By Rev Dave Gough
In some ways my report this year has been overshadowed a little by the news we shared with you at the beginning of April that we will be leaving St James after six and a half years of ministry to Woodhouse. Although an exciting and different prospect for us as a family it will be with much sadness that we leave the wonderful family we have here at St James. I could not have asked for a better place to come to for my first incumbency and I will be eternally grateful for all the love you have shown us whilst we have been here and the way in which you have embraced my ministry and family. However, the annual report for 2016 is not the place to fully go into my time here and what the future holds and I’m sure over the coming months we will spend much time reflecting on the place St James has become under God’s blessing and the amazing opportunities that still await you as a congregation. So for now here are my reflections on, as ever, a busy 2016, based on the report I sent to the Church Burgesses back at the beginning of February.
2016 was a steady year of consolidation for St James where we have continued various ministries and seen some either change or come to an end. In terms of numbers, we have seen a slight decrease in the number who regularly attend on a Sunday, an increase in mid-week engagement and a similar increase in the number of people with whom we have regular contact, although they may not as yet see themselves as regular worshippers at the church. We have also seen people going deeper in their faith and then starting to exercise their own gifts of ministry, which has been a real encouragement and privilege to walk alongside them as they discover what God is calling them to. Mission into our community remains high on our agenda as a PCC and church and with the addition of our new Centenary Project youth worker, which was only enabled by the Burgesses generous grant, we have started to make in roads to growing our ministry to this previously difficult group of young people and hope to see this continue and flourish over the coming years.
From the Parish return we saw a slight net decrease of 2 adults in our regular Sunday attendance, which is now on average 53 adults and 20 children. Three of our regular congregation members have been taken to be with the Lord this year and two families have moved away from Woodhouse, although have continued to worship at other churches where they have moved to. So given this, we have as in previous years, seen new members and families join the church this year, but have not quite filled the gap in regards to those we have lost. Our All-Age service on the first Sunday of each month continues to be well attended by families, and the wider congregation, and in fact we have seen attendance at this service significantly increase, although Holy Communion services have been slightly less well attended. Messy Church on the opposing fortnight to our All-Age, held after school on the 3rd Monday of the month, continues to be a big draw for families in our community and again we have new families joining as well as a few families who now have older children not attending as regularly as previously. To address this, our youth worker is running Messy Church Extra alongside the normal Messy Church for Y6 children and above. The first session took place in January and early indications are that this will be a welcome addition to the Monday night worship and fun. When we look at the parish return regarding the worshipping community we again see an encouraging figure of 146 people in regular worship at St James. The breakdown is as follows Children (Age 0-10): 49, Young People (Age 11-17): 14, Adults (Age 18-69): 59 and Aged Over 70: 24.
We have seen less weddings than in previous years at St James, although if bookings for 2017 are any indication, this seems a one off rather than a declining trend. We have seen an increase in funerals during 2016 and our reader June Fox has grown in her own ministry in this area and the Friendship Group for those who have been bereaved, which she oversees, continues to provide a place of sanctuary for all those who come. Baptisms continue to be popular in our parish and we work hard to make these positive experiences of church and families continue to find a real welcome and join our congregation because of the experience they have had. Much of the growth in the All-Age service is from families who have had their children baptised and continue to attend afterwards. The ministry we offer through our Tots group has continued to thrive this year and we have seen numbers again significantly increase. The challenge the leaders of this group are now wrestling with is to how further engage parents and carers who come into the regular worshipping life of St James. The fellowship group for young Mum’s has enjoyed a steady year of worship, study and a number of socials and they are a tight knit group who offer support and encouragement to each other. We continue to explore the best way to engage men and particularly Dad’s in our congregation and we have seen some positives from the ABC group, although the more social aspects remain the most well attended, with the study evenings seemingly not quite hitting the mark as we hoped. At the beginning of 2017 we have taken the opportunity to rest this ministry for a short time as we discern the next steps we might take to engage further in this ministry.
There have been two significant changes during 2016 that have affected the way we work in our community and beyond, the first as mentioned above was the appointment of a youth worker in April and my own changing role in the deanery as I took on the Area Dean duties. Our youth worker has been a great addition to the team and although initial results have been slow as he has discerned the areas where God is leading this there have been some very encouraging developments towards the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017. After initial difficulties gaining access to the secondary schools he has now been handed an opportunity to join the Christian Union at Handsworth Grange, as well as working with Y6 children at both of our primary schools, to develop relationships before they go to secondary. St James has been at the centre of an initiative to begin scouting groups again in the village and as well as one of our members taking the leadership of the Beaver group, our youth worker will be heading up the Scout group for teenagers, which is starting in February in our church hall. He has been able to release me from running our youth group 92Teens and has taken the opportunity to develop this and think through how this may continue in the future. There are plans now to replace this with a Wednesday night café church and study group in September of this year.
The Area Dean role has taken much of my time as we reconfigure the way the deanery runs into two mission partnerships, in the north and south of the deanery. There are significant gaps in stipendiary ministry across the deanery at present and I have been working alongside the Archdeacon and Parish Support team to work out the best strategic way to fill these gaps. This also brings many lay people within churches working to continue ministry and I have tried to help them with leadership and guidance where appropriate. I have found myself on a steep learning curve in this but have found the wider exposure to our deanery and diocese enlightening and challenging at this point in my vocation.
Figures for 2016 are as follows:
Christenings: Children 43 & 1 Adult
Thanksgiving: Children 1
Wedding Blessings: 2
Funerals: Church 30 – Crematorium 27
The Wider Community
St James continues to engage with our local community in a number of ways throughout the year. Every year we have committed to a weekend event to draw members of our community to St James. This year in December we repeated our Christmas Tree festival and invited local businesses, local schools, local groups and members of the congregation to contribute a decorated Christmas Tree. We saw over 30 trees displayed, and from varied parts of our community. Both local Primary schools contributed some wonderful artwork to display on the walls. There were a number of events organised including a performance by the local Woodhouse Prize Band and a concert from a group called ‘The Bus Stop Buskers’. We hosted our All-Age family service and the Christmas fair on the same weekend and engaged over 350 visitors during the weekend, many of whom are not regular attendees. We kept the displays in church over the whole Advent and Christmas period and many commented on how lovely St James looked at school events, carol services and our nativity service. Our Carol’s by candlelight service continues to grow with over 300 members of our community joining us this year as well as increased numbers on Christmas Eve and Day.
The community choir continues to meet in the church once a fortnight and has a mixed age range from 5-75 and both church members and others in our community continue to attend. St James continues to play a central role in the growing Remembrance Sunday service in the village led by myself and we also were involved with the local churches together network in organising an open air service in the village square on Good Friday along with a walk of witness through the village. We too gave out Easter Eggs and a small booklet explaining what Easer is all about during Holy Week.
The work we engage with in schools continues to go from strength to strength. I am heavily involved at Woodhouse West Primary School as Chair of Governors and as governor at Brunswick Community Primary School. During 2016 both myself and our new youth worker took assemblies in both schools at least once a month and contributed to lessons as well as offering pastoral care to children in Y5/6 who require extra help in school. We have also taken year groups and taught them about Christmas and Easter and hosted Brunswick School’s Christmas performances and once again welcomed Woodhouse West for their candlelight services at the end of the school day in St James which I led and services at Easter. We have worked with the schools to collect harvest gifts for the Archer Project and with the help of both schools and through a contact at Stradbroke school collected over 100 boxes for Operation Christmas Child.
We continue to minister to our elder community by holding monthly services at Brunswick Retirement village and Balmoral Care Home along with a carol service in December at both Balmoral and at The Fields, which is a residential and nursing care home for young people with learning disabilities. As an ecumenical project I have partnered with the local Methodist church to provide and new initiative called ‘Meet & Eat’. This is a silver service meal aimed at our older members of our congregation and we encourage them to bring a friend along with them who doesn’t currently attend church. We have run this twice with average attendance of 60 people at each one.
Spiritual Nurture and Growth
St James vision is to be ‘a welcoming, nurturing church for the whole family of God, telling the Good News of Jesus Christ and encouraging discipleship through actions and words in Woodhouse and beyond.’ We see discipleship as key to growth at St James and have seen the home based groups change and expand during 2016. These groups, for those who engage with them, have become huge support networks and places of rapid spiritual growth and a place of nurture for leadership in the future.
Work with Children & Young People/Families
Children’s and work with young people continues to be high on the agenda here at St James and is always at the forefront of our thinking as a PCC. I believe that much of what I have already covered shows the work we put into this area of church life as it is difficult to write about the life of St James without talking about children, youth and families.
We continue to offer our All-Age service, the best attended service each month as well as Messy church on the opposing fortnight. The Tots group is specifically for children and families. We have our two Sunday groups Sunbeams and Blazing Stars for 0-5’s and 5-9’s and now have good lay leadership in place for both these groups. We have continued with our 92Teens youth group in conjunction with St Mark’s, Mosborough and St Mary’s Beighton and this has taken on a life of it’s with our youth worker taking over the leadership with plans for this year that will see further development. We have seen the group grow this year with much encouragement for the future direction we are taking. It has taken longer than we first expected to build relationships with our two local Secondary schools but right at the end of 2016 we have seen huge encouragement when the youth worker has been invited to help with the Christian Union. We hope we will see further progress with this during 2017. Our work in schools continues to raise the profile of St James within our community and again we see many people in the community engaging with us because of our links in the local primary schools. We hope this will only increase if we can make inroads to the secondary schools as well.
St James ethos is that although we want to encourage all of these groups into our worshipping life we are all the family of God, whatever our age or point in life, and if we are truly to be God’s people and family then we all need to be together and encourage each other. Sorry as always for the length of this report but St James continues to thrive and grow and there is much we are thankful for and the blessings God is pouring out on us.