Our Parish Annual Meetings took place following Mass on Sunday 28 April. Fr Damian’s Report can be seen below.
Parish Priest’s Report to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting 2019
Today carries with it an opportunity to look both backwards and forwards, marking the events of the last year and looking to what may be revealed in the next. There is little doubt that some of our current challenges will continue, and that others will be solved. There will also be challenges that we have not thought of yet. We are currently experiencing the effects of our Parish’s and community’s history and demographic, expressed in concerns of accessibility to the church worship space and the increasing tide of health related issues for a number of parishioners. The launch of the Downstairs Mass initiative on alternate Monday afternoons has been a big success, and shows potential for further growth. Visiting, in home, hospital and nursing home, is a vital part of our pastoral work, and it involves a good many people. For the clergy Fr Adam spearheads this work, and the whole ministry team devotes time to it. Whilst (on one level) parish visiting is important, there is a limit how much can be done, and I’m very grateful to everyone who enables us to cast our net as widely as we do. The ministry of Mike and Rita Penn is hugely appreciated by those who are on our sick list – cards systematically sent from the parish in times of illness are an assurance of prayers, but also that people are not forgotten. There will always be times when we fall short in this regard, and we rely on the gentle assistance of others to contact Mike and Rita so that we are able to visit promptly wherever there is need. The procedures remain the same, however; we cannot visit if we do not know when someone is ill or in hospital.
This year saw three major changes in the ministerial life of the parish. Fr Adam Edwards was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood by Bishop Jonathan here on the Solemnity of S John the Baptist, and celebrated the Mass for the first time the following night. Both occasions were wonderful moments, not only for Fr Adam himself, but also the whole parish. Fr Adam’s subsequent departure from his work at the National Trust to become to be Communications Director for the Church Union was heralded across the Church as an inspired appointment – and so it has proved. He continues to be wonderfully well supported by Lucinda, whose own ministry among us is a thing of great beauty.
Jane Scott was licensed as Reader in September in a moving service at Lichfield Cathedral, and ministers among us with great and gentle effectiveness, working across the entire range of ages to assist in the mission of the church. , whether in taking funerals, or in dressing up as a giant Christingle, or feeding carol singers, or preaching. Norris Hill, in addition to his ministry among the homeless of Wolverhampton, leads The Breakfast Club in morale and in outreach. In September James Perkins began his time with us as Pastoral Assistant. He is a hugely competent, prayerful addition to the ministry we offer. In December Chris Orme asked for extended leave on health grounds, and we continue to pray for Chris with great affection for his recovery. James’ background as a professional musician meant that he was able to slot in to the organist and choirmasters’ roles, and he has done so, not only wonderfully well but also with great willingness and flexibility, in addition to his other duties as Pastoral Assistant, and his preparations for a Bishops Advisory Panel in the forthcoming year. We have been most fortunate. As ever we have been so fortunate to receive the ministry of Fr Roger Gilbert, whose wisdom, experience and deep humility bears such fruit among us. Please pray for all who minister in specific roles, in Our Lord’s name, in this place.
Whilst worshipping numbers remain steady across our weekly services we are delighted that the age profile of our congregation is changing. There are now four children regularly worshipping with us, as well as young adults between the ages of 16-30. There is still a distance to go, but we do seem to be seeing green shoots of growth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the choir, with new members strengthening the existing core. We have just taken a booking for the first wedding to take place at Holy Trinity since 2012. Let us hope that seven years’ famine is followed by seven years of harvest.
Nationally there continue to be concerns about the appropriateness of the Church of England continuing, despite many errors, to monitoring its own safeguarding standards and distancing itself from independent monitoring. So much of the good news which constitutes our life together in the local church is marred and spoiled in the eyes of many by the publicity given to the work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and in particular the evidence in cases such as Bishop Peter Ball, and the mishandling of the enquiry into the late Bishop George Bell. These have caused upset and questioning among faithful Christians, and feelings of vulnerability among clergy and lay workers. The frequently repeated statements which seek to prioritise the needs of victims need to be placed against the frustrations of many survivors of abuse, and there is no doubt that this will continue to be an open wound for at least a generation. I continue to delight in the work which Val Shepherd undertakes as our Safeguarding Officer, ensuring that appropriate care of children and vulnerable adults has the highest possible priority.
More locally we continue to strive towards the vision of being a welcoming, accessible community which is connected to all parts of the parish we serve and playing its full part in the life of the church in the Diocese and across the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda. We are a congregation with diverse and yet courteously held views on a range of issues. Recent questions asked nationally concerning the role of the Church in the continuing Brexit debates should make us reflect on how the church locally can reconcile communities, and ‘bring us back together.’ I say this in parentheses because it is a quotation from an exchange I had with a member of the wider community in the face of a sudden rise in the amount of crime being experienced hereabouts. How divided a community are we? We are certainly diverse in terms of opinion; but are people habitually arguing, experiencing conflict? It isn’t enough to say that we ourselves tend not to experience that as a church community, at least on the surface. The question is whether we are fulfilling our role in our neighbourhoods to be salt of the earth, light in the world, as befits disciples of Jesus Christ. We also have a vital role in upholding our local councilors and our MP in our prayers as they continue to wrestle on our behalf with the questions confronting this nation as well as being a resource for people experiencing insecurities and challenges. In this regard our ministry in two schools locally is much appreciated, resourcing children, staff and parents across the breadth of the wider community.
On the subject of accessibility, we continue to work hard to further the redevelopment of the kitchen in the parish hall and lift project. These are complicate pieces of development, and require patience. We would all love to be moving more quickly than we are, but the truth is that we have to work to other people’s schedules as well as our own. Civic and Diocesan requirements, planning and environmental considerations have to be satisfied. After Easter we intend to begin a campaign of communication, persuasion and fundraising to hit an initial target of £50,000 so that applications to funding agencies might be pursued with hope of success. Our own fundraising has to come before we can approach others for help. Huge thanks to everyone who has contributed so far, to Barry Perks who has spearheaded the spadework, and all who assist him in working hard to find a way through regulation, process and cost.
23rd May marks my fourth anniversary in post. After two years of acting as Clerical Chair of Forward in Faith in the Diocese I have decided step down to make room for other important work which has to be done. I continue to serve as one of Bishop Jonathan’s two representatives in the diocese, acting as a Iink between the Diocese and Society Parishes such as this one. I continue to receive invitations to speak to diocesan and national gatherings of clergy and laity in various places, and am glad of the chance to do so. I am hopeful that my work can, however, become more localised this year. I was delighted to be able to spend two weeks renewing friendships in the Diocese of the Murray in South Australia in February, leading a clergy conference in Murray Bridge and then giving workshops the length and breadth of the diocese. Bishop John Ford retires from his post in May, and will be returning to the UK. I very much look forward to inviting him and his wife Bridget to the parish, to repay just a fraction of the hospitality I have received ‘Down Under’. In the next couple of months a book entitled ‘Anglican Evangelists’ edited by the Bishop of of Leicester and containing a chapter written by me will be published through SPCK; I have also been asked to write a paper following seminars given at the Anglican Catholic Future/Forward in Faith Conference at Lambeth Palace last year, in collaboration with my friend and former colleague Dr. Andrew Davison.
On 29th June The Bishop of Blackburn will ordain our daughter Rebecca to the priesthood in Blackburn Cathedral. She has flourished in her year as a deacon. The overriding emotion is one of great joy, tinged with a sadness which throws a broader light on how the Church of England has chosen to address the issue of women in priestly and episcopal orders. That said, one close friend who is a bishop remarked to me that our respective situations brought a whole new freshness to the phrase, ‘Mutual Flourishing’! And so they do. Earlier this year we both taught as part of the Leading your Church into Growth National Team for the first time, and I had the chastening experience of being interviewed by Rebecca – an opportunity which, needless to say, she took and to the full! Rebecca is so grateful for the expressions of support and encouragement she has received from members of the parish. Please continue to pray for her.
It is the joy of the Christian to pray and worship daily, regardless of circumstance. We are people bound together in the Mass, strengthened by our praying together and apart. This makes our gatherings unique. It is so good to offer the Mass frequently during the week. Worship demands the very best of us: there should be a sense of expectation before worship, as we enter into a place where we encounter the living God, and where He reveals His will for us. I cannot stress how important this preparation is. From Nave to Choir to Sanctuary to Sacristy, we are embarked upon a sacred undertaking which we cannot fulfill if the desire to worship free from distraction is absent. As a worshipping community we have a covenant in which we expect much from God, from one another and from ourselves. Whilst our worship is a thing of great beauty, thanks in no small part to our musicians and servers, it is prevented from doing its work if we are not focused and prepared as we enter this sacred space.
Plans are reasonably well advanced for the refurbishment of the kitchen – always a significant place in the missional life of the church, creating as it does a hub of hospitality and wellbeing. To be able to welcome, with food and refreshment, visitors to church is a major piece in the jigsaw of what we are trying to achieve. Janet Skidmore and Dennis Richards continue to move this project forwards, with faculty applications and consultations with diocesan officers.
This gives just a snapshot of some of what our churchwardens do in our name. Janet and Barry are a marvellous team, and commit so much time to the ongoing life and ministry of the parish. We rely on them in so many ways – and often ways which remain unseen. They are both people who do good by stealth, and who execute their offices supremely well. I am very much in their debt, as I am to Beryl Fisher and Geoffrey Proffitt, who are rock-like in their support and positivity. The same is true for the PCC generally – there is never a shortage of willing help to see things through, and always a sense of a team working together.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the diversity and joy which is expressed in our social lives together. We have learned to Kurl, and to gather around delicious cakes; we have sung carols to residential care homes and to shoppers; we have been quizzed, and serenaded, and, quite simply, had fun. They will hate me for saying so, but Janet, Pat, Verity and Mike do us all a tremendous service in the planning and putting together of such a varied and enjoyable programme.
Tasks undertaken can come to successful fruition. Other tasks open doors to new opportunities so that the work is never completed! Our work with children and young people is bearing fruit, both in ‘event’ terms and also on our deepening liaison with our local schools and uniformed organizations. We continue to strive to make our liturgy a thing of beauty, accessible to all; and we will continue to develop our ministry of welcome. The monthly Men’s Breakfast continues to develop in a whole host of ways, while ‘Third Sunday’ is having a real impact. Further to this, we are to conduct a Fan the Flame mission in the parish towards the end of June. This is aimed squarely at us – the existing congregation – and I hope the numbers attending on each evening will be appropriate to the sheer hard work which such a project involves. We look forward to welcoming our Missioners, Fr Beau Brandie and Fr Norman Taylor, who will bring great insight, wisdom and a great sense of fun! Please pray for the success of this endeavour, and especially the team leading it – and put the dates in your diary – 23rd – 27th June!
Inevitably we have mourned the loss of dear souls such as Mary Cook, Jean Kingston, Betty Breeden and Ken Vaughan, souls who were in different ways integral to our life at Holy Trinity. We continue to be grateful for all they meant to us, to pray for the repose of their souls, and to express our love and support to those who most keenly mourn their loss. Jesus, mercy, Mary, pray.
My final words are ones of gratitude – to Almighty God, for his abundant grace in the presence of many challenges: to all parishioners and members of the wider community of parish and diocese, for a growing and genuine partnership in the gospel. To those who share the task of leading this church and parish, thank you for accepting the challenge of leadership in Christ’s church, for your friendship and support. My especial thanks go to Fiona, for her unstinting love and support whilst facing the challenges of a demanding professional life, to our children, and to the dogs who would far rather I was playing with them than writing tedious sermons.
Fr Damian Feeney SSC