another. It is all of you who make up the church of St. Margaret’s and St. George’s, even if for part of the time, we have not been able to meet up together. We the body of Christ in this area of Prestwich and Simister. It is good to be part of this Christian community here as we all seek to follow Christ through our welcome, worship, fellowship, and service.
We thank God for his continued blessings and look to him for the future of our churches. We have the constancy of the God we serve, who is unchanging. We thank God for the Holy Spirit the breath of God, wisdom, the creator. She is always with us, opening our eyes, dancing in our hearts, wooing us to the words of God. She is the key, the wind and the fire, the way ahead and the comfort of all. She is the graceful, peaceful dove enfolding us in her love. And she is the disturbing, enraging wild goose, never allowing us to be lazy, always cajoling us onto new love and life. She is the enemy of apathy.
(In the words of the song ’Enemy of Apathy’ by John Bell) which the Maggie’s Music will sing later.
The Holy Spirit is given to us not only so that we may know and experience God’s power and love in our lives, but also to work in and through us to change both ourselves and the world around us.
St Teresa of Avila wrote this famous poem.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
With the Holy Spirit within us, we are the presence of Christ in the world today. We are his hands, his feet, his eyes. Through us, Christ reaches out and serves the world in love. In the year ahead we ask God, through the Holy Spirit, to guide us, challenge us, empower us and sustain us in the coming year as we seek to serve God, one another, our communities and our world.