Looking back after 18 years
At the end of this month (December), our Rector, Bill Jacob, will retire as the Archdeacon of Charing Cross after 18 years in post. We therefore include his parting reflections on the changes he has seen in the lives of the parishes of the archdeaconry over this time. From ourselves at St Giles, a ‘Thank You’ to Bill, our Rector, for the many years in which he has somehow, and against all the odds, managed both to actively serve the many parishes of his Archdeaconry as well as overseeing and leading the people and congregation of St Giles itself. There are very few Archdeacons anywhere who combine a pastoral ministry as well as being a Venerable, and surely none in such a demanding and challenging environment as the West End of London. So we simply say ‘Thank You’ and ‘Well Done.’
Bill writes: The Church in this part of London is, I think, in a very different position from its situation in the mid-1990s. It was widely regarded as a no-go area for women clergy and Evangelical parishes; clergy tended to feel excluded; church attendance and electoral roll membership appeared to be declining quite sharply; and a high proportion of the churches in the City of London were threatened with closure.
However, significant changes were already in hand. David Hope, in his short time as Bishop of London, asked all PCCs to produce a mission action plan, to encourage them to look positively to the future, and to think about what they might realistically do to grow congregations. The governance of the Diocese was severely pruned, a qualified accountant was appointed as General Secretary (to provide us the first qualified accountant we had had to manage the Diocese’s finance), budget setting was introduced, and a new regime was put in place for identifying, managing and maintaining parsonage houses and investment properties to ensure that income from the latter increased.
Then the Common Fund was introduced as a way of encouraging PCCs to think of themselves as generous contributors to supporting the provision of clergy for themselves and for poorer parishes, rather than regarding themselves as victims of arbitrary taxation imposed by the Diocese.
With our present Bishop these foundations have been further built upon. Within months of becoming Bishop he had the opportunity to appoint two Area Bishops, a Suffragan Bishop, and two archdeacons, and to influence the appointment of a new Dean of St Paul’s. As a result the tone of the Church in London began to change. A ‘can do’ culture has been encouraged: if people had ideas, they were encouraged to test them out, to see whether they worked. So-called ‘Big Evangelical churches’ felt included and allowed to take initiatives in planting new congregations. Grants and loans were offered to PCC’s to assist them in upgrading their church halls to accommodate community projects, and to generate additional income.
The most outstanding example of this is St Martin-in-the-Fields, where the PCC raised £37.5 million to accommodate the Chinese Community Centre and St Martin’s work with the homeless, and also to provide much better premises for their extensive pan-London, national and international mission and ministry. But there were and are lots of smaller and equally valuable projects in parishes across the Diocese. Many of our most multiply deprived parishes have the mixed blessing of vast, beautiful, but decaying churches: but with financial support from English Heritage help has been provided to support PCC’s in drawing up action plans and fundraising to help them cope with the burden of their buildings, and to see them as assets and opportunities for outreach and mission. None of the churches in the City of London have been closed, and all of them are now open most days, with regular services and other activities happening in them.
What’s more, the Diocese now recruits the highest proportion of ordination candidates, (especially candidates under forty), of any diocese in the Church of England, about a third of whom each year go on to work in other dioceses. Congregation and electoral roll numbers have significantly increased since 1996; congregational giving has, unlike the income of almost all other charities, kept up with inflation since the financial crash in 2009, so that the total income of the 408 PCC’s in the Diocese (excluding the mega-Holy Trinity Brompton) in 2013 was over £100 million. Together, Church of England parishes are the largest providers of voluntary social services and of work with children and young people in the eighteen boroughs which comprise the Diocese, and we provide, as at St Giles, hospitality for many more voluntary organisations, such as AA and NA, and many others. We have an increasing proportion of women clergy, and probably the youngest average age of clergy of any diocese and, in my observation, the average age of PCC members and churchwardens, certainly in this archdeaconry, has dropped significantly. The London Diocesan Board for Schools, with over 150 schools, including a number of new secondary schools established in the last ten or twelve years, is larger than any of the London local education authorities, and we are working more closely than before to integrate schools within the life of their parish churches.
So, despite our poor public image, the Church in the Diocese of London is a vibrant, thriving, energetic, forward-looking body, and this includes members of congregations, who have very significant roles in the life of the nation, of London itself, of the professions, major companies and corporations and charities, as well as of their local communities. In so many ways the Church witnesses to God’s love in every aspect of the life of London. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that I have seen much happening over the past eighteen or so years and it is very good!
Giving in Advent & Christmas
This year we are collecting for the Holy Cross Centre, Kings Cross, a church-based project offering support to those with housing and mental health needs. We’ll obtain some literature to provide more information about their work. Our collections at the Advent Carol Service on 30th November, the Community Carol Service on the 17th, the Carol Service on the evening of the 21st, and on Christmas Day itself will all be given to the work of this charity.
Thank you to all who gave towards the work of the HALO Trust in November. We are most grateful. In December the pattern of our giving to missions and charities varies a little. Each year we choose a locally-based charity working in some way with the homeless community and those in inadequate accommodation.
The Buried Treasure Bible Reading Group
We shall continue our journey of reading in December through the incredible world of the Old Testament. It’s full of the most outrageous history and stories, and home to some of the most sublime literature. In December we shall meet on the Tuesdays 2nd, 9th, and the 16th. A break for Christmas and the New Year won’t hurt us, and we shall start up again on Tuesday, 13th January.
The 2014 – 2015 Community Audit
After some delay, we are now ready to embark on sending out questionnaires as part of our Community Audit. Members of our congregations, and other friends, will shortly receive the questionnaire together with a short covering letter from myself (on behalf of the PCC). Part of the letter says: ‘We want to know more about the community around St Giles so that we can be a better church for its people. We like to think we know quite a lot already, but it is mostly anecdotal and I’m also sure we miss a great deal. We’ve begun gathering facts and figures, and will spend some time engaging with people from the wider residential, commercial and cultural community. But we also want to know what our congregation think about this part of London: what draws them here, what they think its needs are, and what we might do in the future to be a godly people for, and to, the frantic world on our doorstep.’ I very much hope you can all take just a little time not only to fill in the questionnaire (it really won’t take long), but more importantly to give some thought to the relationship St Giles currently has with its surroundings (as you see it) and the relationship it might yet have in the time to come. Change has been happening all around us for years now, and it shows no sign of disappearing soon. How can we best live out and embody the presence of God? (Answers on a small questionnaire please). Alan Carr
A Christmas Buffet Lunch
We would like to invite everyone from our regular Sunday morning congregation to a special, seasonal Christmas lunch after the 11am Sung Eucharist on 21st December. That means that we shall be able to begin around 12.30 to 12.45pm. We shall serve and eat together in the Vestry House and there will be enough to fill everyone up! Please make a note and come along. If you can let me know, all to the good, but if not just come.
An Evening with Adrian Plass
Some of you may be interested in joining the people of the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church and the Swiss Church who are organising a special evening with the Christian writer, commentator and raconteur Adrian Plass. The evening, which is on the 10th December, begins at 7pm. The wider aim of the evening is to raise funds and awareness for a weekend of Christian teaching, drama, music and merriment next May, to be hosted by these two churches along with ourselves and St George’s, Bloomsbury. Dawn (from the Baptist Church) and Matt (from the Swiss Church) who are organising it, are hoping to attract many who might usually attend Christian events. You can obtain tickets for the 10th from an internet concert ticket agency called ‘Eventbrite.’