Rector’s Report - Cleobury Benefice Annual Meetings
In Michaelmas 2020 I wrote a report which technically covered the calendar year of 2019, but the historical cycle broke more naturally at the institution of the first (of three) national lockdowns on 23rd of March 2020, I will continue the narrative to the present as the country moves to major relaxation of restrictions following the easing of the restrictions in place to restrain the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2022 report will however recap on the whole calendar year of 2021, resetting the record to fit the calendar, and enabling a final assessment of the pandemic story.
A reminder of the aims of the National Church, which we use to assess our ministry here:
1. Growing numerically and spiritually. We have good news to share and we also believe that Christianity is the best framework for life for individuals and communities.
2. Working for the Common Good, proclaiming the Gospel by serving our community in a way which helps to demonstrate our values.
3. Reshaping ministry to serve the purposes above, testing present practice and trying new things.
Firstly a word about people. In June 2020 Joe Simons was licensed in Hereford Cathedral as a stipendiary lay-worker, and he joined our ministry with his wife Karen. The hope was that a more elaborate service of ordination could take place later in the year, but a continued high level of viral circulation meant that when Joe was made deacon the service had a similarly austere quality, with very few people present and serious social distancing. In some ways I felt both services had a strange beauty to them, partaking of some of the elements of a battlefield commission, with the ancient building bearing its own witness to national history of which this year has been a strange chapter. John Daniels, Warden of Readers came to Cleobury to license Paul Kemp who has been worshipping with us for some time. This was one of John’s last actions in post before his fulltime role disappeared from the diocesan staff as part of planned cutbacks. We do live in a period of rapid transition for the Church. Joe and Paul have proved themselves greatly valued members of the team.
Bishop Richard Jackson joined us as part of his pilgrimage around the diocesan borders in one of the rare formal occasions when he was able to venture out in his first year of office.
I remain extremely thankful for all my colleagues in Cleobury benefice for their service during the period of the pandemics to major peaks in Britain – as I write we are aware that great suffering is still taking place in some parts of the world and that the story is over nowhere. In this country even if we continue the present trajectory of diminished cases the social and economic consequences will take time to play out. Our community received its share of the bereavement and suffered the stresses of isolation and job losses that characterized the national experience. The clergy and Pastoral Care scheme laboured to keep in touch with people and provide pastoral help, church members were prominent in the work of the foodbank and SMYP kept in contact with its young people. We worked to produce written and online material, using Facebook and Youtube, although telephone calls between individuals were perhaps our greatest pastoral resource in terms of human contact. Many of us were astonished by the success of our online worship, especially our Zoom Sunday Eucharists, and our daily Zoom Evening Prayer services. We remained throughout a worshipping community.
Mortality locally finally dropped off towards the end of May, and by June we were able to return to limited physical worship, essentially with two centres, an indoor Eucharist at Cleobury and an outdoor service at Neen Sollars, the former still being uploaded to Youtube. From then on, and through the second severe spike after Christmas this pattern continued. By early 2021 the vaccines were being deployed and after walking the cross through the Benefice opening up each church as we passed through the parishes in Holy Week, each one celebrated the resurrection with a Eucharist on Easter Day.
The Church, nationally, as a diocese, and locally, will emerge changed by the pandemic. In some ways tendencies which have been in train for some time will be accelerated, but new experiences will also make their mark. The next report is the proper time for a more substantial assessment. But for now let us thank God for His enduring presence with his people, and thank each other for what has been offered and shared during this time of trial.
Ashley Buck, Rector, Ascensiontide 2021.