Chairperson’s Address, Easter General Vestry Meeting 2020

In normal circumstances you could be forgiven for thinking that my annual address to the General Easter Vestry is somewhat repetitive.

As well as outlining the parish highlights of the year that is past, I always have a long list of people to thank for all the many and varied ways they contribute to the life of this parish and this community. While thanks are indeed due to many people once again, the circumstances of this year’s annual general Easter Vestry are anything but normal. Even the very fact that I’m writing this in September is extraordinary.

Covid 19 has rocked the world, this country, and our parish. The very idea that schools and businesses could be closed by the government and churches not allowed to welcome worshippers would have been unthinkable six months ago. Yet we know all too well the trajectory of this novel Corona virus and the repercussions across society.

In this parish, we are blessed to have been able to install a webcam, thanks to a very generous bequest from the late Harry Poole, which along with the use of Facebook Live broadcasts allowed worship from our church to be broadcast to every corner of the world at a time when very many people were anxious, afraid, or unable to be physically present at services. I know by the many positive comments, letters and emails I received how much this meant to so many, and I am thankful to God for that outreach opportunity.

It was with great delight that we reopened our church to worshippers at the beginning of July after much careful preparation and in strict adherence to the national Covid guidelines. We pray that we will continue to be able to meet together safely in person in addition to providing numerous online worship opportunities for those who cannot or do not wish to attend in person.

While the restricted numbers in the church has not been a problem over the summer months, I anticipate that this will pose challenges from here on in, especially as we approach Christmas. We may have to introduce seat reservation or extra services in due course, but rest assured in all circumstances the health and safety of our parishioners and visitors will always remain a priority.

The same is true of all other church events and organisations – our face-to-face activities will necessarily continue to be drastically reduced until this virus is no longer a threat, but we will continue to strive to maintain the excellent sense of community and parish family that we have worked hard to achieve.

I want you all to know that you are genuinely valued and cared for, and if there is ever anything that you need you can contact me in confidence and I will use all the resources at my disposal to assist in any way I can.

As the Autumn progresses, we will be organising a couple of fundraising events which can be run safely and help to tackle the major losses the parish has incurred due to the church and parish centre being closed for so long, and to us not being able to hold our major annual fundraising event, the Autumn Fair, this year. These will consist of a raffle and a clothes collection, so please be ready to support both of these appeals when they happen. Watch out for details on the weekly email newsletter and on our website. Thank you to all who have continued to support the parish financially during these challenging times.

I want to extend my sympathy to all who have lost loved ones in recent times, especially those who were unable to celebrate their lives in the usual way, and who lacked the outpouring of support at funerals and face-to-face gatherings at which bereaved families normally find some healing. In our parish, sadly, a number of long time, loyal parishioners have passed away since our last Easter Vestry Meeting and while we are thankful that they now rejoice in the Lord’s nearer presence, their loss has diminished us. We remember with thanksgiving the lives and witness of Harry Poole; Robert Jones; Jack Storey; Cecil Turner; Louie Appleyard; Helen Erskine; Betty McGreal, and Elsie Hogan.

We have welcomed four children into the family of God through the sacrament of Baptism since our last General Vestry Meeting also, with a number of other baptisms having to be deferred. Sadly the Confirmation Service this year had to be postponed, much to the disappointment of our sixteen candidates and their families, but the Archbishop is currently trying to rearrange all the outstanding Confirmation services in November.

It would be easy to let the experience of the last six months overshadow all the exciting things which happened in the parish since the last Easter General Vestry Meeting in May 2019, none more uplifting or successful than the International Pot Luck Supper we held last November. With an attendance beyond our wildest dreams representing Australia, New Zealand, Iran, India, The Philippines, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Hungary, Italy, Croatia, Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland (with apologies from the USA, Northern Ireland and Germany), the food and the atmosphere were incredible. We thank God for the blessings of diversity in our midst.

The other thing worthy of mention tonight is the retirement of John Rowden as organist last Summer after fifty-three years’ devoted service in this parish. As well as being a truly gifted musician, John has been a much loved part of the fabric of parish life throughout those years, journeying with so many families, couples and individuals through the highs and lows of life expressed liturgically through baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. Despite his immense talent, he was always completely devoid of ego- an unassuming man with whom it was always a pleasure to work.

John’s presence at the organ, along with his cheery smile, ready wit and jovial manner will be greatly missed on Sunday mornings. We all owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his loyal service to this parish: he has enriched our worship and our lives, and we wish him a long, happy and healthy retirement. This is the verse, to the tune of ‘Lord, For The Years’, that the I wrote for John on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the church in 2016 when we marked John’s 50 years of service up to that point:

John, for the years your music has inspired us,
Lifted our spirits, cheered us on our way;
Moved us and calmed us, filled us up and blessed us.
John, for 50 years, we give our thanks today!

And now for those ‘Thank Yous’!

I want to express both my personal thanks and thanks on behalf of all our members to the many people who work tirelessly, often behind the scenes, to make our parish what it is.

  • Mark Acheson, for his constant assistance and support in worship, ministry and administration. Also Rev. Prof. Anne Lodge, who though unable to be present physically with us at present while she awaits hip replacement surgery, continues to provide liturgical resources in the background.
  • Our outgoing churchwardens- Heather Walsh who enthusiastically accepted the invitation to become my Rector’s Church Warden last year but unfortunately has been unable to act in that capacity for most of the year due to ongoing health difficulties – we wish her a speedy return to full fitness, and thank all who ably filled in for her Sunday by Sunday; and Ziva Newman, for her dedicated and efficient service as people’s Church Warden for what turned out to be a two and a half year term of duty.
  • The team of volunteers who have been looking after set up and welcome at the 8.30 Sunday morning services over the past year- Tom Waller, Damien Peat, Ronan & Jennifer Kelly, Denis Henderson and Philip Godden.
  • Our outgoing Glebe wardens, Jonathan Boyle and John Davis, who are always on hand to help sort out any problems related to the rectory or church grounds, along with Jonathan’s continued oversight of the church. Also to John, for singlehandedly cleaning and disinfecting the pews which have been used at the early service before the 10.30 service each Sunday morning since returning to in-church worship.
  • Our organist, Stephanie Maxwell, who has successfully managed to fill the very large shoes vacated by our much-loved former organist, John.
  • The members of the outgoing Select Vestry for their care of the fabric, furnishings and finance.
  • Our outgoing Honorary Treasurer Nadine Watters for her consistent dedication and expertise in keeping our accounts and ensuring we are compliant with the charity’s legislation, and also to Albert Adamson who looks after the lodgements so efficiently.
  • Trevor Garrett, for his invaluable work in the Parish Centre and the Church, including during lockdown, and all the ways he worked to help ensure a safe return to both buildings when the restrictions were relaxed.
  • Jonathan Boyle, who continues to do the lion’s share of the work on the Parish Centre Management Committee- no easy task in the midst of lockdown, government guidelines and an ongoing pandemic.
  • The members of the Needs Group, under the leadership of Mary Cunningham, who under normal circumstances take on much of the planning and the practical work around many of our parish events.
  • Sunday Club leaders: Elma Jackson, Helen Rosaldo, Heather Hunter, John Davis, Jean Acheson, Derek Shaw, and Martin & Lisa Murphy – we long for the day this ministry can continue post Covid.
  • Cathy Atkin, Principal, Greenlanes NS, for preparing the school children for Family Services and Helen Rosaldo, who organises the children in the church. We will continue this outreach to our children using recorded contributions for the time being.
  • All who read the lessons week by week; Albert Adamson who coordinates the Readers’ rota, and Shirley Davies, Olwen Lynch, Albert Adamson, and Ziva Newman all of whom could be called on to help administer the Chalice at Holy Communion before Covid necessitated administration of Holy Communion in one kind only.
  • Those who decorate the church for major festivals and keep it adorned with flowers, and to Iris Acheson for keeping the fair linen beautifully laundered.
  • The Ladies who dusted the church each week on a rota basis and their co-ordinator, Sandra Maxwell. This service is currently suspended.
  • All those who provided and served refreshments after church, another activity that sadly has had to be suspended for the time being.
  • Jill & John O’Neill for all their help with catering special events such as the parish breakfast and the hot food at the Autumn Fair.
  • Sandie Stirling, stewardship recorder.
  • Hazel Garrett, who administers the columbarium.
  • Charles Kinch, car parking attendant for funerals.
  • Officers and those who helped to run all the parish organisations prior to lockdown including BB, Guides, Prayer Groups, Badminton Club, Tennis Club, Indoor Bowls Club, Table Tennis Club, Mothers’ Union & Whist Drives. While some of these activities/organisations remain suspended, others are tentatively beginning to restart adhering to current guidelines.
  • Lynn Boyle for producing the weekly Notice Sheet and Brendan Teeling for maintaining the website and Twitter account.
  • Tom Waller who has just retired from his position as Church Review distributor after many years faithful service in this regard.
  • Arthur Parkinson and Ciara Burns for their work on the Safeguarding Trust Panel. Ciara is stepping down from this role after a number of years so we will be looking for a replacement soon.
  • Ryan Ashley often supported by his wife MaryAnne, who led the music worship at our monthly Evening Praise services up until lockdown. These currently remain suspended.
  • All who help run all the various events that normally make up our varied spiritual, social and fundraising calendar.
  • Last but not least, all of you for your friendship and support.

There is no doubt that we live in anxious and uncertain times, but one thing is certain – ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end’ (Lamentation3:22).

As we continue to negotiate our way through this pandemic, may we continue to trust him; to hold firm and follow all the advice and guidelines given to us in order to minimise the risk of contracting and spreading Covid 19; to watch out for and support each other, especially those whose lives or livelihoods have been worst affected; and to pray for and encourage one another.

Let us remember the meaning of the word ‘Gospel’ and be bearers of good news and hope in our homes, families, work places, community and parish– right now the world is sorely in need of what we have to offer in the Lord’s name.

I continue to count it a joy, an honour, and a privilege to serve Him by serving you.

Lesley Robinson
2nd September 2020.