Churchwardens Thanked And Challenged

by Gerry Lynch last modified 15 Jun, 2016 10:45 AM

Cathedral packed for special Visitation service for all churchwardens

Hundreds of churchwardens, along with clergy and other supporters, gathered in Salisbury Cathedral on a golden summer evening last week to be thanked, challenged, and inspired by the Bishop.

Normally, annual Archdeacons’ Visitation services take place separately across the Diocese. This year, Bishop Nicholas wished to gather churchwardens together in one place to be thanked, inspired – and challenged.

“I wanted to thank churchwardens for their extraordinary hard work, especially in helping with the Renewing Hope: Pray, Serve, Grow agenda”, he said.

“Lots of churches are doing a brilliant job at working out locally the meaning of Renewing Hope: Pray, Serve, Grow. I especially wanted to thank people for the thoughtful and often imaginative ways in which this is being done. It does seem to be making a difference in many places across the Diocese.”

At the Visitation, a Churchwarden from every parish was given a candle holder inspired by the Cathedral font. These are for use in church meetings of every kind. Bishop Nicholas asked churchwardens to use it to focus meetings by lighting a candle, reading a short piece of Scripture and saying a prayer to remind those attending of the presence of the risen and ascended Christ whenever his followers gather in his name.

The inspiration for this came from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia, with which our diocese is linked, and whose practice is to light a candle for this purpose at all their meetings. I hope that it will become a common practice within our diocese too, reminding us not only of the constant presence of Christ but also of the common life in him which we share with our fellow Christians in the diocese and beyond.

Another key issue at the event was vocations. A third of full-time, paid, priests in the Diocese are due to retire in the next 10 years. In response, the Diocese is seeking to grow the number of new clergy ordained from the current level, where we would expect around 120 new vocations over that decade, up to around 180.

On 25th and 26th June our three bishops will ordain 10 priests and 12 deacons as well as welcoming a young priest from the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad, with whom we are in communion under the Porvoo Agreement, who will be serving a curacy at Sherborne Abbey. Bishop Nicholas has asked people to pray for them, their families and the parishes in which they will serve. People expect the cathedral to be full for ordinations but there is always plenty of room, particularly for the ordination of priests on the Saturday.

The other important issues touched on were administration and safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.

In a letter to all clergy after the service, Bishop Nicholas wrote, “The Safeguarding Audit for this Diocese, published in January, was one of the first pilot projects for the Church of England. We are making good progress towards becoming a safer Church but we now must move from a culture in which Safeguarding is expected of us to one in which it is required.

“Most of us would like to feel that the likelihood of anything terrible happening in our parish is remote but abuse can and does happen in every type of community. Our commitment has to be to make churches a safer place for everyone. We have an excellent Diocesan Safeguarding Panel and Adviser, but what really matters is that every parish and every Church school and academy has adopted proper policies and procedures. Over the next 3 years all those in the Diocese who come into contact or work directly with vulnerable people will be required to attend a training session.

“Unless we all take our responsibilities for Safeguarding seriously, we lack credibility in our reflection of God’s love for each one of us in our care for each other, particularly for children and those who are vulnerable.

“A new Action Plan to implement the review into Safeguarding arrangements in the Diocese has been developed and is available on the Diocesan website at bit.ly/SalisburySafeguardingAP.”

On the need to tighten up administration, he particularly looked at statistics and accounts.

The gift of administration is one of the least regarded”, he wrote, “I am embarrassed that our Diocese has the Church of England’s lowest rate of return for Statistics for Mission, just 65% for 2014 and 65% for the Finance Statistics in 2013. This is a pity because we have a relatively encouraging story to tell: high church attendances at Christmas and Easter; strong engagement with our communities through baptisms, weddings and funerals; among the highest proportions of the population attending church regularly; one of the highest number of planned givers and among highest share collection rates.

“The information gathered helps us understand the overall picture of ministry and mission but we all need to recognise that we now have to make a case for funding from the Church Commissioners and the information provided by parish returns really does make a difference to how well we can do this.

“There is a very similar problem in relation to sending in accounts to Deanery Treasurers and ensuring the Finance Statistics and, if needed, the Charity Commission returns are completed in good time. I know it can be a pain, but the systems ensure good governance and proper accountability. There have been a number of occasions when a serious breakdown in relationships in churches would have been prevented by parishes doing what is supposed to be required of PCCs and Annual Meetings. The systems are there to support and protect people and maintain good relations.”

A gallery of photos from the evening is available here.

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