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Pastoral

 

Ministry Team Letter for the Month

Dear Friends,

This will be my final letter to you as your Rector and I have decided to adapt my address to the Annual Parochial Meeting as it encapsulates much about my past ministry.

‘For all things under the heavens there is a time and season.’ 

So says the writer of Ecclesiastes.  Normally we might expect to hear that passage read at a funeral but the longer I live the truer I see it is of family life, community life, Church life and much more besides.  Thinking in such a way is both sobering and humbling, for it makes one realise that we are all but small cogs in the larger wheel of life, and the wider world.  That said, if you take it too far you reach the conclusion that you are insignificant and that everything is meaningless – which is where the writer of Ecclesiastes rather depressingly ends up.

But we are all to see ourselves as active players in the different times and seasons we find ourselves in; and using the gifts that God has given us and responding to his calling we will discover that we all have a part to play, large or small. 

For my part, I first felt the call to Wareham in the mid 2000’s, when I was Rural Dean of Milton and Blandford, and Bill Blakey was incumbent.  Even after Bill had moved on and Andy Bowerman was appointed, I knew that somehow Wareham would play a part in my future.

When it was announced that Andy was moving on, I knew I had to apply, especially as the then Bishops of Sherborne and Salisbury both, independently, suggested that I should do so.  I somehow knew it was where God wanted me to be.  And following an interview/selection panel in May 2014, that calling was confirmed, and I was installed the following October.  Since then, my season in Wareham has intertwined with yours.

When I arrived in the parish it was rather fragmented with some wanting the parish to adopt a more progressive style of worship and others wanting to stick with the more traditional forms.  Sandford was coming to terms with the fact that it would be leaving its old place of worship and moving to a new church; and some of the smaller churches felt rather disenfranchised.  This coupled with the fact that since Peter Hardman left there had been two short incumbencies, the bishop wanted me to try and bring some unity of team and parish and give it some stability. And this is what I have tried to do.

It has not been easy.  When I arrived there were many people offering advice on what I needed to do in order to make the church grow – the trouble was they were all saying different things!

Whilst here I have spent a lot of time listening to parishioners and to God, trying to discern the way ahead.  I have never been one for making changes just for the sake of it, instead I have tried to respect the traditions of the different churches and working with them.

There are those who believe that Church growth will only happen if you follow one particular style of worship – giving the example of large more eclectic churches.  I fundamentally disagree, eclectic churches may work in large towns, but in smaller parishes there are ways of worship that have evolved over the years and these ways need to be respected.  This said, there is a place for experimentation and change, and this will ensure that the parish moves on, rather than staying static and stagnating.  There is always a fine balance to be struck.

The other thing that must be factored in to caring for a parish is the continual changing of the congregation, with people coming to a faith, others moving from outside and arriving with fresh ideas; whilst at the same time established members of the congregation will be moving on or departing to be with the Lord.  To all things there is a time and season.

By the time of my retirement, my season of stipendiary ministry will have lasted thirty-five years to the day and during that time things have changed massively. When I was ordained priest, such ordinations were a male-only preserve, and women Bishops were but a pipe dream; marriage of divorcees was frowned upon, and safeguarding was practically unheard of.  Since then, there have been many other changes, some for the better and some well…

These all go to show that we live in a rapidly changing culture that often struggles to keep up with itself.  Some say that the Church has been left behind.  However, I would say that where society has rushed headlong into change (often making mistakes), the Church of England has wisely spent time discerning the right way forward (hopefully God’s way). 

Probably the most painful episode in my time of ministry was locking the church doors during the Covid pandemic, it went against everything that Church should be.  With hindsight this was a mistake but in fairness to our superiors, they were dealing with an unprecedented situation, and acting on the best medical advice available at the time.

However, it was due to this that we developed a whole new congregation, and it could be argued that our numbers have increased as a result. Our online Services, which average around seventy-five viewings per week, have proved very popular.  Even if half of these viewers are people who have already attended Sunday worship this is still a healthy new congregation.  Also, these services have proved a very good way of ministering to the sick, the elderly and incapacitated who can be spiritually nourished as well as still feeling part of the church family.

Compared to many other churches, locally and nationally, Wareham has bounced back well following the pandemic with numbers on average returning to where they were pre-Covid.  I believe we are now in a better place than when I arrived, and for that I thank God.

Everyone will have their own opinion of my ministry, and that is their prerogative, but I can assure you that in all things I have tried to be faithful and true to what I believe God has desired for this parish.  I am most grateful to those who have kept me in their prayers over the past ten years and hope that those prayers will continue in the coming months.

Last, but by no means least, I wish to thank Linda, who has generously and sacrificially supported me throughout my ministry, and Lydia and Freddie who have grown up to be such beautiful caring people despite the challenges of growing up in Rectories!  I could not have carried out my ministry without their incredible love and support.  We would love it if you could join us for our farewell service at 10am, on Sunday 16th June, in Lady St Mary church, Wareham and for the light buffet lunch that will follow.

My season here in Wareham is drawing to a close, but I leave knowing it will be in good hands, with Neil and Deborah settling in well.

 

Yours ever in Christ,

 

Simon


                                               

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