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The Benefice prays each morning on the Benefice Zoom site.  Everyone is welcome to join in whenever they would like to.
Times and details below.

Monday 9am on line ‘Lectio Divina’  (meditation prayer based on scripture)  - everyone welcome please email joe.neary@me.com for more details
Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9am On Line Morning Prayer  all welcome – please email rev.val@btinternet.com for more details
Wednesday morning 10am On line Morning Prayer all welcome – please email rev.val@btinternet.com for more details

All on the zoom link below:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/7063514497?pwd=RUhqNDNHVXZFMkdvRlpYUkVtSWJVZz09
Meeting ID: 706 351 4497,  Passcode: Church

 

Rector’s Report for 2021 APCMs

Looking back in my diary to January 2020 feels like looking back into a different world.  Those were the days when I could visit people in their own homes; when wedding couples could come to the Rectory; when funerals still happened in crowded churches and when I could welcome people into my home for meetings and meals.  

My high spot in January was my 60th birthday celebration when so many people from across the Benefice came for drinks in Daglingworth Village Hall after the Benefice service.  After this event I had the strange sense that this ‘wouldn’t happen again’. I’ve since wondered if God was gently warning me about what was ahead.  Anyway, I hope I’m wrong and pray that it will soon be safe to gather in large numbers – even if this has to happen outdoors.

God is a Community of Love – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and we, his beloved church, are called to be part of this Community.  Our faith is rooted in the idea of loving God and loving our neighbours; to do this well we need to know each other, we need to be able to meet.  I do thank God for Zoom which has enabled us to continue to worship and meet and even get to know people we didn’t know before.  Hopefully this will encourage us to venture out of our own Parish to Benefice events when they once again become possible.  So there are things to be celebrated – but there are also things to mourn.  As we go into the future we will need time to process all that we have learned from this experience and to work out how we can build on the good things. Hopefully it will also give us a new appreciation of the things that we’ve taken for granted over the years: the freedom to worship; singing hymns; Holy Communion; and the joy of being able to see each others’ entire face – and not just the eyes and forehead! 

We were involved in 16 Funerals/Thanksgivings in 2020.  I thank God that this number was not much higher than usual. I expected that with the age profile in the Benefice, Covid 19 would leave a much greater scar.  Some of these funeral services had to be reduced in size due to the prevailing restrictions; nonetheless I feel that each family found creative ways to make them a respectful and fitting  ‘goodbye’ for their loved one.  

We managed to hold two weddings in Daglingworth and a joint wedding and Baptism in Edgeworth during August and a hastily re-arranged wedding on the 25th December before the post-Christmas lockdown took effect.  It has been a difficult and disappointing year for our wedding couples – but hopefully the 11 postponed weddings will actually take place in 2021.  We also have many people who hope to have their babies baptised later in the year.

The Carers Group that had morphed into a ‘Carers/Bereavement Group’ managed to go out for lunch on the 23rd February before lockdown.  We’ve recently re-started this in a small way on Zoom. However, I’m looking forward to meeting next time in a garden over a cup of tea if the weather allows.

Similarly we had our last Cake and Communion on the 18th February – however, Zoom does give those who might otherwise be excluded from corporate worship the opportunity to join in from the warmth and comfort of their homes.  Sadly this is not the case for everyone due to lack of equipment, lack of confidence with technology or personal preference.  Everyone is precious to our God and our community and as we look into the future we need to ensure that we provide worship that is accessible for everyone.

It seems that worshipping on Zoom is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.  I’ve been asked by many people to continue with Zoom – even when we’re ‘back to normal’ – whilst other people will be very glad never to do this again!  So I will endeavour to keep a weekly streamed service from one of our churches and for as long as we are required to ‘socially distance’ it is a good solution for our monthly Benefice Service.

I was so pleased to have a Sabbatical in the autumn of 2020.  I decided not to postpone it even though my previous plans became unworkable.  Looking ahead I could also see that 2021 would be very busy because of all the postponed weddings and baptisms.  (Little did I imagine that we’d still be fairly ‘locked-down’ for half of it!)  Having spent much of the year in lockdown alone my priority for my sabbatical was now company and community, rather than silence and solitude as I’d originally planned.  I spent two weeks with the Society of Mary and Martha in Devon; we were ‘socially distanced’ at all times but I nevertheless enjoyed some much craved fellowship with other women clergy.  I also enjoyed three walking holidays with different friends: on Offa’s Dyke; the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and on the Cinque Terre in Italy.  My timing was perfect as each time I left a district they went into lockdown.  (I felt like the person who sees a lot of accidents but doesn’t have one!)

I was anxious about returning to the Benefice at the beginning of December, doubting my ability to ‘get back on the horse’ which was galloping at speed towards a very uncertain Christmas - would we be allowed to worship in our churches or not?  In the end we could – but for the people and Parishes that didn’t feel comfortable with this there was a Zoom option – many thanks to Rev Julie for leading this.

There are so many people to thank in what has been a very challenging year.  Despite our buildings being closed for much of the year, there are many jobs that have to be done regardless – and under more trying conditions. I’d especially like to thank the Wardens who have continued to oversee the care of our buildings; have undertaken continuously changing risk assessments in line with the latest advice and rulings; have taken charge of track and trace and booking people into services; and have been instrumental in keeping worshippers safe within our buildings.  I could not have done this without you – so thank you each of you. 

Another vote of thanks goes to our Treasurers – their job has not lessened at all because of lockdown.  I am also exceedingly grateful to everyone who has contributed to our Parishes during the last year.  The Parish Giving scheme has been a great bonus as giving has continued despite lack of collections in services.  There has been a loss of income in this year’s balance sheets because of postponed weddings.  Nevertheless each Parish has paid its Parish Share, which I am very grateful for.  I know that for some Parishes this has meant going into reserves – so we also need to thank the generations before us who accumulated reserves for the ‘rainy day’ we’ve experienced.  

Our PCC secretaries have also had a very busy year with so much having to be communicated by email – thank you secretaries, you have kept lines of communication open and I’m exceedingly grateful.

In 2019 I was invited to join an 18-month-long initiative called ‘Flourish’ which was being run jointly by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, the Church Pastoral Aid Society and the Diocese of Gloucester.  I invited a team of people to join me from across the Benefice and we met together for an introductory day with other teams from the Diocese in February 2020.  As with everything, Covid 19 disrupted the original plans; nevertheless sessions have continued to take place online.  The underlying premise of Flourish is:

  • The whole of our lives matters to God and there is no sacred/secular divide.  
  • God is active and present in the whole of our lives.
  • The Church is the body of God’s people called out for the sake of the world.
  • Mission is what happens whenever the Church is scattered in our everyday lives.

So this is all very much about integrating our faith life with our everyday life, with the hope that what happens when we meet together on a Sunday will equip us better to go out and be the ‘good news’ of the Gospel wherever we find ourselves during the week.  So for instance I’m often prayed for as ‘The Rector’ in Sunday services but many people in our congregations have jobs or are involved in voluntary organisations where they have the opportunity to make a positive impact in many people’s lives – so it’s important that we pray for these people too.  So it’s hoped that small changes in emphasis will gradually help what happens in Church feel more relevant and connected to what happens outside of Church.  

The Flourish team was originally gathered to help make these connections – however, through necessity it organically morphed into something of a working group for the Zoom services.  I am so grateful for the technical support I’ve received from the team in this, especially from Steve Brady and Joe Neary.  This team also did so much during my sabbatical.  Rev Julie Nelson has continued to be a massive support to me and to the team during my absence.  She has years of valuable experience in rural ministry and is a great asset to the Flourish team.  

We are also very blessed to have Canon Andrew Bowden living in Syde; my grateful thanks to him for all he did in 2020, including taking services during my Sabbatical.  A huge thank you also goes to Rev Nigel Scotland for his support during my sabbatical and for his continued willingness to lead services here on the first Sunday of the month, usually at Brimpsfield and Birdlip where his ministry is much appreciated.  

Our Reader Philip Ling, determined not to be beaten by the pandemic, has found increasingly creative ways of worshipping outdoors during 2020 which has successfully engaged the people of ‘The Duntisbournes’.  Sadly the pandemic has meant that we have seen little of Reader Alan Aspray as he has spent much of it in Dorset – but we hope to see him later on in 2021.

We are very blessed to have such a great team of people contributing to the life of the Church here – including the people who have completed the Diocesan Leading Worship Course.  Their willingness to lead worship enables a regular service pattern that would otherwise be impossible.  In this respect my special thanks go to Major Nick Musgrave, Roger Eldridge, Chris Seager-Berry and Penny Wright.  (I’m hoping that there will be another ‘Leading Worship’ Course happening in Cirencester soon – if this is something that interests you please do mention it to me.  It would be lovely to have more people trained to do this.)  It is also great to have Joe Neary training as a Reader and he is now leading a variety of services as part of his training.

As I said in my interim Rector’s Report for the postponed APCMs in the autumn, as I was taking a Sabbatical in 2020 and as the PCCs had been working very hard since my arrival in 2012, I felt that in 2020 we should all ‘stand still’, ‘consolidate’ and only do the things the Holy Spirit was leading us to do.  However, despite this aim, looking back I feel that 2020 has been a significant year for the Benefice.  From necessity we’ve had to learn to do things differently and this has opened up possibilities which otherwise we’d have been resistant to.  For instance many people are now happy to have an ‘Order of Service’ on their smart phone.  This allows for more creativity with the liturgy and having the day’s readings and Collect to read aids concentration and engagement.  This is also more ecologically friendly than disposable service sheets as well as being less of a health risk.  It also allows for a very easy option for lay-led Sunday services as by downloading the Church of England ‘Daily Prayer’ app a congregation can use the nationally produced services for Morning or Evening Prayer in either the BCP or Common Worship version. 

We’ve also learnt to use Zoom for meetings – personally I don’t like PCC meetings on Zoom – however, I’m sure I will continue to use Zoom for some one-to-one meetings where appropriate.  This again saves time travelling and is more environmentally friendly.  It will also be a great ‘bad weather’ option for any snowy Sundays.

Where Zoom has been so useful is for daily Morning Prayer.  I’ve always prayed this on my own as it’s never made any sense to me to travel to one of our churches to sit in the cold on my own and the predictability of this makes it a ‘lone working’ risk.  However, now I can pray online at 9am each morning (10am on Wednesdays) with whoever turns up.  So far I’ve never yet been on my own.  This has been the ‘silver lining’ of the pandemic for me – we have prayed for the people of the Benefice, our nation and the world each day and hopefully this practice has moulded those who take part to be a little more like Jesus who we try to follow.  

Whether we like it or not we are in a time of transition and re-orientation which we need to negotiate together.  Few people enjoy change and our natural tendency is to want to default to what we know  (the Israelites wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than face the uncertainty of the journey into the Promised Land).  There are changes afoot – your Deanery Synod Rep will tell you that we having to lose one clergy post within the Deanery; the options for how best to do this are being explored.  Redundancies are happening in some Dioceses – but thankfully Gloucester is not in this situation yet.  We have learnt to be adaptable in the last year and if we stay adaptable we will manage what is ahead.  We have the resurrection power of Christ within us and God is more than able to help reshape and renew the Church in our Benefice, Diocese and nation. 

With love and blessings,
Rev Val Thorne      


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