Today is our Annual Church Meeting, an important occasion in the life of the church, when we have the opportunity to look back at the events of the past year, and look ahead to the challenges and opportunities that lie before us.
This is the ninth annual report that I have delivered at St Martin's, but in some ways I feel that it is one of the most important that I have delivered, as the next few years will be a crucial time for St Martin's.
I want to start this report by thanking our wardens David and Mick, for their commitment and service to St Martin's during the past year. It is not only their help in practical matters, but their concern for the spiritual life of the church as well which is so important. Particular thanks must go to Mick who is stepping as Church Warden after many years in the role, and to Julie who has agreed to stand as warden along with David.
This year we also saw three people leave the Ministry Team, Diane Sainsbury, Jane Quinn and Jackie Brown. They have all contributed so much to the life of St Martin's through the Ministry Team, and I would like to thank them for their continued service of the church. Their departure does however create a number of vacancies on the Ministry Team, which I hope we will fill in the next few months. A lot of new initiatives have grown out of the Ministry Team over the years, including Messy Church, the Prayer Breakfast, and the Community Cafe, and having a strong Ministry Team is important if St Martin's is going to rise to the challenges facing us as a church in the future.
I would also like to thank Roger Turner for his careful oversight of church finances as treasurer. Roger has said he is prepared to serve as treasurer for one more year, but intends to step down from the role at next year’s Annual Church Meeting, which means we will need to find someone who can take over this important responsibility in a year’s time.
I would like also to thank Jane Wharton for the work she does as hall lettings manager, particularly in being the main point of contact between the church and hall users. As a church we are heavily reliant on the income that we receive through letting our halls - we simply couldn't do the things we do without this income. We are however very vulnerable should we lose any of our hall users. It costs £1700 a week to run St Martin's, or £20 per week per adult based on our average Sunday attendance of 84 adults a week. One of the challenges we face as a church is to become less reliant on the income that we get through hall lettings. In a few weeks’ time I will writing to everyone on the Electoral Roll to ask you to review your giving to the church. Please do give prayerful consideration to my letter. As Christians we are called to be good stewards of the resources God has given us, and to give generously and enthusiastically.
It was just over a year since we completed the reordering project in the church. I am particularly grateful to Bill Bolus for his professional advice and guidance, and for acting as intermediary between the church, the architect and contractors. We have now had chance to get use to the changes, and I believe the time and effort that went into this project was well worth it. The focus now is on addressing the problems with the flat roof over the corridor, toilets and prayer room, which will entail quite a significant financial undertaking.
During this last year we have also seen the launch of a new adult daytime home group, plus the launch of a monthly Messy Church Home Group for children in Year 4 and above, that Martin and Jackie run. I would like to see everyone in St Martin's involved in a home group, as I believe they are key to helping people grow and mature as Christians, as well as strengthening the bonds of fellowship.
The PCC established two subcommittees. One to look into the possibility of appointing a children's and families worker - which I will come onto later, and one to look into the needs and priorities of the older members of our church family. A lot of the focus of the Older Persons Sub Committee has been on the question of pastoral care. We recognise that a lot of pastoral care takes place in St Martin's on a very informal level, but we are keen to explore how we can build on this. With this in mind a pastoral care group has been formed, and we are looking at how we can ensure that everyone receives the support and help that they may need, whoever they may be. If you know anyone who needs pastoral support, please let Lesley Bates know, as she is the contact person for the pastoral care group. We will soon be producing pastoral care cards which will be available in church, so if you know anyone who has a pastoral need, you will be able to put their details on this pastoral care card and either place it in a secured box so others can’t see the request, or pass it on to Lesley.
Last year I was able to take a three month sabbatical, I am extremely grateful to Phill, the Wardens and Ministry Team for so ably looking after St Martin's in my absence. The sabbatical gave me the opportunity to reflect on my ministry and priorities for the future. As I said at the start of this report, I believe the next few years will be crucial for St Martin's, and the main thing that came out of my sabbatical for me, was that as a church we need to be putting much more emphasis into the task of discipleship.
The great commission that Jesus gave to his church was to go and make disciples of all nations, to grow committed, faithful followers of Jesus. What struck me about visiting Malaysia last year, was to see the impact churches were having on their communities, which was a direct result of the emphasis placed on discipleship.
It is for this reason that I have launched the Pilgrim Course here at St Martin's, which is a new discipleship course produced by the Church of England, designed to help people consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It is my hope and prayer that Pilgrim will have a significant impact on the lives of people here in St Martin's, and that we can build on this course to develop a rolling discipleship program. I would encourage anyone who wants to grow in their faith, or to explore where God may be leading them next, to consider joining the Pilgrim Course.
In May we will also be launching a new sermon series entitled 'Fruitfulness on the Frontline,' which I hope will help us to explore how God can work in and through us on our frontline, the place where we spend the majority of our time, whether that be at work, looking after children, or grandchildren, in the club, wherever we may be.
Also in May we plan to launch a worship course, entitled Worship Matters. We hope that everyone involved in leading worship, whether that be singing in the choir, playing in the music group, leading prayers, doing Bible readings, or leading worship in church, will join this course, along with those who'd like to get involved in leading worship at St Martin's. The purpose of this course is to provide theological reflection on why worship is so important, as well as offering practical help and support for those who lead worship.
Helping to train and equip people for leadership in the church is all part of the focus on discipleship.
Walsall Deanery is currently in the process of reducing the number of stipendiary clergy to 17.5 posts by 2017. This has meant some difficult decisions have had to be made about where clergy are deployed, and that the days of one clergyperson to one church is no longer sustainable.
I have been in post 8 and a half years, and for me the last 12 months have been an important time to pray and reflect on what God wants for me and my ministry. I believe that for the time being, God wants me to be here at St Martin's, but when I do eventually move on, we need to face the possibility that St Martin's will not be offered a full stipendiary post. We therefore need to think about what our priorities are as a church when it comes to leadership and how we can encourage greater lay involvement in the life of the church. This leads us back to the importance of discipleship.
I mentioned earlier that a subcommittee has been looking into the possibility of appointing a children's and family worker for the church. Before I say more about this I would like to show you the following video:
I appreciate that sometimes children can be a bit noisy and disruptive, but we are extremely fortunate that we have children in church, and it is vital that we value and support the youngest members of our church family as well as their parents and grandparents. Sadly there are many churches in Walsall and beyond who have no children at all, and it is important St Martin's does not become one of those churches.
It is for this reason that we are exploring the possibility of employing a part time children’s and family worker, in order to build and develop the work that is already going on through the parent and toddler group, Messy Church, Messy Home Group and the Sunday groups.
If we do decide to appoint a children’s and family worker it will be a significant undertaking, both financially and also in terms of stepping out in faith, as there is no guarantee of success. If we were to appoint a children’s and family worker, we would be looking at a 3 year contract. Please pray about this decision, as it would be a significant one for the whole church, and therefore needs the whole church to back this project, both financially and also through a commitment to prayer.
I do believe the next few years will be crucial for St Martin’s. Where do we hope to see the church in five or ten years’ time? How can we grow committed disciples, reach new generations and serve the wider community?
We will not achieve anything on our own, only with God leading and directing us will we see growth transformation and renewal in the life of St Martin’s.
The Bible readings today all have the theme of resurrection and new life at the heart of them. The Old Testament reading which we didn’t have, is from Ezekiel chapter 37, and the valley of the dry bones. God says through his prophet Ezekiel ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ And God promises to ‘put my spirit within you, and you shall live’.
The Gospel reading tells us the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and in our reading from Romans we are reminded that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells within us.
These readings should give us hope and confidence. The God who raises the dead, can breathe new life and new hope into his church and it is to him we should place our hope and trust.
It is for this reason that Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.’ (Ephesians 3:20-21)