A year in the life

27 04 2010

Thought you might be interested to read the report I wrote for the APCM of the parish of St Luke, Southsea on the 20th April, 2010.

Last April, Alex spoke about the past, present and future of the parish of St Luke’s.

Looking at the past, we heard that from its inception, St Luke’s has struggled to engage with the troubled area it has served. And from the outset too, the congregation has found its building difficult to sustain.

In some periods, the church grew by attraction: people came from across the city and beyond because they liked its style. Good attendance looks like success. But that ignores the question of whether the church is remaining faithful to the original vision that inspired its founders. That vision was and is an expression of the very heart of what it means to be the Church of England: a commitment to each and every locality and its people.

Responding to the needs, material, social and spiritual of all the people in the geographical parish is clearly beyond us. We are a tiny, fragile and diverse Christian community. But in recognising that, we have found freedom to seek to express our identity in a fresh way. Though tentative and unsure, we have found the courage to take a significant step towards leaving behind a familiar and comfortable way of being church and embarking on a new adventure in mission.

Instead of trying to be all things to all people, we have focused our energy and resources on engaging in mission with one very specific locality. Our ‘parish’ has in effect got a lot smaller! Our mission field is essentially one tower block of 108 flats housing approximately 400 people. On some Sundays we have welcomed getting on for a tenth of that population. Most churches would be delighted with attendance like that!

Of course the rest of the actual parish hasn’t gone away. And neither have we abandoned those who don’t live in Wilmcote House. We don’t have the capacity on our own to sustain the traditional parish model of mission. But the possibility of uniting with our sister congregation in Somerstown offers the opportunity to develop complementary expressions of mission that nourish and nurture each other.

One of the constant challenges for us since our move into Wilmcote House has been the question of how we will be sustained in our faith. Those familiar and comfortable ways of being church I mentioned earlier offered real resources for our individual and communal discipleship (even though they were failing to provide an opportunity to respond to God’s call to join in God’s mission in this locality).

That challenge remains and we continue to reshape what we do in response to our own needs and the needs of those with whom we now find ourselves gathering. Uniting with St Peter’s means that we don’t have to do it all ourselves and within our own capacity. Our particular expression of the Anglican mission in Somerstown needs to be able to become church in its own right, but alongside that we have the opportunity to find spiritual resources as part of a bigger whole. That will not be entirely comfortable as the tradition of our sister parish is not what many of us are used to. But in coming together, we will find, I believe, that we will all grow as disciples of Christ.

The issues we identified last year haven’t been resolved over the last twelve months. If anything, they’ve intensified. We now need to consider together the immediate maintenance and future of two parish church buildings, alongside an intriguing and, for some, unsettling offer from the city council. We were talking about the parishes coming together this time last year. It might seem like there has been little progress. But Alex has been doing significant work in the intervening months preparing the ground for uniting St Peter’s and St Luke’s with a little assistance from the associate priest. And we have taken a significant step in beginning to inhabit our vocation as a ‘fresh expression’ of the Anglican mission in Somerstown.

There are enormous challenges ahead for all of us and in particular the members of the new PCC. But I think we should be encouraged by what we have already achieved together. The future’s bright!



10 responses

4 05 2010

I feel sorry for your sister parish. Sounds like they could inherit twice as much work and a much bigger “Parish Share” to pay to the Diocese !

4 05 2010

You highlight an obvious potential pitfall, Paul. That’s clearly a danger if the union is mishandled. But St Luke’s has resources, income and some dynamic, creative people to bring to the partnership. And actually it’s twice as much work at the moment for the priest-in-charge of both parishes (and to a lesser extent for me). A single governance structure for the Anglican mission in Somerstown doesn’t double the work. It streamlines it and creates a larger pool of people from which the future PCC could be drawn. That means less of a burden actually for the individuals doing it all currently – in both parishes.

5 05 2010

And these dynamic, creative people couldn’t keep St. Lukes operational ?

5 05 2010

Why keep St Luke’s operational? Is that the best use of that creativity and dynamism? One or two had been there for a good time, but many (including me) joined after it had already effectively hit the buffers as a parish. We joined because there was an opportunity to deploy our gifts in a new form of missionary endeavour. At the moment, the two governance structures distract from mission. A single, streamlined structure will enable mission. And in that situation, I am willing to see some of that energy directed into governance.

6 05 2010

From what you say Mark, it sounds as though the two churches are pretty close in proximity. Why did one church fail and the other flourish?

6 05 2010

I wouldn’t exactly use the word ‘flourish’. I think it’s more a case of one hanging on and the other one running out of steam. I think it’s a question for St Luke’s of the church having pulled up the drawbridge for some of the last 20 years. It became disconnected with local people.

9 05 2010

This sounds very interesting Mark. Could you expand on this ?
What do you mean by “running out of steam” ?
What do you think has caused the disconnection with the local people ?

11 05 2010

Thanks for your interest, Jane. I would love to answer your question but I think this level of details would be a matter for a face to face conversation rather than for a public forum.

11 05 2010

Sorry Mark, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot,
I merely wondered if the problems were due to
demographic changes.

13 06 2010

Not so much about demographic changes, as far as I can tell, more about the internal dynamics of the congregation.

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