Vicar’s Report to the parish
All Saints Blackheath 29 iv 2015
I present my fifteenth annual report to the parish. I wish first to thank our Church Wardens, Cherry Almond and Deborah Dorrance King. I am most grateful to them for their support, both personally and in running the parish, and for their wisdom in restraining me when I need. When I unexpectedly needed to take time away from the parish at the end of the year they met my decision with equanimity and ensured that I could get away without fearing that there were things not likely to be running as smoothly when I returned as when I left.
Fr William Chatterton, who had been interim Rector of the Thamesmead team has now been appointed to staff of the former Royal Naval College Chapel but has at least been able to continue his regular Tuesday evening commitment. Fr David Sharpe from Morden College continues to assist, with a regular Wednesday duty at the altar and on occasion we have been most fortunate that Fr John-Francis Friendship and Fr John Philpott-Howard; without a second priest at the altar on a Sunday for the parish mass, I am unable to get out into the Sunday School or into the crèche while I am grateful for the chances that I get to hear others preach.
From the Anglican Church in Australia we have welcomed Fr Christopher Tyack who has come to live here. Fr Tyack is a deacon, formerly on the Archbishop’s staff, who anticipates being ordained priest here under the Overseas Measure for which he first needs to be selected by the Bishops’ Advisory Panel. In the interim he has joined the choir and will preach for Epiphany next year.
Of those who died in the past year I wish to pay tribute to Miss Sue Philpott who had for many years served in the PCC and on the Governing Body of the primary school, becoming chair when I was inhibited by Law from the post. She had given tirelessly and worked hard to co-ordinate our parish charitable giving and we shall need to find a volunteer to succeed her. A close friend of hers, and a past parishioner here who had moved to East Sussex, also died in the year; Edith Seth was for many years clerk to the Governors of the school and is much missed.
Last year I pointed out the hard realities about our financial position that cannot be overlooked. I am very grateful that Mr Ian Jackson, our Hon PCC Treasurer, can present the annual accounts to us this evening that Stephen Lanes as independent examiner has again examined for us but they make salutary reading.
Across the year we have defaulted on three monthly payments of The Fairer Share, as our Diocesan quota is called, for lack of cash. Any appraisal of the figures shows that there are still regular worshippers here who do not give at levels that many do elsewhere. The burden, the financial burden, of the Diocese is being borne by people who are significantly less well off that the average here.
This cannot be right, leaves our church vulnerable and weakens the Diocese that has already implemented 10% clergy cuts to meet the continuing income shortfall; the Diocese will change the method by which such funds are raised in 2016 but we cannot expect that we should contribute less when it is amply clear that we do not give generously.
The PCC arranged for a Stewardship drive in the Fall that emphasised the need to reverse our debt concluded by an Adventide sermon from the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich. Few clergy would wish to take on responsibility for a church that cannot pay its own way so I need to exhort you again to consider when you last increased your giving in line with any increase you have had in income and whether, hand on heart, you are really giving financially at a level that represents your commitment to the Mission and Evangelism of God’s Word in this place.
Nor, as the accounts show, is it the case that the loss of income was the direct result from the success in raising £350,000 towards the much needed restoration work on the 1858 William Hill organ as most of those funds came from individuals and grants outside the parish. Every member of the PCC pledged financial gifts towards the target and there were some generous donors from the regular congregation, most notably the late Sue Philpott, but overall I am made nervous what this lack of support indicates for the success of any future capital campaign. Harrison and Harrison began the work on schedule in September 2014 and hope to complete in the summer of 2015. I am grateful that The Lord Bishop of Southwark will re-dedicate the organ at Choral Evensong on our patronal Feast day, 1 November 2015 and hope that Michael Tomassi will return to play for an inaugural recital.
The Quinquennial Report undertaken in the year by Russell Hanslip Associates showed that necessary and immediate external repairs are necessary, some as an urgent matter of health and safety, which will most likely cost nearly £50000. We will seek for grants wherever we can for some of this work, both from schemes trailed by HM Government for listed places of worship and from individual trusts but some of the costs will necessarily fall to us.
We still need to complete outstanding projects that have already been agreed by the PCC including the provision of a secure fixed ladder to the south tower; the restoration of the updated list of incumbents; the cleaning and installation of the old sanctuary lamps as votive lamps above the three icons given to us in 2007; the framing and installation of photographs of past incumbents of the parish and the introduction of a Victorian brass communion rail befitting to the sanctuary.
The Diamond Jubilee stained glass windows proposed for the two sanctuary side windows may now seek another commemorative occasion while it is hoped that the communion rail kneelers, paid from the £2000 legacy of the late Miss Barbara Furneaux, will be in place later in 2015.
As part of our commemoration of the 1914 – 1918 centenaries we have planted a field of Flanders poppies around the church and a Requiem Mass is said for each of our thirty nine Fallen at their due anniversary. It is hoped to provide a booklet with short biographies for each man and I am grateful to Julian Bowsher and Bob Williams for all their research to make this possible. This will be sent out with fliers advertising ‘The Friends of All Saints’ that was launched in Advent as a further way of integrating our life within that of the parish.
The organ builders found several brass plaques hidden in the organ chamber, presumably in the aftermath of the bomb damage of the last War. Originally they marked the stained glass windows as well as the font cover that was given by the family of one of our Fallen who had been baptised here and we anticipate re-installing them as one of our 1914-1918 projects. The joint project with the National Literacy Trust that I spoke of last year has seen some schools use the church, its heritage history as much as the organ itself, as the focus of a teaching course and the Fallen have of course featured in this.
Our recently appointed Director of Music, Mr Gary Sieling, left early in the summer to take up an appointment at Henley on Thames and I was delighted to be able to appoint William Gormley who has sung in the choir as man and boy. Our Organist, Michael Tomassi, keeps up a wide concert career outside the parish, both in Britain and in continental Europe, and has generously tolerated the temporary Allen organ. (Michael has resigned as Organist with immediate effect as of last Saturday 25 April 2015 to return to live at home in Edinburgh.)
I am delighted that our Youth Group continues to expand in numbers although it is still somewhat ‘bottom heavy’ with more younger-aged children. Gity Montsef, Jim Rose, Deborah Dorrance and Sue Heath put a lot of energy and industry into this and would welcome support from other volunteers. Teenagers, and the under 13s face the opportunity for expanding and exploring issues of responsibility and faith at a time when they face the challenge of many changes and they can be greatly helped by adult Christians.
Our Junior Church leaders enable and make such groups possible and I am indebted to Mia Wylie, Mandy Richmond, Rachel Langdon and all who assist them as well as those who staff the crèche and weekday toddler groups.
Our parish school continues to thrive under the headship of Mrs Debbie Tompkins and with Lydia Ings succeeding David Guest, a Foundation Governor, as Chair of Governors, but faces real problems over accommodating numbers and balancing the books, challenging the Governing Body to find ways to secure the financial future of the school. I am always pleased that the majority of the members of the Governing Body are regular worshippers in church as this sustains the vital link of church and school.
Beyond the parish, the annual joint parish pilgrimage with Catford St Laurence went to Trani in Apulia to stay with a community of sisters on the seacoast, allowing us to visit the shrines of Padre Pio and, in Bari, Saint Nicholas. Next year it is hoped to travel to Trieste and the ancient Romano Christian city of Aquileia in the North East of Italy around the 1915 battlefields of the Italian Austrian Front.
As part of my own contribution to the well spring of the wider church I continue, for the twelfth year, to serve as Bishop’s nominee (Arts Adviser) on the DAC, the statutory body that advises the diocesan Chancellor on the care and maintenance of churches, and write regular art reviews for the Church Times and occasionally elsewhere.
For want of a priestly colleague I have again been forced to decline most invitations to preach elsewhere and to attend congresses and seminars but in March 2014 I agreed to address the 46th annual Eucharistic Congress held by the Polish Bishops in the former Free University of Lublin, now the University of Pope John Paul II, in E Poland. I greatly valued being the Anglican representative there and, at their behest, spoke of ‘Sin and Sinfulness in the Church of England 1964- 2014’! I worried that this was a call for tabloid paper coverage but since the congress marked the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council I addressed issues of confession and reconciliation in the light of the newer liturgies offered as alternatives in the period to the Book of Common Prayer.
In our own national church the ordination of women to the episcopate raises new issues for a parish such as ours that previously has passed resolutions to ensure the sacramental ministry of male priests could continue without the uncertainty that ordaining women had necessarily brought with it as a change from the majority practice of the Church. With the passing of the 2014 Act and subsequently the likelihood of women priests becoming bishops the older 1994 resolutions will be replaced by new safeguards. I will ask the PCC in 2015 to consider taking steps to ensure that the parish here can have the fullest security of knowing that the priestly order representing the bishop here is acceptable to all.
This is not a new debate on the issue of the ordination of women which has already taken place but is to ensure the breadth of pastoral outreach is maintained within the Episcopal structure of the CofE.
I am convinced that like all churches we need to maintain a high profile in the web community and I am grateful to Alastair Stewart for overseeing the web page, to Ashley Ings for establishing feed accounts for donations to the Organ Fund and to Richard Swann for establishing a Twitter account to publicise events beyond our immediate number. Christians have always embraced new ways to spread the Gospel (Matthew xxviii) and we should not hold back in the 21st century.
Much of what you see and can do in church is due to an army of volunteers, many of them unseen, of whom without prejudice I can name Lucy Cottrell as a tireless Hon PCC Secretary and Kirsty Williamson who keeps an eye on the calendar of events, Sarah Whitehouse who brings together a monthly group to clean and tidy church – more volunteers please! Dr Clare Dowding and John Heath resourcefully co-ordinate the regular weekly Bible Study Group and Di Greenwood continues to host the Prayer Group. Without them and without our sidesmen, servers and choristers ours would be a pale offering to the Lord.
29 April 2015
S Catherine of Siena