Tag Archives: St James

Interregnum

St James'At St James’ we’re now officially in what used to be called an interregnum, but is now somewhat more boringly, (although accurately if you know your Latin) called a vacancy. Although his final service was at the end of July, Rev’d Richard our Priest-in-Charge for the last six years didn’t officially stand down until now, and was nominally still in charge, but now we’re on our own for at least the next few months, probably a year.

The interregnum is always a bit of a difficult and uncertain time for those left behind, especially when a church has experienced a lot of growth under an incumbent just departed. There is always the concern that people were coming because of a personal connection – a connection that goes with the departure of a popular priest. To some extent we won’t know whether that is the case until we’ve looked at the attendance figures a few months down the line. Certainly there were a couple of people who rushed to get services done before Rev’d Richard left, and I have had conversations with other people who are more on the periphery of the congregation who are less inclined to come without Rev’d Richard there, but at the moment I’m fairly hopeful that as a result of having a large team leading services and our popular NSM Rev’d John still very much on the scene things should continue as before.

There is also a big fear of change amongst many, which often manifests itself as a desire to not change anything for however long the interregnum lasts. Obviously that isn’t going to happen for a number of reasons. Firstly going from having a full time incumbent to running a parish such as ours with no full time staff – the duties of the incumbent get split between our part time NSM and the Churchwardens mainly – it is inevitable that you can’t run things the same. It is also in my opinion unhealthy to try and resist change. Like any organisation a church is in a continual state of change different characters in different roles, even down to the people turning up to services affect how the organisation operates in a wide spectrum of ways. Rev’d John is a different person that Rev’d Richard, and whilst we’ll continue with the service pattern as before, he will obviously do things subtly differently. In actual fact it took all of a week after Rev’d Richard’s last service before I had a “I don’t like the way this place is going” conversation with somebody! The church community doesn’t just wrap itself up in bubble-wrap until the new Rector comes along, obviously you can’t decide to kick out the choir and the organ and bring in a band for all the services when an incumbent leaves, but equally you have to keep moving forward.

On a personal level, my Church workload, along with a number of other peoples workload goes up quite a lot during an interregnum. I have to say I’m really rather glad that I’m not one of the Churchwardens at this point, as they take a lot of the load on their shoulders. Being a Churchwarden and working full time is a lot of work in a normal year, but during a vacancy it would be nigh on impossible. In my current role as lay deputy chair of the PCC the main additional workload is being in the chair for PCC and Standing Committee meetings. It’s a bit dependant on the incumbent, but up to now although I’ve been lay  deputy chair of the PCC for a number of years, I’ve only ever actually chaired a meeting twice when Rev’d Richard was ill. Now I chair every single meeting until a new incumbent is in post.

There are also a number of extra meetings on the cards. One of the more complicated aspects of this interregnum is that the Diocese is taking the opportunity to do some pastoral reorganisation. Our neighbouring parish, St Mary and St John California is also in a vacancy following the retirement of their priest in charge in June. Their electoral roll is now such that in the current climate they would not get a full time incumbent, and ours is such that we are allowed to have two. Effectively what they are proposing to do is to merge the two parishes into one, and appoint two clergy to the parish. It is worth highlighting at this point that many years ago St Mary and St John started life as a daughter church of St James’ set up amongst the new housing that was being built to the north of the village. As that congregation grew ultimately it was separated and became a parish in it’s own right – not without some drama that I will not rake up here – and the church has been charting it’s own path for a number of years. However of late it has been between a resurgent St James’ and of late the brand new Finchampstead Baptist Church next door – the Baptists having seen increases of 40% in their congregations since opening the new building – St Mary and St John are facing some real challenges.

What is really important is that this mustn’t be some sort of ecclesiastical assimilation – some sort of take over. St Mary and St John are a very different congregation, and with very different goals and focus. For example St Mary and St John took the decision not to have a church building, and hold their services in the local school, whilst we at St James’ have just spent in excess of £0.5 million keeping our grade one listed building a safe and usable environment for our congregations.

Somehow the two PCC’s have to meld our very different vision and goals into a job spec and profile for whoever will come and be our new Rector and associate priest. There are big decisions about how closely the two congregations work together. It all begins with a joint PCC away day, but I’m sure it will be a long road ahead.

So here we stand at the beginning of the next stage of the journey. Various people keep hoping for a quick interregnum, but being realistic we’re looking at probably this time next year before we’ll be getting a new person in post. With working around school schedules for any priest with children, much as happened with Rev’d Richard, whilst we may appoint in the early part of 2011, if they are based outside the local area, they won’t be able to move before the summer. Hopefully then we will still be the vibrant and growing church we are now, ready to move on into the next era at St James’.

Tonight Thank God It’s Them…

This is a little tribute to any Youth Leader, who having been asked to contribute to some Church event, has found themselves on stage with a number of semi-unwilling members of their youth group, feeling like they’re doing a solo, and yet somehow managed to pull it together in the end.

As a background to this clip, this was filmed at our village concert, and the Youth Group decided to sing a song which they had done as part of a Christmas production they had put on in aid of the Congo appeal a few days before. Prior to this they’ve been having real problems with the backing track, and as our clip commences, the backstage guys have just about got it sorted.


Tonight Thank God It’s Them, Instead of You from Richard Peat on Vimeo.

All credit to Cathy, the youth leader here for keeping it going as it all starts to go horribly wrong…

Wokingham Heritage Weekend

This weekend was the annual Heritage Open Days weekend when historic buildings across the country, sometimes buildings that rarely allow public access, open their doors to the public. Locally this was organised under the banner of the Wokingham Heritage Weekend, and as our contribution we opened the church to visitors and as we do in July, allowed people to climb the tower.

It has to be said that during the week, the weather wasn’t looking particularly promising, and whilst it didn’t rain yesterday, it was overcast for a lot of the day, however this afternoon was fantastic, not too hot, but a nice clear day, so people got great views from the top.

We were open between two o’clock and five o’clock and had a steady stream of people from opening, with it being busiest between three o’clock and four o’clock. Like all the events in the weekend we weren’t making any charge, however that didn’t mean that we didn’t have a prominent big sign asking for a donation to the conservation fund, and the majority of the visitors were happy to contribute, many gift aiding their contribution as well. We also laid on cream teas, which were also very popular – one husband who had hoped for a piece of the cake baked by his wife was sadly disappointed as by the end of the afternoon there was no food left at all! Hopefully we will have made a few hundred more towards the half a million pounds needed for our conservation work.

I took a few pictures of the afternoon, which can be seen in our photo galleries. The different time of year giving a lower sun allowed me to take some nice shots playing with sunlight – this shot of the inside of the building and this silhouette of the parapet being ones I thought came out well.

Patronal Festival Weekend

Along with our annual trip to see the Tappers, this weekend was also pretty busy as it was our patronal festival weekend at St James. As part of this on Saturday we had an evening from The Madding Crowd, a group of performers from Winchester, and then today we had the annual opening of the Church Tower, and a mini fete up at the Church.

The Madding Crowd primarily perform a selection of music originally written for the parish bands who in days gone by would have provided the musical accompaniment for church services in the days before the pipe organ. They augment the performance with readings and dances from the same period, drawing heavily on the work of Thomas Hardy, indeed drawing their name from his fourth novel. It was a great evening, and showed up some music that perhaps we could use in the Church choir – and some of the dramatic interludes showed up that very little has changed in the Church over the past hundred years – people still moan about the Rector, and choir practice hasn’t changed much at all, even if the instruments and the clothes have!

The main village fete alternates between being hosted by the Church and the school, so in years like this when it is the turn of the school, the Tower Opening and Mini-Fete are one of our major fund raising efforts for the year, especially important in a year like this when we have a big campaign in progress. Thanks to the vagaries of the British weather, even in July it can involve a lot of prayer for a nice day – and since all the way through this week there has been rain forecast for this afternoon, it was great to have such fantastic weather. As a result we got a lot of people through the doors and climbing the tower, and fingers crossed a goodly amount of money for the conservation appeal.

Needless to say I was around with my camera, so I’ve included a set of pictures below. As you might have noticed if you follow my Flickr stream, I’ve started to take a picture or two with the much maligned camera on the iPhone. Although some aren’t going to win any awards, especially in poor light, I have to say that some, in particular this one and this one are a lot better than I perhaps would expect based purely on the specs for the camera on paper.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

A Really Big Choir

Spotlight

On Saturday I, together with ten other people from St James sang in what was quite possibly the biggest choir I’d ever been a part of. I’m not quite sure of the exact numbers, but the choir took up all of the space on the stage at the Albert Hall, and a good deal of both the stalls and circle, and was large enough that the orchestra and conductor had to be on the arena floor.

The event was organised by The Really Big Chorus who describe themselves as Britain’s largest choral society – their mailing list includes over 8500 contacts representing an estimated 35,000 singers. They do three major concerts a year in the Royal Albert Hall where essentially anyone can turn up and sing. By virtue of the old adage of safety in numbers there will be enough people around who will know the particular pieces of music, and will be able to carry you along if you are a weaker singer, as such it’s a great way to get an experience of singing in a major venue. This time it was Mozart’s Requiem, something I’ve done before, but not in quite such an illustrious venue.

This time we were going along in part to support the father of a friend of ours who at the end of last year bemoaned the fact that when he was younger and had sung in a choir he’d never done a big concert. As a result our friend and her sister arranged a special surprise for his sixty-fifth birthday and arranged for him to come along and sing with us. I dropped around a copy of the Chorusline Bass CD (a special series of CD’s that are useful for learning particular parts), which he sang along with at home, and then on the night he sat between a couple of our choir members who are also in other local choirs who were able to keep him on track. Things were made slightly more difficult by the fact that we were sat in the back row of the bass section, well away from the tenor and alto sections, and with some of the soprano section behind us – on the bass line we are usually used to getting cues from the alto or tenor part, taking them from the soprano isn’t something we’re used to, however after the one hour full choir rehearsal it was straight into the performance.

Not surprisingly there were one or two ropey bits, but in the main we made it through, and certainly it is a fantastic experience singing in the Royal Albert Hall with so many others. The atmosphere is certainly not quite like a professional concert, as the bulk of the audience are supporters, but it is still great fun, and I’m sure something I hope I can do again before too long.

I’ve uploaded some pictures from the event to our photo galleries, and Beth took a short video panning across the whole choir, which should give some idea of quite how big the choir actually is.

Annual Church Attendance Story

The annual survey of Church attendance figures has just been published, and as usual it is an opportunity for the media to publish a load of stories highlighting the figures. The Times in particular really went for it including this article – Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour – which in particular plays the Muslims will outnumber Christians card, and is being disputed by the organisation who conducted the research. As the Church of England response to the survey points out it does this using a figure taken from census data and compares it with the actual Church attendance – if a similar ploy was used to calculate numbers of Christians from census data the figures would show something like twenty million active Christians in the UK.

Ruth Gledhill also backs up the main piece with a comment article which includes a number of juicy quotes:

As the Religious Trends Survey shows, an ageing generation of churchgoers is about to die out and there could be, within a generation, a God-shaped hole at the heart of our society.

and

The decline forecast for the Church of England is so severe that its position as the established church of the nation with the Queen as Supreme Governor can surely no longer be tenable.

however this point does get to the heart of the problem:

Yet, as the report notes, the decline in attendance coincides with a surge of interest in religion, reflected in the growing numbers of children opting for religious studies at GCSE and A level. There are also increasing numbers of students at theological and Bible colleges.

Somehow, the churches, despite innumerable studies, reports, synod and assembly debates, are failing to get these people into church.

The thing is that whilst as a bit of rabble rousing all the press coverage is good, it doesn’t really reflect the true picture – needless to say that is a lot more complicated. David Keen, a vicar in Yeovil, looks in more detail and points out that a significant number of diocese have already reversed the decline. Bishop Alan gets straight to the point too, highlighting a cutting from the Times in 1971 that said the same thing, and on the basis of which the church will cease to exist in a couple of years. (Amusingly to show the ‘power’ of statistics he goes on to prove that the Diocese of Oxford Reporter will have a larger circulation than The Daily Telegraph by 2050…)

The main Times article again puts forward that only the evangelical churches are growing – which from my point of view is wrong. Seriously, Ruth Gledhill should come along to Finchampstead sometime as St James is anything but evangelical. We’re a mainstream middle of the road Anglican church, and yet for the past two years our electoral roll figures have gone up by more than 10% a year, and as I mentioned back at Easter we were struggling to find seats for everybody then. Whilst it is certainly correct to say that our growth area is in the young families, as our Rural Dean pointed out at his recent inspection we manage to produce a respectable fifty to sixty or so people at our prayer book services too.

As far as I am concerned the parts of the Church are growing aren’t anything to do with their Churchmanship – churches of all denominations and types are growing – it’s about getting the basics right, and looking at what people want. In the case of the prayer book services what people are looking for is familiarity and authenticity, so those are done absolutely straight with traditional hymns, and the King James bible. On the other hand the young families, who often come in via our play-group, are looking for accessibility, which is what they get through our 9:30am Family Services. The main 11am services are a bit more of a blend of the two, so we’re relatively traditional, with organ, choir and sermon, but with more accessible elements. The biggest thing though is to be a welcoming community. It is always frustrating to hear of other churches that are spending more time turning themselves into a private club and excluding people – as far as I am concerned whilst things have changed at St James to bring about our rise in numbers, they haven’t been particularly radical, and to be honest if they were radical we’d only end up marginalising a different group. The whole basis of what we do is to be inclusive of the broad range of people in the village rather than exclusively focusing on one group. Whenever the “how do you do it?â€? question comes up though, most people at St James’ really can’t explain, as from our point of view we aren’t doing anything particularly special or out of the ordinary, and equally the area around the church from which our attendance is drawn isn’t that much different from much of the surrounding area either.