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Vicar's report to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting 2024

The future

Fairly regularly, people who I do know and people who I do not know approach me either face to face or on the internet and ask for advice about some issue they are facing. Often, these issues become overwhelming and I receive a lot of requests for help when things have become too much for people – one of the responsibilities of Priests now is to be active in Cyberspace and to offer support there because that is where people are – but I always think ‘if only you had said something to someone sooner’.

Most issues tend to get too much to cope with because the people involved in them did not act sooner – debt, mental ill health, addiction, domestic violence, gang enslavement, whatever it might be. And there are very good reasons why people were unable to act beforehand, through fear, a lack of an eloquent enough voice to be heard, oppression and so on. Much of the work of the church is and always has been enabling people without a voice to be heard and to find a place at the table which belongs to God Himself, and to speak as an equal member of the Body of Christ.

What, then, are the issues facing us, in this part of the Body of Christ, here in Blackpool? Are there things which we should be speaking about which we are not, for one good reason or another which may overwhelm us at some unspecified time in the near or distant future? It is my opinion that there are, and they are these;

  1. We are fearful that we are a smallish, ageing congregation.

  2. We have a beautiful campus in the middle of an area which has little interest in it.

  3. We are not an attractional Church – people come and, generally, go.

So, what are we going to do about this? First of all, we need to speak to each other about these things, to make sure that there is nothing we cannot say, and to listen to each other. We also, equally importantly, need to pray around these issues – I often hear ‘we have no young people’, so when was the last time you prayed that we will attract families? We pray for our own health and those who we know, but maybe not so much for those who we do not know, but whom we wish to meet.

I offer no set answers to these issues, but I intend, with our Wardens and PCC, to facilitate conversations around our future and how we can, now, begin to build the church we want to have in ten years, when I hope these conversations will be necessary again to the people who now sit where we are today.

The past

These reports are about the past, the time just gone which we have lived together. We had a good 2023, I believe. On a personal note, I moved here (in the rain, naturally!) in January and was installed in mid-February (I think it was raining!) and since then we have begun to get to know each other. You will, I hope, have realised now that I have a dry sense of humour and that I do not and never have put on a Priest ‘act’. I live with you, and worship with you, and we have a relationship that is based on honesty, on good and bad times and sharing those. Like you, I have good days and bad days and I’m not shy of sharing that, as I hope you are not with me. An attractional church is one that people walk into and encounter a life lived in community which is not afraid to show its wounds and to share its joys. Every Christian is a monk or a nun, sharing in a communal life of prayer, eating, drinking, working and being with each other. That’s the kind of church people don’t want to leave and it’s getting hard to find now, in our days of performative worship in big buildings. I miss walking down my road in London down the canal onto Portobello Road and into the great Royal Parks, but I love walking by the sea and being in Blackpool.

We should thank a number of people – in fact there is nobody we do not need to thank, so I’m not going to name everyone here. But Keith and Ian have done another sterling job. Ian steps down this year as Warden (although that is really an item for next years Report) and we thank him for doing a job well which he by his own admission did not really want to do. Well done.

I can’t say much about January or early February, and my handwriting is so poor that looking back at my diary is not always very useful. It’s lucky that I am never asked ‘where were you on the night of xx’ by the Police, because all I could do is to show squiggles in my diary! Lent began on the 22nd of February, and we welcomed Langdale School for a few classes, who sadly shut down at the end of the Academic Year, due to falling numbers. The usual Churches Together Lent Lunches began, and were generally well attended, even if they are hard to find! Lent Study Groups also began, setting a now familiar pattern, and Westminster School came for a few classes in church as well. On Palm Sunday we went to Tarleton for the

Chrism Mass and some of us were waylaid in the Cock and Bottle Public House up the road. Holy Week was a joy, as always, and a big thank you to our servers, sacristans, choir, musicians, flower arrangers, cleaners, polishers and everyone else for that.

Fr Paul and Ruth marked their Ruby Wedding in mid April, ad multos annos. In late April, work on the roof began, and the first scaffolding went up, which marked time until the late Autumn. This was the result of so much hard work over a long time, and well done to everyone for saving our buildings. In mid May we had an Italian Night in the hall, and we do our functions and catering so well, it’s good to see the evenings going from strength to strength.

In June we held the Requiem Mass of Margaret Powis Flint, may she rest in peace. We also had our first parish wine tasting – there should be more of these. Later that month, the Heritage Forum met here, cementing a good relationship, and I began attending and speaking at the monthly Blackpool Creatives Meetings at the Old Electric. On the 8th July, Fr Harry celebrated his Golden Anniversary of Ordination which Fr Josh spoke at, shortly after his ordination as a Deacon. Congratulations to them both.

Our Summer Discussion series began in July, and Amy White, Diocesan Lay Training Officer, came to see us and shortly after, Cathy began applying to be a Parish Reader. August brought the wedding of Laura and Anthony, and our prayers go with them, and there was even more smoke than usual on campus the next day, as we had the parish BBQ.

In September, John Byrne began to hand over his Home Communion rounds to Cathy, thank you John for your many years of devoted care. We also had the Funeral of Mark in Lytham Crematorium. May he rest in peace. Later that month, we had a large interfaith meeting with the Council, hosted here at St Stephens and I gave a talk at Layton Methodist Church about vestments, which they were surprisingly interested in! Walsingham came hot on its heels (or tassels) and we enjoyed a few days in that blessed place.

In October, Fr Paul Nener had his funeral in Haydock and Lorna began her long illness before her subsequent death. May they rest in peace. November brought Masses in the Columbarium for All Souls and weekly requiems, as well as more Baptisms – we had a very good number in 2023 and more this year. The North Blackpool Regeneration Group also began to meet more frequently, and we had the annual ‘Paras’ service in a local hotel. In late November, I began making the annual Damson Gin and also preparations for Christmas.

The Christmas Fair (and indeed the Summer Fair earlier) broke all records, and were hugely enjoyed, especially marked by our new outside Christmas Tree, kindly provided by Danny and Michele our Councillors, and lit by them as well. Blessings on them for all they do for the community. Advent was beautiful, as Advent always is, and we had a packed Crib Service on the Eve of Christmas, and very fine services for Christmas and of course our Patronal Festival, when Cantantes Domino sang as well as always and Revd. Rachel Fielding Deaconed the High Mass and gave a rousing sermon to wake us up from left over turkey.

The present

It is May 2024 now, and a third of the year after this report is already gone, and APCM reports chronicle the past, which we hope will inform the present. We had a good year, but we must continue to bring ourselves round to face and embrace the world as it is seen and encountered and perceived by those who are young now. Those of us who remember the Millennium with some excitement, as I do, will also be aware that there are now Police Sergeants who were not then born, and your Doctor in Hospital may have been a baby when we were celebrating. Time has moved on, and the Church needs to speak unchanging, timeless words of peace, hope and love to those who have yet to hear us or see us – or indeed who perceive us as a negative force.

There is mysticism in what we do and rightly so, there is beauty in it, and rightly so – but we have to bring people to this mystical beauty by showing an authentic community of people who have changed their lives in accord with what we encountered here – being nice does not cut the mustard! Being changed and moulded into Disciples does, love attracts, love shown and lived authentically. Then, we can get to the truth;

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’’.

We have work to do, and that work is urgent and hard, but it leads to salvation. Nothing else matters, does it?

Fr Andrew.


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