The only thing that seems to stay the same these days is change! Everything changes! Even in these past few years so much as changed, from the Internet and Digital TV to Computer games, cars, shopping, even pubs! And change is often threatening, or disturbing, or challenging, so we seem to live in very challenging times.
And there’s a concern about change in our Churches too, a certain expectation that (for better or worse) a new Vicar means changes, and that as we learn to work together as these five parishes that make up the ‘Five Alive Mission Community’ this will lead to certain developments, different services and different events.
Well, some of that is true – the reality is that some things need to change. But I am not someone who believes in change for the sake of change – in fact I take to heart St Paul’s words from the letter to the Romans 12v9 ...”hold fast to that which is good”.
As we seek together to be a Christian Community that reaches out to those beyond our walls, as we seek to care for those both within and outside of our congregations, as we seek to worship God and to make our worship welcoming and appropriate, we may well find that some things need to change. But we may also want to state that what we are already doing is good, and to build on what we do well, and to keep the rich tapestry of worship and prayer, of pastoral care and outreach which we already have.
I would encourage you to talk with your PCC members and Churchwardens, with the Clergy and Readers and with each other about what we do well in our Churches, and to ask what we need to consider again. Things will change, but in all of this we have a faith and a God which remains unchanging, steadfast, faithful and true. So though, as Bob Dylan once sang, “the times they are a-changin’ “‘ we hold fast to the deeper truth of a God whose love for us is always the same and in whom we find our greatest security!
As I wrote these words a few weeks back I was just beginning to posit a few changes to the structure of how we do things, particularly the timings of our services. Now the services we have on Sundays are only a part, in many ways a small part, of the life of our Churches, but they are the 'shop window' of the Church's life and for many people they are the main (or only) source of contact with the Church community - so change to these services will impact upon more people than pretty much any other thing.
I am proposing a change of times on Sunday mornings from 9.30am to 9.00am - this is because I don't have the opportunity to talk to people after 9.30am services because I have to dash off to take another service at 11am. This may not seem like a big thing to many people, but that short time of contact with people after a service offers a whole load of benefits:
- It prevents people from seeing the minister as someone who just 'does services' and then scoots off, building up a culture of Priests/Ministers as 'providers of religion' rather than being 'ministers, pastors, fellow Christians and friends'.
- It offers the opportunity for brief pastoral contacts - which often lead to requests that i visit people, or make appointments to talk over issues and ideas.
- It means that the minister gets to know people, rather than having a 'congregation' s/he knows people by name and can respond to them individually
- It allows the minister time to have a break between services.
In Rural areas such as this one, a longer gap between services also means that we can travel safely through these narrow, winding roads, with a little time to gather ourselves and prepare to worship when we arrive at the other location.
BUT - and this is where the discussion begins - the shift of time, particularly in villages with either farming or more elderly residents (and all of these parishes have one or both in their constituency) makes it difficult for some to come. Of course, starting (and therefore finishing) earlier may make it possible for others who have commitments later in the morning to come. It may free up people to see their families more later in the morning, and it will certainly make the lives of myself and my fellow ministers somewhat less stressful.
But any change is difficult, and i am aware that some will feel threatened by this. Others will simply refuse, or be unable to take part in our services at this time.
So the discussion continues. I have never sought to be the kind of Priest that tells people what they have to do and expects it all done. As Father Ted says when accused of being a Nazi
"I'm not a Nazi, Nazi's dress in black and tell people what to do all the time - Priests, they, um, er...." So we will talk about these things, and hopefully find a way which benefits the individual parishes and those who minister to them. If there are alternatives, then we will try to find them, otherwise we will just have to try this and see what happens - in the hope that we won't exclude or drive away members of our congregations and then have to set about recovering them!
This could be the beginning of a long saga.... As I said in my article, i am not one who likes change for the sake of change, but in order to continue to support these congregations and offer them more than just taking services as we seek to build up a sense of community and pastoral care, I think some change is inevitable.