Who we areAnnual Parochial Church Meeting

The Vicar's Address to The Annual Parochial Church Meeting (24th March 2019)

Adapting to change

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." So wrote the Yale scholar and Christian historian and theologian Jaroslav Jan Pelikan. He went on, "And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name."

Her Majesty the Queen has understood this, as they say, in bucket loads. Over the past decades this British institution has recognised that the world has changed, and has slowly modernised and adapted, letting go of things which have become irrelevant, while embracing the new. By making small changes here and there, the monarchy has succeeded in being relevant for a new, adoring generation. Doubtless, when this process began, there were a few panic stricken souls who feared they were 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'. But that didn't happen. Paradoxically, by adapting, the monarchy is still intact, recognisable, retaining its history and significant traditions, still possessing its unique place in British life. But had the monarchy been traditionalist, clinging to the irrelevant, and been unwilling to adapt, it may not have survived the challenges and attacks it has endured. Today it looks in good health, with unrivalled popularity and set to flourish.

As your Vicar, I congratulate and thank all of you who, over the past five years have avoided the trap of traditionalism but who have instead, adapted and embraced the necessary changes that have ensured that our valuable tradition will continue to flourish in the future.

Our Ministry

We enjoy a wonderful liturgical and musical tradition: and I thank my ministerial colleagues, Robin Harris and the servers, and Ian Runnells and the choir. We welcome 10,000 visitors annually to this magnificent building; my sincere thanks to those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep it so. I laud especially our team of welcomers - but they are thinly spread: could you help out say just once a month?; I also laud those who glorify God here using their creative talents, particularly Sue Stewart and the Flower Guild, and Matthew Bareham and the tower team whose offerings are worship, as much as the words and music in the liturgy.

Underpinning this are our committed PCC, and its subcommittees, served by a hard working and effective secretary. I thank most especially Alison and James our magnificent churchwardens, about whom more later; and all who generously support St Paul's through their prayers, their giving of money, time, skills, gifts, energy, love and affection for God's work here. I thank Judith Howard and the Friends of St Paul's for their most generous support of a number of projects. Without everyone's contribution, St Paul's could not continue to exercise the ministry it does, and I thank you all most sincerely. I certainly do not take any of this for granted.

People

I am frequently astonished that we are able to produce amazing results here on such slender resources. The Justice Service in September and the Solemn Evensong for the Farewell to the Archdeacon of Bedford in January are just two examples of our wider ministry to the county and diocese. The standard of music and liturgy was comparable to that of a cathedral, receiving many compliments. My special thanks to Robin Bartlett our Pastoral Assistant, Centre Manager and Verger for helping to manage these events. His vital work too as our Pastoral Assistant with a good number of needy folk who turn to us for help is much valued. My thanks also to Maddy Gamble our Administrator for her willing help, and to Miriam Bennet our cleaner. Safeguarding has to be my primary pastoral concern, and I thank Sue Gray for deftly piloting us through the minefield.

Most of all, I wish to reiterate my thanks to our Churchwardens, Alison Phillipson and James Stephenson, who work incredibly hard to support us all. I thank them both for their kindness and loyalty also to me. James has a real affection for St Paul's: he has brought incredible organisation to the work of fabric in particular, with enthusiasm, gusto and a relentless determination and humour, much needed in the twilight world of insurance companies and faculties! After three years of outstanding service, Alison feels that it is time to stand down. She has brought her professional expertise and experience in the corporate, financial and management world to her role as churchwarden. I am especially grateful to her for shouldering, and then restructuring, our financial management as Acting Treasurer, bringing others on board to help. She has been an unfailing, and indefatigable support to me with much kindness and friendship for which I am profoundly grateful. Thank you both so much.

The search for a Treasurer has now reached a critical point. We cannot function without one. I implore anyone who has, or knows someone else who has some financial experience, to offer themselves in this role.

After many years, in September, the PCC decided that there was sufficient support at St Paul's to press ahead with the full inclusion of women as priests. I was delighted that Sister Hazel Smith was able to be the first woman to preside here at the Eucharist. Last Summer, sadly for us, our curate Fr Phil Bryson moved to his new post. I was particularly saddened that Fr Clifford Bradley felt the time had come to move on. I reiterate my personal appreciation, both of them and their ministries.

Many of you will not know the following news. In November, we were let down when our potential new curate for this coming July withdrew. Therefore we may not have a deacon for 18 months, and another full time priest for two and a half years. While past issues of the Spire disclose that in recent decades St Paul's has enjoyed the regular services of three priests, until 2021 it is likely that we will have only one. Because one priest, whoever they are, obviously cannot do the work of three, the PCC have approved a revised pattern of weekday services and the renewal of our Pastoral Care Group to help with visiting. I thank four local clergy who are occasional presiding at weekday eucharists. However, such occasional help, while deeply appreciated, is no substitute for a full time curate. I am grateful to those of you who have appreciated the extra load this means for me, for your understanding, and your support for me, both personally and as your Vicar.

A welcome upshot of this is that our Healing ministry, initially piloted monthly on Tuesday evenings will move to the communion at one of our Sunday Eucharists from May onwards, making this ministry more widely available.

The broader view

In 2015 the PCC set out a new Mission Action Plan, based on responses from members of the congregation and wider community. While noting undoubted strengths and opportunities, the then congregation identified several worrying weaknesses and threats. I quote:

"...we are a largely ageing congregation ... families are few and not feeling fully included.... lack of vision... complacency and introspection, ...we can sometimes appear too cold and exclusive, rather than warm and friendly to outsiders...some admit our misplaced smugness.... ...unused to change and not always open to experimentation.... the last refuge of traditionalists ...(which) will exacerbate dangerous decline... a general apathy and failure to prioritise.... too little outreach into the local community..." That's what you said.

I hope you feel, as I do, that so much of that has changed! And I applaud you for it!

Our Mission Action Plan (or MAP) sought to address these. I know that some here feared we would 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'. But that didn't happen. By simply making a few adjustments and adapting to our new situation, I am delighted to report:

that there is a new cohort of younger people in their 20s and 30s, some with families, who worship regularly with us.
 
there is a new enthusiasm for learning, through the Pilgrim Course study group, occasional courses, talks and seminars.
 
refreshing and streamlining our worship has made it more accessible; our mixed economy approach to worship with the 'give and take' this has called for, has provided at least something for everyone.
 
our finances have markedly improved.
 
our new website and communications are reaching more people.
 
fabric projects are enhancing our worship and mission. I'm particularly pleased that the project to improve the dismal lighting in the choir, I first championed in 2015 is moving forwards significantly.
 
the LYCIG (Leading Your Church into Growth) initiative and forming of our 'Cockpit Crew' is helping us to explore new ways of reaching out into our community with the love and Good News of Jesus.
 
to raise our profile nationally, we joined Cathedrals Plus, to help put St Paul's on the map as a visitor and pilgrim destination. We shall be hosting the regional meeting in July.
 

Most of all I am thrilled that largely as a result of this activity, St Paul's is now a friendlier, more open and inclusive church, not only tolerant but respectful and welcoming of all ages. So much of this has been achieved by you and by others in our church. Again, I thank and applaud you for it!

Looking ahead

So what of the future?

St Paul's is the largest church in our diocese after St Albans Abbey; the Church Buildings Council (CBC) recognise us as a Major Parish Church. At least this, and our extra parochial, civic and county role, qualifies us for recognition as a Greater Church. Following some pushing from me, we have been invited to join the Greater Churches Network [Major Churches Network] from May. This will provide access to dedicated CBC support for us, the benefit of other churches' experience and advice; and, most importantly, lift St Paul's profile regionally and nationally, which we hope may raise visitor numbers, good will and increase our revenue. We are grateful to the Friends for funding our membership of both the Greater Churches [Major Churches Network] as well as Cathedrals Plus.

Later this year we are planning a review of our Mission Action Plan. Everyone will have the opportunity to express their views, before the PCC sets out tasks and objectives for the next five years. But a word of caution. We are not a club. We are a church. And it is not our church, but God's. Therefore, each of us need to look beyond our own worlds, and our personal interests and preferences, to the long term good of St Paul's and the needs of the gospel which is why this place exists. If that doesn't galvanise us to adapt, then self interest should alert us to the fact that many of our activities are still reliant on those in their seventies and eighties; and unless we continue to make younger people feel welcome for their own sake, and who in time may take over others' roles, then in ten or fifteen years time, St Paul's could simply cease to exist.

Jaroslav Jan Pelikan said that, "Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Let us not let traditionalism gives tradition such a bad name. Instead, let us, imitate her Majesty the Queen, by having the courage to recognise the world has changed and adapt, so that others may share the rich tradition we enjoy. It is only by giving things away that we are able to keep them. It is apposite to appropriate Jesus' own words for churches as for individuals. "Any church who wants to save its life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

God bless you for all you have achieved with His grace. And may He give us all grace to be faithful to Him. Thank you for your love and support. And thank you for listening,

The Revd Canon Kevin Goss.