Reading through the newly published Sonning Parish Profile includes one thing I didn’t know – the church owns the local pub! I wonder if that means the Vicar and Churchwardens get free drinks?
I’ve just had one of those evenings where nobody knows what to do, but people turn to me because I’m the Churchwarden!
When I turned up at choir practice the kids were still over in the Parish Centre on their break, so I went into the church, and there was a small creature in the middle of the floor of the north aisle. On closer examination it turned out to be a bat – and a rather inactive one at that.
Many people who have been to our church will know that we have regular visits from bats, but this one was a lot smaller – and they are usually flying around, not sat in the middle of the floor. Luckily Meg our Parish Administrator was around as well, having an additional practice with the Handbell Group. She has regular bat visits at her home, and also had a booklet of contact numbers in the office from previous problems with the bats in the church.
First off we phoned the local vets, who directed us towards the RSPCA. It is worth saying that tonight was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t have my mobile with me, as it was back at home on charge, as a result trying to speak to the person who knew about bats at the RSPCA proved to be a bit of a pain. When you phone the emergency number you get through to a regular call centre person, who then passes a message to the relevant part of the organisation. They then phone you back – the problem being that twice I didn’t manage to get to the call. No problem I thought, I’ll just dial 1471 and ring them back. That doesn’t work though as the number you dial redirects you to the same emergency number where you can only speak to the normal call centre.
Eventually I got to speak to the bat person who said unfortunately there was nobody available in our area tonight, but that they would try and come out in the morning. She then talked about some of the bat behaviour, and said that the bat would be unable to take off from a horizontal surface – they need a drop of about five feet at least to get airborne, and that if we could move the bat somewhere that had this, that would help matters. She then also suggested trapping the bat in a box and providing food and water.
So what we did was put the bat on a shelf by the 1590 door – a place that bats can get into the building – and close to the wall, and then I came home. I then went back up about twenty minutes later to find that the bat had vanished – so it didn’t seem to be too unwell – the kids took it’s inactivity as being that it was dead, I think it was just trying not to attract attention. Anyway, either it’s still flying around inside the building, or hopefully by putting it close to the door where it could squeeze through, it made it’s escape. Suffice to say there isn’t anything in the Churchwarden’s Handbook about how to deal with bats!
Update: Seems our resident bat hadn’t gone – he was back on the floor of the north aisle at a christening this afternoon. Our Director of Music who was playing for the service left the 1590 door open however and he managed to make his way outside, and climb up enough of the wall to fly away.
With my Churchwarden hat on there was a good little bit of news from the Budget today – the news that although the basic rate of income tax will be cut from 22% to 20% on April 6th (which was announced last year), they are now not going to cut the rate at which Gift Aid will be paid out – at least not for the next three years. Financially, the drop in Gift Aid income would have made a small but significant impact on our income as a Church. Just a pity that the government only got round to doing anything about the problem less than a month before the change was due to take place, once Churches and charities have spent time putting together campaigns to highlight the issue to givers – it would have saved people a whole pile of work if this had been announced months ago… Better late than never though.
Catching up with the latest instalment of An Island Parish we got a bit of an insight into what it is like for a priest coming into a new parish.
The commentary on the programme quite often highlights the unique nature of the parish of the Isles of Scilly – but from what we saw this week it may be geographically unique, but in many ways it is has just the same problems as any other multi-congregation benefice, wherever in the country it is located.
The two Churchwardens summed up the kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemma that faces any new vicar or rector. You come in wanting to make your mark, indeed people expect you to be better in areas where perhaps your predecessor wasn’t so good. Equally, you can’t change things massively, otherwise it risks alienating the congregation.
The situation is more difficult when dealing with multiple congregations – Rev Guy has six churches to deal with, and needless to say they are each different. When asked how he was doing, he replied that his honeymoon period had lasted barely a week before he’d upset someone.
Having said that, the big issues were precisely the same sorts of issues that new clergy often come up against. The congregation on one of the off islands were objecting to his choice of services – the implication is that Rev Guy is from the churchmanship where the Eucharist is central, whereas the congregation in this case was wanting non-Eucharistic services (my thought is that they’re probably wanting prayer book matins). When we had a similar situation here at St James, both services were offered, but obviously with six churches to run that’s not really an option here. The second big issue was another one that causes a good deal of problems all over the place, in that Rev Guy had refused to perform a wedding for the divorced daughter of an important parishioner. Although it is now legal for divorcees to remarry in the Church of England, it is left up to the conscience of the particular priest involved. Some I’ve known, like Rev Guy, won’t do them at all, others I’ve known would do a service for people who are members of the Church if they knew the situation, others have no problem at all. It is still somewhat of a hot potato in Church terms, such that on the occasions we’ve had such services at St James, the PCC is usually informed.
Of course the big difference for Rev Guy, comes from the geographical uniqueness of the Isles of Scilly parish. On the mainland, if he has a big issue, he has other clergy around who he can go and talk to – here they are across thirty miles of sea, and whilst they would be able to provide support over the phone, it’s not the same.
Hopefully as the series goes on, Rev Guy will settle in more – certainly it’s a lonely job if it gets any worse…
So as a Churchwarden, I tend to have a pretty packed diary – indeed my reply earlier in the week when someone at work asked if I had a free week to visit a customer in the US before Christmas was to laugh…
So at 10:25am, my phone rings.
Beth: Hi, do you want to go along to the school Christmas production this year – it’s Grease?
Me: Yeah, when is it?
Beth pauses and says: In a couple of weeks on Thursday, Friday and Saturday…
Me: Well there are six weekends before Christmas, is it the 23rd/24th November – that’s a couple of weeks time?
Beth: No, I think it’s in December…
Me: Any idea when, so I can see whether I’m free…
Beth: Hold on, I’ll go see if I can find a poster…
Phone gets put down and the merry sounds of playtime can be heard in the background.
Beth: Can’t find one, might be 14th/15th December, is that okay?
Richard: Yes can do that weekend.
Beth: You want to come?
Beth: Okay, I’ll reserve tickets for us.
So anyway, assuming the date is right (14th/15th doesn’t clash with anything) I’m off to see the school production of Grease. Hopefully the dates are right as it would be a shame to miss it – on the basis of previous productions I’ve been to at the school it should be pretty good.
So as of the APCM yesterday, I am Churchwarden designate of St James.
It came about as a result of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 which set a limit on the time in office of a Churchwarden to six years, in 2008 both of our current Churchwarden’s – one of whom has been in post for eight years, and the other for eighteen years would be forced to stand down. The PCC discussed whether to propose that we do not adopt the measure, meaning that Churchwarden’s remain in position indefinitely, but in general thought it was a bad idea. St James is one of those parishes where people rarely stand against an incumbent Churchwarden (there has been only one election in the past twenty years) and you usually get the assumption that the existing Churchwarden’s will just stay on, leading to them feeling that they can’t stand down because nobody else seems willing to do it.
Implementing the six year rule got a slightly bumpy ride at the APCM, although since both current Churchwarden’s had said that they would stand down anyway, and it was highlighted that at some point in the future we could choose to opt out, we went with the measure.
In the PCC discussion I had expressed concern about both Churchwarden’s going together next year, so in a classic example of why you should keep your mouth shut, I ended up being asked if I would stand as a Churchwarden to replace the first of the current Churchwarden’s who is resigning this year. Hopefully we’ll implement a system of assistant Churchwarden’s too so there is a wider body of people with the knowledge of what needs doing. (It is worth noting that Deputy Churchwarden’s, whatever the ABC of the PCC may say are explicitly mentioned as having a legal basis in the official guidance.)
Perhaps the biggest difficulty is going to be educating the rest of the congregation as to what the Churchwarden’s role actually is. Both the existing Churchwarden’s do a whole load of other jobs alongside their Churchwarden responsibilities which people automatically assume are part of the Churchwarden job – so for example I’ve already had someone assume I’m going to stop singing in the choir because I won’t be able to do the Churchwarden jobs from the choir stalls.
So what does the job involve? The basic elements of the job are that a Churchwarden is a lay representative of the Bishop in the parish, and legally responsible for the property within the Church. In general they are the senior members of the laity in the parish, and are expected to co-operate with the incumbent to ensure everything runs smoothly. Of course the role becomes a lot more in situations where there is a problem with an incumbent, in which case the fact that you represent the Bishop comes into play, and of course in situations where the parish is vacant, where the Churchwarden’s again take on more responsibilities. Fingers-crossed we shouldn’t run into anything like that for a couple of years, and it’s just a question of keeping things ticking along!