Read or listen to the Rector's Report from the Annual Meeting

The report the Rector gave at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting is available. Click here to listen or read the full text below:

APCM 2014 (Rector’s Report)

I would like to begin by thanking you all for giving Lisa, myself and the two boys such a great welcome as we moved to Suffolk last year to begin our ministry of serving St John's Church and the people of Elmswell. As you know we moved in the middle of the summer. We spent a few weeks settling in and taking holiday before beginning on the 11th of September.

I want to say a big thank you to all those who worked so hard during the interregnum. Particularly, I must thank the wardens – John and Graham - who did such a great job of keeping the show on the road - from helping couples wanting to get married here to dealing with baptism requests. Of course, organising clergy to come to lead and preach at services. Not to mention their involvement in the process of finding a new rector.

John and Graham were such a great support to us as we planned our move to Elmswell and as we settled in. We really cannot thank you both enough for all you did for us. John has also asked me to mention the great support that he and Graham received from the PCC, how everybody really pulled together during the interregnum. Also, I'd like to thank the local clergy who supported us in coming to preach and lead - in particular John Pearce who regularly came from Bury St Edmunds and is such a great friend to us here at St John's. Also Nick Cutler and Richard Webb amongst others. And special thanks again to Graham in his roles as treasurer and verger. Two other people worth mentioning by name are Jean and Derek Folkard -Jean as PCC secretary and with multiple other hats who also arranging orders of services, finding people to read the Bible and pray each week, printing the notice sheets … and both of them constantly seem to be working away behind the scenes.

There are so many, many other people to thank for everything that happened last year. And I'm sorry, because I know I will miss somebody out. We are blessed to have so many very committed and hard-working people. I'd like to thank our musicians and organists and, of course, the choir in leading us in our sung worship each week. I would like to thank all those who make the church look so beautiful - those who arrange the lovely flowers and those who clean the church. Those who sit on the Deanery Synod and PCC. And then there are those who run our children's groups and CYFA. And then there are small groups – home groups, Mums the Word, ladies lunches, men's breakfasts.

A special thank you to everybody who worked so hard to make sure that our Summer and Christmas fairs went so well - despite blustery conditions in the summer. These fairs really help us to get out there connecting us with the local community. Holiday Club continues to thrive. And I’m looking forward to being part of it this year. The choir did a wonderful concert in the autumn as did Alistair Blay. We have had special services – Mothering Sunday, Harvest, Remembrance Sunday, Christingle, traditional and children’s Carol services, CMS Sunday and so on. I could go on running through in detail what happened last year – an amazing amount happened despite us being in interregnum for most of it. But what I would like to do instead is to share some observations that I have been making over the last eight months since I have been in post.

So what have I observed? I have already mentioned the great welcome we received & the support you have shown to us as we started here. And this is a very welcoming church as I said. The friendliness show to newcomers and visitors is wonderful to see. My friends from Tonbridge, who came up to my induction, commented to me at just how welcoming people are at St John's. John Pearce also said to me that this is a truly Christian place in its welcome. No visitor who comes into St John's is left to feel lonely or unloved. Instead they are made to feel at home. I think that is a great Christian witness.

A similar observation is the concern for pastoral care here. You look out for each other and to those beyond our congregation. That is also great Christian witness.

There is a great tradition here of biblical preaching and teaching and I am proud to come to a place where that is the case. We have super talent here. In particular, I have been impressed with the high standard of preaching. I have asked certain people in the congregation to preach and I have been greatly impressed. It’s unusual to find a church of this size to be gifted with such good speakers.

I have been encouraged by the number of baptisms here and to see the numbers that came out for our first Christmas Eve children's Carol service. And other services such as Harvest and Remembrance Sunday. There are many encouragements going on here.

One area where we are less strong is corporate prayer. Prayer is the powerhouse of the church. Prayer is when we give ourselves over to God. Without prayer nothing will happen. Prayer is a sign of our dependence upon God and his spirit. And unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. So, prayer needs to become more central to our life as a church. I have started up a fortnightly prayer meeting on Saturday mornings. It's a lovely time for us to gather together to support one another and bring the needs of the world and our ministry here before the Lord. A number of wonderful folk come to that prayer meeting, but the attendance is still relatively small. I would encourage more people to come.

Another interesting observation goes right back to my first PCC meeting. I asked PCC members if St John's was a car, what would it be? The unanimous verdict was that we are like a Volvo - sturdy and reliable, but unadventurous and overly cautious. I think that is an accurate description of what I can see. I have seen the difficulty in which some people have had with just some of the minor changes I have introduced here. There is perhaps a fear of change. But there is no need to fear. Change is not something we should be frightened about. We need to try new things out and if they work then great we keep doing them. But if they don't work, then we leave them behind. At least we gave it a go.

I also think that we're too comfortable sitting in our Volvo. It is too easy to think that we're okay in Elmswell. We are one parish with our very own rector … all to ourselves. I think many of us are unaware of the critical situation that the Church of England is in - both financially and spiritually. Maybe some of us are unaware of the practical need and also the biblical mandate for every member ministry. We saw that in Romans 12, which I quoted at the start of the meeting. I know some people here have been surprised at my asking other people to be involved up at the front. But that is what most churches in the country do. Every church I have been part of has had a team Ministry upfront. Working together as one body is what Christian ministry is about.

So, we're like a Volvo. At that first PCC meeting, somebody said wouldn't it be much better if we were like a Land Rover instead. Where we had to go off-road and be a bit more adventurous. I would like us to be more like a Land Rover. A Land Rover is good – it is still very sturdy and reliable. But it is also adventurous. We need that sense of adventure if we are to grow here. We need to have that passion to go off-road for the sake of Christ and his gospel. We need to remember that people out there are dying in their sin. They need a saviour, the Lord Jesus. And they won't find out about him unless we go out in that spirit of adventure.

To change my metaphor now from a car to a bus. It is easy to think of life in the church as a bus ride. The rector is up at the front driving and the passengers are being driven down the road to heaven. Perhaps, you feel that is how ministry should be done at St John's. I'm sorry if that is how you think. Because I'm throwing away the keys to the bus. What we are doing is getting out of the bus, putting on our rucksacks to hike across country. I will be your guide, but we will all take part in this great adventure together as we head to the heavenly city. As we hike across country many of us will be going off the path to gather up the sheep who have gone astray, to gather them back onto the path. So we are going to work together to build up the community of God's people and together we will support one another as we hike. We will all need to play a part.

I believe this is how Christ wants us to be as his body - working together with a deep passion for the gospel, a deep conviction of our personal sin and our need for a saviour, and a concern for the sheep that are wandering aimlessly off the path. Those who need be bought onto the path and to journey down the path with us. So that's one of my visions and I share that picture with you.

I want to share with you a further picture. We have had a picture of the car - the Volvo changing into the Land Rover. We have then had a picture of the bus. We are not to be passengers sitting back as the rector drives the bus. The keys are being thrown away and we hiking across country in this thrilling adventure in the name of Christ.

But the 3rd picture, which I already have shared with the PCC already, is the four streams. This is how I see our ministry operating here at St John's. 4 streams. The streams run concurrently, but they represent different parts of the work here. And at the moment we are concentrating a little bit more on the first 2.

Stream number 1 is all about how we can be built up in faith as a congregation. That is helping people who are already in the church to grow deeper in their faith. We could use the word discipleship here - becoming better followers of Christ. Stream 1 then includes our preaching. Preaching that is based on the Bible. God's word is the sword of the Spirit and is how he transforms us to be more like Christ. Stream 1, therefore, also points us to our small groups. Home groups, where we can delve deeper into God's word. We really all should be part of one.

Stream 1 also includes our prayer life. I've already said that I'd love to see more people come to our regular prayer meetings. But we also have a prayer chain. Don't forget that if ever you feel you need prayer for yourself or somebody close to you, contact Lisa who will distribute your request on to people willing to pray.

And then there is the prayer ministry now going on in the Gardener chapel following our main communion services. People are finding that a great blessing. If you want somebody to pray with you following one of those services, please head to the Gardener chapel where a trusted person will pray with you in confidence.

So stream 1 is all about going deeper in our faith - the life of discipleship.

Stream 2, which I’m also spending a lot of time focussing on at the moment is all about on our building. How can we best utilise this lovely building and improve it so we can do more effective Christian ministry? So this stream points us to the work done in the Gardener Chapel. And also our staging project. Our desire to see this area staged so that we can be more friendly with children as they come up the front, to improve visibility when we do Concerts or weddings, to enable me to lead services out the front rather than being hidden away. We are improving our projection facilities. Replacing this screen with an electric screen, placing a screen in the chancel so the choir can see the visuals used during services without having to come down into the nave. I'm really pleased we've already got one screen being used effectively for the south aisle. I’d like to thank the people who kindly donated the television and money for the stand.

Stream 2 is also about a general lifting of the building. Graham is looking into replacing the curtains. We have just had the carpets cleaned last Friday. Again thanks to Graham and Peter Goodchild’s family for improving the church driveway. All of this comes from a desire to make our building as accessible, friendly and atmospheric as possible - respecting its historic nature, but improving its effectiveness for Ministry in the 21st-century.

Streams 3 and 4 bring us to our outreach to the community. Stream 3 is all about hospitality. Inviting people in the community to be with us. We do a great summer and Christmas fair each year. And I'm really proud of all that goes on there. But I want more people to see St John’s as a hospitable place. I know we need to raise funds, but I want some of our events to simply say to people come & be with us, get to know us. And as people get to know us, they will see that Christians are not strange & peculiar people. Well, not all of us. It's about building friendships & then, when the time is right, gently sharing the love of Jesus. If you think about it we can all be involved in stream 3 It’s the easiest thing in the world to invite somebody to Coffee Break, ladies lunch, men’s breakfast, a church barbecue or concert.

While we are on stream 3 - One of the things that I’d like us to do either this Christmas or the next is something called Experience Christmas. This will involve transforming the church into six stations each telling part of the Christmas story. I would love the primary school to come in and experience that. We will need volunteers to artistically create the stations and volunteers to help us take the children round. Experience Christmas has been used in various churches around the country to great effect.

Another initiative is the Light up a Life service to take place in the autumn. This is an opportunity for anybody who is bereaved to come to a service where they can remember their loved one and light a candle for them. There is more work to be done in stream 3 as we go one, but these are just a couple of things to flag up for now. However, please do share your ideas as to how we can show hospitality to our community by inviting them to be with us.

Stream 4 is even more adventurous. This is where we go out, out of our comfort zone, away from our building into the community to share the love of Christ. We are already doing that with holiday club and school assemblies. But over the years to come, I’d like us to think of inventive ways of how we can go out with the good news.

These 4 streams are what I have in my mind, as I see us going forward at St John's. Stream 1 - going deeper in our faith. Stream 2 - how we use our physical asset, the building. Stream 3 - hospitality …inviting people to us. Stream 4 - taking out the gospel into the community. As I say, these streams all flow together, but at the moment we are spending a bit more time focussing on the first two.

I’d like to close with an encouragement and a challenge. We can all be greatly encouraged by what is going on here. We have got a new home group starting on Wednesday. Coffee Break, Men’s breakfasts and Ladies lunch are all thriving. Brenda Begg and Linda Abbott are going to organise a Poppy festival to commemorate the First World War. We have got a confirmation service in 2 weeks with 6 members of our congregation being confirmed. That’s wonderful news. We have a prayer chain and prayer ministry that are proving effective. The summer fair is coming up. Numbers at services are very encouraging. On Maundy Thursday we had double our normal numbers for that service. God is at work at St John’s. Great encouragement!

However, we do face a considerable financial challenge this year. And that bring me to why we have all received this leaflet, “Giving in Grace.” Not only do we need to raise finance for projects such as our staging, but our parish share is going up by £4000 this year. And we need to step up to that challenge. It is important to pay the parish share, otherwise churches like St John’s won't be allocated clergy. It’s as simple as that. Not only that, but the parish share goes to train new clergy and St Johns has recently sent Toby out to train for ordained Ministry and Miriam will soon be training for ministry. There is a cost to the training as well as a cost for the Central diocese and the parish share is used to cover these costs.

Please do think about increasing your giving. If we all increased our giving by 10%, it would cover the shortfall. If we all increased our giving by just five pounds a month that would cover the shortfall. Some people may not be able to give as much as that, others may be able to give more. I leave you with that challenge. Please go away prayerfully with this sheet giving in grace and increase your giving if you possibly can. Maybe you haven't increased your giving for a few years. Well, think about it, … a 10% increase would just really be catching up with where you were when you took out a standing order a few years ago due to the effects of inflation. If you need a Standing Order form Graham will have them at the door as you leave. Please do give generously so that we can pay our parish share and support the work of Christ that goes on here. Let me just stress that the only person who knows who gives what is the treasurer. And he treats that information in strict confidence. Nobody else knows what you give apart from yourself and the Lord.

But to conclude … I am excited to be here. I am excited by all that God is doing here and I am excited by all he has in store for us over the coming years and I look forward to working with you all to extend Christ’s Kingdom here.

Mon 28 Apr 2014