Reactions to the Annual Survey Comments
A summary of the written answers with some personal comment from me about the chaplaincy, the blog and the website and attitudes towards “On the Way”
To What extent are you involved with On the Way
Of the Readers who responded to the survey and to the question most Readers/LLMs were not involved yet- but a significant group had been taking part in meetings, both face to face and online. Concerns seemed to be centred around communication and the amount of paperwork, especially for those at the heart of discussions. One comment began “I am aware of the initiative; but find it totally uninspiring and irrelevant to the realities of the average person in Cornwall today.” But otherwise there were few strong feelings on the topic.
What would you say is the most fulfilling aspect of your Ministry?
Unsurprisingly, preaching and teaching were high on the list of answers but pastoral work, chaplaincy, and being alongside people from schools to care homes, and in Covid times making phone calls to those shielding. Funerals are also a key element of Reader ministry although some readers have found they are doing less of them. Leading groups, praying with people and the sharing if faith were also mentioned a number of times.
Tell us about your Reader Ministry other than conducting worship on a Sunday- what have you done recently to respond to ministry needs in the current time of pandemic?
The variety of Reader involvement, commitment and support for other people is truly inspiring. There was some fairly common activities such as phone ministry and leading Zoom services but Readers /LLMs also wrote weekly reflections, wrote letters and delivering treats of chocolate and ‘fun bags’ The telephone ministry included Pastoral conversations and also Phone church services!
Other activities included ambassadorial work with SAT7UK.org that works in the Middle East to remote youth work in the Local Skate-park and heavy commitment to the work of the Foodbanks
Some PCCs and churches, it seems, would collapse altogether if it were not for the commitment of Readers and they seem to be able to plug gaps wherever they appear and to respond to community needs as they are discovered.
Here are a couple of illustrative responses:
- Opened the church for private prayer and supervised. Joint leader of an online Alpha Course. Acted as sacristan on 24 occasions. Attended several webinars concerning the way forward after the pandemic including, e.g. Lockdown resourcefulness, Funerals: an immediate concern, Opening the Doors, Leading through Lockdown, Midsized churches, Opening Churches. Considered increasing giving in the parish (Generous Giving webinars), encouraged the PCC to send out an appeal to people on the electoral roll and been active in producing a letter. Acted as Lay Chair for the PCC in the absence of an incumbent. Prepared for APCM. Updated risk assessments. Telephoned where I have been aware of a need. Joined two online prayer groups and led Morning Prayer fortnightly for one. Prayed daily for needs asked for. Provided a Service of Remembering and a Remembrance Trail in the churchyard. Taken part in the village Remembrance Service. Provided an open-air Carol Service in our church yard. Initiated a joint Witness Walk on Good Friday.. Provided a reflective service on Good Friday afternoon.
- The church has been open throughout the pandemic providing support services – quiet space, a listening ear, meditation groups, packing food parcels etc. I have helped facilitate these. I have supported a young man who was suicidal. I also helped in producing worship for transmission to those unable to attend church (including some singing) I have continued to be part of the Town Council’s subcommittee (as a member of the public, representing the XR group and by extension the Cluster Churches) on the Climate Emergency following the Council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency in 2019.
What concerns do you have?
I have compiled some of the comments below but it would be true to say that Readers / LLMs have a good deal of concerns but they are varied. Some of them concern the Diocese as a whole and its strategic path, some concern individual benefices / parishes and the lack of support from incumbents- or lack of an incumbent altogether. Others worry about the demographic of our congregations, the lack of diversity and the failure to attract new people.
- I have been extremely disappointed in the way the Church of England — and just about all the mainstream denominations, have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. Closing churches when the buildings should have been available (probably under supervision) to the fearful, the anxious, and to those who just wanted some quiet meditation or some prayer with someone else — this has been a dismal failure of witness to the power of the Gospel, and a failure in the church’s mission to preach the Gospel. It also has been a dismal failure in the Church of England’s mission to the nation. That multi-layered failure has been aggravated by the tendency for church leaders (again, not only CoE) to publish pronouncements that read more like a county council’s public health notice than anything inspired by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is no less than a failure of leadership; and it has put in an impossible position, incumbents and other ministers who might wish to do things differently (I know several). The un-churched public have noticed; and it has left a damaging legacy. If asked, publicly or privately about this, I declare my disappointment, for I will not defend such failure.
- I attempted to publish, in the parish magazine (which has spiritual as well as practical content), some short pieces putting forward a respectful but different perspective on this situation. But that has not been welcomed, being seen as negative, even though it was not; and I suspect it was also seen as over-opinionated and disloyal. A pity! Our primary loyalty should be not to the Church of England, but to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- I hear a lot of comment about the way the CofE seems to be going. Sadly, not much of it is positive as we get given one initiative after another, yet have fewer and fewer resources to implement them. The never ending confused CofE input from the Church Times does little to build trust and hope. Rather, it seems to feed the overall downslide in the parishes and does little to support us in our small parish. The feeling that we are ‘on our own’ pervades.
- Due to the unusual circumstances of this year the numbers of services undertaken do no necessarily reflect the full extent of involvement with the community this has often been one of pastoral conversations. through safe distance meetings outside.
- Lack of ordained ministers putting pressure on lay ministers and worship leaders to ensure coverage across the benefice.
- We seem to have acquired so many new personnel under the Transforming Ministry that I do not seem to be as involved as I once was.
- FOR THE CHURCH AS A WHOLE Congregational numbers are dwindling. The age spread is not representative of the population. In particular most churches have a dearth of people between the ages of 18 and 40 or so.
- The Church of England needs, amongst other things, to focus on those not yet in the church. This may involve changing styles of worship. The focus needs to be on preaching Christ in a manner that is challenging and attractive. Communion services are not of their nature “outsider friendly”; the Church needs more attractive non Communion services.
- Mid week events are needed to meet the needs of both enquirers and those who would wish to grow as disciples.
- The church is too focussed on “word”; there needs to be more on “signs and wonders”.
- Only Readers and clergy are trained to preach. Yet in many churches others do so.
- Not sure where to put this but this has been a most unusual year with almost no live services
- I am concerned for our whole Deanery which is understaffed and underfunded. In our Benefice we are entirely reliant on two retired Ministers who do a wonderful job, but can’t keep this up for ever. We Readers do what we can to support them, but there are some things we cannot do.
- Our pattern of worship has changed hugely in response to the pandemic, so the documentation of liturgical ‘roles’ is not high on my list of priorities. Many people share in presenting out liturgy now.
- My concern therefore is that we should look to reader ministry much more widely than is reflected in Q2 above.
- The age of the congregation and the lack of new people and children.
- Again this year have seen Readers marginalised – only three Ministry team meetings this year. I have asked for more so that we can have some input into ministry in the parish.
- This has been a difficult year and having to self isolate ( being at risk ) NHS advice has curtailed my ministry involvement aside from telephone and online.
- The lack of support of the priest in charge – the lack of her knowledge/understanding about Reader ministry – her indifference towards me.
- Our churches have been in transition for 18 months and there is on prospect od an appointment being made at present
- They are manifold. Perhaps foremost is the continuing ‘dumbing down’ and ‘diminution’ of the distinctive nature of Reader Ministry. The recent review of Reader Ministry goes some way to addressing these concerns; however, previous experience of the way this diocese operates indicates that there will be deliberate delays in implementation and the most critical elements will be ‘kicked into the long grass’, as always. This leads me to my other major concern that the diocese has lost the plot in its strategic direction and emphasis. It appears to be all about ticking boxes and assuring ‘brownie points’ for bishops; and not about providing the leadership and churchmanship that is appropriate for Cornwall. The average Reader has more relevant worldly experience and theological capability than many of the incumbents appointed to their parishes.
- Worship group could I do it all? There appears to be a duplication of movement of Readers?
- Lack of awareness that the church is becoming top heavy and managerial. False belief that amalgamating parishes will help them to grow. Failure to have enough priests on the ground. The diocese appears to be fiddling while Rome burns, it is the church on the ground which appears to be being ignored, and where Christianity is rooted, not in the cathedrals.
Who would you go to when in need of support?
This was pleasing positive as well as mixed depending on the sort of support needed but it certainly showed the need for a chaplain to Readers as well as a diverse range of support including spiritual directors.
Do you have any comments to make on Annual Reader Day and suggestions for future events.
This was a question that divided opinion and proved the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Here is a representative set of example responses
- My suggestion for future events would be more discussion of the Reader role(s), and in particular the relationship between Readers and ordained clergy.
- As travel can be an issue for me, I have been grateful for the online sessions we have had this year, which have been very interesting and have offered a chance to catch up. I wonder if it might be helpful to instigate some kind of small group online activity at a more local level, whilst maintaining the existing structure?
- I hope we can get back to meeting face-to-face. I do not like zoom meetings/events.
- I like the zoom format which reduces travel and time away from home.
- I suggest less listening to others and more sharing.
- Being a wheelchair user access has been a problem in the past. Living in the south of Cornwall Bodmin is too far for me to drive. I also need access to an accessible toilet which is not available at all venues.
- I think we miss a trick by not asking a superb speaker to address us, teach us, inspire us; someone from outside the normal circle of Truro Readers who is not consumed by LGBTQ+ ideology or unconscious bias trivia. Someone who is really worth listening to would be excellent. Whilst the usual Readers Day format enables us to meet up with other readers (if they attend) it has become stale and boring, which might explain why attendance is falling and the day is becoming a formality rather than event not to be missed.
- Zoom worked very well
The Blog and the Chaplain’s Website – A Chaplain’s eye-view……
It was really interesting looking at the comments in the annual survey; it is gratifying to know that so many folks found it helpful especially in lockdown. Like a number of you who suggested that there should be more contributions from other Readers I would love to share the platform and to make it more varied. One reader put it like this, “I find the Chaplain’s Blog an invaluable weekly ‘update’, helping to engender a sense of community among Readers. Perhaps more people might be encouraged to contribute short articles, so that there is a diversity of voices”
A couple of people found that there was too much in it so I will try and make the titles more explanatory so you can decide whether you want to read them.
I loved the suggestions for other articles and would really like some volunteers to help produce a few.
- “Occasional ‘Bio’ of fellow Readers. We rarely know very much about each other. Starting with the new ones.”
- “Hard to think of any……..book reviews recommendations.”
- “Perhaps to develop a series of Biblical reflections that could be written in succession by a number of people? Rather than being seen as one person’s ideas about a specific passage of scripture, a reasonably regular series”
And thank you too to the few Readers, who are possibly no longer readers of the blog- Like internet shopping or Trip Advisor reviews I don’t trust them unless I see the odd really negative comment.
So to anyone who feels like the Reader who wrote, “It is time to give the Chaplain’s Blog a rest. Tired, contrived and tedious,” there is the option to unsubscribe from the emails.