Here is Rev Sue’s October 2022 letter to the parish:
At the very beginning of Jesus earthly ministry, he called twelve disciples to be with him. He sent them out to preach the gospel in pairs. Later, when St Paul was journeying throughout the known world to spread the good news, he always had at least one companion, and not just a servant to keep him safe, but another preacher who would work alongside him. The message is clear – ministry is not a solo occupation.
The traditional Church of England model was of one vicar in the parish working alone. He (and it was he) would take the Sunday services, perform the weddings, baptisms and funerals and care for his parishioners. Mostly, he was aided and supported by his wife. Curates would come to be trained and move on. This was from a time when more people went to church, so congregations in each parish were bigger.
But things have changed over the years. As early as the mid nineteenth century Readers were trained to preach and assist the vicar in many ways and gradually Self-Supporting Ministers were ordained to work in various ways. They are priests who are not paid and generally work part time. But now we are in a third phase of ministry. We have mission communities where the clergy within an area collaborate. Each congregation will have a Focal Minister, who may or may not be a priest, designated to be their first point of contact. Self-supporting Ministers and Readers have more responsibility because shrinking congregations and consequently finances dictate that not every post that was previously a full-time incumbent can be filled.
Sadly, the arithmetic dictates that we at St Margaret’s and St George’s no longer have the numbers attending on a Sunday to justify a full-time paid vicar of our own. For many people this has come as a shock because there has always been a full-time vicar living in the vicarage, and the decision marks the end of an era.
But over the years the team of people leading the ministry and worship at our churches has steadily grown. We have currently a team of 5 people all committed to the worship, pastoral work and mission of the parish. We all have different gifts, vocations and personalities, and as such we are in a much better position than those parishes working on the old model of just one priest who does everything. Our Authorised Lay Ministers are trained to have expertise in a specific area – pastoral, worship, prayer and spirituality, and IT, whereas readers and priests have more general responsibilities. Add to that our gifted musicians and those who work with children in various ways, and we have a thriving and forward-looking church. The last few years have been difficult for every parish, and for us doubly so, and yet we have carried on worshipping and caring for each other throughout all the struggle and sadness. We remain a church people want to join.
If I had a magic wand the next Authorised Lay Minister, I would like to have would be one to train in Parish Administration. It might come as a surprise that that counts as a ministry – yet St Paul lists administration as a gift alongside teaching and wisdom. In my experience gifted administrators don’t realise their own worth – they tend to think that it’s all common sense and anyone can do it. Those of us who do not feel particularly called to that ministry know that it is not true! People who can keep paperwork under control and who know how to lay their hands on a relevant piece of information are like gold dust. Having another ALM is probably wishful thinking – but nevertheless if your skills are in practical areas, we need you on board! Let us know if you can contribute to running the churches. A few people have been doing the same tasks for a very long time, and they would appreciate some help.
We have by necessity to work with a different structure in the future. But we are blessed in having a team of people who can carry the ministry of St Margaret’s and St George’s forward, maintaining the worship we have, caring for each other and beginning new ventures. Let’s celebrate the dedication and gifts of those we have as we move forward to a new phase in the life of our churches.