Vicar’s Report for the 2016 APCM
Why do you come to St Bene’t’s? There are any number of churches and chapels you could go to in Cambridge; any number of other things you could do on a Sunday morning. Why do you come here?
There will be as many answers as there are people. But there are common overlaps that I hear when I talk to you about why you come, and what you hope for here. Some come because they value the preaching, or the liturgy, or the tradition of prayer and spirituality. Some because they like the sense of community, the freedom to think and ask questions and explore; some come from habit, because it’s home, and it’s where their faith has been nurtured; some because here they feel it’s okay to be themselves, and not have to pretend they’re something they’re not.
These are all good reasons, and together they say something important about what a church is for. The Church, wherever it is found, does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of making known the kingdom of God. It exists to draw people more fully into the life and love of God, and to share that life and love with others.
And that means that for a church to be most fully what it is called to be, it needs to be responsive to two movements of the Spirit: the first is the pull towards God, to grow in Christlikeness, to be drawn more deeply into the love that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the second movement flows from this: it is to be sent, as the Son and the Spirit are sent, into the world to participate in God’s redeeming work. We can characterise these two responses as obedience to Christ’s command to abide, and to go and make disciples. They are not opposites, or different options for different types of people. They are different aspects of the same thing: the love of God that draws us to himself and that sends us out to draw others to him.
So St Bene’t’s does not exist for its own sake. It does not exist to help the diocese of Ely’s statistics, or to preserve Cambridge’s oldest building, or to make us feel better because attendance numbers are reasonably good and the finances are healthy. We are here to grow in love for God and each other, and to share that love with others. There are some ways we do that well, and there are some ways in which we need to improve or change.
I remain enormously grateful for the desire among the congregation to grow in faith and prayer. You take faith seriously, and want to live in response to it. That desire for God is a gift, and we need to get better at sharing it and responding to it. There is an awful lot of talent and resource in this congregation – I know I wasn’t the only one who was humbled by it and glad of it in the reflections offered in the first half of Holy Week – and we need to get better at supporting each other in faith and prayer, and finding space for those gifts to flourish. This is something the PCC will be looking at in the coming year, but we will be glad to hear of your thoughts and ideas too.
Prayer remains the beating heart of this church: the daily and Sunday rhythm of office and Eucharist, and I am enormously grateful for all those who make this possible: for celebrants and officiants, for servers and readers and interceders, for organists and cantors and bell ringers and flower arrangers, for preachers, and for those who pray, whether present in the building or joining in from further afield. And I want to thank in particular Rosemary Farren for her sterling work as sacristan, without whom that daily round of worship would be an awful lot more chaotic.
Opportunities for deepening our faith came through the Lent Course on developing a rule of life; through the Lent reading group, for which we thank Alistair Collen for his leadership; through the newly relaunched reading group for young people, which has flourished under the oversight of Andrew Russell, our ordinand on attachment from Westcott House. Big Questions have restarted, and our thanks go to Sibella and Stuart for hosting these, and for their organisation. The homegroup under Rosey Feuell’s leadership offers space for reflection and conversation and a deepening of faith and friendship, and we thank her for that.
We are not Christians on our own – that, too, is why we come to church – and one of the ways in which the kingdom of God is made visible is in the life of the church. The Church is not incidental to God’s mission: it is the way he has chosen to bring people to himself. He calls us into community, with each other and with him, and how we are as a community will either reveal or distort his love.
So we have formed a social committee in the last year, to develop more ways of helping us to get to know each other better. Building relationships is a theological good: St Paul writes that Christians should be known by their care for one another, and in a phrase I find both challenging and humbling, writes ‘we shared with you not only the gospel but also our very selves’. The Christian faith is never about just imparting information. It is about sharing lives, as Christ shared our human life to bring us to share in his divine life. We are getting better at rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn, but one of the challenges of a congregation that grows and changes is that relationships don’t stand still. There are always new people to get to know and to care for. How we best do this is another matter for prayer and discussion.
But there is much that is good in this area already. I am grateful to those who support us in this ministry: to those who make and serve coffee after the services; to the sidesmen; to Gini Albutt for her hospitality to students; to Rosey Feuell for her organising of the Foyers; to the social committee, to those who share in pastoral care, and to those of you who just get on with it and exercise a valued but quiet ministry of welcome and support.
And of course, care for others doesn’t stop at the church door. When Jesus sends his disciples out it is to share his love with others. We come to church to be formed as Christ’s body, and we leave in order to live out what we have received. I am grateful to you for your ongoing support of the Foodbank. For the commitment with which you support the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project – and our particular thanks must go to those who have co-ordinated that work: to Philip Blakely, and Sarah Airriess, and to Margaret Whittaker, who with good humour and commitment have helped us all to discover the joy of serving Christ in serving others, and that in giving of ourselves we often receive more than we could have imagined. Margaret is stepping down from co-ordinating the volunteers from St Bene’t’s, so I want to take this opportunity particularly to thank her for shepherding our involvement in this project from a shaky start to a flourishing commitment. We will be looking for a couple of people to take on the co-ordination next winter.
Relationships beyond the church have developed both near and far. Making and giving out chocolates at Christmas and Easter has helped develop good relationships with those who work around the church, and we continue to pray for all who work within the parish boundaries. My thanks to Laurie Boorman for all the work he has put into workplace chaplaincy in the parish.
In March a group from St Bene’t’s visited Egypt, and some of the projects we support through our financial giving. They will be giving a presentation to the congregation about that trip after a Sunday service next month, but I am delighted that they have helped move those relationships beyond the financial, and have deepened our connection with the church in Egypt.
In addition to the social committee, we have also established a fabric committee, a millennium committee, a group to look at the diocesan strategy and what that means for St Bene’t’s, and we are in the process of setting up a steering group to look after work with children, young people and families. Governance is not uppermost in list of reasons I got ordained. But as the congregation grows, so how we manage our ministry and shape our common life needs to develop. Setting up subcommittees enables us to draw on a wider range of experience and expertise among the congregation, and to share leadership. It enables us better to plan and organise. It is going to be crucial, over the next few years, that we find ways of sharing more fully in ministry together. I love being your vicar, and am hugely thankful to be able serve here. But a growing congregation (and I mean that both in terms of numbers and in depth of faith) means we need to look afresh at how we care for each other, how leadership works, how vocations and gifts can flourish. This is for the very good theological reason that through baptism, God calls us all to a share in Christ’s ministry, not just those with official titles or positions. But it is also for the pragmatic reason that I am finite, and sometimes I struggle to keep up. We need to be more intentional about ministry being something we are all called to together, in different capacities. We may look elsewhere for further resources as well as looking within the congregation: we have the funds available to employ someone in some ministerial capacity (lay or ordained) should we choose to, and this, again, will be something for the PCC to discern in the coming months.
There is already lots of shared ministry going on, in different areas of church life. As St Paul reminds us, ‘we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us’. And I am immensely grateful for the gifts of grace in the wardens, who are as supportive and committed a pair as any vicar could wish for. I’m grateful too for the wonderful work that Philip Blakely, our treasurer, does, in keeping the accounts in such good order. For Philippa Pearson, our administrator, who keeps me and church organisation in order. For Katharine Ames-Lewis, our PCC secretary, and all the members of the PCC. And particular thanks to those who are retiring from the PCC for their service and contributions: to Sibella Laing, Rosey Feuell, Tan Mackay, Laurie Boorman, and to Leonie Welch, who stood down a few months ago. Thank you all.
One obvious loss to ministry here this year is Rachel Nicholls. Rachel contributed a huge amount to the life of this place over 10 years, particularly in her work with children and young people, but by no means just in that capacity. We are all a good deal richer in faith and spirit for having benefitted from her ministry, and we miss her, while we wish her every blessing for the future. But it is good to see others growing into different types of ministry: Philip Murray and Matt Selman both started training for ordination at Westcott last September, and others are exploring a vocation to ordained ministry. Alistair Collen will be licensed as a Lay Minister in October, and I’m delighted that we’ll get to keep him and continue to benefit from his ministry. More people are engaged in lots of different aspects of church life, and in living out faith beyond the walls of the church building. This is as it should be, and is an encouraging sign of engagement and vitality.
We have welcomed in baptism Thomas Neaum, Eva Stevens Batista, Jack Beharrell, Rosie Ford, and Jessica Scott. Jess was also confirmed, alongside Sarah Wells and Nathaniel Darling. We give thanks with them and for them. There have been four weddings in church since the last APCM. And as a congregation we felt keenly the deaths of several members: Jane Nethsingha, Joyce Baird, Hilary Bagshaw, John Lant and Graham Pechey. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
There is a great deal to be thankful for at St Bene’t’s. And there is much to look forward to as we celebrate our millennium and beyond. We are not facing the sorts of challenges that so many other churches are having to deal with: our finances are healthy; our building is well-cared for; people come to church. But that should not make us complacent. As we grow, we need to think creatively and theologically about how we are as a church: how the love of God is shown in the way we care for each other and those around us; how we exercise ministry; how we live out God’s love outside this building.
We have been given so much, in what we have inherited from those who have gone before us, in each other, and in the gifts God has given us. My prayer is that all who come here – those who are current members and those who are not yet members – may find this to be a community where in prayer and worship and preaching and conversation and friendship and service and care we encounter the living God, and through that encounter, are led deeper into his love, and filled with that love, are sent out to share it in the world. That’s why I come to church. Thank you for the privilege of being your vicar. And thank you for all you have do, are doing, and will do to live out the vocation of this place to be a sign and foretaste of God’s kingdom.