Back to the Future

The end of August, when shops begin to advertise ‘Back to School’ specials, carries some extra weight this year. Many are hoping that ‘back to school’ might mean ‘back to normal’. Others are fearing exactly that.

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In our church life, as Covid precautions are gradually wound down, this raises many questions. What will be our pattern of worship? Will we be able to offer refreshments? Will our various groups and committees be able to resume their activities?

I’m aware that many of you are asking these questions, and that there are anxieties about the future in many hearts. So I want this week (a week earlier than previously advertised) to share with you all some of my own thoughts about all this, which have also featured in discussions with the Ministry Team and the PCC.

The first thing to say is that the future cannot be, and will not be, exactly the same as the past. Many of the reasons for this are positive – some of the skills and opportunities for ministry that we have developed during the pandemic represent huge leaps forward, and they must continue. Online worship, phone-based pastoral support, the much wider involvement of our lay ministry team in the life of our community; all of these are good things that we should not let fade away.

There are also features of the wider national and Diocesan context that require us to think differently about what we do. The ‘Time to Change’ programme recently approved by Diocesan Synod makes sobering, but ultimately hopeful, reading. For St Nicholas this will mean reflecting on how we can make a wider contribution to the work of God in our city, through our partnership with our neighbours and in other ways. I encourage everyone to visit the Diocesan website and read at least the headline messages. []

Finally, there is the simple choice that faces every church in every community across the country – we must either find ways to grow, or accept that we will die. Attracting, and retaining, new worshippers needs to be in all of our thoughts, and a factor in all of our decisions.

I recognise that St Nicholas is not the kind of place where talk of change is easily received as good news! We (and I really do mean ‘we’) are people who place a high value on what I have called the ‘mainstream of the Anglican tradition’. It would be against every instinct I have as a Christian and as a priest to abandon that tradition, and I see no reason at all why we should. We can and we must grow this church in a way that holds fast to its rich heritage.

What we must also do, however, is abandon any notion of ourselves as a club for like-minded people, and instead embrace Archbishop William Temple’s insight that the church exists for the benefit of those who are not yet its members.

May God bless you all,