Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Swansea Deanery Ministry Area Presentation

This may, or may not be the place to put the following presentation, but as people read this blog from the parish it may be helpful.

AREA DEANERY PRESENTATION—February 26th 2014 St. Stephen’s

Welcome. Thank you for coming. This meeting has several aims:
1. To provide information about the reason why proposed changes are necessary.
2. To give an indication of what changes are required,
3. To outline of how those changes will affect us.
4. To give you an opportunity to respond and ask questions.

First then let’s begin with prayer remembering that we are God’s church, God’s people. That like Jesus we are about our Father’s business and that God has entrusted us certain privileges and responsibilities which we must discharge carefully and in a spirit of love and mutual cooperation.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church to lead us into all truth and keep us on the right path. Please then face us in the right direction, and teach us not to lean on our own understanding, but in all our ways to acknowledge you. Keep us steadfast in faith, united in love, and open to all that you want to say to us this evening; for your greater glory we pray. Amen.

READINGS: Luke 15:1-10; 19:10

PARABLE - The life-saving stations
On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters—but most of the people drown.

Let us pray

Our Father….

Diocesan Vision Prayer

God grant us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change;
courage to change the things we can;
and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.


In 2010 the Governing Body of the Church in Wales met to consider the state of the Church in Wales. What prompted them? Two things—negative and positive:

Negative: They were responding to a number of factors that were a cause for concern and needed addressing:
1. The decline in church membership (see slide 1)
Comment: Not had 2013 figures yet but likely to be somewhere around 50,000
Also of concern is
2. The forthcoming retirement of a large number of clergy in the next 4-5 years.
3. The shortage of ordinands (3 theological colleges have closed)
4. The growing financial burden on the parishes
Note that the number of church buildings has dropped only 21% compared to over 63% drop in membership—those who contribute to the ministry and the buildings.
5. The low numbers of children and young people
6. The growing distance between the church and younger generation.

So negatively the Church in Wales like any responsible organisation saw that these things needed addressing.

But—and its an important ‘but’ - the Church in Wales is not just any organisation it is the Church of God and therefore at the same time it recognised that just as it needed to ‘listen’ to the message the statistics and figures was giving, they also needed to listen to what God was saying too.

C.S. Lewis in his book “The Problem of Pain” wrote: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to a deaf world.” 

In other words the Church in Wales has asked the important question, what is God saying to us in this. Is God using the decline we are experiencing—the pain as C.S.Lewis puts it—to call us back to what exactly we are here for, to help heal a damaged world?

And so positively the Church in Wales set up an external review “with particular reference to structure and use of resources to increase the effectiveness of the Church’s ministry and witness.”

That is not to say good work hasn’t and isn't done and I speak for my fellow clergy in acknowledging the hard work, the faithful life and witness of Church folk throughout the years. But something clearly needs to be done and the panel met to consider how best to move forward.

How can we respond positively to what is happening to the Church? So a review panel was set up comprising Professor Charles Handy adviser in business and organisational theory, Lord Harries former Bishop of Oxford and Professor Patricia Peattie from the Church of Scotland who has vast experience in top positions in the NHS alongside her church work.

Their review panel visited every diocese in the Church in Wales, meeting with the bishop and Diocesan team in each holding open meetings for Church members to express their views.

They also met with the GB, the Standing Committee, the Bench of Bishops, the Representative Body as well as staff and students of St. Michael’s Colege. And it also held a special meeting with a representative group of young people as well as the views of over 1200 members of the Church in Wales via letter and email etc.

The Archbishop introduced the Review’s recommendations by saying:
“This could be a hugely significant moment in the life of the Church in Wales, and an unique opportunity to achieve the change demanded so clearly by our members throughout the Province. As a Church we MUST grasp this opportunity.”

And so part of the outcome to all this is the creation of Ministry Areas which are being rolled out across the whole of the Church in Wales.

(Slide 2) The following is the geography of the proposed ministry area centred on Swansea.

(Slide 3) This encompasses the following parishes and churches.

In reaching the decision the clergy from each proposed area have met and considered a number of different factors. For example historic groupings and connections, geographical location and proximity of church to centres of population, parish connections with one another. E.g. in my last Deanery of Penderi which comprised Cockett, Caereithin, Manselton, Cwmbwrla and Treboeth each parish is very close to each other, they all fit into an area with fairly clear boundaries and there has been much close social interaction, sharing of services and events over the years that it naturally lends itself to becoming a Ministry Area.

In terms of Swansea again there seem to be natural boundaries in terms of the churches this side of the river which places us together. And on the East side there is a historic connection between St. Thomas and Glantawe although in addition Llansamlet has older associations with Glantawe and doesn't quite fit geographically with Morriston to the West or Clydach to the North. It seemed sensible then to join the east and west of the river and forma Ministry Area encompassing the churches on the map.

As we come to an end of this brief presentation let me add a few things to consider and then we can open up to any questions:

First, it is instructive to consider how many Church in Wales churches there are in the Archdeaconry of Gower—68—attended by 1912 people which averages 28.1 people per church. The same geographic area is served by just 13 Roman Catholic churches, roughly the number of churches in the proposed Swansea Ministry Area.

Second, although the facts and figures I have presented can on the face of it appear a little depressing we have to remember who we are. We are not Woolworth’s or Blockbuster’s where a declining number of customers means an end to business. We are the Church of God and at the heart of our faith is the foolishness and the mystery of the cross where Jesus was crucified and all appeared lost. But on the third day he rose again defeating sin and death. In the words of Pope John Paul 2nd:

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Lastly, death proceeds resurrection. Jesus once said: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

We must not be afraid to embrace the death of the church we once knew because we know the central truth of our Christian faith that through death comes resurrection.

Any questions.

Showed the following figures:

1959 the total membership of the Church in Wales (over 18) was 155,056
with a total of 1,087 paid and unpaid clergy,
serving 1,785 churches.

2001 figures showed a total membership of 80,258
with a total of 745 paid and unpaid clergy,
serving 1,475 churches.

2011 the total membership of the Church had dropped to 57,207 a 63% drop since 1959,
served by 840 clergy – paid and unpaid – which is a 41% drop
serving 1,407 churches, which is only a 21% drop.

Showed the geographic area served by the new Ministry Team

Identified the churches

Showed categories A-E which identified which Churches were considered viable or not (see below)

Category A
Those places where a continuing Christian witness is sustainable and/or strategically important:
St. Gabriel, St. James, St. Margaret, St.Mary, St. Nicholas, St. Thomas

Category B
Those places where the church community has a limited life-span, either due to the poor position or state of repair of church buildings, or poor numbers (with inevitable reduced skill-base):
All Saints, St. Barnabas, St. Peter.

Category C
Those places that were in reasonably good order and could offer alternative use:
Ss. Mark and John, St. Stephen

Category D
Those places that need to close due to serious structural issues:
St. Jude

Category E
Those places that could possibly see some resurgence as mission and outreach are developing:

No comments:

Lottery. Good or bad?

The following is a sermon I gave in response to some concerns raised about our application for a Lottery Grant to renovate our church and ch...