Dietrich Bonoeffer, that giant of 20th-century Christian thinking, was passionate that the church should be fully involved in the life of its community. ‘The church is her true self only when she exists for humanity,’ he wrote. ‘She must take part in the social life of the world, not lording it over men, but helping and serving them.’ I like to think that if Dietrich looked through the pages of this annual and saw all the rich and varied ministries that go on across the benefice, he would think that we were heading in the right direction.
In preparation for writing this report I looked back on last year’s report, written by the Rector. In it he listed ‘some of the highlights’ of the year - there were 37 entries! As I flick through the colourful pages of this terrific ‘annual’ (expertly designed by Rob Doble - is there no end to his talents?) I am impressed that Matthew was able to keep it down to 37! There really is so much going on across the benefice, and we need to celebrate these good news stories, because that is what they are. There are too many news articles out there opining the view that the church is at best an antiquated institution, at worst an irrelevance, but in these pages we glimpse something very different. Here there is hope. A hope grounded in the reality that all that we do - from helping at ‘little ones’ to lighting a Christingle, serving in the food bank to clearing the church guttering – contributes towards God’s own mission, to bring restoration and renewal to all people through Jesus.
As you can already tell I am not going to list ministries that go on across the benefice. The articles in this annual tell their own stories.
That said, it is worth mentioning a couple of things. Firstly, the reordering at St John’s. I think we can all agree that this has been a great success. Yes, the removal of the pews was going to be contentious – the sturdy pew has always been an object of affection throughout Christendom - but with them gone the space is transformed, and St John’s can now host a whole range of church activities throughout the week easily, as well as create varied and intimate worship spaces. Undertaking the reordering of any church building is quite a feat and those involved in the one at St John’s should be congratulated for their tenacity and patience! There are further plans afoot as the Buildings’ Committee look to the next stage of reordering, which will involve improving kitchen facilities and adding a toilet. Likewise, the PCC in Wellow are working hard on plans to improve facilities in St. Julian’s.
It has been good to have events that have brought all the church families together , like of the ‘church weekend at home’, featuring Dr Stephen Backhouse as well as the more regular joint services. To my mind, these have been an excellent addition to our calendar, fostering a greater sense of unity across the benefice.
As I write this, our much-loved Rector Matthew is recuperating from an operation that took place at the beginning of 2019. It is a testimony to his meticulous planning and organisation that the benefice has run efficiently without him. But there is more to say here - the St J’s Group is not a machine, however well-oiled it might be, but made up of a whole range of gifted, faithful and generous people who have given so much of their time and energy to serve the churches and wider communities in a whole range of ways, many of which do not feature within these pages, but are no less significant in God’s economy. On behalf of Matthew and Jane and the churchwardens, please accept our heartfelt appreciation for all you have done over this year.
On a personal note, as my curacy ends and we move to Stoke Gifford and I take up an Associate Vicar post at St Michael’s, can I say a huge thank you to you all for welcoming us into your lives over the past four years. We have loved living and learning amongst you and are enormously grateful for your warmth, generosity of spirit and love. During one of my first meetings with Matthew, he was adamant that ‘we are here for you, not the other way round. The St J’s Group is here to help and support your training in whatever way we can.’ It sounded nice, but a part of me thought it was just a line churches have to say to curates. Believe me, it’s a rare thing for a curate to hear that from their training incumbent! Looking back on the four years I realise that it was not just a line but a genuine statement of fact that typifies Matthew’s approach to all ministry and leadership. So, Matthew, thank you for ‘being Matthew’, Jane, thank you for all your many acts of kindness to us and, finally, thank you St John’s, Wellow, Shoscombe with Foxcote.
We will not forget you.
Rev T Benyon