One of the main things I have been doing over the last month or so, as part of my role as Area/Rural Dean, is to carry out Visitations of the parishes in the Farnham deanery on behalf of the Archdeacon. This happens every three years for every parish in the diocese and is an in-depth ‘inspection’ of the church and churchyard as well as checks on areas such as safeguarding, fire safety, insurance, finances and making sure that the inventory has been carried out and all is in order, and that all the registers are up to date and correctly kept.
The Visitation task has been very time-consuming, but it has also been a privilege to have an opportunity for that kind of detailed insight into other local parishes, and to spend some time with their clergy and churchwardens. One of the best parts for me is the chat that goes alongside the Inspection – about parish life, how things are going and the joys and difficulties that each church community finds. It has certainly made me appreciate once again how much some people contribute to the life of all these local churches and their amazing level of commitment to God’s work. But it’s true too that in most places there is also a real need for more people to take on tasks and responsibilities and to share the load. The ‘80/20 rule’ is still alive and well – 20% of the people doing 80% of what needs to be done!
Churchwardens are just amazing people! I am already very aware of it with our wonderful St Peter’s wardens, but it has been reinforced to me by each visitation I’ve carried out. There is a lot of preliminary paperwork for churchwardens to deal with before the Visitation, and that is of course only a tiny reflection of the huge amount of work they put into all these areas during the course of each year. I’m sure most people are blissfully unaware of the huge range of responsibilities that fall to churchwardens and the many different things they just get on with, quietly and faithfully, day by day and week by week.
Of course, here at St Peter’s, as well as in the other parishes, there are also many other people giving time and energy in different areas of church life, each of them offering something to God in the things they do. We need every single one of them (you)! Because contrary to popular belief there is no ‘them’! Our church life is all about ‘us’ as we work together, inspired and guided by God to express his life within and amongst us.
There is no ‘they’ who will do what needs doing – it is ‘us’. There is no ‘they’ who will fund what needs funding – it is ‘us’. There is no ‘they’ who pays for the costs of ministry here – it is ‘us’ through what we as a parish contribute to diocesan funds. There is no ‘they’ in God’s work here. It is all about ‘us’ as members of the Christian community here, part of Christ’s body, prayerfully listening to God’s purposes for us and working out together how we live out those purposes in our parish. So don’t be shy, please do offer any time, skills or interests that you have and that will help to keep our church a living and active community here.
But my main reflections from my summer of visitations can really be summarised in two short phrases, and I leave those with you.
Firstly: There is no ‘them’, only ‘us’ (working together with God.)
Secondly: Love your churchwardens.
(And support and encourage them, they do an absolutely amazing job.)
Yours in Christ,
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