Sunday, 24 January 2016

Caversham Chiaroscuro

“chiaroscuro,” by Horatio (2010),
Chiaroscuro: the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, in painting, photography and cinema.

Strictly speaking the title of this post should be "Chiaroscuro at St John's", as it is a post about the results of the first discovery phase of PMC (Partnership for Missional Church, see my earlier post here) for St John's. Well ... St John's is in Caversham and I think the title used sounds better.

This first year of PMC is all about discovery, and phase 1 is discovery about ourselves as a church within a community. What has struck me most about the results so far has been the strong contrasts between darkness and light, hopeful features and unsustainable aspects of life here at St John's.

For example, finance. From the basic numbers it looks as though nearly everyone in the regular congregation at St John's takes part in the planned giving scheme. From the point of view of belonging and responsibility and things like that, this is great. But the bottom line is that we are not covering our costs, never mind putting money away for big bills and big projects in the future. This is simply not sustainable.

Similarly with people and jobs. One part of the PMC process involved identifying people who come to services but don't really take part beyond that. This proved surprisingly difficult: the vast majority of people are involved in something. It might be cleaning, or music, or working with children, or one of the outreach activities, or the church fair, or whatever.

People are involved; again this is great for belonging and taking responsibility. Yet, we cannot fill some of our key roles. We are missing a church warden, we don't have a treasurer, nor a planned giving officer, even the refreshments rota, for after-service tea and coffee, is struggling after the person organising it moved away. Again this is not sustainable.

When it came to getting people's views on what was going on in the church, we again found both light and dark. There is an immense amount of positivity concerning the successful outreach projects of the last five years. Yet there was also significant negativity concerning church 'internals' - the way things were working in terms of the congregation itself. I've deliberately left that last bit vague because it is an area which needs more digging than you can do in the simple interviews we carried out.

Actually, I think exploring this is an important opportunity for us as a church to look at how we grow together and how we continue to support and care for all our members, especially as, we hope, we start getting new people in who need to be included and who have their own, different, needs.

A final bit of chiaroscuro is about the church building. St John's is really lucky in having a building with a large flexible space, with good acoustics, on a main road which is in reasonable walking distance of much of 'our' district. But the building does need serious money spending on it: the roof needs redoing within the next few years, and we desperately need to extend the building to provide meeting rooms and more toilets.

All of this dark and light emphasises the importance of the choices facing St John's as we move into the future, preparing for, then journeying with, the Transition Minister we are hoping to recruit over the next few months.

Many of the challenges directly relate to numbers and to the age profile. Change those for the better and everything looks a whole lot more positive. But we won't do that by carrying on as before: that (in part, at least) is how we got into this position in the first place.

There are over 9,000 people live in 'our patch', most of them of working age. Whilst Lower Caversham is not nearly as wealthy an area as Caversham Heights, it is nevertheless quite well off compared to much of Reading. People, money and energy are out there. Indeed, a lot of them do actually go to church, just not here. People get in their cars and drive past our door (at least metaphorically) to go to church somewhere else!

Ultimately the future for St John's holds a stark choice: are we willing to change the ways we do things, and the expectations we place on those who come to visit us, or will we simply wait to die.

After that we hit questions about how we change, how we catch onto God's vision for Lower Caversham, and how we live out what it means to follow Jesus here and now. But genuine willingness to let go of our habits and step out in trust into an unknown future comes first.

I started off by suggesting that this post is just about PMC at St John's. Actually, that fundamental choice is also the issue at St Margaret's and St Peter's. The different churches have different challenges but we all show significant darkness and light, and face significant change to align ourselves with God's vision for Caversham.

I hope and pray we are in for interesting times here in Caversham.

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