2018 Annual Report




It has not been a good year.  I could not have predicted what lay ahead when we all met here last year.  Overwhelming changes in my personal life over those twelve months have had an irreversible effect upon so much, not least my ability to do my job.  With hindsight, the sudden death of my brother, and all the drama in Devon that that conjured should have been the trigger to resign and return home to Wiltshire to care for my mother.  Events that followed Keith's death certainly proved this.  Life is not easy at the moment.  Mum being so very poorly in hospital, and her increasing frailty has forever changed life's perspective.


Inevitably, this is all impacting upon the work I do here at St. Mark's.  You deserve better ‑ and all I can do is apologise for the many shortcomings you have no doubt been witness to over the past twelve months, for there have indeed been quite a few!  Management of this APCM being one of them, so I must immediately say a huge "thankyou" to the Churchwardens – and in particular to Philippa – for picking up the reins of it all and ensuring that we met today.


And we do indeed meet – and for that, I am grateful.  I am still here, and you are too!  Somehow we are surviving.  And it is good to be here.  The disciples thought so, when they met with the transfigured Christ upon the mountain – "It is good to be here", says Peter – it is indeed.  It is good to feel that, despite all that is crashing around my life at present, it is good to have the sanctuary of this sacred space to dwell in.  Like that which the disciples witnessed, there is an awesomeness about this place; a tranquillity, a calmness, which somehow overrides the 'madness' of life.  We should indeed be eternally grateful that such brings our God so definitely alive here at St. Mark's.


And that aliveness enables decisions being pondered to be put into a more realistic perspective.  I am willing to resign, if it is the will of the people to desire such.  Only you can talk amongst yourselves, only you can speak with the Churchwardens, only you can influence the judgement of the PCC.  Moving forward as a Church might benefit from a change, who can tell?  Perhaps being open to the same God whose presence transcends this place is the better option?  There are always tasks to perform, worship to engage with, people to meet ‑ we each of us have a role to play, so maybe all can continue to co-exist.  We shall see.


Whatever happens in the next twelve months – and there is an air of anxious waiting certainly hanging around my world – whatever happens, should hopefully happen supported by the loving protection of God.  Our prime and only reason for existing here in this place is because we have responded to that amazing invitation to be part of God as we allow Him to be part of us.  We can agonise over leadership, we can worry about numeric strength, we can contemplate finances and structures, but to what purpose?  Our task is surely to witness to the incredible reality that we encountered during Holy Week, not dithering about real estate or the like.  We are all guilty of being so distracted at times; our PCC most definitely is.  It can spend hours discussing figures in the wrong column or fixtures that leak or fuse – and it can spend hardly a minute of time discussing the wonder of God.  The fault for that lies with poor chairmanship – and for that I, once again, apologise.


Getting the perspective of our reason for being correct is vital to any other task or challenge we face.  We had another moving Holy Week, with its rich tableau of spiritual opportunity and directed thought.  For those of you who engaged with it, I hope you received the powerful inoculation that was present; to those who did not, the question "Why?"  We agonise at times about why our numbers are dropping, but do we look to our own pattern of active faith?  Does what we adopt provide effective example for others to follow?  In this Easter season, we are scripturally hearing of the many reactions and responses to the Resurrection through the writings of the Acts of the Apostles.  This scripture provides staggering evidence that growth relied in those early moments of faith upon active, energetic, enthusiastic discipleship, stretching their limits of endurance to ridicule, arrest and sometimes martyrdom – but also stretching it to overwhelming reality, excitement and sheer wonder at the motivating power of God in their lives.  If these people had not been so, we would not be here – we must never forget that when acknowledging our legacy.


So, in the spirit of Acts, perhaps this year's motivation should be more personally-based, more humanity-driven.  Perhaps we should realise what lies deep within ourselves – that nudging, ever-constant, revealing power – and allow it to surface, to cry aloud, to overwhelm.  Our belief is that God is supremely powerful, that is why we subscribe to Him and His teachings, so perhaps we need to be more pro-active in reflecting such.  Perhaps if we spent less time dreaming up gimmicks, and spent more time breathing life into this sacred space, maybe that is where the key to the future lies?


The mechanisms of institutional religion do sometimes mitigate against this!  Our year has, unfortunately, been dominated by building challenges, real-estate management, and other more human tasks associated with running a parish; and much as it would be lovely just to wallow in the presence of God, the stark reality is that a core of devoted and determined people are always required to 'keep the show on the road', as the saying goes.  To them, we are all grateful.  We walk into a clean environment, beautifully decorated, successfully maintained, and generally well-managed.  At the end of the day – and despite deflecting circumstances – all seems to come together.  And we are all still here, so something must be going right!  The careful nurturing of God's invitation continues to speak to those willing and eager to listen.


Attracting a wider clientele has proved a challenge, as always – but, before any of you despair, take another look at those same scriptures mentioned earlier.  Take a look at Acts, take a look at the Gospels, the Epistles and vast chunks of the Old Testament, take a look and see that God's desire was never numerically-based, it was genuinely-based.  Genuine in terms of desiring the chosen, the encouraged, the curious, the devout – that ramshackle mix of humanity that centuries have brought together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be the core that keeps alive the reality of God.  We are continuing in that task, so we need to take heart and not lose perspective.  Just because the Victorians dumped a 400-seater building upon us does not necessarily mean we have to have four hundred 'bums-on-pews' to justify our existence.  Sacredness does not have a quota attached to it – what it has is genuine desire, and if we can continue to reflect such in all that we do when we worship and pray within these walls, rest-assured we are doing OK.  We might not be able to financially afford these same walls, but that will not diminish our ability to be People of God, here or wherever.


And, looking beyond these walls, we can find much to encourage us, in terms of knowing that the presence of God is firm, not least in our work with our Home Church.  The continual cycle of prayer and gentle witness that exists in living-rooms and at bedsides within the parish helps to remind us that God's all-pervading love stretches limitlessly around our world.  Such encounters, along with opportunities such as Bible Study, Fellowship, and our interaction with our Primary School, quietly continue as the days and weeks go by.  True, the vast majority of people do not necessarily engage with such, or have a need to do so, but that does not matter.  The endearing nature of faith opens up many avenues, and each individual should be free to find their own path within such.  A national initiative – called "Thy Kingdom Come" – begins soon, a time of prayer and engagement for all who wish to delve into such.  There will be events and happenings scattered around our country, ecumenical in nature, and we hope to have some opportunity to experience it here in this area, so I do encourage you to look out for details if such appeals.


And it is this sense of appeal that we nurture and give thanks for.  We come together not as mere passers-by at the foot of yet another crucifixion scene, but as those transfixed by such.  Like Mary and the Beloved Disciple, we stand still at the foot, and we realise that events thereafter have the power to totally change our lives.  No doubt those same two people found an empty tomb some three days later, they found an excited Mary Magdalene eager and keen to express her joy, and they sensed the profound reality that all represented.  A reality that says, "God is Alive", and those who encounter that aliveness will forever be changed for good.  Let our prayer – regardless of whatever the next twelve months more sombrely bring to my life and yours – be a prayer of thanksgiving that proclaims the essence of God-triumphant.  And may such always be experienced within this sacred space.