Category Archives: Uncategorised

What will change in the CofE actually look like?

Over the past decades the Church of England has divested itself already of all of the easy downsizing options. As I look around our area none of the churches are on their last legs (yet). All have active congregations and all are engaging in some ways with mission and outreach. And there comes the rub, some, if not many, of these churches will lose their stipendiary leadership in the near future.

We may need to close some churches entirely! We may need to close some churches as they exist today with the congregations encouraged to move to other local churches. That would then allow the buildings to be used as resources for fresh mission, outreach and evangelism.

As we move into the next season of church life we must be willing to change, because whether we like it or not change is going to happen, and to be honest it needs to happen. If we carry on as we are the church as we know it will cease to exist in the next 10 to 20 years.

That will be painful.

Let me paint an entirely hypothetical scenario.

In the coming reorganisation a large parish of the churches in the Western Wards of Fareham is created. This encompasses St John’s Locks Heath, St Mary’s Warsash, St Paul’s Sarisbury Green and Whiteley Church. Each church no longer has it’s own PCC but each has representation on a joint, new PCC for the new mega parish.

Across that parish there will be two full time stipendiary priests and one half time. The compares with the present situation of two full time, one half time and one three quarter time (yes I know it’s odd the way the CofE has done things!). One of the full time posts will be mainly focussed on growing a new church community in Whiteley. This might be supported by another church in the diocese helping to provide a strong foundation for future growth.

That leaves one full time person and one half time person to support ministry in Locks Heath, Warsash and Sarisbury. Sunday ministry will look different. There is no longer a morning service at St Paul’s on any Sunday. Morning services at St John’s and Warsash have also been reorganised with a more traditional form of worship at Warsash each Sunday and a more contemporary form of worship at St John’s.

In Sarisbury the focus is on children and families. There is now a service every Sunday afternoon. This alternates between one focussing on younger children and their families which is similar to our present Tea Service and one that focusses on older children and their families.

So much for Sunday mornings, what about the rest of the week. Across the church communities there is now a joint Open The Book team that leads Collective Worship in all the Church Primary schools on a regular basis. One of the clergy focuses on this ministry and on building links, relationships and connections with all the schools.

There is also a combined ministry for those who are retired. This has a regular lunchtime session at St Mary’s every week which combines a social time over lunch with short times of worship, a thought for the day and sometimes guest speakers on a variety of subjects.

Administration is a headache for all clergy, however as there is only one PCC this burden is significantly lessened. St John’s is the administration centre for the whole mega parish. All baptism, wedding and funeral enquires are funnelled to the admin team at St John’s. There is a pastoral team which works across the whole area which has responsibility for baptism preparation and bereavement visiting. This team also covers many of the pastoral needs across the area.

Finances are now centralised so there is now one treasurer and one set of accounts. There is a clear budget set and each person with responsibility for an area of ministry has an allocated budget to work within.

However these changes have had an impact on the giving across the new parish. Before the changes their joint income was nearly half a million pounds of which a quarter of a million pound was given to the Diocese in Parish Share. Income has dropped by 20% and the new joint parish is no longer able to contribute it’s full parish share each year. It is however hopeful that the new congregations started will within the next 5 years start to give more and help the parish to return to positive balances.

There has also been a reduction in the overall numbers of people attending services. For some the change was simply too much and they have stopped attending any church. For others the time during the pandemic has meant they have developed new patters of life and habit and again no longer attend. Still others are now attending other local churches and for some whilst they do attend it is less often.

Other things have gone. None of the churches produces a church magazine any more. None of the clergy are now ex-officio governors at our schools, that role has been taken by lay people. Whilst each congregation has a clear leader, that person is no longer necessarily ordained. There are significantly less communion services than there were before. Music is now organised across the whole of the area with one choir who has become a festival choir. There are now three music groups who rehearse together and support the services across the different centres.

I could go on …….

This is entirely hypothetical. But how would you react if something like this happened? Would you stay connected? Would you stop attending entirely? Does this excite you with new opportunities and possibilities?

I don’t want to be here!

From time to time I’m sure we’ve all felt we didn’t want to be doing what we were doing, whether that was looking after children, being in a church service or going to work. We all have the times the we feel we’d rather be at the beach, or doing something entirely different. I certainly admit to that on occasional Sunday mornings over the years.

There’s a story of someone saying to their spouse ‘I don’t want to go to church this morning’ and the response comes back ‘You have to. You’re the Vicar!!!’ I can clearly remember the Sunday when I felt I don’t what to be here. Not just as a preference and I’d like to be somewhere else more enjoyable, but I’d rather be anywhere else than here. It happened one Sunday and happened regularly over a period of months before I had my breakdown. There were occasions when I felt like walking out of the back door of the church during a service!

What does a vicar do when they feel like that? You can’t be totally open and tell everyone! I told a very few close friends, some of whom have no connection with St Paul’s. Most were very understanding, supportive and helpful. But I was also told to man up and get over it as we all feel like that at times.

The reality is that most people in our church community never knew what was going on inside me. I still led services and preached. I still celebrated communion. I still was a part of our Open The Book team each week and took services in the community. I still took our Remembrance, Christingle, Christmas and other big services as usual. I was still a governor at two local schools. etc. etc.

There were one or two however who did notice – thank you so much, it really means a lot to me that you knew and you cared.

What would I say to other church leaders who experience the feeling that they’d rather be anywhere else than leading their church service? Get help now. Don’t wait. I waited far too long.

The difficulty is it’s very difficult to get help in the midst of ministry. What I needed was a break and professional counselling but that was only available after I was signed off work due to stress!

The Breakdown Rollercoaster – How it all started

Why and I writing about this? I hope it will help in three ways. Firstly I hope it will be cathartic to me personally. As an introvert I don’t often share or show what is going on within me. I hope by sharing It will help me. Secondly I hope it may help others locally who are themselves experiencing stress and depression. When you experience it you suddenly start to recognise and understand better what others may be going through. Some may find it helpful to know they’re not on their own. Thirdly I hope it may help some colleagues, as ministers we often don’t share our weaknesses. To know that someone else is experiencing stress and depression in ministry my be helpful.

At the end of May last year I went to see my GP. I was shocked that he signed me off for a month due to work related stress, depression and anxiety. I simply wasn’t expecting that as I didn’t think I was that bad. Looking back I was experiencing a breakdown and I really, really needed that time out. I ended being off for 6 months with the added addition of a cancer scare that was eventually found to be benign.

What happened to lead me to my breakdown? Early on I looked back over the past 5 years and recognised that I had been on a downward spiral for a period of years. I had experienced a number of stressful church issues over these years. Each on their own was difficult but not insurmountable but together they mounted up. Over those years I also experienced a number of stresses that many families face. The cumulative effect on my mental health was entirely different, and to me, unexpected.

Reflecting back I think the most difficult thing was the inability to share openly and the loneliness of leadership. Because of confidentiality and safeguarding there are things that a minister simply cannot share with others within the local church. This can often lead to misunderstanding which is difficult for ministers to handle. Others can sound off to friends and house groups etc. The minister simply cannot do this and rarely can say what is they actually feel and think. There was a sense that others can say what they like but the minister cannot defend themselves. That is possibly the most stressful area of ministry.

I’ve always thought I was fairly broad shouldered and could cope with pretty much anything without buckling. The last year has shown me how wrong I am. If only I’d noticed some of the signs earlier!

One of the biggest stress point was on the Sunday when for the first time I felt ‘I don’t want to be here!’ More on that in my next blog.