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Circuit Deanery Review

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
30 September 2001

 

May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of all our hearts
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord. Amen.

 

This is a sermon, but it is also something that I want to say to you all about the process that we are engaged in following the death of Jacqueline and specifically the decision of our Circuit last week that they would not be appointing another Minister in the Circuit to replace Jacqueline until after the review and consultation. This effectively means that we may or may not have another Minister from September 2003. I want to give to you what I know is a personal reflection so that you fully understand and appreciate what is going on and so that I make my own position very clear to you all. As always the sermon is available in written form after the sermon or on the internet.

As I sat on the side of a Loch Insch in Scotland 18 months ago it was truly one of the most supreme delights in life. I had just caught the most beautiful wild trout, taken it back to the boathouse and they cooked it for me within 30 minutes of the catch. It tasted wonderful with a pint of beer and chips. It was whilst I was savouring the moment, lighting a cigar that Alan telephoned me to say that he would not be able to continue in ministry because of his ill health. I realised then that a wonderful and fruitful ministry which I had the privilege to enjoy for ten years, had suddenly come to an end. Alan had been poorly but his contribution to this Partnership was immense. Moreover can anybody find two ministers who have worked with such companionship and trust. I realised that things would never be the same again.

When the full reality of Alan not being with us as a full time minister had sunk in, several people raised questions about the wisdom of continuing the status quo. My feeling, shared by others, was that we were as churches over extended financially, incredibly dependent upon hire of premises and fundraising activities to keep the show on the road. We had deep conversations with the Circuit and the Deanery which were each facing the financial difficulties which come with falling numbers and rising costs. It was my opinion that we were facing financial collapse and that the best course of action would be to wait until the position of the Methodist Minister in the villages became vacant and then not to replace them and then subsequently appoint another minister in the Partnership. The villages were not paying as much per head as the other churches, so why should they enjoy the luxury of a minister which they were not prepared to afford? That was my view at the time.

Nevertheless after the discussions had taken place it was agreed that we would go forward with an appointment as soon as possible and we all looked forward to the contribution which would be made by the arrival of Jacqueline Phillips. Due to the fact that Methodist Ministers are only moved in August we had a year to wait.

During that year the leadership of our Deanery and Circuit have been faced with times when we increasingly realised just how serious the financial constraints upon our churches were becoming. People have asked 'how long has the financial situation been bad'. Well we have been talking about it for a long time and we have discussed it in the Church Councils and reported it in the Partnership News. We have realised for some years that things were getting worse but only recently over the past couple of years have we been reminded just how bad it is. Our giving in the churches is not bad, but we are expected to contribute nearly 60,000 to the Church of England and the Methodist Church, the cost of ministry is going up all the time. John Day, our Treasurer at St Mark's, will remember assurances from the Diocese that things were getting better, the increases were slowing down. So he told Kathryn to take no notice and expect 7 or 8 % increase. Then the increase was announced and John was right it was another 7%.

Long-standing committed financial supporters of our churches were dying, the ages of our congregations were getting older, costs of ministry were rising. The Anglican quota has increased from 3 to nearly 30,000 in ten years and that makes no allowance for the fact that it is obvious that we are paying one of the lowest contributions in the Deanery. The fact that we are paying less than the Church of the Transfiguration in Kempston, which is in a much less affluent environment, has been noted to me in Deanery discussions. We can expect to pay proportionately more in the years ahead as we catch up. If we project the current Anglican figure of about £30,000 over the next five years with a compounded 7% increase and add on an amount to bring us in line with the fact that our position at the bottom of the table does not reflect the reality of the situation, you can see why we are worried.

As a church at St Mark's we only collect 16 k on the plate but our contribution to the Diocese is 30K per annum. We pay our way only because the hire from our Centre subsidises the ministry, it is the same at Putnoe Heights. Yet it is only this year that we have been able to put money aside to help fund a Centre Manager. The discussions have been well rehearsed in our Church Council meetings.

Over the last year, since I was the full time minister representing both churches I met frequently with the Circuit Leadership Team and with the other ministers in the team. Although at the start Jim Gorringe and I argued vehemently at times, I realised that he was a sincere and competent Superintendent Minister for our Circuit and I quickly came to respect him as the very best person to take our Circuit forward.

I attended this year for the first time the Circuit financial meeting and heard the cries from the other Methodist churches that they just could not afford to pay the necessary increases and that was in the year when we were being effectively subsidised through not having to pay for Alan's ministry. It was indeed only Kathryn Morse, Treasurer of Putnoe Heights, who offered to pay more. But, I was impressed by the whole Circuit meeting when it decided to instigate a Review so that we could be best placed to face the obvious financial challenge that was about to come. In a sense I felt that everything that could be done was being done.

Then disaster struck and we lost Jacqueline just as we were practising the hymns to sing at her welcome service.

So we have discussed again what we should do. The Circuit Leadership Team have spent all year thinking through the problems and have heard all the suggestions. The Partnership Council has been hard at work and I want to say publicly a word of thanks to them on your behalf for all that they do. We do not thank them enough. They are an excellent body and you could not wish to be better represented. If there is any time you want to know what is happening ask them, they wear badges, they have pictures up on the board in the foyer.

In our discussions it has been said to me that ultimately Putnoe Heights Church is a Methodist Church and the Methodist Church can decide that it should be split off from St. Mark's which is owned by the Church of England. That is absolutely true, I have no authority in Putnoe Heights Church, save that which is delegated to me by the Circuit. Even though the majority of the congregation is not Methodist, that could be done. Ultimately the same is true for St Mark's at which I have the status of Incumbent, the Church of England could be just as intransigent, despite the fact that unlike Putnoe Heights, there has never been a time when St Mark's regarded itself as purely Church of England. We could all pull up the drawbridges, we have looked at all the options. We have looked into the abyss.

We have looked into the abyss and we have decided that this is not what so many people have been working for all these years. We are here because we believe in the unity of Christ's church, Christians worshipping together irrespective of their denominations. The decision has been taken that there will be a Review of the Circuit, we must consider it. There is also currently also a review taking place of the Deanery, we must consider it carefully too. We will I am sure be well served by John Stubbs who we have asked to work with the Deanery and the Circuit to bring together those two bodies as an ecumenical unity. I see no reason for our two denominations to be working separately in Bedford.

We will be well served by these Reviews, which will help enable us to discern the right path. The result will be that we will do things differently. There is no way that we can go back to doing ministry the way that we did when Alan was here. Could any of us imagine that we could loose somebody who was has been so influential as Alan Kirk and not be changed?

We will do things differently — because if a new minister comes then they will bring different styles of ministry and we will learn from that and we will be different.

We will do things differently — because if no minister comes we will have to learn more and more about 'total ministry' involving more people in the process of ministry. Because there will be at least another two years without a replacement minister, that has already started to take place. I am grateful to Trevor Noble and Brian Webb, Supernumerary Methodist Ministers who have kindly agreed to help with ordained ministry. Trevor will specifically be ensuring that our pastoral work is up to scratch and that nobody falls through the cracks and is not visited by a dog collar. Please tell him if you have anybody you are concerned about. But there are others, people like Jennie Cooper who has agreed to work with pre-school at Putnoe.

We know that decisions will be taken which will involve serious thought and input from many different people who have valuable contributions to make. Methodists, Anglican Church of Scotland, Baptists etc., everybody will have an opportunity to contribute. Over the last year I have learned a great deal and I have changed some of my opinions about the way forward. We must all listen and we must all be prepared to change, for perhaps the most obvious lesson is that we will never be the same again. But in the words of Mayor Giuliani in New York, 'we will not be the same we will be better.' God's people must go forward.

Whilst it has been decided that we will wait until the review has taken place before we appoint a Methodist Minister, this does not mean that we will have no Methodist Minister until 2003. I have been an Associate Methodist Minister since the first opportunity I was able to be so. I consider myself here to be a Methodist Minister. I know that for some people that will not be good enough, either because of who I am, or simply because I am an Anglican and can never exercise adequate Methodist Ministry. But I do say to you this. There may well be a day when this Partnership like so many other LEPs before it has to recognise that it cannot afford two full time ministers. There may well be a day when a Methodist Minister is the sole full time paid minister in this Partnership.

It may be that Alan and I working as well as we did together for so many years created a feeling that there had to be ordained ministers from both denominations before things were could be done properly. If that is something which we subconsciously brought about then we let me be clear, I never at any stage felt that I had to be present to make sure that a proper minister was around. Thankfully I know the same was true for Alan, we trusted each other to be fully representative of ministry for both denominations and all denominations. I have heard the Bishop of Bedford say to Alan in public that he considered Alan to be his equal. Which is more than he ever said to me!

If there are ways that I have failed you as a Methodist Minister, and there may well be, then I must learn, and you must help me to do so. I feel that there is much we must think through. Perhaps I have to stop living in a Vicarage since the Manse is now to be rented out the Vicarage must serve as both- and names are important. Ultimately you must decide what you want as churches. There is no need for us to end up in the abyss and I will be a vigorous part of process to try and ensure that does not happen.

Some people have expressed extremely kind thoughts to me about their concern that I will be overworked. Over the next period of ministry you must know that I will seek not to be. No more so than Jim who has two churches and Karen who has three. We all work hard to try and do our best for our churches. But you must know that I am available to you. I am usually here before you arrive at St Mark's I am there until after you leave at Putnoe Heights. I only took two weeks out of the parish last year so that I could be assured that I was available to you Sunday by Sunday. If there is something you want to know I am here for you. Nobody usually asks to speak with me and has to wait more than minutes, let alone hours, I am available. I would question whether there is another minister in this galaxy who is more available to their congregation than I am, let alone in the Diocese or District. I even take my phone with me on my holidays when I go fishing, which is how I came to hear that sad news about Alan. You see the sermon has a beginning which leads subtly to the end!

As Peter Littleford said last Sunday the time has come when he must consider how much time he is able to give to us before he is called to minister elsewhere. We are indebted to Peter and Sam for their devotion to our churches let nobody suggest otherwise. Peter and Sam give of their time at no cost to our churches, I am blessed by them and I know you are also. I challenge you to find another church in the Diocese or District let alone Deanery or Circuit where we are fortunate enough to have Ministers who are willing to give of their time to take Junior Church on a Sunday morning. I hope that you will see more Ministers and I have at the suggestion of the Circuit Leadership Team invited Brian Webb to robe and join us as and when he is available to do so. He is a wonderful Methodist Minister for whom I have the highest personal regard.

I have only one purpose for being in an ecumenical church. That is because I believe that denominational differences must become irrelevant. My purpose for being in a Partnership Church is because I want to be one united church, I want us to be a foretaste of heaven. How that comes about we will have to wait and see.

I want to be a servant of this church, I also have to be the shepherd.

This means that I must do certain things.

I must listen — to all the voices, not just those from one opinion or another and not just those which are the loudest.

I must also pray as I seek God's contribution to issues which seem difficult to us but which are actually probably quite trivial to God and easily resolved if the Holy Spirit becomes involved.

I must also lead, since that is what I promised to do when I came here. I must recognise that it is not my wish which must prevail, since this is God's church not mine. It is not the wishes of the majority, since God's church is not ruled by democracy. The majority can be very wrong, as Moses found out when he came down the mountain and they were worshipping a golden calf. We must all be prepared to put our own wishes aside and determine where God would have us go.

I preach this obviously in the context of a healing service and I do so because I would like to think that it is within the context of a healing Christian community that we can express ourselves with care and consideration for others. Each one of us must make sure that when we open our mouths we are building bridges and not walls. Let us pray that God's grace will inspire us as we seek out his purpose for our church and our own lives. For surely so much has been achieved in our churches over the last 30 or 40 years and the best inevitably, is yet to come.  Amen.

 

Bible Notes for 30 September 2001