A month into 2020 and I'm still here! During the past few weeks many people
have asked if I know anything yet about when I might be finishing my ministry at St Martin's and it is frustrating not
to be able to give a clearer answer than ‘who knows?' Starting another month with no real idea of when I might be
moving from St Martin's to Prestwich continues to be disconcerting, not least because there now seems to be a rumour that
I've changed my mind and am not moving after all. Which is not true, but I can't say the situation is more than a
little trying. However, I can do little other than continue to trust God and in the meantime get on with the responsibility
of being a priest in his Church here in Ashton-upon-Mersey.
Inevitably, though, there have been a number
of conversations in recent weeks and months about the future of St Martin's and whether there will be a full-time clergy
appointment or some other pattern and form of ministry. These conversations have, at this point of time, no answer. There
are all sorts of elements to the reflection and prayer upon what the future here might look like and these include finance,
sustainability, partnership with other churches, ministry teams, the needs of the parish and so on. In December the members
of the Church Council met with the Archdeacon and explored a number of these questions and ideas a little - but there is still
much thinking, praying and conversation to be had, locally and within the diocese - the ‘outcome' is as unknown
at this point of time as my moving date!
Reflecting personally on some of these things, I was attracted
to a quotation by the sociologist William Bruce Cameron. He said: Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything
that can be counted counts. It's an interesting phrase to ponder in relation to the ministry of Christ's Church
anywhere, and so to ponder in relation to the ministry of Christ's Church in St Martin's.
in service registers and on church electoral roles tell a story - but only part of a story. Church accounts tell a story,
but again, only part of a story. Even entries and comments left in a visitors' book only reveal a portion of a church's
story. Numbers and statistics are no basis in and of themselves for making every decision about how successful or needful
the ministry of a particular church is. If the Church (meaning the building and the congregation, separately and together)
is proclaiming the Kingdom of God then it can't all be captured in such simplistic ways.
knows how someone attending a baptism service might have been moved to consider faith for themselves when they never have
before? How many of those who pop into the church building or visit the churchyard come to an understanding of God's presence
or strength in their lives? The effectiveness (success is maybe an unhelpful word) of proclaiming the Kingdom of God is not
only measured in numbers who are confirmed by the Bishop or who attend on Sunday morning. Recently I have been delighted to
hear two very different stories which have rejoiced my heart.
One was from a lady I bumped into in
Sainsbury's. I conducted her husband's funeral over two years ago and she was completely devastated in her bereavement.
They had no children and had been together since they were teenagers. On a number of occasions after the funeral she visited
the church, both for services and also just to sit or light a candle when it was open over the summer months. She said to
me that she was simply pouring out her emptiness and sadness to God. Then, completely unexpectedly she has met someone else,
through the initial offering to her a lift from the nursing home where her elderly mother is, next door to where his cousin
is. This man has grown to be a friend and now even more and she is totally amazed. She said to me he has saved her, but she
also said that she believes God was there in all of it.
The other was of someone who came to worship
at St Martin's after being diagnosed as terminally ill. He came back to a faith that he hadn't practised for a long
time, and found not only comfort and hope in that faith, but also a welcome at St Martin's that made him feel a part of
the congregation and community very quickly. Part of this was also to do with his sexuality - as a gay man he had often felt
sidelined or even unvalued by the Church in his life (despite having been a choirboy and having a very positive experience
of faith as a young person). He felt affirmed in who and what he was by God, by a member of clergy and by a congregation.
Neither of these stories can be captured in statistics, beyond two entries in our burial register.
But they speak of people whose lives have been touched by God and by the community of faith at St Martin's in ways which
have been rich in blessings and hope and newness of life.
Whatever decisions might be made about the
shape and nature of ordained ministry at St Martin's, this should not change the fact that so much of what is revealed
of God's love and his kingdom in this community is hidden or only partly known to us. Jesus' own ministry didn't
always produce positive or encouraging statistics (only one of the ten lepers whom he healed one day returned to thank him...)
but his ministry produced positive changes in people's lives and in their attitudes to God's presence and love in
Let us all continue hopefully and prayerfully into God's future, maybe even embracing
another very different quotation I came across recently, from Herman Melville's Moby Dick:
know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing'