I had every intention of writing a new year letter which I would send on New Year’s Day, but I have failed. Put that down to a combination of an invasion of grandchildren and gloom caused by the cricket in Australia. Anyway, this letter comes with my very best wishes for the new year and gives me an opportunity to reflect on a few current topics.
I believe that there is much that is positive and encouraging in the diocese. That is not to ignore the negative and discouraging, but we’re generally not short of reminders of those things. So let’s apply to ourselves the exhortation which St Paul gave to the Philippians: “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”
A Vicar’s Life - I do hope you will have a chance to see ‘A Vicar’s Life’, a six part series on Friday evenings on BBC2. Featuring four of our clergy, Matthew Cashmore, Ruth Hulse, Nicholas Lowton and Matthew Stafford, it gives an excellent portrayal of their ministry and the context in which it is exercised.
There are a whole lot of reasons to value the series. I particularly rejoice in the affirmation of the ministry of our clergy. We rightly emphasise the ministry of the whole church, clergy and laity, and increasingly we focus on reimagining ministry according to today’s needs - but this complements rather than undermines the ministry of parochial clergy. And, incidentally, how good it is to see a significant increase in the number of our ordinands, not least younger ones. Intergenerational Missioners
It’s good that the start of ‘A Vicar’s Life’ coincides with our Intergenerational Missioners beginning their work. In six different locations - Bridgnorth, Bromyard, Ludlow, Ross-on-Wye, South Wye and Sutton Hill & Woodside - the seven missioners (two are job sharing) will be working for 80% of their time in their particular settings and 20% across the diocese.
We are indebted to the national church through the Archbishops’ Council, making funds available for such a development. Caroline Pascoe, Lizzie Hackney and Sam Pratley have been working tirelessly to put everything into place. The incumbents and PCCs of the parishes involved have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the project.
The missioners are charged with supporting the growing of new and existing Christian disciples “through an intentional approach to mission, evangelism and discipleship”; and growing new Christian congregations of all ages and backgrounds. “Intergenerational” is important; it’s about people of all ages knowing, respecting and supporting each other.
I believe this to be an immensely significant and exciting development in the life of the diocese. As the work develops, we shall do all we can to keep you informed and enable us all to learn from what is happening.
Wendy Coombey: congratulations to Wendy Coombey on being awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List. Wendy, who has been our Community Partnership and Funding Officer for the last 16 years, is well known across the diocese for the enormous contribution she makes in our parishes to the care and use of our church buildings. The fact is that we have a very large number of churches - more than 400 -serving a very small population - no more than 320,000. You know as well as I do the challenges that brings and it is Wendy who has done more than anyone to enable those challenges to be faced. Wendy is now leading the development of a church buildings strategy, looking at ways of providing further support in a more intentional, focused and consistent way. There is the possibility of a future application for a grant from national church funds to enable this work to develop.
Money - Our financial situation remains challenging, but there has been considerable progress. For a start, our deficit in 2017 turned out to be significantly less than we had feared. Our 2018 budget, however, still anticipates quite a deficit - around £450K. Meanwhile, much energy is going into encouraging generous giving. I am very grateful to all involved.
I am aware that continuing to give generously is a constant challenge for all of us, but we serve and give with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. All our giving to God is in thanksgiving for all that we have received from him. We are recipients of God’s great generosity; let’s excel in the grace of giving.
And More - there is so much more I could write as I reflect on all that is happening in the diocese. The development of the School for Ministry; the implementation of Mission Action Plans in parishes and deaneries alike; faithful ministries in many different contexts. There is so much for which to be thankful.
Wendy Coombey, the Intergenerational Missioners, those featured in ‘A Vicar’s Life’, those encouraging generous giving: these are all people whom we can warmly appreciate for what they are doing.
We can also see them as our representatives, expressing a depth of Christian commitment to which can all respond. Alongside all those I have specifically mentioned are many others whose faithful, often unsung Christian witness and ministry are inspirational. Thank God for you all.
A letter from the Bishop of Hereford