6 Months In

Peter became Vicar of St Matthew’s and St Edmund’s on Thursday 21 July 2016. This is the reflection he wrote for the January 2017 Parochial Church Council meetings. The statistics relate to the five months from 24 July to 25 December 2016.

We have an 8 am Holy Communion every week – average congregation at St Edmund’s is 11, at St Matthew’s is 8. I can’t say I get up with joy every Sunday morning, and it is sad that no one from Darley Abbey goes to Allestree or vice versa (that would be the easiest way of increasing the numbers) – but the quiet start to the day is a good start. I would encourage people to come (if you’re out later and not able to come to at 10, come at 8).

At 10 am St Matthew’s communions have an average attendance of 58 (max 68, min 49). Service of the Word has 48, All Age Worship has an average of 59 (when we discount the 213 on Remembrance Sunday). I did a rough head count yesterday (15 January), and I estimate that at least a third of the congregation (perhaps even more) are my age or younger. It’s a long time since I’ve been in that position – and it is not just because I am getting older! I am very pleased to find we have a choir that participate in every service – usually choirs like to think they are a bunch of serious musicians who wouldn’t be seen dead at All Age Worship. I’ve also had AAWs which are so child-friendly that everyone else feels excluded, here that’s not the case. Thank you for being a congregation who are welcoming – yesterday, a wedding couple came for the first time, and were so positive about it all, a couple come to prepare for Friday’s funeral, and were being looked after, and little William, who we’re baptising next month, was here as always.

At St Edmund’s our communions have an average attendance of 79 (max Christmas morning 86, min 61), All Age Worship has average of 89 (max Christingle 120 and Harvest 99, min 64). Service of the Word has an average of 57 (when we discount the 112 on Remembrance Sunday). At communions we have a good atmosphere, people seem to appreciate the new books, good variety of music, a good parish communion. AAW has an excellent team, lots of good ideas, and it seems to be all-age worship which involves all. I’ve not been to a SotW, but I’m told they have gone well and the visiting speakers have been valued too. One of my problems is that if I just do the Communion services in both churches I can easily be in each every fortnight, but if I do an AAW (or have a Sunday off) I can easily be missing for several weeks.

We face pressure at both ends. We need worship that meets the needs of our older members – plus the practical problems of how we help them get here (but only if it is safe for them to be bought), and how we care for them when they can no longer attend regularly. We need to grow a younger congregation – children and their families. We also need to develop the involvement and the gifts of those around my age – how can we bring them more deeply into the life of the church?

Thank you to those who lead worship, thank you to the team who work with the youngsters, thank you to the choir. One of my problems is that if I just do the Communion services in both churches I can easily be in each every fortnight, but if I do an AAW (or have a Sunday off) I can easily be missing for several weeks (so I send my beautiful wife!). I have tried to streamline things so we use the same readings at all morning services, I have also produced new service books for Communion Services. We continue to have United Services on the 5th Sunday, made more of an effort for Harvest in both churches (with positive comments from many), and used occasions like Matthew, Edmund, Advent and Epiphany for special, combined services.

The monthly 11.15 service at St Matthew’s has an average attendance of 21. This is usually covered by a retired priest (unless I’m taking the AAW). The St Edmund’s 11.15 is a service I hardly ever get to. There is BCP Choral Communion on the first Sunday, and BCP Choral Mattins on the third (average attendance 19, max 22, min 11). According to John Rice’s figures, in 2002 the average attendance was 38. I cannot take these services as I have usually done the 10 at DA so cannot get back in time, and even if I have done the 10 at AL I feel I should be at coffee. John usually takes Choral Communion and Deborah Simpson Mattins, but on occasions the choir has led Mattins by themselves (the loss of Ruth and Gladys means we have a lack of Readers). It is easy to be negative about this service – only 19 people, half the number of 15 years ago. There are many churches across the country who would give their right arm for a choral service with 19 people! We are one of the few churches to still offer Choral BCP services, so perhaps we should try and advertise them more widely across the Deanery? We need additional help to lead them, so can we try and find a Reader or Retired Cleric from elsewhere? The choir needs more voices – how can we find them? How can you encourage those services?

Both churches have evening services. If there is no choir, the average attendance at Darley Abbey is 9, but there were 48 for a combined evensong for St Matthew, 32 for a Harvest Songs of Praise, 57 for the joint Advent Procession, and last night was lovely. At Allestree the choir sings most evenings, and we had a combined choir for St Edmund Festival. The average attendance is 20 (excluding the Carol Service). In a logical world we would have one evening service and save the cost of heating two churches, but in reality we would end up with the same situation we have at 8 am. Those who come appreciate our BCP evening services, but others might value more variety.

Christmas was good in both churches. In St Matthew’s there was a Village Carols (with our choir and Walter Evans school), the choir sang at The Paper Mill, a morning Carol Service (107 people), a Christmas Eve Crib Service (300), Midnight and Christmas morning, Epiphany (joint), and a new year Christingle. Well done – the village certainly looks to us.

The 9.30 service on a Wednesday morning at St Edmund’s has now moved to 10 am, and is now followed by coffee. Numbers have been steadily rising and are now nearly always in double figures. This has become a very valuable, and appreciated, service. A few people meet for prayer on a Saturday morning – Peter is not awake at 8 am!

The Parish Profile said we “needed to come together in prayer and discussion groups to develop a deeper understanding, through the scriptures, of what God is calling us to do …”. Julie and I ran two Advent Groups at the Vicarage (one afternoon, one evening), with about 7 at each (from both churches). We will be running one Lent Group and Clive another – but this is hardly “a coming together …”. There is a monthly Prayer Meeting her, but I have failed to attend (it often clashes with the Standing Committee). We should do better.

We have opened the Vicarage on several occasions for “Open Houses”, and it has been lovely seeing people from both churches in conversation. A handful from here came to St Edmund’s Christmas Market, but there is very little movement across the A38 (although more for joint services than there has been). Julie started a Book Group at the Vicarage which has been well received, with people from both churches, and I am going to leave the ministry and start running Railway Films as a profession – 45 the first week, 76 the second time! Very satisfying.

Baptisms – most AL ones take place at 11.30 once a month, and we have had a steady flow. There are fewer at DA, but interestingly we have baptised three adults (all people who had been asked to be Godparents and yet hadn’t been baptised themselves. All were very grateful and said how welcomed they felt, but it hasn’t led to any long term commitment – so far). I have visited all families beforehand, and been in touch afterwards. Several families came at Christmas.

Weddings – I have done 10 since I arrived, and we have 13 in the diary for 2017. Most are AL, but we are getting more at DA (often people having their reception at West Mill). We are glad to say “yes”, and it is lovely to welcome them (both on Sundays on the day). We do see some afterwards, but most live away.

Funerals – 21 since I arrived, and continuing at a rate of two a week. They are usually church (usually AL) followed by Crem, and all are quite demanding (half of them have been people who have played a major part in the life of St Edmund’s). The admin side is also somewhat overwhelming. Good relations have been built up with the Coop and with Wathalls, and the Coop asked us to host their annual remembrance service – this filled the church and was much appreciated.

There is a huge pastoral demand which we are just about meeting, but it a strain. I spent last Thursday afternoon in the Royal Derby, and got home to messages about two more people. I have a list of people I haven’t got to see yet – I always feel as if I am failing. I know I don’t do it alone, and I am grateful to so many others.

I sent out 48 Christmas Cards and invitation leaflets to occasional office contacts. We also put a card through every letter box in both parishes. We are good at postering the church noticeboards, but not good at getting publicity further afield. Both websites need a lot of work – and I am making progress. Sorting out the church website has defeated me, but a friend in Suffolk got the Christmas posters on to it, and he has now built a new website for us. I am seeing him while on holiday next week, and hopefully we can go live next month. Facebook just about manages a post a week. the magazine works well – that’s very positive.

There is a lot more work to do there. I have been in to every school in the patch, though only Walter Evans has really welcomed me. All year 3 / 4  children in last week, and today I had an hour with all the Year 5/6 children answering questions about being a Vicar. It is very good to welcome David, our new Head, to this PCC, there is much to do together.

Julie and I have done our best to get involved in the various church groups. Lunches in both Halls, and both need more people. Mums and Toddlers at St Edmund’s, good fun, great opportunities – but challenges too. I’ve been to the Paper Mill with the choir, and got involved in the first meeting to plan Darley Abbey Day, but there are huge parts of this village I have not yet got to.

I find it a strain that I am the Vicar of two churches, but that is not going to change. They are not going to magic another Vicar so I can have one church. We are together, and it can be a source of blessing that we are. I am grateful for support at Joint Services, but there does need to be some streamlining – two websites and two notice sheets, really? Please, can we stop praying for “our church and parish” and pray for “our churches and parishes”!

We need to look at Admin Support – Barbara does a great job, but we need more. There are some things being done by volunteers that would be better done by one paid person – eg noticesheets, websites, facebook. There are other jobs being done by volunteers that need bringing together – it needs one person who can liaise with funeral directors to check church availability/hall availability/Vicar availability/deal with the fees, the Order of Service, the registers/book the organist, verger, hole-digger/tell the pub, the school … . We need one person who can hold a central diary, and be the point of pastoral contact. We have an office at St Edmund’s Hall (although the challenge will be not having them seen as the “St Edmund’s Administrator”) so need to decide how much cover we need – every morning would be ideal – how we pay for it, and then we need to find the right person.

The financial implications of this add to our current financial situation. It looks as if both churches have only broken even in 2016 because of legacies received. This implies we need to hold a Stewardship Campaign later this year.

I am also challenged about how we use and develop this building. Some of us went to a Historic England day last year, and were challenged by what could be done. Talking to year 3/4s about Sacred Space last week, and yet knowing our sacred space of St Matthew’s is locked for six days a week, it’s not right. We get hundreds of people who use our car park, some who use our fellowship room, and a smaller number who use the church. What can we do outside the normal Sunday pattern? How do we serve our community better? We need to spend money on our car park, this building looks tired, and most of the time the blue doors into church are bolted firmly shut. We can keep patching and mending – and might need to do a bit more over the next few months – but I want us to step back, to look properly at our plant, look (and pray) about what we are actually here to do, and how we can develop both our buildings and our ministry so we do that best. We are a church with lots and lots of positive things, so we need to be people of vision. Now vision takes work, vision takes time, vision takes energy. Not everything needs doing today and I’m on holiday next week – but I’ve got a chat with Archdeacon Christopher when I return, and any work on a building needs the Archdeacon to be on side. Jason Kennedy assured me that the Diocesan Mission team are here to help and encourage us. I’m excited to be here, I hope you are excited too. You are a very friendly church, a great foundation to build on – thank you for so much.


Peter and Julie leave St Edmund’s at the end of the Licensing Service, followed by Trevor and David, the St Matthew’s churchwardens, holding their staves of office.