Who we areAnnual Parochial Church Meeting

The Vicar’s Address to The Annual Parochial Church Meeting

Someone very wise once said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Accordingly, a year ago we undertook a complete review of our church life in which we canvassed the views and insights of the whole congregation and others to establish our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. At their Awayday last April, the PCC identified real aims and objectives with concrete action points to realise these aims and objectives in a Mission Action Plan covering five areas. Many of these have been achieved, and I want to recognise and applaud those achievements. We should not be afraid to give ourselves a good pat on the back!

1. Worship

We recognised that while we have a long catholic tradition of worship, with good choral music, if our tradition, let alone St Paul’s church itself, was to develop and survive in the long term, our worship needed to be more inclusive. In other words, we needed to provide something for everyone. In September we began a new monthly pattern of worship. We initiated the All Age Eucharists on the first Sunday of each month beginning last September, which have been largely very well received and have attracted more families with children. Please let me be clear, this development is absolutely vital for the long term future and survival of St Paul’s. Also on the first Sunday evening of each month, we have held a service of Sermon and Compline which has also proved to be popular.

At the same time, we have maintained our established tradition of Sung and Choral Eucharists, and Choral Evensong. Contrary to the fears of some, who, I think, were worried that any change might herald the end the world, nothing of lasting significance in our tradition has been lost. Rather, we have expanded our tradition by enabling a new group of people to share in it. If providing something for everyone has meant that some of us have had to budge over a bit to let others enjoy what we do, then I sincerely thank them for their unselfish and generous spirit. I also thank Ian Runnells, our Director of Music, the choir and the servers for all their hard work in maintaining our liturgy to a high standard of excellence. I’m not sure how many of us are fully aware of and so appreciate the skill and superb musicianship of Ian Runnells. The PCC will be reviewing our pattern of worship in the summer – and we will make any necessary tweaks thereafter.

A most welcome development has been our playgroup, Playtime at St Paul’s; largely run by the Young Gospellers team and others. And I wish to thank them for their enthusiasm, energy and commitment to this important development as well as their regular Sunday by Sunday work. As a result we are seeing new people coming along.

2. Profile and Communication

We have taken steps to raise our profile and improve our publicity. The old parish website was universally regarded as dismal and inadequate; this has been replaced with a brand new, professionally designed website, which was launched just in time for Christmas. We have also updated our Wikipedia entry and are in the process of renewing our entry on the Church of England’s site: ‘A Church Near You’. New displays and ‘A boards’ have been produced for the North Porch and Narthex, and new main noticeboards at each end of the churchyard will, I hope, appear within the next two months. I wish to thank David Walker for his work on the graphic design of the boards and Wendy Jones for her indefatigable efforts with the diocese and local planning authority to get us what we need. Although we still have other projects in the pipeline, we have completed major steps.

3. Education and Training

Last summer we surveyed the congregation to get an idea of what people need and would like. To date we have run workshops on leading intercessions, safeguarding and a Study afternoon on St Luke’s Gospel; events this term include reading in church and on the evening of 24 May Extraordinary Luke in Ordinary Time: featuring the parables and miracles. All of us have to take personal responsibility for our growth and understanding; so I hope that these events will be well attended. We are already planning events from next term onwards. Our thanks to James Beauchamp for taking the lead in much of this.

4. Pastoral Care

I wish to pay tribute to our Pastoral Team of clergy and lay ministers who share the burden of visits to individuals and care homes. Nevertheless, we are anxious to improve our pastoral care. Although we have a well kept Electoral Roll and a list of members of the congregation who, for whatever reason do not wish to be entered on the Roll; we are also aware of others who perhaps come and go and whose needs we need to pick up on. So we are examining ways of looking after everyone better.

5. Community Engagement

The term ‘Outreach’ had perhaps become too narrowly used to refer mainly to the raising and outward giving of money. I wish to place on record our thanks to Rita Brereton who has masterminded most of this valuable work, which continues now under the banner of ‘Outward Giving’. The term ‘Outreach’ embraces, of course, a wider range of activities with which we need to be more involved, now under the banner of ‘Community Engagement’. Such community engagement begins with presence: being seen and present in our community, and embraces the welcoming of people, helping them, sharing the love of Christ with them and, when appropriate, his Good News. Much of this community engagement overlaps with the pastoral care David Walker speaks of in his report. Key to presence is the vital necessity of keeping the church open every day. This is the bottom line. I really do salute and thank all the Welcomers and church watchers for their ministry. However, when a welcomer is not available, we have to close the church, and I get a chilling glimpse of the consequences of abandoning our presence in the town centre and the fragile future that we and others would not enjoy. We do need more people to help, so if you could just spare a couple of hours each week, please speak with us.

Much of our engagement with the people of our community has been facilitated by our Pastoral Assistant, David Walker. Now is not the time to pay the fulsome tribute to David and his ministry he deserves, that opportunity will come later; but I do wish to place on record my personal and deepest admiration and appreciation. We all owe David a huge debt. His has been a sacrificial ministry of real service to St Paul’s. It will be a huge sadness and loss when he retires at the end of May.

We have been fortunate in appointing Mr Robin Bartlett as a worthy successor as Pastoral Assistant, who will bring a different experience to the post. I believe it is important that we all understand it will be different. We have not appointed a new David Walker. That would be impossible anyway, even if we wished to do so. I do trust that everyone will support Robin, not only in their prayers but by helping to fund his work through their giving to St Paul’s.

I said a moment ago that Community Engagement begins with Presence: being seen in our community. To that end we have engaged more fully with the people of Bedford through offering ashing on Ash Wednesday and handing out over 350 palm crosses on the Wednesday of Holy Week, both in Harpur Square. A good number of us also took part in the Bedford Passion Play on Holy Saturday, which was surely a stunning witness to our town. These activities we have done in collaboration with other churches, notably the Anglican Town Centre Cluster which includes the churches of St Paul, St Peter de Merton, St Andrew and St Martin. It is clear that if we are to have any hope of making further inroads into our community then it is unlikely that we can, or even should, do this alone, but work together with the other churches in the Cluster, sharing our resources and collaborating on projects. To this end you should know that St Peter de Merton will not be appointing a traditional vicar when Fr Mike Fudger retires in the Summer, but a Priest-Missioner, who, while caring for the parish, he or she will be released to spend more time in the town centre community, helping us all to engage with the people within it more fully.

We are also present, and effect Community Engagement, as the Civic Church of the Borough of Bedford and the County of Bedfordshire. This year we have hosted the Service for HM The Queen’s milestone in September; the High Sheriffs Justice Service for the Countess of Errol, the 850th Anniversary of the Granting of the Charter to Bedford, the Annual Service for the Road Victims Trust, and the 450th Anniversary of the Founding of the Harpur Trust as well as many carol services; the Lord Lieutenant’s Annual Service for Voluntary Organisations takes place in ten days time. These services are important part of our ministry outreach and it is an honour and pleasure to organise them. However, we are not a cathedral but a parish church, albeit a major one. That means, unlike cathedrals, we do not have a substantial staff to organise and manage these events. It is important for the congregation to understand that these involve much work behind the scenes from clergy and others, which means that we are not always available to respond to other matters as quickly as we would like. There is significant pressure on our staff, especially the Pastoral Assistant who doubles as Verger. Robin Bartlett has also been given the brief of Centre Manager in recognition of this important aspect of our ministry. Again, I appeal to everyone for their support of his ministry, especially financial.

Conclusion

I draw to a close by repeating what I said last Summer, how good it has been to have Fr Phil with us, who has (not to spare his blushes) proved to be a real asset to us, as he learns the work and ministry of a deacon and, soon to be, a priest. I reiterate what I said earlier this evening, in my appreciation of members of the PCC, all the committees and especially my appreciation of James Collett-White and Wendy Jones as really wonderful, wise, hard working and supportive Churchwardens;

Nearly every week I am touched by the devotion to God and the commitment to our common life together at St Paul’s shown by so many in numerous different ways including the Friends who do so much to support our work. Many of these ways of service may seem relatively unspectacular or unimportant to those who do them, but I can assure you that your contribution is recognised and appreciated. So my sincere thanks to all of you. I feel that I have now settled into Bedford and are among many I am privileged to call not only parishioners but friends. Thank you all for your support of me as your vicar. Someone very wise once said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. With such commitment to our plan shown by so many all, failure will be much less likely. Thank you all and God bless you.

Father Kevin.